Friday, March 25, 2005

Andy Partridge Speaks

This week Pitchfork ran my latest column, The Process is the Product, which looks at artists who sell demos and commentary tracks directly to their fans as a way to make some extra money on the side. I interviewed XTC's Andy Partridge — one of my all-time faves — for the column, to talk about his Fuzzy Warbles albums and the “how ___ came to be” commentaries that he sells from his website. We had a great conversation, and I could only use a few quotes for my column, so here are some more excerpts from our interview. He was still hungover from hanging out the day before with Mark Vidler — who's planning to do mash-ups of XTC songs (check out “Making Plans for Vinyl”).

AP: I'm not one of those people that sits down and thinks, “Okay, we've got to do an album, I better write 10 songs.” For me, it's a process of you just keep writing. You don't think about writing an album, you just write. And then when you get like three albums' worth of material, if you can boil it down and pick out the best stuff, or traditionally it was always picked between the band. — Jesus Christ, what's in this hot chocolate? Charles Aznavour semen, it's really gloopy! — Traditionally this material was always picked by, it was a democratic process, dammit! We'd bring up all this stuff, or I'd bring up material, Colin would bring up material, and we'd say, “Okay, we've got 40 songs here, we kind of need about 14” or whatever. And then everyone would vote for what they wanted to do. And the record company would say, “Well, we insist you record this one and this one,” and so on. And sometimes some of my favorites got voted out. Which was a bit distressing, you know. Sometimes I'd have to have a little tantrum, “I really want to do this fellas, I really want to — ” and of course it's difficult because you don't want to be seen to be throwing off songs of Colin's, because he doesn't write so many, and I kind of maybe feel sorry for him. And he gets a higher proportion of what he writes on! “Oh look, he's only written six, well you'd better let him have three on then.”

But no, what happened was they were usually democratically picked, and sometimes some of my favorites just fell through the gaps. And with things for example like “Wonder Annual,” I was really kind of upset that we didn't record that. But nobody voted for it. And so, things like that, I get to kind of redress the balance, because the demo recordings from my shed or backroom or bedroom or wherever they're recorded, kitchen, wherever they were done, actually get some sort of airing. And people actually tell me occasionally, “Oh, I prefer it to the proper recorded version, the one you did in your garden shed.” Or, “This is the best track on that album, and you never put it on that album.” That sort of stuff. So I guess people like stuff in all forms. ...

On the unreleased songs he wrote through the late '80s and early '90s:

AP: Actually, the whole stretch, funny enough, between Oranges & Lemons and Nonsuch as well, I think that was probably the most material I ever came up with. I mean there are so many different Nonsuch's you could make up from all the other tracks. Things were sort of falling to bits, I could see they were falling to bits on the horizon. I guess fretting about it or whatever. I mean my marriage was kind of going kaflooey while I was making Oranges & Lemons, so a lot of the stuff for Nonsuch I think my — I put a lot of my fears and worries into the songwriting. And also a court case with an ex-manager, and stuff — I had to suppress a lot of the fears and concerns about that. So, I think it's good battery for songwriting. It's good fuel, you know? They needn't come out about those subjects, but the anxiety seems to trigger good stuff.

On the Fuzzy Warbles albums

AP: Some of the recordings I don't have access to, because they were on eight-track cassette, and I've sold my eight-track cassette machine. And I can't remix any of them or discover if there's anything on these tapes. I don't want to hire one of those crappy machiens to be bothered to do it, so I think I have enough material without the missing eight-track cassette years.

I do find stuff that I'd forgotten about, or dig things out and you think, “ooh, why the hell was that rejected? That's not bad.” Or sometimes I can pull it out and I can see, “Oh, yeah, I see that I was the one that didn't want to do that one because I thought it was too similar to . . . whatever.” Because I do have a terrible fear of repeating myself. It's not something to fear when you're Philip Glass, I suppose — “REPEATING YOURSELF REPEATING YOURSELF REPEATING YOURSELF REPEATING YOURSELF, REPEATING YOURSELF REPEATING YOURSELF REPEATING YOURSELF.”

On how much time he spends on his APE label:

AP: It's a tricky one to allot hours in the day to, because some days it will take up most of my day chasing 'round stuff, and then other days I'm not doing anything connected with it. So I guess maybe half my time.

CD: And then you still make music in the shed?

AP: Well yeah, but I'm in a funny place right now, because I'm kind of contemplating giving up music for myself. As in, do I, am I repeating myself? Or have I done it all? Is there no more notes left in this saxophone, type thing. So I'm in a funny place mentally where I'm considering stopping making music. But dammit, I still get ideas.

CD: But why "give up" — why not just take a rest?

AP: “Resting between engagements,” as they say in the acting world. “I'm resting, dear boy. Resting between engagements.” But I've kind of, over the last year I've seriously been considering stopping. As in, have I done it all? I mean I haven't been, haven't had the kind of stellar Elton John-type fame, but I realized very quickly that I wasn't interested in that. And I haven't had the stellar riches, either. And I realized very quickly that I could have done with some of it!