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Sep 27, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006


Andy discusses "Snowman," the song of the week

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

The second in a series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we'll feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Snowman," is from 1982's English Settlement.

TB: So, how did you build this "Snowman"?

AP: The inspiration for it was a song from Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle. There's one song where part of it goes into a piece with a mandolin, and when it went into this repetitive mandolin pattern, strumming, I thought, "Oh, that sounds oddly winter-y." I tried to imitate that on a guitar, and before I knew it, bleaagh, I was vomiting out the song. [laughs] But it's kind of mandolinesque. That's where the original idea came from -- trying to match what was on this jazz record and coming up with something completely not like it.

TB: Lyrically, it's another rejection song for you.

AP: Another rejection song, yep. I'm the disappointed. [laughs] But also, I think that as a kid I heard "Winter Winterland," which has the lyric, "He'll say, 'Are you married?', we'll say 'No man' " -- and I think the snowman/no man rhyme suck in my head. That's where the idea came into my mind as a child, listening to snow tunes -- Freudian slip! -- show tunes on the radio.

TB: [laughing] Terry's hitting a roto-tom on this, right?

AP: Yeah, he bought himself a roto-tom, because I kept bugging him, "Terry, I really love these reggae records where they put those little 'tangs' in, I'm not sure if it's a snare drum or what it is." Then, when we did the session for "Wait 'til Your Boat Goes Down," they had a set of roto-toms in the studio, and Terry started whacking them, going, "This is the sound, Andy! This is that sound!" And I got really excited, and said, "You should really get some of those."

So, it was really to imitate the ricochet slingshot accent that you get on reggae records, where they're clocking along on sidestick, then you hear this big "tang." Terry, in his own kind of way, was very innovative. He was open to new sounds. For example, he liked the sound of those military parade drums that are something like four times the depth of normal snare drums, so he bought himself one of those to play in the studio. Or he liked the subsonic bass-drum sound of Stewart Copeland, and Stewart told him, "It's a Snyper."

TB: Oh, that's why you started using the Snyper.

AP: Yeah. Of course, when we started messing with it, we found out it also did that great, bending snare drum sound that you hear in "Love at First Sight." And it did whistling-type sounds -- he uses that on "Living Through Another Cuba" to make that missile sound.

TB: And he has it on the bass drum on "Snowman."

AP: He has it on that, yeah.

TB: It's an unusual drum pattern. Is that something he came up with, or did you suggest it?

AP: We usually worked on his drum patterns together. In fact, frequently when we were cutting tracks in the studio, it'd end up with just me and him, because sometimes he'd say the others put him off. You know, "I just want to cut this with me and Andy doing it. You others fuck off." So we'd lock in the groove and get it together, just the two of us playing, because I frequently tailored my guitar patterns to funk into the holes that he left, or vice-versa.

We'd sit there and I might say, "Try this Terry -- if I'm playing this, can you play in that hole, can you play on the offbeat?" Or, "Can you put in a little stab there, or a little kick there, when I shove this chord here?" So, there was not only the conversation between the bass guitar and the drums -- with Terry it was more of a conversation between the rhythm guitar and the drums.

TB: You said you started with the guitar part, but did you come up with the bass after that? Because the bass is a big foundation of that song.

AP: I can't remember. I know Colin had a fretless bass for that, and I think we were trying to take advantage of how that instrument sounded. This was in the pre-demo, pre-home multi-tracking days, so it would have been something where we'd sit in the rehearsal room together and kick it around until it felt right.

TB: What is Dave doing there? He's playing 12-string, right?

AP: Yeah, Dave's on the 12-string, and he's on the piano intro and outro. Dave's continuous arpeggios on guitar really make a lot of the rhythm of the song. He's responsible for an awful lot of the rhythmic feel of that.

Actually, "Snowman" contains Dave's favorite lyrical couplet -- the phrase, "People will always be tempted to wipe their feet/On anything with welcome written on it." Dave told me one time, [imitates Gregory] "You know, Partsy, that's the best lyric you ever wrote."

TB: I've got to say, when I was first discovering you guys, and I heard the second side of English Settlement -- back when there were sides to albums -- the fact that you guys could go from "No Thugs in This House" to "Yacht Dance" to "All of a Sudden" ... the range of these songs was stunning to me. I thought, "Who are these guys?" And then, of course, it was who is this guy, because those are all your songs.

AP: It's not that we're great musicians that we can play like that. It's that we work at making the tracks sound like they should sound for each song.

TB: Well, I'd argue with you about your musicianship...

AP: No, I don't think we were great musicians. I think we were averagely okay. It's just that we're pulling together for one cause, if you see what I mean.

TB: Yeah, you do the absolute best you can with each one of the elements that you bring into it.

AP: Exactly. If you don't get the set design right, it's not working. It's all about the musical set design for each song.

TB: But at the same time, XTC is a musician's band, and the reason that you're a musician's band is because musicians get you. They understand what you guys are going for, that you guys are smarter than the average bear...

AP: [laughs] Well, you start from a simple premise, and then you orchestrate it, and if the set design is not right for the libretto, it's not going to work. If the set design is not right for the emotion contained in the script that the actors in your song have got to say, it's going to jar. We try to get the details right, and that makes all the difference, I think.

5:48 AM

©2006 by Todd Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.