Interview with Andy Partridge on Chicago radio WXRT

Wednesday, February 25, 1999

WXRT: And finally we have our expected guest with us in the studio today. A man who is one of the founding members, one of the key songwriters --

Andy: One of the liberty bells, one of the blocks of stone that form the great wall of China...

WXRT: Uh-huh [laughter]. From XTC, it's Andy Partridge who's visiting us today.

Andy: He couldn't come so I'm here instead.

WXRT: Very good. Now, XTC listeners know by songs they've heard on XRT like -- and man, we've got a list of 'em here: Ten Feet Tall, Peter Pumpkinhead, My Bird Performs, Dear Madam Barnum, Mayor Of Simpleton, King For A Day, Earn Enough For Us, Dear God, This World Over, Love On A Farmboy's Wages, Senses Working Overtime, Generals And Majors, Making Plans For Nigel, Life Begins At The Hop, and from the new album, I'd Like That.

Andy: You left out "Baby, Grease My Gusset"...

WXRT: I did leave a few things out --

Andy: "You're The Weasel Farmer Of My Dreams"...

WXRT: Let me write these down, you don't have these copyrighted yet, do you? [laughter]. Are these all albums, or all song titles for songs that you've collected over the past several years?

Andy: No, I jest. Actually, I'll tell you what I do collect is group names. I just can't stop making up group names. I've got books of them, I mean things like The Sopwith Caramels, The Ten Commandos, The Twelve Flavours of Hercules [laughter]. Hell of a band. I just can't stop making up band names.

WXRT: So now you have -- it seemed like you stopped making albums, though. The last album was in 1992. Is that because you made so much money in royalties off those albums up until that point that you can just afford to go into semi-retirement?

Andy: Of course! We just sat there going: "Ten cents, twenty cents, thirty cents...." We sat in the counting house, you know. Basically, we went on strike because we were never going to make a living with Virgin Records. We were on the label twenty years, and we still haven't gone into the black. And they've made, oh a conservative estimate would be something like 35 million pounds out of us. And we hadn't gone in the black. Something a little awry there with the contract, methinks! So I said look, you know, make our contract better [whispering] which I knew they wouldn't! Or, can we go, please? Which I sensed they might not, and they didn't, they said "No! You're not going anywhere." So I said, "Right, we're on strike. You've had it. No more music for you." And they basically sat on us for five years until we, um -- [pause] until we threatened to cry [laughter]. And ruin their new suits. And eventually after five years we managed to get away. So, hoorah!

WXRT: Yeah!

Andy: And we'd stored up a lot of songs, about four albums' worth. And Apple Venus Volume 1 is about a quarter of that batch.

WXRT: We could just jump right into one of those songs from that album, but --

Andy: Go on, spoil me!

WXRT: I just, well, I just wonder how many... you've got one album out now and another album coming out later. Do you think that you'll hold onto these songs and actually release four albums' worth of songs, or will there be new songs by then?

Andy: No, no, no ... I mean, out of that four albums' worth of songs, we've taken the best two albums' worth. Cream floats to the top. Or is it the scum? I can't tell. Anyway we've taken kind of the best of the four. Volume one is out now, and we're commencing volume two about early May, I should think. When we finish painting Colin's garage, so we can get in it and record.

WXRT: Is that the kind of work you've been doing on the side while you've been in this semi-retirement?

Andy: [laughing] You've been looking, haven't you?

WXRT: Painting garages for a living?

Andy: [in Dutch accent] "Yah, I vas a great painter. One apartment, two coats."

WXRT: Let's play a song from the new album now. Let's play "I'd Like That" and that'll give us a chance to settle down just a little bit more here. What do you want to tell us about this song? Anything?

Andy: What can I tell you about this song? This song was written during a very bleak moment in my life. I'd had an ear infection, which left me deaf for six weeks, which was rather disturbing because the doctors didn't know whether I could hear again. But my nostrils work perfectly now and I can hear just fine. Woke up, found myself divorced, which sounds like an old blues number, doesn't it?

WXRT: It does.

Andy: I couldn't work. You know, couldn't work because of Virgin Records. I discovered the joy of owning a prostate and detonating it. Drinking it to death, I think. And amidst all that cack, I fell in love! And it was wonderful, and I felt like I was fourteen again. So "I'd Like That" kind of reflects..."duhhh," the sort of [whistles] "tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet" ness of being in love.

WXRT: The sort of what was that?

Andy: The sort of "tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet" ness.

WXRT: Let's hear that, then. From the brand new album by XTC on XRT.

["I'd Like That" is played.]

WXRT: Tell us about the non-traditional drumming in that song.

Andy: Never have thighs sounded so magnificent in the history of thigh-playing! Well, on the demo, when I did the demo of that, I didn't know what I wanted the drums to do. So I thought "Well, I'll just kind of stamp and play my thighs. I'll just sit there and go <slappity slappity slap slap, slappity slappity slap slap> like that and then I'll indicate to the drummer, "It's kind of something like this, and you know, we'll work it all out." And when I brought the demo along, everyone said "Yeah, that's great, what's that?" And I said, "Well, it's just my thighs... ". "Great! We've gotta leave it on! We must leave it on." So, it's my thighs! [singing to the tune of "It's My Party"] "It's my thighs and I'll slap if I want to...".

WXRT: There you go! Now, throughout the album there's a lot of orchestration. You had a big orchestra. Now when you have an orchestra come in, do you just say "Here's how the song goes, now you guys jam along"? Or do you write every note for them?

Andy: The first thing you say is "You're buying your own lunch." There's forty of 'em [laughter]. No, you can't have 'em jam. I mean, we're not Oasis. I think that was the Oasis tale, someone said [affects northern accent] "Oh, we gotta get an orchestra in, the Beatles had an orchestra, we'll 'ave to 'ave an orchestra." "And what are they gonna play, Noel?" "I dunno, get 'em to jam." [laughter]. Orchestras don't jam! They're not those kind of people. I think Oasis held up big boards with the chords written on. No, we did what they call digital arranging, which is one finger. First finger at a time. You sit there with a keyboard and you kinda go "maybe the violas should do this: dah, dah, dah -- no, that doesn't sound right. Dah, DAH, dah -- no, that's not right." You know, we spent months working through this stuff, and doing it.

WXRT: The digital recording.

Andy: Yeah, one finger at a time. But you're talking to the man who's played a keyboard with a cardboard hand in the past, so... .

WXRT: I've heard about that, tell me how that works. What do you mean a cardboard hand?

Andy: Well, I have a sequencer now, a computer, so I can sit and play with my one finger and it remembers what I play. But prior to that, I would eithe rwrite the notes on the keyboard -- 'cause I mean the thing's just like a grinning crocodile to me, it makes no sense at all. Too logical for me. I'd either write the notes on the keyboard or, I'd been known to find a chord that I liked on the keyboard and go "[gasp] That's great! What am I gonna do? [screams] Ahhh! " And then I'd run in from my home studio, cramping my hand in the same position, take a marker pen, draw around it on a cereal box or a piece of spare card or something, cut it out, run back to the studio, and then I could hold the chord down on the keyboard [laughter] and then find the next one to go to without losing the shape of the first one.

WXRT: Sounds a little difficult. More difficult than it should be.

Andy: It's a little difficult, but any way that you can get it achieved. Cardboard Hands 'R Us. There's a store you should try.

WXRT: Well, that could be another band name. Now, you don't tour very often. It's been a while.

Andy: No need.

WXRT: No need?

Andy: No need, there's plenty of other people touring. Playing crappier music.

WXRT: That's right. I was thinking maybe it's just the difficulties of a tour that keep you from touring. Then I was going to suggest maybe you just pick a city, say, where there's a radio station that plays ALL your records. Set up in one town for a while, say a city that's got fine hotels and good restaurants and friendly mid-western people.

Andy: Oh, like Vegas?

WXRT: Might be the rail hub or the air hub of the midwest of America, and you set up, hire an orchestra and just stay here for a couple of months. And let people from around the continent come here.

Andy: Ah, no need. I don't need to reproduce it, it's there on record, I wanna move on to the next one, y'know?

WXRT: You know, the way the album starts out sounds like just a great concert opener to me, though, the song -- I can just see the stage, a dark stage and the violins playing and the River Of Orchids -- is that the first song? -- starting up, and then moving right into the hit song from that.

Andy: Yeah, and then the showgirls come on, and the lamé jackets and [American accent] "You're a wonderful audience. We mean that sincerely [laughter]. Just buy your $200 tour shirts at the door as you leave. Suckers." I'm not interested in live, you know that.

WXRT: Yeah, so that's not gonna happen.

Andy: That's not gonna happen. We got that out of our system years ago. And I'm more interested in living a life. You don't live a life on tour, you're an imprisoned performing robot. That's all there is to it. I could be a rich imprisoned performing robot, but I choose to be not as rich, or -- not as rich -- I choose to have not-touring money and have a life instead.

WXRT: Now when you first started making records, it was in the UK in the seventies, there was punk rock...

Andy: [old guy voice] Eighteen seventies!

WXRT: That's right, punk rock, new wave, you were kind of considered part of that scene. Now with this new album, sometimes it's not even rock at all, isn't that right?

Andy: It's not. No. It's just... it's XTC, I dunno what to tell you. We've been moving away from the mainstream slowly over the years, until we're completely on our own little railway track. We still have a train, still have carriages, but it's not the great big showbiz run-of-the-mill track with the big, shiny carriages and stuff. We have our own little puffing thing going around there. Goes at its own speed, does what it does lovely. You know, leave it alone.

WXRT: All right. You picked this next song that I'm about ready to play, why don't you tell us something about that, from the new album?

Andy: Which one would you like to play?

WXRT: The um... Easter Theatre.

Andy: Easter Theatre. Oh, right. Well, look, what can I tell you about this? This is a song that -- in fact there's a guitar in the corner, hang on, I can do a little bit here.

WXRT: Oh, really? Well, that'll be nice!

Andy: Just in the way of explaining...

WXRT: We thought we'd just leave a guitar here for you...

Andy: Yeah, [muttering] you cynical thing!

WXRT: Just in case there was a way we could entice you into that.

Andy: Well, I can tell you that I have to set fire to every guitar I play. I hope you told that to the fellow that loaned it.

WXRT: I did, he says that's fine.

Andy: But no, I was [southern accent] Let me take you WAY back, now, WAY back into time, to the troglodyte times! It's 1986, and [strums] I had these chords, and this little melody, and while we were recording Skylarking I took Colin aside one day and I said "Colin, I've got this great melody, and these great little chords, and I don't know what the hell to do with them." And I don't know what I expected him to say. And I just [strums] I just played him the melody of it [strums and hums the chorus of Easter Theatre] "Bah-BAH, bah dum bah da da dum bah da da da dah/ Bah-BAH, da dum da dum da da da da dum da dah..." and so on, you know. And he just looked a little blank and said "Yeah, yeah, nice, nice melody. Got any words?" And I said "No, I don't have any words." "Any ideas?" I said, "No, no ideas what to do with it." So, you kind of file it away in your head and it goes back into the subconscious, in the junk drawer, up in the attic, you know.

WXRT: You didn't draw a cardboard hand on the fretboard?

Andy: [laughs] Those chord shapes! Gimme that cardboard! No, I have a cardboard bottleneck for playing blues [laughter]. And I filed those chords and that tune away in the old brainbox there. And in '93 I'm sat down with my daughter's two-thirds scale school guitar, which -- it's an appalling guitar, it's the cheapest the shop could sell me, thirty-five pounds, made in Romania, home of all great rock and roll guitars, of course. And I love the thing. Won't stay in tune, sounds horrible, but I play it all the time. And I've discovered these chords I never discovered before and I found this lovely little pattern --Just yawn if I'm boring you -- found this lovely little pattern that sounded so earthy and the chords went [strums opening Easter Theatre chords as he explains] and they sounded really brown and sort of soily and I thought, "Hmm. It's like dirt. And because it's ascending, it's like something pushing up throught he dirt ... so that's maybe flowers ... flowers, Easter ... yeah!" And I got onto the whole kick there, I started sort of improvising the lyrics and stuff and soon I had this little melody coming [still strumming]. And I got up to the top there, and I thought, "Well, where the hell am I gonna go now? I can't really go much higher, perhaps if I just stretch ... one finger ... uh, it's so tense! What can I do? And before I knew it, [stops strumming] this little melody came back off of holiday from 1986 [strums again] and just fell right into the spot and gave me [plays] "Stage left, enter Easter and she's dressed in yellow yolk/Stage right, now the son has died, the father can be born/Stand up, if we all breathe in and blow away the smoke... ." So, do not, EVER, throw away bits of old song, no matter how old they are, 'cause ya NEVER know when you're gonna need 'em!"

WXRT: Okay! Let's play the song, from the brand new album by XTC, on XRT.

["Easter Theatre" is played.]

WXRT: All right, XTC, from the brand new album Apple Venus Volume 1.

Andy: Could you hear that scraping, plucking, sucking, twanging, banging, slurping? And that was before we got to the orchestra.

WXRT: [Laughs] Well, that's really something, you said you recorded this at the Apple studios, the old --

Andy: Er, Abbey Road.

WXRT: Excuse me, Abbey Road.

Andy: Abbey Road Studio One, you know that's the great big [hums huge chords from the end of the bridge to "A Day In The Life"] "BAHM, bahm BAHM, bahm BAH!" studio.

WXRT: It would have to be for a forty piece orchestra to fit in there.

Andy: Yeah, right.

WXRT: Very nice.

Andy: Very thrilling, seeing all these players and hearing all these players playing your music. Especially if you're a naive like me who's taken ages to put all this together. They're just, you know, scraping away, sawing away and doing this stuff and the hairs on the back of your tongue just stand up, I tell ya [laughter].

WXRT: Now, you worked on the songs, you had years to get all the songs together and then didn't this orchestra come in and record in just one day? Just bang it right out?

Andy: One day. We couldn't afford any more than one day! It was twelve and a half thousand pounds for one day, so we took months planning out what was gonna happen, and got the orchestra in and a really hectic, long day -- we had basically recorded most of the album in that one day. And then spent the next few months after that editing, and recording the vocals in Colin's living room and in Colin's hall. I hope his family didn't mind us moving in there. They had to eat a little quieter while we were making the album [laughter]. The cutlery was getting on the tracks.

WXRT: [Laughs] I've heard albums like that, but the way. Now, the album, it's mostly an acoustic album, or could you say completely an acoustic album?

Andy: Well, it's kind of orchoustic, which is orchestral/acoustic. You have one acoustic instrument being the main spine of the song, usually. And then you have the heart, lungs, liver and lights are orchestral textures. Your cellos! Your violas! Your washboards! That kind of stuff.

WXRT: Now was this your intention when you wrote each of these individual songs, did you already have an acoustic album kind of concept?

Andy: Yeah, I had a real jones to do this. This is a phrase I've learned recently, "a jones" and I have no idea, but I love the sound of it. Another phrase is "mook", I'm calling everyone a mook lately. "Hey, ya mook!" [laughs]. No, I had a real jones to do an orchestral thing. I mean you can hear, there's little signs on Nonsuch pointing "Andy wants to go that way, folks!" and you can kind of see some of this stuff on there. I was really itching to do that. And as soon as we got Nonsuch finished I started work on the stuff that became this.

WXRT: Now, your guitarist for twenty years almost was a guy by the name of Dave Gregory. Now, did he leave because you were going in this direction, or did you go in that direction because you didn't have a guitarist?

Andy: Or did we push him -- or did we go in that direction because we knew he wouldn't like it [laughter]? That was one of the reasons he left. I mean there's no simple answer to this because Dave's an immensely complex person. He left because he didn't want to do the acoustic/orchestral record. He left because we were making him wait to do the electric one and he's an electric guitarist basically. He left because he didn't want to spend a penny on an orchestra, he wanted to keep the money for himself. He left because he didn't wanna do the book we were involved in. He left because I ... you know, he thought I was the devil, basically. "Ah, so that's how he gets all those good tunes!"

WXRT: I thought it was the record label. It was the record label that was the devil!

Andy: Oh, it's the record -- no, Steve Gottleib was the devil and I'm just one of his Lucifer-like assistants, I'm sure. So Dave was unhappy with just about everything, and I thought it was a good idea that he left, 'cause if he hadn't, I was rehearsing my firing him speech and I didn't want to do that.

WXRT: Now the next album, though -- you've addressed this almost, but you haven't explained it completely yet -- but the next album, Apple Venus Volume 2, is actually something that you're planning, you're hoping will be released by the end of the year.

Andy: That's right. If we can do it, yeah.

WXRT: You're about ready to record it and it'll be an amplified, electric guitar follow up to these songs.

Andy: It'll be an up your nose, in your face, down your groin, nice, noisy electric record, yeah.

WXRT: Great.

Andy: So it should complement this one nicely. Sweet and sour.

WXRT: Now, we've got a song cued up to play from this album. This is a kind of a spelling song.

Andy: Yeah, so bring your children close to the radio that they may learn [laughter]. Well, this is a song I didn't wanna record for this album. This is a song that --

WXRT: Well, who tells you to record it, then? Who's the boss here?

Andy: Well, I'm the boss, but ... but sometimes old bossy-baby has to make these decisions based on what he knows. I got myself divorced -- I didn't wanna get divorced; I suddenly found myself divorced. It was very painful, I felt really kicked in the nuts physically and mentally. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me emotionally and I said to myself, "Right. Okay, I am NOT gonna write any divorce songs. I refuse to turn into Phil Collins. It's a dirty job, being Phil Collins, even he doesn't wanna do it. But you know, someone's gotta do it. So I did not want to turn into a kind of Phil Collins type, crying into his beer, songs for swinging divorcees type thing. And this went on for a couple of months and the pain was getting so intense, I was feeling so scummy and low about the whole thing. I thought, "I've got to allow myself the luxury of just one -- if I just write one hateful little song, all the feeling will come out, I'm sure." And this song, "Your Dictionary", came out very quickly. It was a real case of fingers down the throat, bleaaah! Out comes the song. I felt so much better after I'd written it and made a little demo of it. But as the weeks and the months and then the years went by, I thought, "No, we don't need to record this, even." I mean, I feel different now, I feel better about the situation. And people got to hear this song, the rest of the band got to hear this song, record companies, friends got to hear this and then they said, "If there's one song you have to record, it's THAT one! We're not gonna let you get away with not doing that song." And I guess I just weakened and said, "Oh, okay", and we recorded it. But the recipient of this song has not heard it yet. So let us say the feces is still in midair [laughter] on a holding pattern, and has not yet landed at Fan International.

WXRT: But somebody's going to hear this and when they do they'll say, "Hey! That's about me!"

Andy: "That's about me." And I didn't write it to her, I wrote it to ease the pus that was building up in my brain, the hurt inside me, I wrote it to get that out, and not to upset anyone else. But hey, it's not a bad little tune.

WXRT: Okay, now just before we play it, let's mention where you're going to be in the rest of the day. You're on like a whirlwind tour, now didn't you just come out of Boston today?

Andy: I was temporarily Mr. Snowbound in Boston.

WXRT: And we apologize to listeners who thought you were going to be here earlier.

Andy: Where else have I been? Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, nyuh nyah, nyuh nyeh nyeh nyeh... I've just been doing this now for a week nonstop. There's another ten days or something nonstop as well.

WXRT: Well, we're really glad that you could stop by here in Cleveland and...

Andy: Brain's fairly... who am I [laughter}? Who am I stopping by here? This is Cleveland, is it [laughter]? Ah, they told me it was Dundee.

WXRT: Now, you're going to be appearing tonight at Border's Books and Music, 7:00 tonight

Andy: Yes, I shall deem to beam myself in. And bring along your cripples, bring along your maimed...

WXRT: And you'll say hi to 'em and heal 'em, heal the maimed...

Andy: I'll sign their asses!

WXRT: There ya go! Okay. Andy Partridge of XTC. Let's play one more song here from the Apple Venus Volume 1 CD then, and thanks so much for coming by and hope you do it again.

Andy:: Cheers. Well, let's leave it on the bummer, shall we? "Your Dictionary"

WXRT: Okay.

["Your Dictionary" is played.]

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Transcribed by Janis Van Court, March 28, 1999