I was recently lucky enough to get a quick interview with Ian prior to the U.S. leg of the 'Rock Opera' tour, focusing mainly on his solo works with a hint of what may come in 2016 and 2017.
ON THE QUESTION OF SOLO ALBUMS.
The Jethro Tull Group - The first I suppose was ‘A’, touted originally as a solo album, but eventually released as a Tull album, how was the transition to a new band at that time and was it a disappointment to see it eventually released as a Tull album rather than a solo effort?
Ian Anderson - An unfortunate early excursion into solo albums as the members of the band prior to the recording were understandably upset when I gave in to record company pressure and allowed it to be released as a band album. Mea Culpa.
TJTG - In retrospect, do you wish you had dropped the Tull name at that point?
IA - Well – for that album really, yes, although it had three current members of Jethro Tull on it. Martin, Dave Pegg and I. So it was 60% a Tull album anyway.
TJTG - Did you feel ‘A’ took you on a significantly different musical path away from Tull to warrant it being a solo album?
IA - The inclusion of Eddie Jobson meant it would be different whatever the outcome as a result of his musicality and array of keyboard sounds, plus, of course, his violin. Mark Craney too, was a powerhouse of skill and dexterity. You had to work to keep up with these guys; Scary for the staid and folky Dave Pegg obviously, but for Martin and me too.
TJTG - The first official Ian Anderson solo album was ‘Walk into Light’, in my book a vastly under-rated classic, how do you feel about it now?
IA - Really interesting songs – again with the double act of Peter Vettese in regard to arrangements and performing in the studio. This was a period of real emancipation of the electronic keyboard with the advent of digital technology, sampling, sequencing and access to a vast library of sounds. Useful experimentation in its time but, ultimately, not as satisfying as the good old piano or Hammond Organ.
TJTG - It was a particularly different feel being an electronic album, a darker more introspective album to my mind than you had penned for many years, did you find you varied your normal approach to song-writing for this album?
IA - Not consciously. It came from the mood of the time, getting away from the folky, light, whimsical style of ‘Songs from the Wood’, ‘Heavy Horses’, etc. Electronica was a necessary experiment for me to pursue to see what it could do for me as a writer by way of inspiration. Not a huge amount, as it turned out...
TJTG - You worked quite closely with Peter John Vettesse on it, was that difficult to accommodate from your previously normal work and song writing ethic?
IA - No, I am easy to work with when it involves great musicians who challenge my abilities and awareness.
TJTG - Many of those fans who enjoy the album, and it's Tull successor ‘Under Wraps’, were happy with the move towards a different sound but the decision to use the Linn drum machine has been criticised with many saying they would love to hear those tracks again with "real" drums, was the electronic drum sound something you were totally comfortable with at the time? Are there any tracks you might revisit to incorporate a real drum sound?
IA - The Linn Drum actually was programmed with my own Ludwig drum kit, sampled from the audio of me hitting the damn things! Of course, I would love to have ‘Walk Into Light’ and then ‘Under Wraps’ re-recorded with real drums. Especially ‘Under Wraps’ which has some great songs and great playing from Martin especially. Probably my most ambitious vocals too, except they wrecked my voice after a couple of tours of live singing every night.
TJTG - The next solo album was a long time in coming, was that due to a growing workload with Tull and less available time with your move towards other interests like the fish farms, or was it a general lack of interest in producing solo work?
IA - With new guys in the band, it was fun to explore their potential contributions over the next few years. I didn't feel the need to do more solo work as by then I was working in my own studio at home, producing and engineering as well as writing and performing. About as solo as any man would want. So much of the work of the band was done as overdubs. Not the way we did it before in the 60's and 70's or in these days now where it is all played live in the studio, as much as possible like a stage performance.
TJTG – ‘Divinities’ was a major departure from the previous outings, and one that I think was universally and warmly welcomed amongst fans, how did it come about?
IA - EMI's Classical division approached me with a view to making an album for them as a “Cross-over” Classical piece. It actually ousted my pal Sir James Galway from the number one slot in the Billboard Classical Crossover charts. Which probably means it sold more than 100 copies or whatever. But a number one is a number one. Especially if you are Sir Cliff, when these things count.
TJTG – Again, ‘Divinities’ was a piece that seemed to be developed in close co-operation with then Tull keyboard player Andy Giddings. Do you find collaborative working on your solo projects easier with a keyboard player?
IA - It is always easier to work with one other person in the creative confines of the studio rather than a group or band all having their say and voicing opinion. Next project for me is working with current keyboardist John O'Hara on a string quartet album of Tull Classics early next year.
TJTG - Was it easy working so closely with Andy Giddings on ‘Divinities’, and how would you compare your previous working relationships with collaborators, Eddie Jobson, Peter Vettese, Andy Giddings and John O'Hara, they all appear to have different strengths which you have brought to the fore in your solo releases.
IA - Not as quick, sometimes, as Andy liked to fiddle with various sounds to get the best result. Peter Vettese and Eddie Jobson were quicker to work with perhaps. But all were able to bring more variety to the table in terms of sounds and detail.
TJTG - Onto ‘The Secret Language of Birds’, a piece of work based I think on much more individual observational musings than previous themed solo pieces, yet it stands up collectively as a very strong solo outing, was it a deliberate departure from the previous forms?
IA - I tried to keep it fundamentally acoustic in texture. Mostly me with a variety of strung guitar and mandolin family instruments. A couple of drummers involved – known for their light and sensitive touch.
TJTG - It appeared similar with ‘Rupi's Dance’, would you consider both these albums to be more fully Ian Anderson solo pieces of work, with less collaboration with any particular keyboard players involvement?
IA - Yes – they are a pair really. Both very much with the same approach, writing environment and studio although Rupi's Dance was all digital multitrack recording for the first time.
TJTG - In listening to those solo albums now there is the strange feeling that any or none of the songs could possibly, and in some cases obviously, fit somewhere in the Tull canon of work, but in 2011 you took the bold step some would say of distinctly sharpening the slightly blurred line between Jethro Tull and your own solo work, by announcing the hiatus and eventual break away from Tull to concentrate distinctly Ian Anderson's solo work. What prompted the move to redefine the edges between the two?
IA - Well – the so-called solo albums are no different from the several pieces of recording from Aqualung onwards where many tracks were recorded by me alone in the studio and then supplemented by judicious additions by some other band members.
That approach actually began with A Christmas Song in 1968. The lines are as blurred today as always. That's why I use both my own name and the Tull brand in the marketing and promotion of concerts where the Tull repertoire is being played. It's easier if you start off with Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention, or Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band! Bill Haley And His Comets, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Adam And The Ants etc. etc.
Remember, there was a brief moment when, prior to the name change to Jethro Tull in early February 1968, when we were known as Ian Henderson's (actual typo) Bag Of Blues....
TJTG - The last two albums have been well received by your fans and the growing new wave of Prog Rock fans, and both link to the former Tull piece “Thick as a Brick”, did you deliberately set out to cater for the older generation Prog fan? Do you have a preference for that style of playing or genre?
IA - “Progressive Rock” is the description applied to Jethro Tull back in 1969, long before it was recognised as a catch-all genre. “Prog” is something different in my mind. I have no problem with the former, then and now. Last couple of records are broadly in a more progressive genre and, of course, “concept albums” to boot. I like the idea of drawing songs together with some connective tissue where possible. A good album is like a fine lady's leg: Elegant, shapely and joined together convincingly at hip, knee and ankle.
TJTG - You often cite a few influences from your early years of playing, such as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, do you ever see yourself revisiting those influences and reverting to playing blues based pieces again?
IA - No. I love the Blues too much to sully it with my own feeble efforts.
TJTG - Back in the seventies you frequently topped the multi-instrumentalist polls in the music press, do you see yourself as a multi-instrumentalist these days, Are there any other musical instruments you might consider using in the future?
IA - Multi-instrumentalist only in the sense of playing a different instrument – the flute – rather than necessarily being a master of more than one. I seem to remember Keith Emerson figuring strongly there too. Piano AND organ. Wow! I think they were just desperate to point out that you didn't have to be a guitarist to win polls.
TJTG - Many fans have expressed their desire for a truly solo Ian Anderson album, just you with a truly acoustic set up, guitar, keyboards (piano) and flute, is it something you might ever consider?
IA - Yes. I have a project in mind for commencement 09.00 Jan 1st 2017. Until then, I don't want to think about it much. I much prefer the blank canvas of opportunity and whim.
TJTG - You announced that you would start work on your new solo album at 9.00 am on January 1st 2015. Given the work on TaaB2 and Homo Erraticus you can clearly write to a deadline, are you always that precise and ordered in the way you work?
IA - No – it's just a good time to start a project knowing that everyone else is either hung over or still in bed. No intrusions, interruptions or invasions. I actually started on the so-called Rock Opera project at 09.00 2nd January 2015 as I spent the 31st December in hospital for some minor surgery and didn't get home until late the next day, feeling a bit poorly and disinclined to work. What a slouch!
TJTG - You've had a resurgence in writing over recent years, but there was a long gap in releasing new material after ‘Dot.Com’, what was the reason for that?
IA - I was always writing stuff but apart from making a few demos didn't feel the urge to work with the then band line-up in the studio. Doane was in LA, Martin down in Devon and it wasn't convenient to just get together on a moment's notice. I think the studio environment had become a bit stale for Martin and me and neither of us were enjoying it much.
TJTG - I think over the last few years your standing as a solo artist has strengthened amongst most fans as well as outside the core Tull fan base, many years ago you said the thing about Tull and yourself was that the band or you could not be pigeonholed musically or in terms of fashion, how do you feel about the label Prog and more so your Prog God award?
IA - Prog is a bit of a laugh. A slightly derogatory term with some self-mocking good humour when we insiders use it. I rather doubt that young Steven Wilson likes being thought of as a “proggie” if he hears someone else say it. The incessant noodling of Yes or the instrumental posturing of ELP were sometimes a distraction to their great song-writing and huge achievements. But I guess I have done both myself! It's hard to stop when you are having fun.
TJTG - I presume you won't want to divulge too much about where your current direction is heading after the 'Jethro Tull' Opera at this stage but are there any new influences or interests that might be guiding you at this time?
IA - I just did, earlier, but I have a hankering for a couple more meaty projects before the game is finally up. I have never written many love songs so that might be a way to go. But probably the dark side of love. Somewhere between a Shakespeare love sonnet and a Macbeth murder. With an erect and thrusting flute to the fore.
Oooooh! I feel the excitement building already.
Where's that codpiece?
TJTG - My thanks to Ian and James for taking time out during a hectic build up to the start of the American Leg of the ‘Rock Opera’ tour which starts on November 1st in Chicago and continues through to 11th in Newark New Jersey. The tour then continues in Spain, Italy and Turkey
For all dates and tickets visit jethrotull.com/tour-dates/
Copyright TJTG Ltd. 2015