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Monday, January 18, 2010


Andy discusses "Me and the Wind"

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, "Me and the Wind," is from 1983's Mummer.

Damo Waters was the winner of the "Guess the next Andyview" contest, using a shotgun approach. Well done! Tune in two weeks from now, when we'll talk about one of Andy's more poignant tunes.

TB: So, we started talking about Mummer before I turned the recorder on, and you were saying...

AP: I don't remember, now that you're recording! I've got studio fever. You've got to put that red light off.

TB: "Okay, we've got it in the can, love. Let's just do one more."

AP: [laughs] Ah, okay -- now we can have some fun!

It's an album that a lot of fans don't seem to like, and I think it's got its merits, actually.

TB: It's in my top five consistently. I find that every song on it has something to offer.

AP: Like notes, and lyrics! [laughs] And the fact that it's over shortly, and goes into another one that also doesn't hang around much, and then you can move on to somebody else's album!

TB: [laughing] It's funny -- when I first visited England, in '94, the two albums that I had running through my head the most were Mummer and Big Express. It depended on where I was....

AP: Ah -- whether you were in countryside England or town England.

TB: Exactly right.

Some people have said that the lyrics to "Me and the Wind" were about Terry and his departure.

AP: You're right! And I was thinking about that, playing it yesterday. Although it wasn't intentional, I can completely see what they mean, because of all the references to drumming, sitting on the stool, "imprisoned in your drumbeat," and the snare. But I wasn't mentally writing a song about being free from Terry.

TB: Had he left the group when you wrote this song?

AP: No -- he was still with the band. We may have even tried to rehearse it with him.

TB: So that kind of blows that theory out of the water.

AP: Yeah, yeah. In fact, I vaguely remember trying to get him to play a similar kind of rolling pattern, with that sort of little clay-pot drum sound that I was into for that album. Which was inspired by the cheap little drum machine I'd bought, really.

TB: Which is very evident on the demo of this song.

AP: Yeah, that funny little nattering, pattering [mimics drumbeat]. It's like a little potty, cardboard-y box sound, isn't it. That was the sound of the tom-toms on this little drum box, which I can't for the life of me remember what it was called. It might have been something like Drumatix, but I couldn't swear.

But I think the song was more a reflection on the last big serious relationship I had before I met my former wife, with a girl called Linda, who unceremoniously dumped me for a lab scientist, I think he was. You know, someone who dips litmus strips into other people's shit for a living.

TB: [laughs] Obviously you have a high opinion of him!

AP: She moved up in the glamour stakes! She wanted to play a higher game, so she went for a professional shit-dipper.

TB: He blinded her with poop science.

AP: He blinded her with his soiled litmus!

But I got the last laugh, because after about a year of being with him, Linda got in touch with me and my-then-girlfriend Marianne, and said, "Can we all go out for a drink?" I thought it was strange, but okay...

TB: Marianne was okay with that?

AP: Kind of, yeah. But when she went to the toilet, Linda leaned in, and said, "Oh, come back, come back!" And I was, "No no no! Mwuahahaha!" [laughs] "You sit by the fire with your shit dipper!"

It's that thing where the relationship is your whole world, and it ends, and part of you is thinking, "Oh my god, I'm totally free, I can do anything I want! I can go anywhere, do anything -- I'm free! Hooray! I'm not a slave to that relationship anymore." And the other 50 percent of you is saying, "Oh no! What do I do now? My rudder's gone, my steering's broken, what am I to do?"

So, it was kind of making allusions to the thing of, you can blow anywhere you want, you can pull and push anything, you can do anything you want -- but, at the same time, like the wind, you find yourself unanchored and in need of that emotional steadying or something. It's the sweet and sour of a relationship ending -- the freedom and the responsibility of the freedom.

What's the syndrome called where you find yourself missing your captor? Is it Stockholm Syndrome?

TB: I think it is. Patty Hearst fell prey to that.

AP: Really?

TB: Yeah, she became part of the Symbionese Liberation Army and was a revolutionary for a while after that, and had to be "deprogrammed," I think.

AP: Hmmm. That sounds like a euphemism if ever I heard one -- "Baby, come up to my apartment, and I'll deprogram you."

TB: [laughing] Turn a few dials....

AP: Put a few pins in a few slots, and give you a damned good deprogramming.

TB: This song, to me, seems one of the best examples of your songs that I've heard where the music and the lyrics go together -- the tone of the music, the conceit and emotion behind the lyrics -- they really go hand-in-glove. Even on the demo, you've got tons of reverb on your voice -- you're going for this windy, airy feeling. You've got a flute...

AP: That's where the song came from! It came from the flute. It came from the fact that my ex-wife had these mad phases in which she had to have all the equipment for whatever she was thinking of. She'd wake up one morning and suddenly make the proclamation, "I'm going to be an oil painter!" She'd have to have the easel, and the palette, and the brushes, and the oil paints, and the canvas and all that, and six weeks later it would all be forgotten and dropped, you know?

So, she woke up one day and said, "I've always wanted to play the flute -- I must have a flute!" So, we went and bought the cheapest school flute you could get -- which was still quite expensive! -- and I think the phase lasted about three or four weeks. Then she just didn't pick it up anymore. But, because it was a musical instrument, I just had to tinker. I think all my fantasies of being Ian Anderson came to the fore! [laughs] Standing on one leg whenever I could, and I had to have a codpiece on.

So I started nabbing this flute and just blowing down it, and I loved the picture that it made. It's wind -- it's musical wind, a musical breeze. I was just foofing on this thing, thinking, "Wow, this is like the wind," and almost simultaneously I came up with this guitar figure [plays guitar figure of song] -- I think the sort of "wind picture" of the flute is what brought the lyrics out.

I didn't really know what I was doing on the flute -- I could just basically get a scale out, and nothing much more. But it made this picture of the wind, and freedom, and being unanchored, and suddenly all the emotional stuff for me, about this previous failed relationship -- or previous dumping -- came out. They're never failed relationships! I'm just born to be dumped. [laughs] You know, some people are dumpers, and some people are dumpees.

TB: [laughing] But look at the lyrics and songs you get as a result!

AP: The Blues are good for creativity, you're right. We've said this -- great creativity is either a result of extreme misery or extreme joy, I think.

But just the simple act of huffing down this discarded flute, and finding this repeat pattern -- which, to me, sounded like a real piece of "modern" composition -- something like, if you changed the instrumentation to marimbas or something, you'd have a piece of Philip Glass.

TB: You're pulling on the strings while you're playing that pattern?

AP: Yeah, I'm pulling the strings, because I'm sort of trying to make it sound like a piano, I think.

TB: I was going to ask about that -- it's guitar on the demo, but there's very little guitar on the recorded version.

AP: It's piano, yeah. I was trying to make the guitar sound like a piano on the demo, but I had no way of playing the piano -- didn't have access to one, and I think the only keyboard I had was, either I would borrow the Prophet-5, or I'd borrow the monophonic Korg from the band pool of stuff, if you see what I mean.

I think Colin had the Korg at the time, which was why he was doing things like "Wonderland," with all those burping, farting, percussive noises. I was finding the softer, pad-y, flute-y tones with the Prophet. But I had no access to the piano, so I was mentally trying making to make the guitar sound like a "moderne" piano piece, ala Philip Glass.

TB: Did you feel, when it came time to do the recorded version, that guitar wasn't necessary?

AP: Well, there is guitar in there, under it, in different places. If you listen very carefully later in the song, you can hear an electric guitar playing that figure. But it was a case of, "We must make this predominant, cyclical sound a piano."

TB: Looking at another difference between the demo and the recorded version, in the demo the drum pattern kind of chatters along, but on the recorded version the pattern is very definite and melodic. How did you guys come to that?

AP: I think we kicked it around in rehearsal -- we rehearsed it in a scenery store of the Mechanics Institute theatre, which is a now sadly derelict building in Swindon -- it's a Victorian kind of leisure center built for railway workers. They had a theatre in there, and the scenery store, off to one side of the stage, is where we rehearsed this album. We either got it free, or for a song, to be able to rehearse in there.

I think it was just the musicality of Pete Phipps' tom-toms, which were beautifully tuned. Also, the way that [producer] Steve Nye records things is gorgeous.

It is a Steve Nye mix that we used -- the more aggressive songs, or the songs we wanted to sound bigger, we had remixed with Phil Thornalley and Alex Sadkin. But the more intimate ones, I think that Steve Nye captured everything beautifully. He actually mixed the more intimate ones perfectly small, like little Bijou jewels, if you know what I mean. And this was one of them.

TB: Although actually, when you think about the chorus, the drums get very big there.

AP: Yeah, listening to the demo today, I was obviously being lazy and just letting the same pattern muddle through, but I felt it needed a backbeat on the final version.

But a demo is for finding things out. It's for making as many mistakes as it is for sketching out the definite ideas you have. You know, you have sketch out, "Well, this is what I want the front of the building to look like, and I'll just put it away." Then, "Now that I've come back to it, I can see immediately that there should be a little dome on top." But you don't know that until you've sketched out the bits that you do know. So, demos are as much for finding things out as they are for solidifying the known knowns.

TB: Although I was surprised at how complete the demo is in many of its aspects and arrangements. The song is pretty much all there.

AP: It's got the basic repeated pattern, which had to be simplified for Dave to play on the piano. He couldn't keep doing that one little pull-off trill, which is a piece of piss on the guitar, but you try executing that repeatedly on a piano, at that speed, and it's going to break your fingers. So we simplified it.

[chuckles] Plus, I remember -- poor old Steve Nye -- we were recording this, and I said, "Can you make the piano seems like it's kind of blowing around you as he's playing?" So he put an auto-pan on the piano, which you can hear on headphones -- the piano is circling your head, it's blowing like a little whirlwind around your head. I remember saying to him later, while we were mixing later, "Do you know, I'm not sure whether we should use that auto-pan on the piano or not." He was so upset! He said, "But I've recorded the part with the effect on it! You liked it!!" I said, "Well, I did at the time!" But then he said, "Well, I can't undo it! It's stuck like that." "Well, okay then -- I must love it." [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Oh, you fickle bastard, you.

AP: [affects posh voice] Even the great can change their minds sometimes. "No, that wasn't Stalingrad I wanted to besiege! It was Detroit! Sorry, lads."

But Steve Nye did a beautiful job engineering and mixing this. Like I said, the smaller tracks, which he did, were just right.

TB: Yeah, and as I was saying before, it really comes across as a perfect marriage between lyrics and musical expression of the lyrics.

AP: Some things I knew straightaway that I wanted. You know the moaning bass on the demo? It's like a moaning wind. You put reverb on it, so it sounds like it's blowing over the hills.

This was the first album where any of the songs were personally demo'd by the writers, because in '82 was the first time that we got four-track cassette machines. We could make our own demos of how we wanted the songs to be. So, I remember saying to Colin, "Look, can you keep this moaning bass? Obviously, you can work up your own thing for the other parts, because I'm not totally settled on what the other parts should be." And he's using the Epiphone with the damper on, so it sounds like an acoustic bass. And also, I think he gets to be Glenn Cornick, Jethro Tull's bass player. He liked his playing, and so did I, so I think he gets to be an ersatz Glenn Cornick.

TB: Goes with the flute, right?

AP: [laughs] Goes with the flute! Goes with the codpiece, too. Dave, the poor sod, had to wear the codpiece on his face while he played the piano. [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Instead of the Colonel Cunt hat, you had codpiece on this album, I guess.

AP: [laughing] Exactly, yeah. The Colonel Codpiece.

TB: Let's talk about the vocals a bit.

AP: Well, Dave and Colin are doing the counterlines in the harmonies -- the "have I been such a fool?" lines -- and I'm doing the harmonies with myself, and the octave voices.

TB: Is Colin singing the high part in the harmonies, or is that Dave getting all the way up there?

AP: I couldn't tell you which one's doing which. It might even be a combination of the three of us -- I would tend to sing with Colin to bolster my lines, and we'd add Dave in for some air...

TB: I guess I'm wondering about a related question, too -- what ranges were typically "assigned" to you guys? I know that in bands I've been in, it's been a case of, "He's got the highest voice, so give him the top part." I know Colin's voice is pretty high, but Dave can hit high notes, too.

AP: He's very good with high falsetto, yes. With Colin's songs, I was the one who tried to kind of pitch my harmony under -- I'd go for the more brown-sounding fourths or fifths under Colin, because ages ago I'd read that George Martin had said that you should always have the melody be the high line, because that's where the ear is drawn. So, once I'd read that, we tended to pitch a lot of our harmonies underneath the high line.

TB: And you guys were doing that early in your career -- not just later.

AP: Yep, it's all George's fault.

TB: That always worked well for John Lennon and Paul McCartney anyway, because of their natural ranges. John did some great harmonies under Paul.

AP: Right, and I used to put my voice under Colin's. But do you know, you've hit a hole my knowledge here -- I'd have to go back and listen to a load of stuff to see if there's a pattern. We never tended to work this out so much -- it just kind of fell out naturally. We wouldn't notate it out or anything, because we couldn't read music -- well, Dave could, but Colin and I couldn't -- so we did what felt natural.

TB: Would the songwriter assign parts? Or, would it be a matter of someone suggesting a part, so they get to do it?

AP: It's that "rehearsal tennis." People are firing off ideas -- "Ooh, I'm not so sure about that -- what if I make it this note?" "Oh yeah, that's better, but I'll tell you what, try it lower." "Okay -- oh, that feels better." "And why don't I sing this bit? When he hits that note, I'll come in with that one?" So, you're knocking the ideas back and forth.

A lot of that actually stopped when we got to demo our own material, because we could try stuff out on our own. But before that, that was the only way of knowing whether something was going to work, because we couldn't retain all those ideas in our heads. You had a rough picture of how it was going to go, but there was more rehearsal tennis that went on before we started doing demos.

The voices at the end become a part that we played on the Prophet-5, which makes this sort of two-note flute sound that gets bent.

TB: I was wondering if that was voices that were then manipulated on the tape, or if it was a synth.

AP: The voices hang on to "fool" and are pulled down in the mix, and then at the same time, the keyboard part, which plays the same notes, are faded up, and then we used the pitch wheel on the Prophet to bend the notes, so they become more like a wind howling. Very Joe Meek! [laughs]

TB: And the bass is also doing its own bendy part at the end there.

AP: Yep, it's moaning.

What else have I got in my notes here? I was also very happy with the metal-yacht-mast-in-the-wind sound that we got.

TB: Yeah, what is that piece of percussion you're using there?

AP: I don't remember what it's called. I've actually got one -- it's a strip of metal in a little frame, and then you hold the strip of metal and there are two little beaters that you jangle against the metal...

TB: Exactly. I can visualize it, but can't remember the name either [it's called a "flexatone"].

AP: It's like a spooky house sound. But there was one of these in AIR Studios, which is where I did the lead vocal. We were mixing some tracks, and I wasn't happy with the lead vocal, or hadn't done the lead vocal by that time. There was some downtime, a couple of hours, in one of the other studios at AIR -- a side one to where we were working, mixing -- and so I went in with Steve Nye and he took the finished vocal.

But they also had one of those haunty house things, and I found that if you didn't flex the metal part of it -- if you just sort of gently wobbled it -- to me, it sounded like the sound you get by the harbor or the seashore, where you have boats with aluminum masts, and when the wind blows, the metal things on the ropes bang against the masts, which start ringing. So, to me, just idly shaking this percussion instrument at random suggested the wind by the shore.

TB: Yeah, it really helps the atmosphere a lot.

AP: Do you know, I think on this whole album, a lot of the songs grew out of more-pictorial suggestions. This was the first album where I was really free from having to do this live, so if a song came from just blowing down a flute, fine. I didn't have to try to play this guitar figure live and blow down a flute, you know?

TB: I think that's one of the reasons I like the album so much -- there is this sense of freedom to it.

AP: Yeah -- I was released from having to do a Rock-and-Roll stage version of each song. You're getting more into film territory.

TB: You stretch out beyond the traditional arrangement, since you don't have to perform it live.

AP: Sure. You're not just stuck as a bunch of actors on a stage doing it right in front of your face -- you can be more filmic with it. You can use all the dissolves, wipes, weird lenses, unusual lights, cuts -- all the things that go into making a film so dreamlike, in many ways. You can actually push your music into that area. It was that self-permission to become more Psychedelic or something.

TB: Other bands, when they get to the same stage in their careers, and want to stretch out in terms of arrangements, will tour with additional musicians. So, instead of the four Talking Heads on stage, you'll see an eight-piece or whatever-size band on stage -- the core band, plus the other musicians. It seems that a lot of bands in their middle or older age will do that.

AP: Yeah, I guess they're trying to balance the requirements of playing live with wanting to sonically expand. But for me, it was the thing of, "I'm not to tour anymore. I'm sick of it. So, great -- now we can really concentrate on making the music 'broad.' I don't have to worry about the logistics of having a string section with us, or a flute player, or brass players or people clanging aluminum masts on stage or whatever it is that you require." It's the film you're making. It's not the continued performance that you're making.

TB: Did you guys bring this album in within budget, or did it take longer or cost more than anticipated?

AP: It was more expensive than anticipated, but not because of the recording side of things. It was really the mixing side of things, where we felt that Steve "Grumpy" Nye -- the grumpiest person you could ever be in a studio with! Excellent engineer, but phenomenally grumpy -- did a great job with the smaller songs, which were recorded and mixed beautifully. Well, he recorded everything beautifully, let's face it -- fantastic engineer, which is why we wanted to work with him. But the songs that we thought needed a more-epic look -- things like "Elements" and "Human Alchemy" and "Funk Pop a Roll" -- we needed someone else to work with those mixes, because they weren't big enough, or epic enough. Steve Nye did the little garden mixes, but the other things, we wanted more broad landscape, so we had to work with somebody who could do that, so that's what racked the budget up.

TB: Do you guys have the copies of the Steve Nye mixes of those songs?

AP: Somewhere. They're probably somewhere in the attic. I haven't played them since then. But I remember feeling that the more-epic things just weren't widescreen enough.

TB: Still, it'd be interesting to hear those initial mixes.

AP: Yeah. If and when Virgin get 'round to an expanded Mummer, it would be good to put in some of the Steve Nye mixes that were considered too television-like and not cinematic enough.

I enjoyed hearing this track again, I have to say. I got quite a thrill hearing it -- hadn't heard it for many years, and I thought to myself, "You know, this isn't half-bad."

And it's not a paean to flatulence. I swear!

1:08 AM

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