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Last Updated:
May 18, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008


Andy discusses 'You're the Wish You Are I Had'

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, "You're the Wish You Are I Had," is from 1984's The Big Express.

Lots of good guesses for this one, but Javier Tenaz came through pretty quickly with his "easy" guess. Welcome to the club of multiple winners, Senor! We'll be back in two weeks with a an Andyview about a song that can be related to why Todd's moving house in several weeks (those who know why are disqualified from guessing). And, gentle readers, because of that upcoming move, be forwarned that the interview schedule through the rest of August and into September may be rather, um, fluid. Bear with us while we go through this change of life, resting assured that we'll return to our regular programming ASAP.

TB: Let's talk about "You're the Wish You Are I Had." You told me you didn't want to talk about this song, but it sounds to me like you put a lot of effort into recording it. What put you off?

AP: Well, after I played through The Big Express version two or three times, I had to dig out the demo, and do you know what? About 90 percent of it's on that demo. It was one of those things where I locked the band out, without meaning to.

TB: I don't know if I'd agree -- I listened to the demo, and it's mostly guitar-based, while there's fantastic keyboard all over the studio version.

AP: Yeah, that's Dave plonking away. The reluctant keyboard player.

TB: The reluctant-yet-fantastic keyboard player.

AP: Yeah, he's very good.

TB: And the bass line is quite evolved on the studio version.

AP: Sure, he takes some of the melodic things I did on the demo, and roots them a bit better.

TB: Plus, I love his tone on the song -- it's like "rubber-band bass" or something.

AP: True -- I don't know if that was his new bass or not. He'd just bought a Wal bass at the time. Much to the chagrin of [producer] David Lord, who said [imitates Lord], "I can't make that bass sound any good! I've got six compressors chained across it to try to get it to sound equal." He was very upset with us, but Colin loved it. And whatever David Lord was doing eventually sounded fine. But I think it took a lot of work.

Dave and I were always frustrated that Colin didn't just play his Fender. But Colin had his "novelty basses" that he would insist on playing. You know -- the Epiphone Newport with the damaged mute, or later on, it was a Vox bass...

TB: That he'd gotten from T-Bone Burnett?

AP: Yeah. Which, you know, just sounded like phuh. It sounded like someone doing a particularly hot fart -- it didn't sound like a bass at all! [chuckles]

TB: [laughing] But at the same time, when you think about it, the Epiphone was a huge part of your sound. It ended up being quite a defining part of the band's sound.

AP: The Epiphone did, yeah. In fact, that's maybe on more recordings than anything else. But I think on this one it's probably the Wal. Of course, in lieu of Colin talking to anyone, we're never going to find out! [laughs]

TB: Why did you and Dave prefer the Fender? Did he have a P-bass?

AP: I think he might have even had a Jazz, originally. Dave can tell you that. He probably even knows the serial numbers of all the guitars! [chuckles]

TB: Was there something in particular you preferred about the Fender, or was it just that the sound would be straight-ahead, and you'd know what to expect?

AP: I like the sound of Fender basses. I think they have a nice punch to them. In fact, I bought one a year or so ago -- just a cheap one, a Squier one -- and it sounds fantastic! £150 -- what's that, $300?

But Dave and I were always frustrated. [mimics them whispering in the corner] "Why doesn't he just play his Fender bass? Why do we have to dick around for hours because we can't get a good sound on the..." and then you fill in whatever novelty bass of the week Colin was playing -- his fretless Danelectro, or whatever it was on English Settlement, or his malfunctioning Epiphone Newport, or whatever.

TB: What prompted you to write this song?

AP: I can tell you where the song came from, originally.

TB: Out of your imagination? Were you pining after someone?

AP: Well, it didn't start with the lyrics. It actually started, yet again, with a new chord I'd discovered, as most of the songs do. That's the thing that snags you and trips you up, and suddenly, splat, you land headfirst in a song.

And the chord is -- [plays it] -- I bet you don't know what that is, do you?

TB: No, I don't!

AP: Well, me neither! [chuckles] But I'll describe what it is. If you play an idiot open-G, as in "Row the Boat Ashore," but you slide it all up so your root note is on the C, that's your chord. These are the notes: C, E, D, G, G, C. [plays chord, sings melody line over it] Then it goes to a chord of B there. So that's the chord -- some type of C-glorious thing, then to B. And it was just discovering that that made this snaky vocal melody fall out.

TB: Right. Suggested by the notes in the chord.

AP: [hums the G-flat in the melody line] Well -- no. [laughs] Some of the notes just aren't in the chord! [sings more, then resolves into the chorus]

TB: See, that's one of the things that I really like about the song -- how it resolves into a very major feel there.

AP: Yeah, I think it goes to E. I haven't played it for a while, but I think it jumps to an E. But the song came out of the very snaky melody suggested by that chord.

TB: So, where did the lyrics come from, then?

AP: I don't know! I think it was a case of blurting out the chorus -- I think those words came first. I thought, "Shit, I'm allowing myself to write a McCartney song here! This is like a McCartney-type chorus -- it's like a missing track from Sgt. Pepper or something." Related to "Lovely Rita" or "Getting Better" or something.

I was still struggling at the time with this Beatle influence, which was getting bigger and bigger in me, and I was refusing to acknowledge it. I'd only just acknowledged it momentarily, with "Ladybird" on the previous album. I was not allowing this Beatleness free rein, but I think with this one, it was a case of, "Oh, just let it go. Let it out." And I was okay with that. "I'm out!" [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Don't you feel better now?

AP: "Mum? Dad? I quite like Paul McCartney." [laughs, imitates Mum's voice, voicing regret] "Oh, we thought you were a Lennon, son. We thought were going to marry a nice Japanese girl and stay in bed all day." [voice of resolute youth] "No Mum, I want to live on a farm, and wear a Fair Isle sweater, and I can't wait to get bagpipes going." [laughs]

So yeah, it was a matter of, "Oh, why not -- if it wants to come out like McCartney, fucking let it go. Let it out."

TB: So, let's get back to the lyrics again. What was driving that? Did you have a secret flame?

AP: It was probably Erica. I'd met her when I'd gone over to the States with Colin for the premiere of "Times Square," because we had "Take This Town" in there. And, well, if it wasn't love at first sight, it was certainly "severe crush at first sight"! I didn't want to think of it as love at first sight, because I'd only been married for something like six months, so it was a bit painful, you know? It was like, "'Shit! I'm married!"

So, I think there's lots of Erica mixed in there, and also probably some previous girlfriends as well. It's that situation where you think, "Wouldn't it be great if I had a girl that was like that." And then suddenly, you know, you bump into one. It was like this with my ex-wife -- I was working in McIlroys, the department store, and she walked past me in the corridor during a winter's day. She was wearing a fur coat and a fur hat, and she looked like a Russian princess. Stunningly beautiful. I remember thinking, "Wow. I'd love a girlfriend like that." It was one of those wishing things. And we ended up together, and married, for Christ's sake! And then we ended up divorced, so I signed up to PETA! If she's going to wear fur coats, then I'm going to get her. [laughs] No, no, stop it.

So yeah, it's a combination of lots of previous girlfriends with big dollops of Erica in there. One of those things where you think, "If I was single, maybe I could get together with her!" It's a naive thing, but I've still got big lumps of naive in me.

TB: That's the Romantic in you.

AP: It's the Romantic, or it's the last bastions of creativity or something. It's curiosity. Maybe if you know everything, you don't want to create anything or be bothered with anything.

TB: I like the juxtaposition of images in here -- just like in "Seagulls," you're talking in large terms -- you know, your blood running "like ice right through" you, and images like that -- and then you bring up the most mundane image of, "I made her eat an apple / and I made her drink a cup or two."

AP: Yeah! It's the sort of thing, you think, "Well, if we were together, we'd sit and have a cup of tea together," or "She'd be sitting there eating an apple." You're not just getting a blowjob by the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or something like that, you're also wishing for these everyday things.

TB: And then you talk about your idealism in the bridge, basically saying, "Don't try to take my wishing away from me."

AP: Yeah, don't do that. The bridge is also about my guilt. I have terrible, terrible guilt.

TB: So let's talk about the parts...

AP: That's me doing the garbage-guitar slide solo.

TB: I was wondering if that was you or Dave...

AP: It was a case of, "Well, what do you want in the middle?" And I didn't know what I wanted in the middle, which is why I put that piece of garbage slide solo on the demo...

TB: On each version of this song, you have something in that section that's kind of a throwaway. On the BBC version, you're credited with "Zippy Zither."

AP: [laughs] Right. Well, you know why? Because it's a spot where I never knew what I wanted. Occasionally, I just can't hear a section, and that was true here. I knew I wanted a little instrumental break, and on the demo, I just grabbed a bottleneck and thought, "I'll just go up and down the neck, make a noise here, and we'll come up with something in the studio. I'll just ask folks, 'Okay, who can come up with something good here?' " And, do you know, we couldn't come up with anything better than just dicking around on a slide guitar!

TB: I like the solo -- I think it fits the song well.

AP: It does suits the song by lending it a kind of dreamy, [chuckling] guilty indecision or something -- which the song is pretty much about, I think -- but we couldn't find anything better. So it was a case of, "Oh, if you have to make that awful row, Partsy, then just make it!"

It's Dave playing the piano, and I think he's playing that very growly, phasing, chorus-ing guitar. I can't remember what the hell I'm doing on this, to be truthful.

TB: Are you playing what you played on the demo?

AP: Probably, but it's not very high in the mix.

And it's Pete Phipps drumming, of course. No Linn drum!

TB: I was going to ask about that. It sounded to me like acoustic drums, but he's basing what he's doing on what you had programmed, correct?

AP: Sure. On the demo, there were these funny little cross tom-tom things. But on the demo, I wanted to turn the idea of the drums upside-down. So, what the hi-hat pattern would be -- tap-tap-tap-tap-tap -- is on snare drum. So, on the finished version, I said to Pete, "Look, can you do this? Can you twist it upside-down, and make the hi-hat pattern the snare drum?" It's all Pete, and he does a great job of just sitting on it.

You know, there's more of Pete on that album than people would thing. They say, "Oh, I don't like that record, it's all Linn drum." No, it's not! There's not that much Linn drum on it.

TB: I like the way he lays into the kick on the "7-and" and "1."

AP: Right. He's a good player. He can turn his hand to many different feels.

TB: Let's go back to the vocals a bit. You guys obviously spent a long time on that. Is it mostly you overdubbing yourself, or are Colin and Dave on this, too?

AP: I think there's quite a bit of me, but I think there are bunches of any combination of the three of us. To be truthful, we'd probably have to sit with the multi-tracks and pull them up, and say, "Oh, I can hear Colin in there," or, "I can hear Dave." Because they do have quite distinctive timbres. Dave's that wispy one, with lots of air, and Colin's is a little bit higher and strident. Possibly a little oboe-like in places.

TB: Did you plan all the counterpoint-like vocals out, or were you in the studio making it up as you went along, inspired by what you heard?

AP: I think a fair amount of them is on the demo...

TB: It sounded to me as if on the studio version you developed it a bit more.

AP: Yeah, because we had more tracks to stretch with.

I feel as if I'm struggling a little bit , Todd, to talk about this one! It seems to be kind of one of the lost tracks, if you know what I mean. It's a bit of a "Fixing a Hole" of a track -- one of those passed-over sort of things.

TB: Well, that's one reason I wanted to talk about the song!

AP: Do you know, part of me fantasized about it being a single, but nobody pointed it out as one. I thought it was kind of commercial enough, in its way...

TB: I thought it was very commercial -- as I was saying, the chorus is really sunny and bright, and stays with you.

AP: Sure, and all those voices kind of canon all over each other. I thought that was pretty good, but nope, nobody at Virgin cast a glance at it.

TB: Where did you guys record this?

AP: It was done at Crescent Studios, in Bath, which was a funny combination of a couple of houses -- if you can imagine an L-shaped thing of two houses together, and imagine the join between the far ends of the L walled-in, so it sort of created a kind of foyer area. The best parts of the two houses were the studio. The control room was on the ground floor, and the performing studios, the two of them -- the bigger room and the smaller room, with the piano in it -- they were upstairs.

TB: Really? So if you were sitting in the control room, you couldn't see the players?

AP: There was a TV camera and monitor downstairs. If you were up in the performing area, you couldn't see the control room, but they could see you.

I liked it in there. I thought it was really interesting. Trouble was, when it was warm, they'd open the doors of the studio out to the world, and you'd get a lot of people passing by and coming in. You know, you'd be sat at the mixing desk, and you'd turn around and there'd be two or three people, [drunken voice] "What you doin', mate?" [chuckles]

There was a little old fellow turned up one day. We said, "Yes, can we help you?" He said, "This was my house. You see that little alcove there? That was the fireplace. I'd sit there and have my porridge before I went to school in the morning." The control room had been his kitchen!

TB: Was this David Lord's studio, or was he just working there with you?

AP: It was his studio. It was co-owned between him and -- his other partner died, so his partner's widow kind of kicked in and took over, and handled the business side of things, while David was head honcho. They had another engineer called Glenn Tommey. Those were the main three, and they had a secretary called Gaynor -- little ginger-haired Welsh girl. So, there you go, I've remembered all of them, for some strange reason!

TB: What were his contributions to the song, as producer?

AP: On this one, just really the engineering side of things. Pretty damned good engineer. His real skill was arranging. He's a phenomenal arranger -- just his taste in where things should sit and how you should point things. That was his background, though.

TB: Right, that was why I thought he might have had some input into turning this into the fully developed version -- maybe with the keyboards or vocals or something.

AP: Not so much, no. Not on this song. He did with something like "Wake Up." He turned that song from something quite minimal and bare into quite an epic production. He had a great ear for how things should go. That was his craft. In fact, he was asked to arrange "She's Leaving Home" by McCartney. He said he went to dinner at McCartney's or something, and was asked to arrange the song -- and he thought, "Nah, Beatles, that's just Pop music." So he didn't do it. You'd think Paul would have asked George Martin! The bitch. [chuckles]

TB: Who ended up doing it, right?

AP: No, somebody else did it -- some other arranger, I think, ended up doing it. [Mike Leander]

TB: I know you guys did a version of this for the BBC. Is there anything in particular you remember about that?

AP: No, that was really just running through it.

TB: You are using the Linn drum on that, right?

AP: Yeah, sure. Because it was like, "Can we get Pete?" "Well, he'll want paying, and he might be out on tour," and all that. So, "Dave, can you do a program that sounds like Pete's drumming?"

TB: So Dave was the one that programmed the Linn?

AP: Yeah. Because he was the best drum programmer. He could make it swing a little bit better than any of us could. [chuckles] It still sounds stiff, but it was fine for what we wanted.

TB: And then there's the Zippy Zither on the solo...

AP: [laughs] I've still got Zippy Zither!

TB: You do?

AP: I do! In fact, I was just dicking around with a song called "You're a Magic Set," which has a strange little motif that goes through it. I've tuned the Zippy Zither to be that motif, so if I drop that in the song, I shall record it with Zippy Zither. Yes, Zippy's still zipping along. Been on a lot of records, ol' Zippy Zither.

TB: [laughing] Which ones?

AP: It's on the Dukes, on "The Mole from the Ministry." It's been on "Galveston," that song from Orpheus: The Lowdown, which I did with Peter Blegvad. If I sat and looked, I could probably find another half a dozen things it's been on, actually. Zippy's earned his corn! He wasn't expensive.

TB: Yep, and there's a sound that you can only get from a zither, right?

AP: That's right. And, of course, through a fuzz box he's kind of interesting as well. [chuckles] But I've yet to try that.

1:05 AM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.