Killing Your Influences, Pissing On Your Peers

The Daily Free Press, Boston University
April 2000
Ryan Walsh

Andy Partridge Interview
April 21st 2000
9:36 A.M.

Ryan: This is Ryan Walsh.

Andy: Ryan, hi. Did you call before?

R: Yeah, I just called.

A: Oh, I've been having trouble with the phone here. I can't get up a new extension so I can go sit on the sofa and of course the thing doesn't seem to be working and I'm getting piled up calls from irate interviewers cause I don't even know they're calling, you know, it's not ringing at all but I've got the old one going, so here we are.

R: You have time now though?

A: Oh yeah yeah yeah. But uh I'm gonna have to say we'll have about twenty minutes.

R: That's fine.

A: Ok, I'll talk real fast.

R: Ok, so like I said my name's Ryan. I'm a student at Boston University and I've been a big fan of your music for many years.

A: Let me press the shucks button. So. . .shucks.

R: (laughter) So, I just have a few questions. John Lennon one said that only 100 people really understand what makes a Beatle song a Beatle song? Do you think you are one of those people?

A: (laughter) No, I don't think he understood it either. Uh, no I wouldn't put myself up as one of those hundred. I'm not sure who those one hundred are. Perhaps it's the same person running around changing hats a lot. I don't, I wouldn't profess to being a Beatle expert or anything. I'm not sort of. . .I'm not smitten in the same way Oasis seems to be diseased with it all.

R: (laughter) Yes, at some points they outright copy them.

A: Mmm Hmm. Except they don't if you know what I mean. (laughter)

R: Right. Well, let me ask you this. At what point are you aware in your songwriting of moving from honoring your influences to actually building on what they've created?

A: It's not honoring them. It's more. . .I have to kill them. I have to exorcise them.

R: (laughter) Ok, could you explain that a little more.

A: Well as a kid I listened to a lot of music. Um, you know the main thing that made me wanna do this, I guess, was English pop bands of the sixties. I was just at that impressionable age, you know? And then sat there in my shorts with. . .somebody brings a record player around my head and I hear things like "You Really Got Me" and "Autumn Almanac" and "Rain" and stuff like this. And uh, so the people that went in really strong for me would be Ray Davies, Lennon and McCartney, Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach and Hal David are possibly the best songwriting team ever. Uh, it's a case of those people went in so strong for me that my entire way of sculpting, or my entire art output now, is using that fuel that went in as a kid and trying to explain my soul but using, what I saw, as the template to do it with. Which was the three minute, for one of the better phases, pop song. And so, really my kind of, the whole rocket fuel that powers me on is the desire to write better songs than these people. To write better songs than Brian Wilson. To write better songs than any of the people I mentioned. That's the whole, that's the thing that still drives me. I haven't gotten anywhere near it yet. But it really drives me. It's an attempt to get them out of my head. To exorcise them out of me. And the only way I can do that is to write better tunes they did. So I guess I'm always gonna be haunted.

R: So, in that respect, do you think you'll be writing and recording songs as long as your physically and mentally able?

A: Yeah I'd like to. I mean, it doesn't stop people from writing and recording songs even when they're not mentally able, does it? Some people have made a career out of that.

R: (laughter)

A: But uh, yeah I'd like to be a senile delinquent I guess. I like the idea of working until the day I die. I think that's really important. I'm very anti-ageist. I think great music gets made by kids, and middle aged people and, old age people. The best music in the world has been made by people of every age. Certain people can't see that. Certain people in the world who think that when you're twenty one you should just lay in a shallow grave in the ground and wait.

R: Now, in the last question you mentioned the importance of things that happened when you were a kid. You write about that a lot. . ..

A: Sure that's the stuff that forms what you do in your life.

R: Is "Playground" about that?

A: Oh Sure. There's stuff that happened to you at school that you're still working out. There's stuff that happened to you at school that's still happening to you know. You know, the playground is a practice area where kids learn to be cruel to each other, it's like a rehearsal for being cruel adults.

R: So do you think that somehow school is screwing up kids? Is it set up wrong?

A: Uh, I think it's set up wrong. I think it's also what humans do, it's human nature. Humans have to beat out other humans, anyway possible. You know there's one egg, there's one pussy with one egg in it and there's two boys fighting for that and they'll do anything they can to kill each other off so they get to the egg. And that's the training camp, the playground. And the stuff they learn in the playground, you know the school teachers, the masters, they teach them sadism and dirty tricks and hurt and stuff. You know, they get bullied by the kids and they bully other kids, it's how you learn to be an adult. And unfortunately a lot of it seems to be based on kill the other person. Take their place. That's just human nature.

R: Ok, I understand you have no desire to tour anymore.

A: No got that out of my system some time back.

R: But what are you willing to do to make up for this, as far as promoting the album goes?

A: Well I don't miss. . .I don't seek adulation or anything like that. There's several reasons people tour. They tour because they're in a rock and roll gang. That's a young thing. You know, and instead of knives you have guitars.

R: You were in a gang.

A: I was in a gang. Yeah. It's a young thing, you know, you want to drink the world dry, you want to fuck their daughters, you want to deafen their fathers. That's the gang thing. And then you get a little older and you think "I don't want to be in a gang anymore. I wanna be myself now." There's one reason people play live.

Another reason is that they're genuinely like playing music and they're not interested in the adulation. That's rare. That's really rare.

R: Can you give me an example of someone like that?

A: I don't know, it probably happens more to jazz players. Because they're lost in the music, they don't care about the adulation, the don't seek adulation and fame and uh. . .you know they don't seek the limelight.

Then there's people, it's not related to music, they just have to be adored. And they're addicted to it, totally. I mean somebody like, I mean musically they're not very good. I mean a good example of that would be INXS who I think are appallingly crass. But were totally and utterly addicted to adulation.

And then let me see. And then there's people who find themselves reluctantly in the limelight. Which I think we are that latter category. I much prefer to be a song writer and a record maker, that's my art. With a silent ‘F’. That's my art.

R: But what I'm saying is, that a lot of bands when they release an album they promote it by touring. Do you have any plans to do anything else in leiu of touring?

A: No, the record is the record. I really don't want to ram it down people's throats. If they discover it and like it that's good. If they discover it and don't like it that's okay as well. But I don't wanna uh, I'm just going to be talking about the disc. I'd much rather they were given the idea to go and hear it.

R: Are there any American bands around now that you listen to?

A: At the moment, the only Americans that I really like, but they're probably the only groups I really like full stop on earth right now. I quite like Block. Jamie Block is the singer/songwriter and the band's called Block. I can't remember what label they're on but it's a subsidiary of a really big one. It's got a bad title it's called Timing Is Everything but it's uh. . .I know Jamie and I know his background. He put out an album on his own. This is his second album, it's not quite as good as the first one but if you check out any Block records I think you'll like them.

The person I really like, but unfortunately gets no recognition whatsoever is a New Yorker named David Yazbek. I think he's fantastic. It's one of life's crimes that no one knows about him. He pisses all over Ben Folds Five from a great height in my opinion.

R: (laughter) Now you've been trying to help him get recognition haven't you.

A: Yeah, I think he's one of those rare cases where I just have to get involved. I quite like Beck as well. Beck occasionally does good things. But, I think . . .I would like it if Beck focused. . .I think he just spends too much time in nonsense land. I now wanna know what Beck's soul is about. It's not just about garbage lyrics.

R: Have you heard Mutations?

A: Yeah, some of it. It's yet more kind of, you know I want him to start, yeah we've had that now, now I wanna know what color Beck's soul is. But he can be quite good, I must admit.

R: Do you hear a lot of XTC influence in bands today?

A: Uh, yeah. Some bands. But then again they're bands that are probably looking for their own style on the way if you see what I mean. They're on their way to finding a style. Sometimes you hear us a lot in quite big bands. I hear quite big dashes of us in Blur. But they've actually been brave enough to admit it. . .so.

R: You were going to produce one of their albums weren't you?

A: Yeah I did actually produce three tracks for Modern Life Is Rubbage. I didn't get on with the man from the record company who you know one minute would be saying "Oh this is fantastic. This is better than Sgt. Pepper. You're just the perfect producer. Blah, blah." And then the next minute it would be, "Ah, no, it's not sexy. The drums aren't sexy. Where's the dance loops? We want a big dance hit for Blur!" and all this kind of shit, you know. So I didn't get the gig. But I saw a lot of us in them actually, working with them. I saw a lot of similar interplay between the people. Occasionally they can be good.

But I generally don't like Modern Music. I tend to get my like of modern music out in my own music if you see what I mean. I supply all the guitars I'm gonna need. And the only reason I like old music, I don't like all of it, I only like the stuff that influenced me- that started the fire in the first place. I'm not a nostalgia freak or anything like that. People say "What do you think of the music scene these days?" And I say I think it's always been the same no matter what era you wanna pick. Ten percent of it is great and the other ninety percent of it is dog shit. It's true.

R: With Explode Together would you consider that the first remix album?

A: That's a tough one. I never thought about that. I know that when it came out NME reviewed it and they said, get a load of this for politically correct, they said I was the wrong color to be messing around with dub music. Ooh, dynamite quote there. I was excited at the time because I never had a mixing desk. All I had was a mono cassette machine. (laughter) And just to be able to have access to a mixing desk, to be able to break down the sounds you've made. And either mess with them and resculp them into something else or to add stuff in.

I was thought it was similar to. . . imagine if you made a car. And you made this fully functional car, which is the song you've recorded. And then you get the facility to have at it with like a blowtorch and metal pinchers and cutters and stuff. And then you can slice it all up and you can make some great sculpture out of it as well.

R: Was it good training for, you would go on to, you know. . .

A: Yes, it was a bit like operating theater. You get to mess with the guts and say wow that's connected to that and if you take that off what happens? Oh, it dies. Ok so we'll leave that connected to there. What happens if you take that off? I see, they see through the other ear. Or whatever, you know you get to mess around with all the other organs and find out how stuff works. So it was really important. And I did enjoy it immensely. But I think it was a product of pre-mechanical, pre-computer music. It's all free hand. There's no loops or computers or samples. It was just totally live and you play the mixing desk as you play an instrument. You cut stuff, you put reverbs in it, it's like the dub mixes of Jamaica. That was the inspiration.

R: With the Oranges And Lemons tour you possibly invented the unplugged venue on MTV.

A: Yeah, I'm sorry about that.

R: Do you find that you're normally not credited with that?

A: We're never credited with that and we did start it. MTV really resisted us playing acoustically. They asked if we would go on and do a session but then they only did electric stuff. And I had seen a tape of "Was (Not Was)" they did. And I thought "Jesus this sound is so fucked up." And I know "Was (Not Was)" and they're very particular about their sound. So I thought MTV obviously does not have it together to record and mix bands. They just don't know what they're doing and if we go on they're really going to fuck us up terribly.

So I thought, what can we do so they can't do that but we can still play? I know, we'll take acoustic guitars and just stand around a microphone and play like. . . I'd heard that people used to go in radio stations in the fifties, in the early rock and roll days or the sort of country days, and just stand around the DJ's microphone and play. I thought "That is fantastic. It's so immediate." And so we said to them, I said to MTV, we'll do the show but you have to agree that we do everything with acoustic guitar. I didn't say, "so you don't fuck it up." (laughter) So we did this acoustic set and it got a really good reaction.

And then suddenly MTV came up with the notion of "unplugged". But we were never officially invited onto the unplugged show but I know that we did the very first one without knowing what it was. It makes me laugh now, they say it's unplugged, and there's the keyboards and there's the bass and there's somebody playing samples. I mean, how much more plugged do you wanna be?

R: Well that's all the questions I have.

A: Well, have fun with that one.

R: Did I cut you off? Do you wanna say anything else?

A: No, no that's it. If you write the thing up and you don't like the look of it, hey it will make a great paper plane.

R: (laughter) Bye bye.

A: Bye.

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[Thanks to and with permission of Ryan Walsh]