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Last Updated:
May 30, 2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Andy discusses 'No Language in Our Lungs'

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, "No Language in Our Lungs," is from 1980's Black Sea.

NOTE: Sorry this seems to be turning into a biweekly event, but perhaps after I finish transitioning from one day job into another (I did get the one I was hoping for, thangyewverruhmuch), I'll have more time to make these a bit more frequent. We'll be back with on the 8th of July, our Yankee Doodles Dangling, covering another one of my (and, hopefully, your) favorite songs. Remember, there's always Monstrance to listen to in the meantime!

TB: Let's talk about what, in my opinion, is one of the Great Pop Songs out there...

AP: "No Lampreys in my Lunch"!

TB: [laughing] I was looking at the entry in Song Stories about this song, and you said the irony it is, even though it's about not finding the words to say what you want, you think that you pretty much did say what you wanted to in these lyrics.

AP: Well, knowing that you wanted to talk about this song, I thought, "Do you know, somewhere, I've got a notebook with the first scribblings of this song in." And I dug it out! It's this little tiny pocket-sized notebook I used to carry round with me on tour. I found the first jottings in here.

TB: So this actually when you were touring for Drums and Wires, then?

AP: Well, I shall tell you where it got in the book [leafs through pages]. A couple of pages before are the lyrics to "New Broom." So that was written before. And then it's "Outside World." That was written next. Then "Millions" got written -- all I've written is "Chin" above it, because that was short for "Chinese," and then I knew what guitar figure that was.

TB: Yeah, you'd written that originally for Barry's "Things Fall to Bits," right?

AP: Yeah. And then there was a song called "Under a Microscope," which didn't get done.

TB: Meaning you didn't even write music for it?

AP: No, not that I can remember. Then there's another song that didn't get done called "Pretty Precious." Then, here's a song that was going to be titled, "I Have the World in my Mouth." And the lyrics I wrote down are, "I have the world in my mouth / I can say what I want to say / I have a sword in my hand / I can slay what I want to slay / For a minute I became a crusader / Lionheart, a Holy Land invader / I have the world in my mouth."

TB: That's funny! So it became the bridge.

AP: And it also became the contrary to that! Because when I came to looking through the book for what ideas I'd written down, I started kicking this around, and the more I thought about it, I thought, "Christ, I don't have the world in my mouth! I can't say what I want to say!"

When I worked on it, I realized that what I really wanted to say was the exact opposite of the first sentiment. [West Country yokel voice] Ooh, int that strange! Ooh, Oi wonder if George Formby ever 'ad that problem! [laughs]

So yeah, it was originally called "I Have the World in my Mouth," and it was about how you can say what you want to say. Of course you can say what you want to say, but there's still a lack of communication. Because communication isn't really words -- it's about all sorts of things, isn't it. It's about every sensory input you can imagine. It's not just sounds of things.

TB: Right. There's intent, for example.

AP: Yeah. There's tone, your body language, your inflections, the actual language that you're using -- you can raise an eyebrow and it means something totally different. There are so many subtle but powerful variations of communications. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that most people are totally impotent. I think everybody is, when it comes to putting their ideas across. You know, the constriction of society, and the constriction of not wanting to upset people. That's very English, after all.

TB: Was there something definite going on in your life that was frustrating you, that prompted you to flesh this out, going in this direction?

AP: No, I think that, the more I worked on this song, where the idea was you can say exactly anything you want to say, the more I thought deeper about it, I thought, you can use words, and you can say what you fancy saying, but we're not communicating. And, like I say, that's an English thing, an English hang-up. The English will say anything they can, other than what they're really feeling. Or, that might be a human thing, generally.

Probably the nearest piece of music we ever got to one of my favorite bands -- and Colin's and Dave's -- which is Free.

TB: Oh, really?

AP: Because it had a Free tempo.

TB: Interesting. I've heard you talk about the similarity to the Beatle's "Rain," but I didn't consider Free.

AP: The musical template that I had in my mind, I think, was something that Free would have done. I liked their languid, sexy, slow grooves, which seemed to lend a gravitas to some of the crassest things they would sing. Because a lot of their lyrics -- let's be honest about it -- they're not good. With them, it's more the overall thing -- the great sound of his voice, the beautiful holes in their playing, and the funk that they had.

TB: Speaking of lyrics, let's talk about them a little bit more. Did they just flow out intuitively, or did you really work hard on constructing them?

AP: I really constructed them. But I was very lucky to find "lungs" to rhyme with "tongues." Because it's great, it's all connected. It's all part of the same process of speech. How jammy is that! [chuckles] It's like the filmmaker, or ex-filmmaker, who reviews food for one of the magazines here, Michael Winner. Of course, his column's called "Winner's Dinners." That's a great bit of happenstance, you know. If his name had been Michael Eckfast, he wouldn't be reviewing dinners, would he?

But it was just a great piece of happenstance that "no language in our lungs" and "no muscles in our tongues" work great together.

[aggressive Cockney voice] So what is it, guvna? What you want to know about the lyrics specifically?

TB: [laughs] Well, a lot of people on Chalkhills have said...

AP: Oh, so it's all wrong! Okay. So, tell me what they've said.

TB: [laughs] They've picked this apart and really tried to analyze it, so I wanted to find out from you if you really sat down and wrote these out, and re-wrote them, slaving over each line.

AP: Yeah, I always do that with a song. I always take the screwdriver to it over and over again, and tweak and twurk -- is "twurk" a word? -- until it's as tight as I can make it by the deadline of when it's got to be recorded. I was getting more -- much more, on this album -- into looking at what lyrics were really about. I was starting to get quite serious about lyrics.

TB: Looking at these lyrics, too, and thinking about the other songs on Black Sea, there's a sense of frustration here. That's why I was asking if there was a specific event in your life that maybe had prompted this. "Living Through Another Cuba" has an element of political frustration, and "Sergeant Rock" is about romantic frustration....

AP: I guess I'm just a frustrated individual. I'm a rather tame person who doesn't say what they really mean, and probably because I'm faint-hearted, winning Fair Lady was difficult for me.

I think it was probably the thought -- I know this sounds weird, but I've got to sort of tune in to the state of mind I had back then -- maybe I was frustrated that I had an hour and a half to talk to thousands of people on-stage, and sing to them, and I found myself not expressing what I wanted to express. That may have been some of the motor behind writing this song -- where you find yourself in the position of having that soapbox...

TB: Yeah -- you have the opportunity, but are you taking advantage of it.

AP: Yeah. And do people want you to take advantage of it, or do they just want that little performing monkey on the barrel? "Oh yeah, get him to do that funny little dance where he jumps backwards over his own head while you're playing that tune on the barrel!" That's what they want. They don't want the monkey to throw his fez down and say, "And I'll tell you what really pisses me off!" You know?

TB: Exactly. Or, are they listening to you, but still not getting it?

AP: Well, I couldn't communicate on stage. I was too intimidated. You know, I wouldn't wear my glasses, so I couldn't see the audience. But I still felt very intimidated -- "God, how many thousands of people are hanging on every word?"

I did have the wrong frame of mind to be on stage. Some people say, "Oh, it's great when you go on stage, because you know they all love you, and they're willing such great stuff out of you," but I never found that. I always found it was like a battle. I felt it was me against the world, and that's probably not the right state of mind for a communicating entertainer, if you see what I mean.

I felt like it was a war when I went out there, and it shouldn't have been. It should have been much more "receiving the love" vibes. Because a lot of it was love vibes. A lot of the people who came to the gigs already had the albums or singles -- that's the majority of live shows. You're not winning converts, you're rewarding people who bought the record. That's by far the greatest majority of people in the audience.

So, for some reason, I would see it as a kind of a war, but I would feel frustrated that I wasn't really saying what I was thinking. And also, did they really want to hear what I was thinking? So, it was a kind of double-barreled frustration, really.

TB: And did you feel that people were not understanding what you were trying to say? Did you have problems with the critics, or would you talk to fans who would say, "Oh, this song is about this," but you knew in your heart and your mind that it wasn't?

AP: No, most people kind of got the gist of what was going on. Although, to make more magic in the songs, I kept hiding behind -- and I've said this quite a few times -- but instead of me, I'd sing "they" or "she" or "he." But really, mostly, I meant "me." And that's one of those conventions where you get to sort of say the truth, but you're hidden behind a mask. It's easier to be naked if you've got a mask over your face.

TB: [laughs] Exactly. So, let's talk about the music a little bit. You said the words came first on this, but I don't know if you'd fleshed out all the words on this before you started on the music or not.

AP: Do you know, I can't even remember! I know it was that idea about -- let me look in the book again -- "I Have the World in My Mouth." Yeah. And then I finished off "Millions." What did I write next? Oh, wait a minute! After I wrote "I Have the World in My Mouth," do you know what I wrote?

TB: What?

AP: "Roads girdle the globe / black belt around the morning robe." That's all I wrote! So, there you go, that's the first glimmer of "Roads Girdle the Globe."

TB: That's funny. So, this was written as a Drums and Wires song, in a way. Because it's in the midst of all those songs that ended up on that album.

AP: Yeah! The first intention of it, yeah. The first inklings of it came out in the Drums and Wires material.

Musically, Free was a kind of a template. I wanted it to make it feel stately and proceed through the song in a measured pace, because it's about communicating and I didn't want to rush it.

There are quite a few things that I'd never done before in songs. A few chords that I'd never used. [picks up guitar] I don't know how you're going to do this, because I don't know what the intervals are. I was playing this earlier on. I hadn't played it for years, but you sort of don't forget it, because it's bashed into your brain through hundreds and hundreds of live shows.

TB: Sure. "Muscle memory." Burned into the synapses.

AP: Yeah. [plays intro]

TB: That intro, did that come later?

AP: Yeah, I think that was pinned on, to make an "event" to start the song.

We're in the key of B, which was good for me to sing relaxed or loud in. Which oddly, is a key that Free used to play a lot of their stuff in. [sings vocal line] "To tell the world just how we" -- it goes into half-time there. Then I used to like it when it went to the Gb7, because I could twinkle around on that chord.

And then there are these chords [plays "no bridge of thought" part] -- I mean, they're very strange, almost like jazz chords or old kind of songwriter chords. And I don't know where they came from, and I don't even know what the shapes are, to tell you.

TB: Is this because you had the melody in your mind already, and you were just building chords to go with it?

AP: Yeah, I was just trying to find what would work. I was looking for that [sings melody line], and these just seemed to fall easily into place.

And then there's the [sings and plays the "no letting out just what you think"] -- which is another old sort of Tin Pan Alley-type chord. You know, it's that [sings augmented feel] "something's about to happen." And then what happens is, it resolves into the title line.

And then we have that thing that somebody's mentioned, "Ooh, that's just like 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'!" You know, that [plays descending arpeggio] -- actually, that little chord change, it's almost like the entire Abbey Road album in one little four-bar sequence, you know? [chuckles] Because you've got bits of "Because"...

TB: There's even some White Album on there, too!

AP: Yeah, probably!

TB: You and Dave worked very closely on this one.

AP: Yeah, I think he enjoyed this. He got to dig in, and he did a great little succinct, concise solo in this, which is very well thought-out. I think he really enjoyed it because it tapped into a lot of musical things that were influential for him. It touched on the Fleetwood Mac thing of the twin guitars, or triplet guitars -- I'm talking about the original Blues band, not the modern Fleetwood Mac -- or people like Wishbone Ash, with the two dueling guitars. Whenever there was some sort of sniff of dueling guitars in the air, Dave came to life, you know? So, he took to that like [pauses] a member of Fleetwood Mac to an obscure religious cult! [laughs] They seemed to going mad one a week, at one time in Fleetwood Mac.

TB: You had written the song before you brought it to the band -- did you have ideas for Dave's parts, or did you work them out together?

AP: I guess we just kicked it around until it yelled "Camarade!" and waved a white flag in rehearsal, you know? We knew when we had it on the ropes. Because we'd rehearse things, and it was serious. We were a professional band, and it was a matter of, "This is serious shit now. We're going to be playing this in front of thousands, this is going on albums. People are waiting for this album." So, it was a case of, we had our serious, "C'mon, let's get down and work this out" heads on.

What else can I tell you? The middle section has got a rather sort of daft Korg [sings dissonant keyboard line] line in it.

TB: And it gets sort of skanky there, with the guitar rhythm.

AP: Yep. It lifts up into that sort of Beatlesque skank. And then you get that long build-up section. I don't know where that came from, that long build-up piece, where Dave is inverting upward . It's almost like an homage in a way to Free's "Mr. Big" or something.

TB: You say you don't know where that came from, but it was something you worked out before you went in the studio, correct?

AP: Yeah, we had all the shape of it and everything well before [producer Steve] Lillywhite or [engineer Hugh] Padgham came along. Like I said, we would really try to nail things down in rehearsal as tightly as possible. Because the thought of being in the studio, with the red light on, and the clock ticking, and everyone going, "Well, I'm not sure what I'm playing" -- that was like a horror scenario.

I still have nightmares now where I'm on stage, and the house lights are on, and the audience are going, "C'mon, what's the matter with you?!" And I'm turning to people, saying, "I'm not sure what I'm playing here." Or them saying, "You aren't in the band! You don't know the chords to this song, do you?!"

So, it's obviously a deep psychological worry. We didn't want to waste time in the studio, and we wanted to be perceived -- and perceive ourselves -- as very professional, and very "let's bolt this thing down" watertight.

Toward the end of the song, there's some backward reverb on the vocals, and then it ends with Terry doing the funny, sort of spastic drum groove on the out.

TB: Yeah, that's one of the few times that he actually plays a ride cymbal.

AP: There you go! He was not a ride man. He loved that hi-hat.

And there's a sort of babbling inanity, which we'd taped off the television in the studio TV at The Townhouse, which was set in the wall above the mixing desk. And I think the program that we taped the conversations off of was a show called "Whicker's World," with Alan Whicker.

TB: Which I know just through the Monty Python spoof of it.

AP: That's right, yeah. He'd go round the world interviewing people on various themes, you know. But we taped a load of stuff off of Whicker's World, and just had it very subliminally quiet, like babble -- the sound of humans speaking, but not communicating.

TB: So let's talk about the recording of this song a little bit. Obviously, the drums are huge on this.

AP: Well, they're in the stone room at The Townhouse in Goldhawk Road, which was the old Goldhawk Film Studios. We were in the studio in the back -- can't remember which one that was, but it was where they'd built stone room purposefully, to make the drums live and kicking. And then Colin would usually be sat in there with him...

TB: So they would track their parts together?

AP: Oh, we all used to play live! Dave and I would be in the carpeted area. And then, through a couple of glass doors, in the stone room, would be sat Colin in a chair, and Terry crashing away on his kit.

TB: Were you just providing reference chords for him, or were you actually trying to get your parts down?

AP: Some tracks, we'd keep what we played. And then other tracks, it'd be, "Ahh, that was crap. Can I re-do it?" So, pretty much, we were still playing things quite live then.

TB: Because I know you've told me, too, about other songs where Terry would tell you guys to piss off and just let him do his part.

AP: Oh yeah, sometimes, if the drumming was something that he was a bit worried about, or it was tricky, he would just say, "I just want to play this with Partsy," you know. So I'd just stand in front of him, nodding where the changes were, and just playing rhythm guitar. And some things, he didn't want anybody, like with -- oh, which one was it?

TB: One of the really cyclical ones, probably, like "Travels in Nihilon" or "It's Nearly Africa"?

AP: Yeah. I'm going to have to think about which one, but he just didn't want anybody. He just said, "Give me the tempo, and then nobody play. I don't want to hear anything." So, it was a case of giving him the tempo, and then he went for X amount of minutes. [laughs] Which is freaky, you know?

So sometimes, he'd just want me to play with him, but usually it was all of us playing pretty much live. I don't know if I can tell you much more about this song. It was heads-down, no-nonsense, let's get this album done as best as we can. It was the height of our tooled-up-for-live muscle, so I suppose we were "live buff." [laughs]

7:17 PM

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