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Last Updated:
Mar 15, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Andy discusses 'Garden of Earthly Delights'

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Garden of Earthly Delights", is from 1989's Oranges and Lemons.

NOTE: Due to life's little (and big) demands, we'll be taking some time off in the coming month. Look for an interview every two weeks or so. There's always Monstrance to listen to in the meantime!

TB: Let's talk about "Garden of Earthly Delights." It was a welcome to the world for your newly born son, right?

AP: Yeah, I guess it was.

TB: Was it more?

AP: I think it was, "Kids, this is what you're going to get in life. Here's a quick guide to it." Life: A User's Manual in two or three verses, you know?

TB: Sometimes you also write for yourself, though.

AP: Yeah, I've said this before, but "he," "she," or "they" -- sometimes I really mean me.

TB: Right. So do you think there was something going on in your life at this point where you were saying it, "It's okay, this is a big scary world, but there are a lot of opportunities out there"?

AP: Maybe! I hadn't thought of that angle. I certainly think is was a kind of a future manual for kids. Of course they won't want to read it. They're going to want to write their own -- that's what every generation wants to do.

TB: They want to burn their own hand on the stove.

AP: Yeah, exactly! They don't want their mum and dad living their life for them. But this song didn't originally grow out of any lyrical thing at all -- it grew out of finding a little musical figure. You use the open D string on the guitar as the drone, and you start with the F# on the top. So you have this kind of Indian thing -- [hums descending scale with Indian feel]. I was playing a very fuzzy guitar one day, and discovered this. I never used the demo of this on Fuzzy Warbles, because the quality is too appalling. I thought, "Christ, people are going to get nothing from this -- me just ernie-ing away, Indianesquely, on the fuzzy guitar."

But it was really that kind of cod-Indian thing that a lot of '60s bands did so badly. It was great fun, because you get to sort of mute it, and turn it on and off -- [sings initial pattern, with emphasized stops at the end of each phrase]. See what I mean? It's like you've discovered this wonderful party, and you're opening the door, then slamming it again -- like the old Popeye cartoon where his nephews won't sleep.

TB: [laughing] Right, exactly.

AP: I guess I had in my head the idea of making a track that sounded like this crazy tapestry of camels and elephants and belly dancers and all the Arabian Nights, interwoven -- a big ornate Eastern rug come to life. That's what it all had to sound like.

You know the sound that introduces the song? People must of thought, "Oh they spent hours in the studio putting together a melange of Eastern sounds." No, it was [laughs] a patch that [producer] Paul Fox had on a keyboard, and it was called something like "Eastern Bazaar"!

TB: [laughs] B-i-z-a-r-r-e?

AP: [laughing] Yeah. I said, "Oh, I'd love something that kind of brrrrought the track in" -- I was thinking of a backward noise, and he said, "Well, how about if we use something like this?" He put his finger on the keyboard, and this sound came out. I said, "Wow! What's that?" And he said, "Well, it's actually called something like 'Eastern Bazaar." And we said, "Wow! We could do something with that! We've got to use that." So we actually didn't spend hours -- it was just Paul Fox and his one figure, saying, "What do you think about this?"

TB: [chuckling] Paul Fox and his bag of tricks.

AP: And his bag of finger! Paul Fox and his finger of fun.

TB: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted this to be the album opener?

AP: No, but I guess after it was written, I realized there was no better way of opening the album, because it welcomes you to the life of the album, to some extent. Do you know, I was playing it today for the first time in a long time, as is my wont when we do these talks, and Jesus there's a lot on this track!

TB: Oh yeah! That's one of the reasons I wanted to talk about it, because I figured it'd be fertile ground for discussion.

AP: I had trouble picking out -- I really would need to sit with it a few dozen times to completely pick out, and remind myself about, the warehouse of stuff that's crammed into this track.

TB: Well, let's talk about what each of you guys is doing, and see what you do remember. Being a drummer, I'll ask about the drums first.

AP: The drums are a mixture of Pat Mastelotto's playing, sampled up and looped mechanically, which he then interrupts with live kit, and plays along with.

As we've talked about before, this is one of the most mechanical albums that we ever did, so it was a case of "Let's make this rock-steady rhythm track that's made out of these ethnic-sounding things, and then we'll get Pat to join in and amp up the real human energy in there." Which is also the case on things like "Across this Antheap" -- you know, he joins in with programmed bits and pieces. So all the drums are a mixture of Pat live and Pat programmed.

TB: When he was playing, was he listening to the programmed parts?

AP: I think he was, actually. I think we programmed some basic loops for him to play with, and then we probably replaced the loops with better "just so" sounds later.

TB: But you gave him some context to work with.

AP: Oh yes, some context for him to play round, if you see what I mean. And he did a great job. He's pretty damned rock-steady for a drummer. Hits 'em like Terry, but has got a much more precise feel for timing.

TB: And he always has seemed comfortable playing with loops and programmed drums. He's done it both with Mr. Mister and King Crimson.

AP: Yeah, Pat was great with playing with these little programmed things. We sat down with him, and he actually made little samples of sounds and things in his garage for us to use. He was really very committed to being one of the band, you know?

TB: Yeah, I remember you saying that he had a really good work ethic.

AP: Yeah! Totally. Was into it from the first second. He still contacts me now out of the blue once in a while, but he seems to be forever on the road with King Crimson.

He was tremendous, and on this he really did the business. I love the way, especially, he climbs down a gear so well into the different-time section across the end. You know, when the outro goes into another time feel completely.

TB: Exactly. Again, he's one of those people who's very tight, but has a loose feel with he needs to, and that section is rather loopy and loose.

AP: Well, the whole track was cut in Ocean Way, which is a big, beautiful-sounding live room, and I seem to remember we kept most of everybody's playing at Ocean Way from the end section. I don't remember replacing too much of that. We treated it with a few effects and things, but that's pretty much it. I think Dave was begging to have another go at doing the end, but it was like, "No, what you're doing there is fine."

TB: So what did Dave do in the song?

AP: Really, I'm hard-pressed to undo the guitars, because the guitars are really woven together, with very similar tones.

TB: He's playing the lead in the middle, using the harmonizer, correct?

AP: No, the lead section is me.

TB: Really? I always thought that was him, since he usually plays the leads on your songs.

AP: Nope, that's me.

TB: Dave's playing the licks in and around the vocal lines toward the end of the song, during the verses and choruses, right?

AP: Yeah, that sort of real piping tone, that's Dave. But that lead section, with "the lights, the lights!", that's me. And you're right, it was through a harmonizer, but it's actually through two harmonizers, set to two different intervals.

TB: That explains why it's such a big fat sound, then.

AP: Yeah, it is a really big fat sound. I'm not sure what the intervals are -- it's something like a fourth and a fifth -- but they have an almost swordlike tone, which delighted me to no end, because it gives you these visions of whirling dervishes with swords in their hands, and I thought, "Wow, that's so right for this song!"

TB: So, what do you remember about the process of recording the guitars, and the different parts you guys worked out together?

AP: We beat it to death a lot in rehearsal in Los Angeles. We rehearsed in a big rehearsal complex called Leads, and we really thrashed out the parts, as if we were going to play it live. So, everything was worked out as well as we could -- "this is exactly how it's going to go," you know. God, those were very difficult, because when you get pitched into rehearsals and you're jet-lagged as well, round about 4:00 in the afternoon, everybody was just falling asleep terribly. But we stuck at it, and it was very productive. Paul Fox really sweated us -- "C'mon, again, again, play it tighter, get it better." Which was very good, and just what we needed -- we needed somebody to be "der Fuhrer" on us about those rehearsals.

TB: Interesting. Have you had many other producers play that role during the rehearsal stage of an album, or was that unique?

AP: That was pretty unique, I think. Todd [Rundgren] did to some extent, but he was kind of, "Ah, how are you going to play it then?" "Well, we were thinking of doing it something like this." "Okay, got that." "What do you mean?" [matter-of-fact]"Well, I just recorded it. Okay, let's move on!" [panicked] "Yeah, but we really haven't worked it out yet!" "No, that sounds fine." [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Mr. Flat Fee!

AP: Yeah. So, Paul was very conscientious. We actually rehearsed all those numbers as well in my attic, because my attic was clear of most of my toy soldier stuff then, and we had amps up there, and recorders and microphones and stuff. I think the weight of all that was what busted the ceiling through, eventually. [laughs ruefully] So we pretty much worked up what we were going to play, in the attic, and then we refined it with Colin and Pat working together, and by the time we got finished rehearsing it in Leads, we were raring to jump into Ocean Way, in the big room, and pretty much cut it exactly how it should have been, you know.

But Dave and I are playing very interchangeable pieces -- these little sort of snaky Eastern harmony lines and things. That's about all I can tell you on the guitars.

TB: How about the bass part?

AP: We pulled apart the bass. I think we decided exactly what was going to be done -- those little pops and then those slides down -- which may have been done with a tuning peg, actually. [sings bass pattern] Colin might be able to tell you different, but I seem to remember we did that by tuning it down. So, we recorded it and then just kept dropping it in the rest of the song, to make it consistent.

TB: I thought that was him just sliding down the neck.

AP: No, I think it was actually done with a tuning peg. You know how Colin has this thing of having onomatopoeic bass lines? Well, while we were there, on Saturdays, they'd have this program called Pee-Wee's Playhouse, with Pee-Wee Herman.

TB: Oh yeah, I love that show!

AP: There was Jambi, the head of the genie in the cupboard, and one of the phrases he said was, "Izzy balooba!"

TB: [laughs] I remember "Mekka Lekka Hi-Mekka Hiney Ho," but I don't remember that one.

AP: I think he used to say this one, too, and Colin said that his bass line sounded like "Izzy balooba," so that's how he used to talk about it -- he said he was actually playing the phrase that this genie was saying.

But when Colin was doing a lot of bass on that album, he'd banish Dave and me to the lounge. We weren't allowed to watch him and criticize [chuckles]. So we got to watch a lot of old English movies on the TV, and ask who that dirty kid in the corner was.

TB: Who was it?

AP: River Phoenix! [laughs]

TB: Oh, that's right.

AP: [whispering] "Dave, is that dirty kid with you?" "I thought he was with you, Partsy!"

TB: [laughing] There were a lot of people coming by to pay respects, weren't there? Is that where you met Mike Keneally?

AP: No, we met him in Birmingham, in England, because he invited us up to a Zappa show.

TB: He just invited you out of the blue because he admired you already, or...?

AP: Yeah, I think he got in contact with Dave initially. But in LA, we got to get together with Mike Keneally and [former Zappa bassist] Scott "difficult" Thunes [laughs]. Who else would hang around there? Parthenon Huxley. Oh, and on a couple of days I'd say, "Who the hell is that, stood at the back of the studio?" And it'd be Chris Squire of Yes!

TB: Get out of here!

AP: No! Because he vaguely knew Paul, he'd sort of invited himself by the studio a couple of times. And Dave would say, "Don't you recognize him? That's Chris Squire." "Fuck me, it is!"

TB: [laughs] So, did you guys talk at all?

AP: I didn't know what to say to him! He was just sort of stood there, listening intensely, at the back of the room. David Byrne stopped by a few days. He was really interested in the percussion on "Poor Skeleton Steps Out." [imitates Byrne, a high American voice] "Oh, is that a real player?" I said, "No, it's all samples." "Oh, it sounds so good." You know, the tabla, he was interested in that. Loads of people were constantly coming by. Rodney Bingenheimer was ringing up.

TB: I don't know who he is.

AP: Oh, he had "Rodney's English Disco" on the Strip. He was famous for being such a groupie, for David Bowie and all the English people who'd come to town. And weirdly, I learned a few days ago that Rodney Bingenheimer is now playing The SheBeats demos on his KROQ shows!

TB: Wow! Fantastic. Like father, like daughter.

AP: Yeah. And they're only demos! I'm proud of her, I am.

I'll tell you who else was hanging around while we were doing all the live stuff at Ocean Way was Elvis Costello. Because he was working in the next room doing Spike.

TB: So, what kind of relationship do you guys have? Are you friendly rivals?

AP: Well, we shared a dentist momentarily! But, you know, we'd finish a backing track, and I'd say, "Oh, I've got to go get a soda or water or something," and would come out, and he and a couple of the band would be stood literally with their ears against the door, listening to what we were doing. And it'd be, "Oh! Hello." "Hello, how are you?" "Alright, what are you doing?" "Oh, I'm doing an album in here." "Oh, can I come and have a listen?" "Sure, come and have a listen."

So I'd go and listen to a couple of tracks of Spike, and he'd come and have a listen of a few things we were doing.

TB: Do you have any sort of relationship beyond that?

AP: Not really. As I said, we momentarily shared a dentist in London, until I found out the bloke wanted to charge me a fortune and stick all these really expensive veneers all over my beautifully crooked teeth. And it was like, "No, I can't afford this! Christ, Elvis can, but I can't." And he was boasting [posh voice], "Oh yes, I've just had a compatriot of yours here -- Elvis Costello comes to me, you know!" And I thought, "He's just trying to name drop!" So I said, "Yeah, give him my regards." [chuckles]

But a lot of people were nicely hanging around. It's nice when people drop by occasionally. Of course, you do have to knuckle down and do the work, but it's nice to know that people come by because they're interested in the sort of thing that you're doing.

TB: Well, back to the song -- let's talk about the vocals a little bit.

AP: There are loads and loads of cross-vocals and counterlines on this. I'd forgotten all about those until I played it today. You can hear Dave and Colin doing some combinations, or you can hear me and Colin doing some combinations, or me and Dave doing other bits -- wow, we really milked the multiple-vocal angle on this song!

TB: Was that something you came up with, or Paul's suggestions, or a combination of the two?

AP: I think it was mostly things I wanted to try out, and I think all the ones that we tried that worked, we put in. There are probably a few that didn't work, that didn't go any farther, but it was good -- everybody pitched in and did their bit.

TB: I remember you saying in other interviews that you really liked that Paul Fox had an open attitude about trying things.

AP: Yeah, in fact, Colin and I took to Paul Fox very quickly and very well, because he was up for trying stuff. Ultimately, in the end this meant there were things recorded that we couldn't quite decide how to use, and I remember thinking that the finished songs on that album were maybe a little too busy all the time -- where we should have weeded out and made some decisions to drop parts. But it was a case of, you just left everything in the mix to perhaps weed out later, but didn't in fact weed out. So it is possibly our busiest album. But, that's okay -- it was fine for us at the time, you know?

I don't think Dave was so keen on Paul -- he didn't have problems with him as a person, but as a producer, because Paul would always turn around and say, "Well, what does the songwriter want?" If Dave had an idea to put across that maybe Colin or I didn't particularly want in the track, Paul would say, "Hmm, I'm not sure Dave, let's ask the songwriter. What does the songwriter want in this song?" So it always defaulted to Colin or me as the songwriter.

TB: And Dave was looking for an objective opinion.

AP: Yeah, he was looking for an objective point of view, and I think at one point he was getting very frustrated that every suggestion he made, Paul would then refer immediately to myself or Colin.

But we had a brilliant engineer -- possibly one of the two best engineers we've ever worked with -- which was Ed Thacker. He made everything sound a million dollars. I've never heard anyone make tom-toms sound that clean and that beautiful, or bass drums have such gravity and weight to them, or the vocal really beautiful-sounding, with no dead spots.

TB: Oh yeah, it's really a bright and shiny album. Is there anything else you want to say about the lyrics?

AP: Yeah! I may have meant Chekov from Star Trek! I'm not telling! [laughs] I'm not saying! So I may have been quoting Chekov, and I may have been quoting Chekhov! I'm not going to tell you.

©2007 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.