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Sunday, May 31, 2009


Andy discusses 'Outside World'

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, "Outside World," is from 1979's Drums and Wires.

Destroyer of worlds and all-around nice guy J.D. Mack was the only one to suss the hint-erview ("a song that often gets mentioned in the 'misheard lyrics' category"), thinking of the classic line, "She has sex while singing in the sauna." Well done, you dirty, dirty boy, with your mind in the gutter. We'll be back in two weeks with a look at a song that Mike Myers has quoted in interviews.

TB: We're due to cover a Go 2 song, but you and I have already covered a lot of your songs from that album, and "Outside World" has always struck me as your last White Music/Go 2-era song.

AP: Yes -- that's the first thing I wrote in my notes! I wrote, "The last gasp of punky XTC." [chuckles]

TB: It's the breakneck speed...

AP: It's us being ersatz Ramones or something. I really think it's the last gasp of '77 XTC.

TB: Is it because you wrote the song during that time? Or did you have one more song like this inside of you as you were making Drums and Wires?

AP: I guess I just wanted to write something fast and noisy and hairy -- or lack of hairy!

[laughing] I don't know why the fuck I wrote it! It just kind of fell out -- "Yeah, I've just got to play fast and loud. Get out of my way!" It was just one of those, you know?

It was great to play live. It was a real monster.

TB: Are there any live recordings around that you guys have released? I'm sure fans have boots out there, but as far as I know it's not on any of your releases...

AP: I'm trying to think -- there may be some on YouTube, from an Australian gig. I'm having a bit of a Ringo moment -- [mimics him] "What album was that on?"

I also put in my notes that "We're being the Gabberdines."

TB: [laughs] Why is that?

AP: Dave is playing like he's 100 percent Gabberdine in this song. To me, all his guitar parts, and all the fire he plays it with, it's like, "Okay, he's still in the Gabberdines here!" [laughs]

There's a funny interview -- I'm not whether sure it's online -- but they did a session for a local TV station, and he'd just been asked to join XTC, and accepted our offer, but he was committed to do this session with Dean Gabber and the Gabberdines. Some of the songs from that session are on YouTube [see the link above], but there was also an interview that went with it, where Dave is sort of slightly sat alone from the others. There's just such bad vibes from the others to Dave, because he's just left their band to join us! [chuckles] The atmosphere is ultra-bitch.

But for about five minutes after I wrote "Outside World," I thought, "Yeah, this is really punchy. This could be a single!"

TB: But why didn't you keep thinking that?

AP: This one was written pretty early on, I think, and the other stuff just sort of took it over. I think it's sort of a giveaway that it ended up in the "dead spot" on the album -- about three-quarters of the way through.

TB: I've never heard you mention that before. Is this for your own albums, or do you think it's true of most albums?

AP: Usually, the stuff that isn't so good tends to gravitate toward that spot, near the end of side two in vinyl terms, or four-fifths of the way through a CD or something. It's the dead spot. I think Dave coined the phrase, and I knew exactly what he meant. We tend to shuffle stuff there that we're not so in love with. You know, maybe you finish the album, and you go, "You know what? That one didn't work out so great after all. Yeah, we've still got it, and it's better than such-and-such a track, which we're going to leave off, so where should we put it? Maybe we'll put this one in the dead spot."

TB: So, "That Is the Way" is right next to this one -- were those your two songs for the "dead spot" on this album? You don't feel this way about "Millions," do you?

AP: Ummm ... no. I think "That Is the Way" wasn't so successful. It was okay, for sure. I really love the flugelhorn on it. I guess "War Dance" would also be a dead-spot song for me. That's probably the weakest number on Nonsuch.

TB: "Leisure"?

AP: Yeah. That's the weakest number of English Settlement. You see the formula here?

TB: We're going to have to look through the catalog! [laughs]

AP: It's something for people to talk about, actually! They can argue about whether or not such-and-such was a correct choice for the dead spot or not.

But generally, I think that's a kind of pattern with our albums -- it's like the quiet before the storm, usually.

TB: Yeah, that's why I was asking about "That Is the Way," because it's kind of mellow, and then I think you really kick in the door with "Outside World."

AP: Yeah, but apart from being fast and furious, it's not such a great song. I mean, the lyrics are...

TB: Let's talk about the lyrics. Why are you singing about somebody having sex in a sauna?

AP: [laughs] Exactly! No, it's slightly misogynistic, I think, though I'm probably just talking about me, to be honest. You know that lyrical thing, where when I say "her," or "them," or "he," it all means me. Basically it's the story of somebody who's doing all they can to blot out the outside world, and all its horror. And in the process of singing this song, and sort of chiding her for that, I suddenly say, "Hey, wait a minute, move over, make room for me! I think it's like that as well."

TB: I was going to say -- in the bridge, you seem to say her way is not so bad after all.

AP: Exactly. "Move over, I'll join you!" It's me. It's me trying to blot out the outside world, ultimately.

TB: Would you say this is a lyrical cousin to "Burning with Optimism's Flames"?

AP: It's the other face of the coin, I think. Because this is one where I want to hide and run away, but on that one, I'm engaging with the world.

And all those alliterations in the lyrics to this one, I know where they come from -- it's like a ersatz "Twelve Days of Christmas," you know? "Seven swans a-swimming," or whatever it is. "Six swans singing in her sauna" -- that's sort of a missing days-of-Christmas thing. "Eleven lions laughing at her lakeside," or something. That's just for the fun of alliteration.

It's also about things that make a noise -- it's an attempt to blot out the outside world, and how are you seeing this outside world? Newspapers, television, radio -- that was it. [grumpy grown-up voice] We didn't have computers in those days! We just used to have empty plastic boxes with keyboards than never did anything! [laughs] The Internet then was made out of real net! There was a team of Filipinos knitting this stuff constantly.

TB: [laughing] That's right, with cans on each end, so you could talk into it.

AP: Yeah! "Pull the can a bit tauter!"

So, you're hearing these black-and-white descriptions -- what are the words again?

TB: Well, there are two long verses, and each verse has the same structure, where you describe what she's doing to stay away from the world, and then you describe the bad stuff going on there.

So, "Bad black and white men / Standing in their pigpen / Selling guns to simpletons / To shoot 'em in the abdomen"...

AP: There you go. At the time, I thought that was a pretty rhyming scheme for human beings of all colors behaving atrociously.

TB: And, as you were saying, it's the kind of thing you can deliver in a very rapid-fire manner. It's something you can punch out live -- it's a great combination of consonant and vowel order.

AP: It's kind of like "mouth drumming" or something -- it's very percussive. "If I can't hit them drums, I'm going to sing 'em!"

TB: Then the second verse has the lines, "Bad brown and yellow men / Spitting on their fellow men / Drape her in a newspaper / And stab her with a poison pen."

AP: That's not a bad line. That seems to sum up newspapers entirely.

TB: Do you remember writing this song, and what prompted it?

AP: No! It just seemed to fall out. It was one of those songs I was hoping you weren't ever going to ask me about!

TB: Ah ha!

AP: [laughs] I have no memory of actually writing this. In fact, I went back through some notebooks and couldn't find any notes, so I must have written it on scraps of paper -- you know, probably hotel stationary or whatever.

TB: Was this a road song?

AP: Probably -- the idea for it, anyway. You'd sit in your room, or in a dressing room, with a guitar or something, just having a strum.

TB: Would you sit with a guitar and play while you guys were driving from gig to gig?

AP: No. Sometimes in the hotel room, but never in a van or car. There just wasn't the room. We didn't get to good tour buses until we shared a tour bus with The Police, and I don't think there were any instruments around then on the bus. Then, when we got one of our own, I freaked out and didn't want to tour anymore! So, I never got to sit there strumming a guitar on a tour bus. What a great Rock and Roll cliche that is, eh?

TB: So, you guys weren't sitting around with The Police singing "Kumbaya" together?

AP: [laughs] No, it was either watching porn films -- which is no good at all, because you get out to your hotel at the other end, and you've just got to scurry off to your room and release the pent-up pressure! -- or you're playing backgammon or cribbage or cards or just chatting. Playing unusual games, like "How many telephone numbers can you remember?" Stupid stuff like that. You'd trust everyone was telling the truth, and you'd reel off every phone number you could remember. I think their accountant won it. He could remember more phone numbers than anyone else.

TB: That makes sense!

AP: Good with numbers.

TB: Let's talk about the guitar parts. Even though I view this as "the last Go 2 song," I don't know if it would have been as effective if Barry> had been part of the band, because I really like the way the two guitar parts interact with each other.

AP: Dave is playing great stuff on this -- there's that intro pattern that he plays, and I used to joke with him about the way he twists it at the end, to fall in to the chord changes. "That's very professional, the way you do that!" [mimics Dave] "Oh, I have to do it, I'm afraid. I just have to fall into that chord change."

TB: Did he come up with that figure, or did you?

AP: I did, but he had to change it at the end, so it fell into the next chord change. Which is a very Gregsy thing.

TB: Who does that triplet pattern before the bridge?

AP: That's Dave as well. That's a lovely little figure, actually.

TB: And that's something he came up with, I assume?

AP: I think he did, yeah.

The song is very simple. It's just bass, drums, rhythm guitar -- which is me -- and Dave, just digging in and wailing.

TB: I wanted to ask about the way you kind of break it down, when you repeat the first verse.

AP: Oh sure, that's just that old-fashioned [imitates R&B singer] "Take it down a while." We should be extending it a long time, and I should be plucking out a girl from the audience, and singing to her very closely and licking all over her face.

TB: You could be the swan singing in her sauna.

AP: [laughing] Exactly! Yeah, we should have had two roadies come out in swan costumes, to select a girl from the audience, and hold her in a Perspex sauna! She would have only been able to get out if she did degrading disco dancing for five minutes while we take it down some more.

TB: [laughing] Was there a drum or percussion overdub during this part? It sounds like Terry might be doing something special on every other "four," when you say "what's." I don't know if you're adding a handclap or some effect you added later...

AP: I think Hugh or Steve buttoned that in or pushed up the ambience to give the snare more wallop. Sort of a gentle Dub thing.

TB: I assume you guys arranged this in the normal band-rehearsal setting, since this was the early days, before demos.

AP: Yeah, it was one of those songs where it was, "This is how it's gonna be." It's gonna sound live like it sounds on the record, and that's what you're getting, you know? And because it was the last of the punky XTC, it was, "Let's keep it real stripped down."

In fact, I think Dave does two guitar overdubs. He does his main riff thing, and then some kind of pecking kind of figures, and then he does that triplet figure. There's also some counter stuff over the end that I'd noticed today, where he sort of extends the melody line into other little phrases, you know?

TB: Yeah, he's playing a kind of solo over the end...

AP: That's right, and then underneath that, I'm still hammering away on skinny rhythm guitar, and he's putting in some counter things as well. There's quite a few little Daves going on there.

It's a real basic song. It's a real basic heads-down, no-nonsense, get-out-of-the-way song.

TB: What do you remember about Colin's part?

AP: I'd forgotten how barky his bass tone was! That's probably his Fender Mustang bass. Because it sounds really amped up and barking.

TB: I noticed that today too, listening to it -- there's a real edge to the tone.

AP: Yeah, I think that's probably his black Mustang. Or was it a Bronco? [whines] Oh, now I can't remember! It's one of those.

TB: [laughs] One of those horse basses.

AP: Yeah, it's his Black Beauty! [laughs] His Trigger bass.

TB: [laughing] His Friend Flicka.

AP: [laughing] That's the one! I can think of any more well-known horses, so I think we've run the gamut dry now.

TB: In terms of the recording process, do you remember anything that [producer Steve] Lillywhite or [engineer Hugh] Padgham had to do with this song?

AP: Not really. It's just kind of a snapshot. I'm surprised how tight we played, actually -- listening to it today, I thought, "Jesus, that's really tight!" We were the road machine at the time, you know?

TB: And you never used a click track while Terry was in the band, correct?

AP: Oh no, just count in, and away we went!

At the end, where Terry does that last sort of pull-down on the drums, they obviously turned the ambiance in the room way up, and listening today I thought, "Shit, why didn't we ask for more of that all the way through the track?" Because it makes that last drum thing sound really violent.

TB: It's a look at things to come with Black Sea and the ending of "Paper and Iron."

AP: Yeah, I think 'round about this point Hugh Padgham was getting ideas about this ambient sound and what you could do with it. "What happens if we crank up the ambience more? What happens if we gate it a bit?"

TB: That is the interesting difference between Drums and Wires and Black Sea, because the latter is the same approach in many ways, but taken up to 11, if you know what I mean.

AP: [laughs] Exactly! Yeah, they were working on a few subsequent albums with other people, trying stuff out as well. You know, like the Gabriel record and things.

TB: I'm glad you reminded me of that, because we talked about "It's Nearly Africa," and I'd forgotten to ask you about the fact that that song showed up on the first WOMAD compilation.

AP: It did, yeah.

TB: I wanted to ask you about the fact that, for a while there, you seemed to be running in the same circles as Peter Gabriel. You shared producers...

AP: We shared producers, and we always seemed to be hanging out at The Townhouse at similar times. Then Steve Lillywhite recommended Dave as a guitarist for Peter Gabriel...

TB: On his seminal third album.

AP: Yeah, that's the one I call "Face Melting, Volume 3." [chuckles]

TB: In terms of sounds and being influential, that album was huge.

AP: That was Hugh Padgham taking his new ideas to the Nth degree.

TB: So, were you guys friends with him?

AP: With Peter Gabriel? Yeah, not bad, actually. In fact, I spoke with him about six months ago. I called up to speak with somebody at Real World, and for some reason he answered, and we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes -- talking about tinnitus, of all things.

TB: Oh, does he have it, too?

AP: I think he has it sort of minimally -- he said especially after loud rehearsals or after a gig, he suffers a bit. I don't think he has it constantly, like I do.

But yeah, he would occasionally invite us down to Real World for stuff like firework displays or things like that -- get-togethers, or whatever.

TB: How did you end up getting "It's Nearly Africa" on the WOMAD album?

AP: He just rang up and asked! So, he must have heard it and liked it, and thought, because it had [laughing] the word "Africa" in it, it might work on this collection of World Music. Of course, it's not World Music -- if anything, it's fake World Music. It's a fabulous stick-on photograph of an African jungle for you to put on your living-room wall.

TB: I think he was trying to make it palatable for the masses.

AP: Yeah, he was trying to put bands on the first compilation that would pull in some white kids, I reckon. So, make them hear the other stuff, and get them to say, "Oh yeah, I quite like the sound of this." It was a smart thing to do.

TB: Anything else about "Outside World"?

AP: It's just a really loud little moronic Pop song. I will say, when we played it live, I used to lose myself -- and this is a weird thing to confess -- but for some reason, this song was so simple for me to play that I used to sort of lose myself in this weird physicality of throwing myself around. It was almost like being possessed or something.

I felt quite cathartic playing this live, because you almost couldn't get more moronic for us. There was nothing for me intelligent, really, for me to think about. I was just playing rhythm power chords -- Dave was doing all the twiddly stuff.

TB: So you had a three-minute holiday.

AP: I had a three-minute mental sauna where I could throw myself about and really enjoy it. It was very physical and enjoyable.

In fact, that's what I miss about playing live -- the physicality. It's not the music of playing live, it's the sweating and the adrenalin rush of the physicality. But, you know, I was in my early 20s, so I could do that. It'd kill me if I tried to do that now.

TB: Well, I don't know if it'd kill you, but it'd be different.

AP: I'm just not one of those physical Mick Jagger types. I mean, he comes from a family of gym instructors, and he's got it in every fiber of his body. But I never did. I was the skinny kid who was never good at any sports, particularly. I was the last to be picked for all the teams. [imitates kid] "Aw sir, do we have to have him on our side?" I was the liability.

TB: [laughing] Which is always good for the self-esteem, isn't it.

AP: [laughing] The last two to be picked for any team sports in all my classes in school were me and the fat kid. I was the skinny beanpole kid who was useless at sports, and there was a fat kid, and it was always me and him who'd be the last two to get picked.

I was never really very physical with sports. I mean, the most physical I got was sex, I guess. That's where I got my sweating done. And on stage. That's a really horrible picture I've just painted!

But I do miss the physicality -- the sweating and the losing yourself.

TB: The animal joy of it.

AP: Yeah. There you go. Animal Joy -- she's a great zoologist. She was implicated with that bad thing with that bunch of Bonobos, and has never lived it down!

4:08 PM

©2009 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.