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Last Updated:
Mar 6, 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006


Interview with Andy about lyric writing

The Lyrical Andy Partridge

Sometimes, someone else's problem can be your opportunity.

My good friend John Morrish, who works for Backbeat UK, is a busy guy. So busy, in fact, that he decided to ask for a little help early this year, on a book called How to Write Lyrics, written by well-known music journalist Rikky Rooksby and scheduled for release this summer. As editor of the book, John had decided to run interviews with well-known lyricists as interludes between chapters, and had planned to interview Andy himself -- but the demands of work got in the way, and so he offered the "job" to me.

Now, I'm happy to talk to Andy even when someone's not paying me to do it, so I accepted without hesitation. Though we've chatted about various things over the years, I'd never had an opportunity to quiz Andy at length specifically on the subject of lyric-writing, so this seemed an excellent opportunity to get inside the head one of the finest writers in Pop music.

Of course, Andy was insightful and funny, and I was frustrated by the fact that I had to pare down the original 10,000-word interview to about 1,500 words, to account for the limitations of the print medium. So, at Andy's urging, I've created this Web-sized version for the MySpace site.

I've done some light editing, meaning that I've removed some of the redundant language that always finds its way into spoken conversation, fixed the grammar here and there, and moved around some of the questions and answers to make the piece "flow" better. But otherwise, this is a pretty good representation of our conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

TB: So, let me get my handy-dandy list of questions...

AP: [in heavy mock-Italian accent] How you come up with name XTC? Exa-Tee-Chee? How you make this name? You tell me, why you make the disco music?

TB: [laughing] Actually, I do want to go back to the beginning and ask, do you remember writing your first song and, if so, what was it?

AP: I do. I must have been about 14, and it was truly awful. It was called "Please Help Me," and was obviously a cry from my anguished teenaged soul. It went something like [in whiny teenage voice], "Please help me/I'm drowning in a sea/Please help me."

Something like that is the first mark you make in the exercise book of life. You know you're going to go wrong, that it's going to be surpassed immediately, so it's best to get it out of the way. It was my -- is it called meconium? You know, baby's first turd? My musical meconium. [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Okay. Next question, then: Lyrics or music first? Or, is there a pattern?

AP: No, there is no pattern. This is quite a huge question, actually, because it's really the basis of how songs arrive. Sometimes you're just messing around with chords, and they can suggest something -- like the sea, or clouds, or a box -- anything. I'm a little bit synesthetic when it comes to that [synesthesia describes the condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, such as when hearing a sound produces the visualization of an object or color]. I can hear sounds, and I think, "Ooh, that's just like fog, or that's just like a wet day in November." A lot of time, the lyrics come because I'm trying to explain the synesthetic nature of the chord or chords -- the picture that they're painting.

"Easter Theatre" was like that. The earthy chords -- those very brown, muddy, ascending chords -- made me think, "This sounds like something pushing up through the ground -- [fast] ooh, like new buds, ooh, it's Easter," and before I knew it, I'd vomited up the reason for the song. Or the tone of an instrument can suggest things, like the organ tone on "Chalkhills and Children" -- I thought the little keyboard figure at the beginning sounded medieval and earthy, but the placid high chords before it sounded like you were floating, so it suggested floating over a land. Before I knew it, my mental grasping to reason what this piece of music was about had become the lyric.

Sometimes it's the other way around. Sometimes I actually write things that I don't know are going to be songs -- they're just things, which I suppose could be classed as poems or pieces of prose, and then you think, "You know, that wouldn't make a bad song." "Summer's Cauldron" was pretty much like that. And "2 Rainbeau Melt," a song that will be coming out on one of my latest Fuzzy Warbles discs -- this started as a poem, and then I improvised music around the poem. But that's rarer, doing it that way.

TB: Your lyrics often work on different levels. How much of this is intentional, and how much is "happy accident"? Is there even such a thing as a "happy accident"?

AP: Lyrically, I love word games. I love them in literature, in poetry, and in song lyrics. I love the fact that the same bunch of words can mean so many different things, through a different inflection, or through another way of looking at it. I never look at anything straight-on -- I also look at it from the back, then from above, then from underneath, then I want to slice it open and see what's inside.

That said, I don't think there are "happy accidents" with the lyrics, because I sweat blood to get them! They are by far the toughest things to feel happy about. The music is a lot easier.

TB: Has it always been that way for you, even in the early days, when you were writing your Sci Fi-oriented stuff?

AP: I guess that was easier, but those lyrics were nonsense. And the Dukes of Stratosphear was all psychedelic nonsense. You can grab any old thing, and file it under psychedelia, because it doesn't have to make sense. It's easier to write nonsense.

The early stuff really centered around the joy of the sound of words. The words didn't have to fit together or mean anything. It was the onomatopoeic fun of each word or each phrase. "I'm Bugged" was inspired by a painting I did in Jack Kirby, Marvel Comics style, of a fellow being swarmed over by ants. Then I thought, "All these people with their sunglasses at our gigs look kind of insect-like." "Dark and midnight nest" doesn't mean anything, but I liked the sound of it.

I got out of that quite quickly. I felt like, having a public soapbox, I should really say something. I should be real, I guess, as opposed to hiding so much. I realized that I couldn't just grab nonsense for the sound of the word. I needed to stand up and be counted.

I guess my songwriting grew up in public. You know -- you make your first record, and then think, "Whoop, got to do a lot better next time!" You find you're lyrically evolving. You're growing up in the public eye as a writer.

TB: Has it gotten easier with age?

AP: I'm constantly wrestling with my editor. I never had an editor at one time, but I've grown one over the years, and he's become too important. I have to find ways of killing him off, or putting him to sleep until I need him.

TB: Are there any tricks you've come up with?

AP: [Sighs] It's tough, because the older he gets, the more ornery he gets, and the more aware he is of ploys to put him to sleep. It's really useful having an editor, because it's great for shaping up raw material, but I find the editor's getting so strong, he's not letting raw material be born. To make raw material, you have to be a bit stupid and have no restrictions, so you can grab anything and use it. The "idiot creative you" might say, "If I stick this and this together, I could make one of those!" But the editor says, "You're never going to use that piece, put it down."

TB: Or, "You or other people have said this before"?

AP: Oh, that's the hat he wears: "You've done this before. You've said this before." That's the death of inspiration. I hate the idea of repeating myself.

TB: But there is some value to the editor, because it keeps things fresh -- it does keep you from repeating yourself, yet you must find that there are ways of coming back to the same subject, as you just mentioned. For example, you have certain themes that come across in your lyrics, such as earning enough money, or the trials of relationships, or the love for your children...

AP: Birth and death and the renewal process...

TB: Exactly. So, the challenge is to keep revisiting these themes, and still say something different about them each time. I suppose they're big enough themes that this is possible.

AP: I think maybe every songwriter does that. Maybe every artist does that, whatever they do. Obviously, there's a natural attraction to certain things. Like, with me, the fairground, despite [laughing] what rather dire places they are, what a waste of money they are. But I have this kind of romance about fairgrounds and circuses -- it's unrequited love, really. They're never as good as you want them to be, I guess.

Or things like the seaside or the sea -- I keep getting drawn back to that. Can't swim. Petrified of water. But I keep being drawn back to subjects about the sea.

TB: Except for a very few songs -- such as "Your Dictionary" -- you don't seem to be a confessional lyric writer. Is this intentional?

AP: I think I am confessional, but I dress up in masks. When I say "she" or "he" or "those," I probably mean me. When I say "them," I might mean me and her, or when I say "you," I might even mean me! You play all the characters in the little production yourself, and you supply their voices, but so it doesn't look wrong, you give them masks of other people. Because you've got a mask on, you can be more truthful.

TB: Does this enable you to learn things about yourself that you might not otherwise have known? For example, if you look at the lyrics on Nonsuch, it's interesting that it was recorded before your divorce.

AP: Yes, I know, it's impending.

TB: Yeah. Songs like "Crocodile" and "Dear Madam Barnum" and so many others...

AP: I do that quite a lot. I like the ones where you can look back and look at the lyric, and go, "Oh my goodness, look what you've said! You didn't realize it at the time." I'm really proud, for example, of the lyric of "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," which -- although I didn't realize it at the time -- is really my take on life. You know, the secret of life is that there isn't one. But I don't think I realized I was writing about me at the time.

I recently wrote something called, "I Gave My Suitcase Away." Although I wrote it intending it to be for someone else -- a woman who wanted songs on the subject of coming back to live in England and not going away again -- I realized a few weeks later that it's totally my sentiment. It's about how I'm happy not to travel around anymore, I've kind of done too much of it. So, it's good to surprise yourself. That feels very rewarding.

TB: Does your writing change when you write for someone else?

AP: Yeah, because you're freer. You can grab any old rubbish, thinking, "I haven't got to sing this!" It's a way to discover stuff you might not look at for yourself -- I suppose it's another way of fooling the editor. Writing for someone else, it's like saying, "That's okay Editor, you needn't come in to work today, it's going to be for someone else, so we can get away with anything!" And by getting away with anything, you might get away with something really good, and really truthful, about yourself and your own opinions.

TB: One of the things that has struck me about you -- and I've thought this ever since I heard the "James and the Giant Peach" songs, but it's true if you think about "Wonderfalls" or any of the other things along those lines that you've done -- is that you seem to have the gift of being both a craftsman and an artist. And by craftsman, I mean that you can write on demand -- when someone comes to you and says, "I'd like you to do this for this project" -- but then of course you do your own thing as well. Given that, what inspires you to write? Do you work at it, or do the lyrics just pop out? I know when somebody hires you, obviously then you've got a peg to hang your hat on...

AP: Yeah, I kind of like that, actually. I like the "patron" thing. I usually can kick in quite quickly there, and the more respect I have for the patron, the better -- for example, I think the back catalog of Disney's kids' songs, up to about the late 1960s, were excellent. Unfortunately, now it's all sort of like out-takes from "Cats," or "Phantom of the Opera" -- that sort of thing. But I think that the best of Disney's songs are fantastic, and the chance to have been involved with that really fired my imagination. I came up with four or five songs in a week.

When it comes to my own projects, sometimes I get a stylistic thing in mind -- like, I want to work on acoustic guitar, or I want to work on electric guitar, or I want it all to be strings, or piano. It can be inspirational to grab a palette, and say, "I'm going to use this and not veer too much away from it," especially if you're writing for an album. You say, "Okay, I'm going to write for the next album, and I'm going to pick some colors to use, and I'm only going to use dark brown, light brown, khaki green, and gray." And you find that subconsciously, although you're pushing your old play-dough through the same old holes, picking a palette is like picking a differently shaped hole to push it all through. It's a similar sort of goo that goes through, but it can come out star-shaped, or round, or square, or whatever little template you fit in front of the squeezer.

TB: What else inspires you?

AP: I might stumble on to a good phrase, and I'll write that down, or sometimes I'll just sit and write anything that comes to mind -- "brain vomit" -- not knowing what the hell I'm writing. You come back a couple of weeks later, and you look at it, and you think, "Well, this is awful, but those four lines there are good, and I don't know where they came from." It's that little diamond that came up with all this dirt that you vomited out, and you never realized it, but now you might have the basis for a song.

TB: So you mine old lyrics, too. I knew that you do this with music.

AP: Sure! I think if you have a good lyric, you don't throw it away. Sometimes, I just write down words I like. I was looking in a notebook today at something, and I noticed I had written the word "baboonery," which means unnecessary, fussy detail in architecture. Next to that I had "Narragonia," which is the place where the ship of fools is headed! [laughs] Obviously, I like those words and their meanings. Don't think I could ever use them in a song title, but you know, maybe they'll be useful somewhere.

Another word I heard the other day -- great word, I have to use it somewhere -- is "zugzwang." It's a German word, meaning a chess move where you're obliged to make a move, but the only moves you can make are going to be harmful to you. That's a great word. So, I do that -- I find great words or great little phrases, and jot them down.

TB: How do you feel about rhyming? Is that important to you, or not?

AP: As in, "I'm a poet, and I'm unaware of it, I make a rhyme every occurrence"? [laughs] What do I think about rhyme? I think lyrics are best when they have an internal tempo, and little internal rhymes. I always try to create a push/pull tension with internal rhymes. Not necessarily at the end -- you might put a lazy or fake red-herring type rhyme at the end, but all the tension is internal. It's quite a ballet, if you get it right.

I love the old Hollywood, "Wizard of Oz" thing, where they bend things to fit, fantastically, clumsily. I find that really exciting. "What if it was an elephant? I'd wrap him up in cellophant! What if it was a rhinoceros? Imposseros!" [laughing] It's not even a real word, but you know what he's going for. I like bending the English language until it screams.

TB: Was that the intent behind something like "Shake You Donkey Up"? If you look at what you're doing there -- "Look at he long ears"...

AP: Yeah, I think that sometimes if you sing in "clumsy," it frees you. It's these idiot primary colors, without the subtle shades to link them, so it has more of a cartoon effect, more of a disjointing effect. It's definitely to make a flavor. I'm guilty of doing that quite a lot -- writing in purposefully "Wronglish."

TB: Speaking of which, do you think that you have, lyrically, a "voice"? And by that I mean, is there such a thing as an Andy Partridge lyric, or do you try to avoid that?

AP: That's an odd one, because I don't know what it is. I like to think I might be achieving it, but maybe that's a little bit of pomposity. Because I'm dealing with the English language and a finite amount of words, it's probably been said so much better by, you know, Shakespeare, and Arthur Miller, and Kurt Vonnegut, and other people who are great with words. But I do feel proud of quite a bunch of my lyrics, and I can't tell you why! [laughs]

TB: [laughs] Well, I'd say because they're quite brilliant, but...

AP: Oh, I don't know, you see, it's tough for the creator to say, "Well, that's brilliant." Sometimes you sort of feel a little frisson of, "Ooh, that's quite good," but it's left to other people to say "That's brilliant." I wouldn't say that about my own things, because I wouldn't like to hear me saying it.

TB: Who would you say were your biggest influences lyrically?

AP: Probably Ray Davies, and Lennon and McCartney. I'd put them as the top three. And Ray Davies just because he writes in everyday English, but it's from a skewed perspective. I mean, the lyrics to "Autumn Almanac," one of my favorite-ever songs -- it's a disjointed look at English life through one of those lenses that shatters it up into lots of little pictures. I love it. I love the woodiness of it, and the creakiness of it, dusty and dank -- much like England.

TB: And he and you, actually, are often cited as deliberately English lyricists.

AP: I don't try to be English. I guess because I am English, it comes out English. But I don't sit down and think [affects terrible Dick Van Dyke-style English accent], "Cor blimey, can I put a union jack and a beefeater's outfit on, Mary?"

TB: [laughing] "Time to write about scones again!"

AP: [laughing] "How fantabidozy! Cor, gimme a shilling there!" Yeah, so I don't try to be English on purpose, but because I am, I guess it just comes out, in a way. I can't help it. I'm innocent, guv.

TB: But it sounds like it's not anything you've ever run away from. Whereas some people, who might have been reaching for the brass ring and wider acceptance, might have said, "Oh, maybe I shouldn't use that word because people in the U.S. or Japan might not know what it means."

AP: No, I think it's important to be who you are. That's the strongest asset you can have.

TB: You talked about Lennon and McCartney, and Ray Davies. Are there any poets, or other lyricists, that inspire you?

AP: I don't read much poetry. If I blunder into it, I sometimes think, "Ooh, that's quite nice." I quite like some Philip Larkin. I like to hear Shakespeare spoken, but I don't like to try to read it, it brings my brain to a halt.

TB: Well, it was written to be spoken, after all.

AP: There you go. But to read it, sometimes, well, it shuts my head off. It's an explosion of baroqueness. I do like poetry, but I don't go out of my way to find it.

TB: Who do you think is doing good work today? And, conversely, who isn't?

AP: I'd say the majority of people aren't doing good work today. I don't know if I know enough contemporary stuff to say, "Well, that's really great, I've got to find everything he or she does." I guess because I've been in similar places myself, I'm rather bored when I hear it from other people. It's like they're just listing off names of places I used to live in myself. "Oh yeah, yeah, I've been there. I did that." It's an age thing, I guess.

I'm more excited about types of music that I can't do, if you know what I mean. You and I have talked about '20s syncopated jazz before. God, I think that stuff is wonderful. Haven't got the faintest idea how they do it. Or certain types of folk music -- I guess I largely know how they do it, but when you hear Malian music, or music from Niger or something, you think, "Hmm, that's very different to how I'd do something with a guitar." Otherwise, I can do most forms of popular music, so I think, "Yeah, I can do that trick." It's like being a conjuror or something. "Yeah, I know how to make those doves appear, what's new about that?"

TB: Is anything off-limits for you, lyrically?

AP: Well, I like sex. Everyone in the world likes sex! So why are there no songs that talk directly about sex? The ones that do are just laughably awful. "I want to sex you up" is pretty banal. I wish I could write about sex in a direct way. I do write about sex a lot, but it's so heavily metaphorized that you might not know what the hell I was talking about.

TB: So, besides sex ... religion? You're very well known for a song where you took that on head-on.

AP: Yeah, but I tend to want to stay away from religion. I guess it's because I don't have any, so it's tough to make it concrete in a song. I'd rather sing about trees, hills, that kind of thing, which to me are closer to a religion.

TB: Yeah, I was going to say, I view "Greenman" as a very religious song.

AP: Yeah, I'm a bit of a dyed-in-the-wool pagan. I guess I've touched on most things I've wanted to say. That's the problem. There are only a finite amount of opinions, and a lot of the opinions I've got I guess are too mundane to make songs out of. You know, would I want to sing, "I love my books." I was more appalled by books being set on fire. Or would I want to write a song, "I love to collect toy soldiers," or "It's nice to shave your balls," or whatever. There are lots of things you like doing or having, but they wouldn't necessarily make great songs.

TB: But you do tend to make the leap, though -- you brought up "Books Are Burning" when you talked about being appalled when people burn books. You've also written "Toys" and "The Art Song." So you are sometimes able to take these mundane subjects and turn them into something bigger.

AP: Yeah, maybe you've got me there. Maybe no subject's off-limits. "The Pedophile Concept Album," coming to a store near you! [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Keep your children indoors!

AP: Yeah, I'll just ring up Mr. Jackson for advice.

TB: Gary Glitter as a guest artist...

AP: What's three-foot high and stands at the bottom of a child's bed? Gary Glitter's boots!

TB: [laughing] Are there clichd images or themes that you try to avoid in your lyrics?

AP: "Baby." If I use "baby" -- which I don't know if I have at all [he hasn't] -- it would have to be very ironic. I also don't use the word "guy," so if that goes into a song, it's probably for a certain effect, and I feel a little clumsy saying it, because I don't say "guy" in my everyday speech.

TB: Are there any lyrics you're most proud of?

AP: Yeah, "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul." I'm really, really proud of those lyrics.

TB: Why?

AP: They've kind of got it all. They've got the internal rhymes, the internal tensions and releases, the subject matter. This is going to sound awful, but could you say some bits of it and remind me?

TB: "The man who sailed around his soul/From east to west, from pole to pole/With ego as his drunken captain/Greed, the mutineer, had trapped all reason in the hold..."

AP: Trapped, there you go! So you've got lazy rhyme with "reason," and the internal rhyme with "greed," and you've got the tension with that as well. Yeah, go on, what's next?

TB: "The man who walked across his heart/Who took no compass, guide or chart..."

AP: [joins in and takes over] "To rope and tar his blood congealed/When he found himself revealed ugly and cold." See, the "ugly and cold," that's just a little sort of dead, withering bit on the end. That's not important.

TB: To rhyme with "hold," yeah.

AP: Yeah.

TB: "And the sirens that sing/By your nose with its ring/They'll drag you in/For your sins..."

AP: Oh yeah, you know why I put this bit in? Because I really liked that song in "Guys and Dolls" about "Sit down, you're rockin' the boat." That's in homage to that. I knew my song was about somebody going on a voyage in a boat around the world to look for the meaning of life, and finding there wasn't one -- which is the meaning of life, that there isn't one! -- but I thought, yeah, I always liked that line, "And the devil will drag you under/By the sharp lapel of your checkered coat ...Sit down, sit down, you're rockin' the boat." So I put that in as a little homage to that song.

TB: So, it sounds to me as if you heard a lot of Broadway musicals and things like that, and this affected you.

AP: Oh yeah, as a kid, there were two good things on the radio. There were novelty songs, and show songs.

TB: So that was probably a fairly big influence on you lyrically.

AP: Oh yeah. That was all you could listen to. There was no rock-and-roll radio in England until the late '60s.

TB: By "novelty songs," you mean what -- Spike Jones, or...?

AP: Spike Jones, or stuff like The Playmates' "Beep Beep," or "The Mole in the Hole" by the Southlanders, or "Big John" -- anything with sped-up voices, too much reverb, weird sound effects -- you know what I mean. "Martian Hop" by the Ran-dells. "Mommy, Gimme a Drinka Water," by Danny Kaye.

TB: Are there any other lyrics of yours that particularly stand out in your mind?

AP: I really like some lines in "Harvest Festival," where they're very impressionistic, and though they seem to get cut off, they say exactly what they mean. Like, "See the children with baskets/see their hair, cut like corn/neatly combed in their rows." I mean, that says everything -- about school, about the use of corn and wicker for making baskets; their hair is cut like corn, and they're neatly combed in their rows -- there they are in school assembly, all standing in rows, and corn is neatly cut and in his rows. It all interrelates, but it sounds like all the lines are interrupting each other almost, so it sounds almost impressionistic. I'm really proud of that bunch of lyrics.

TB: Other songs?

AP: "Humble Daisy." I was really proud of the lyrics of that, too.

TB: Those lyrics are very poem-like to me. Did you write that by itself first, or did the music and lyrics come together on that?

AP: They came pretty much together. But that was just a good one. That seemed to be the perfect description of the concept of daisies. Every day I'd walk the dog, and there seemed to be more and more daisies carpeting the ground in the park, and because Daisy is also a girl's name, you can read it like you're laying with a girl. That's at least two meanings you can find in it. And there's also the thing about daisy chains, and the idea that they do look like little splashes of milk, they do look like little white coins on the ground -- I don't know, I was just really pleased with that.

TB: How about lyrics you're not particularly proud of, that you wish you could have another crack at?

AP: Well, I hate "Sgt. Rock."

TB: Why do you hate that song so much? I think it's funny.

AP: It didn't come out right. I'll just have to put it down to, it's a funny song. But I don't think it's very good lyrically; it's very clumsy. I think I wanted to write about Sgt. Rock for the wrong reasons, just because I admired the artist, reading the comics when I was younger [laughs], more than anything else. And I thought, "What the hell am I going to put this fellow in, to make it work in a song?" I think the music's okay, but the lyrics are clumsy.

A lot of the early ones I think don't work. I mean, "Science Friction" is just nonsense.

TB: But it succeeded on the level that you intended it, though, right?

AP: It worked for me at the time, but now I just cringe at its kind of idiocy. It's [does spotty teenager voice] such a nerdy kind of teenage thing! You know, you just want to escape that broken-voiced, acne-ridden person. You don't want to be that the rest of your life.

TB: Right. How about some of your overtly political songs? I'm not calling them out as bad lyrics, but those always seem to be a departure for you.

AP: At worst, they're soap-boxy or preachy. At best, they're some nice ideas about political things.

TB: What would you say are your best political songs?

AP: There are some nice lines in "Reign of Blows."

TB: That was the first song I was going to bring up. "My Land Is Burning" is a new one.

AP: Yeah. "Here Comes President Kill Again" is a little preachy. "Peter Pumpkinhead" could be about 101 things, actually. Not necessarily political, it's more of a kind of "perfect person becomes martyr"-type thing. The blameless individual who you can blame everything in the world on. He's a scapegoat.

TB: How about "Towers of London"?

AP: Um -- not happy about the words to that.

TB: Really?

AP: Not totally, no. Was aiming for something that I think I missed. I was aiming for a bulls eye, and I just hit the outer rings, you know?

Let me ask you a question. Are there any songs that confuse you, that you really haven't grasped what they're about?

TB: Hmmm ... tell me about "Knights in Shining Karma."

AP: It's a self-comfort tune. And actually, today, I finished the mix on the other self-comfort tune that would have gone on Apple Venus -- it's called "I'm Unbecome." I didn't even bring it up, because "Knights in Shining Karma" kind of comes from similar land musically, so I figured we didn't need two of these nestling on the same disc.

But "Knights" is a self-comfort song, probably from the idea that -- I don't know whether you have them in the States, they were very popular over here -- you could have a large two- or three-foot-high bronze knight stood by your fireplace that shielded the poker and tongs and shovel that you'd use in the fire. I used to be fascinated by them as a kid. They sort of stood there with a big cloak around them in bronze, and stood there like they were sort of sleeping and guarding, and I imagined those guarding and protecting me. I rather like the idea of guardian angels. I don't believe in angels, but I do like the idea of being guarded and protected by something otherworldly -- like, who was it, the Babylonians had genies to look after them. I think I was going through a bad time in my life, and it was a self-comforting song, and so I projected that these kind of big, bronze, sleeping, static fireplace knights were guarding and watching me.

TB: That's interesting, because I always thought that that song was you talking to your kids. But you're the one who needs to be comforted, rather than you saying, "Don't worry, Daddy's here, I'm going to stand over you."

AP: Yeah. It's me. "Don't worry, they're here. They're looking after you, even though times are shit at the moment, they won't let anything bad happen. That's what I was saying. I frequently give the impression that I'm talking about someone else, when I'm probably talking about me.

TB: Okay, let's wrap things up. Do you believe that there's a difference between song lyrics and poetry?

AP: I like the idea that you could sit with most of my lyrics -- not all of them -- and read them, and they'd feel good as a spoken thing. Obviously, not everything. Some things are built on repetitive canons and the kind of house-of-cards architecture, where things pass over the top of other things to create a trust -- you know, put the same thing on yet again, two piles higher, as in "River of Orchids."

But I feel proud that with quite a lot of my lyrics you could sit, or stand up on stage, and speak them out, and they would feel okay as a piece of poetry. That's important to me. I guess it's a pride -- you want the lyric to be able to be isolated, and have it still work. Like a really nice watch -- if you took the watch apart, each piece would still be beautifully made.

TB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

AP: I can never come up with anything when people ask if there's anything I'd like to add! It's a bit like doing your own tombstone, you know? How about, "I can see up your dress!" Or, "Bloody hell, it's hot down here!" I'd put that on my tombstone. [laughs]

7:35 AM

©2006 by Todd Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.