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Sunday, April 25, 2010


Andy looks at guitar playing and players -- Part IV

Andy looks at guitar playing and players -- Part IV

Over the course of several months, Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge are discussing Andy's approach to the guitar, examining his history with the instrument, his influences, and why and how he does what he does with it.

Because this conversation is ongoing, this is your chance to Ask Andy your guitar-related questions. We can't guarantee that we'll get to each one, of course, but we'll try. Ask away!

This week we focus on XTC's third, fourth and fifth albums -- Drums and Wires, Black Sea and English Settlement. As for the song of the week, we're posting "Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)," a song Andy hasn't show much love to in the past, but which he admits has "a really good groove." What do you think of the song?

TB: When last we talked, Barry had gone, Dave was in, and XTC was about to enter its prime live-playing years.

AP: And oddly, sonically, taking an enormous step backwards! To something I'd resisted for years, which was two guitars.

TB: Had it been that long, really? The space between Dave Cartner's departure and Dave Gregory's entry into the band was only, what, three years?

AP: Dave Cartner went in '75, and Dave Gregory came in '79, so four years. Four years in which, sonically, I'd gotten very used to keyboards, especially that "shorthand for the future" that Barry's Krumar organ was to me. That was a real trash sound rescued from the bin, you know? Everybody was looking at that sound. Blondie, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, countless little English bands -- all were looking at that kind of "fairground in space" Krumar or Farfisa-type tone.

I was prepared to take an enormous step backwards, sonically, which I think we did. Due to the fact that the songs coming up were getting better, and because of Dave's inherent musicality -- which was very conservative, but probably what we needed at that juncture -- it was okay.

TB: It helped that he could play keyboards as well, I'd think.

AP: That's true. It's an area where he hides his light under a bushel. He's a very good keyboard player, and I think he kind of resents it, because he just likes to dig and wail with his electric guitar. Sometimes it seems as if keyboards are just a load of fuss to him. But he's a bloody good keyboard player.

TB: So, how did his entry into the band change your to the guitar? It seems to me it would have to, because where before you were battling it out with Barry, now you had a foil on the same instrument. Did it change your approach?

AP: You know, I don't think initially it did change my approach. I think initially I was still playing the same kind of thing. I was still playing those repeat patterns -- I mean, look at things like "Day In, Day Out" -- you know, that funny, almost sequenced riff [mimics guitar pattern]. It's still stuck in my head -- it's one of those ones I've programmed in there.

I was still playing that, or stuff like the repeating patterns in "Millions" or "Making Plans for Nigel" -- those are very cyclical. I guess, without doing it on purpose, I also was looking at Dave and saying, "Okay, you do the donkey work -- you play the chord changes. I'll put the icing on top."

TB: But only on Colin's songs, right?

AP: To some extent, I suppose. But I do think that, at first, my playing didn't change that much. I was a terrible learner, and we had to knock this stuff up very quickly, so I gave myself the fiddly bits -- but not the solos. Dave usually got those, which also gave me kind of a break as well, if I'd been singing stuff. I just wanted to paddle water for a few bars! [laughs]

So I did adjust myself to the fact that we got slightly more primitive with two guitars. In fact, it was two Fender guitars at the time -- I was playing a black Fender Bronco for Drums and Wires.

TB: When did you get your Ibanez?

AP: It's a '75 Ibanez, but I bought it when we first signed to Virgin [in 1977]. Apart from our £20 per week -- which I never realized was our own money! -- our manager decided that we needed decent instruments. Everyone was buying Gibsons and Fender Strats and all that kind of thing, but I thought, "No, I want something a little different." I found an Ibanez Artist, and though I knew that it was a "cheap" Japanese guitar, it wasn't too cheap, actually! Plus, it was the nicest-feeling guitar in the whole shop, and had this slightly schizophrenic sound, where you could make it sound slightly thin, like a Fender, or you could make it sound thick, a bit like a Gibson. I thought, "That's good, it gives me a wider palette to play with." I didn't so much care that people were going to look and say, "He can't even afford a Gibson or Fender." It didn't matter. I got a guitar that I thought was more versatile.

TB: We've been talking about the six-string guitar, but of course there is this creature called the bass guitar as well. You and Colin kind of grew up together as players, since you had such a long partnership. Did his developing approach to the bass guitar influence you as a guitarist, especially as you guys were hitting your stride with Drums and Wires, Black Sea and English Settlement?

AP: Well, I knew he rather liked melodic playing -- he was a huge fan of Andy Fraser, of Free, who was very minimal, as well as being melodic. We did a tour of Europe with Barry -- one of the last things we did with him -- and I brought a cassette along, on which I'd copied Revolver. This was getting played in our van constantly.

TB: Talk about melodic bass playing...

AP: Yeah! I think it exposed Colin to the Beatles for almost the first time. I mean, he knew about them, but he was more of a Metal kid, and really never listened to them. But he was forced to, for hours on end during these long drives across Europe. After a while he started to actually ask, "Put that cassette on again -- I'm really liking that!" So, I think he was taking onboard the melodicism of McCartney's playing.

We'd talk about it, and I told him that after '66, McCartney insisted on putting the bass on last, so that A, they could get it up louder in the mix, and B, he could work out something that wasn't just bog-standard pinning the chords down. His bass playing became much more melodic when he had the space to think about it.

This clicked with Colin as well, so that after a while, he insisted on putting his bass on last, which I think is a good move, because you don't get to overplay, and you have the time, when the track is down, to think more about what is down there and how you do the job of unpinning without doing too much, what spaces you've got to put melodies in and things like that. So that was a very healthy thing for Colin to discover.

TB: So, as he got more and more articulate with his instrument, do you think that changed your approach to your songwriting or guitar playing?

AP: No, and I'll tell you why. This is going to be kind of a duff answer, because it kind of closes down this question of guitar playing for me to some extent. I was focusing -- really from Go 2 onwards -- on, "How do I write a good song? How do I write about what I know, rather than just fantasy stuff? How do I write about what I know in such a way to present it, and make it colorful?"

Even on Go 2, there are songs like "Meccanic Dancing" and "Battery Brides" that sound like Sci-Fi stuff, but one's about workers in Swindon getting drunk and dancing like robots, and the other one is about girls working in Woolworth's, sat there like contented little battery chickens, and all they're dreaming of is getting married. So, they were things that I was seeing, and I was trying to write about them in a way that would make them more interesting.

So while I was really striving to make the songs better and better, the guitar playing took a real back seat. I wasn't progressing as a guitar player, as such, during that time. I was learning different skills -- how to write songs, how to grasp an arrangement for a song within a group, and then, once we got the ability to make multi-track demos, how to do my own arranging.

TB: Certainly your guitar playing wasn't expanding in the same way as early on, but it seems to me that as you were writing songs and struggling to find new colors on your palette, you were being forced to look at this tool in different ways than you had before. You were putting your fingers in new places, and coming up with new approaches to playing. Does that make sense?

AP: Yeah -- I'm thinking about chords, whereas before it was all cyclical playing or, to be truthful, kind of fun stuff. But as the three albums you mentioned progressed onwards, I was thinking more and more about the right chords, more and more about the importance of words, and less about just sounds and things. The perspective was all changing for me.

TB: So, do you think Dave's entry into the band was kind of liberating for you, in that sense?

AP: It did give me a safety net. Whereas with Barry, it wasn't a safety net -- it was another rapier with which I could joust. His wit, his out-there playing, was kind of similar to my wit and my out-there playing, so it was like having a weird mirror image of myself that I was fighting with or joking with or musically wrestling with. It's like yourself and your anti-self.

But Dave's personality is utterly different than Barry's. I had more of a safety net -- it'd be, "Okay, Dave's going to know the right inversion of the chord there, he's going to catch me," if you see what I mean. Dave became almost our in-house session man. If you say to him, "Do you know, I'd really like those couple of bars there to be a bit like George Harrison or something," he can do it. Or, "Wouldn't it be nice if that bit was a little more Hendrix-y," he can do it. He can do all these styles, because he's got this gift. He can copy anything, and probably improve on it.

TB: You and Dave had a common instrument and background and vocabulary -- you could talk about guitar players and songs and turn each other on to new music.

AP: When we'd bump into each other in music shops or gigs, before he was in the band, I'd make him laugh, and he'd impress me with his playing! Because his playing was much more advanced than mine was at the time.

TB: Which is one of the reasons I was asking if he challenged you as a guitar player. He had all this technical facility, while you've kind of talked about yourself as an idiot savant, where you were blundering into chords and solos, and listening, and trying to do it all on your own. But Dave was much more schooled, so to speak.

AP: Oh yeah. He's much more schooled, and though I think I could probably play anything Dave could play, the fact that he would think of certain things that maybe I wouldn't think of was tremendously valuable. I might want a solo to be one way, and he'd say, "No, try it like this," and make it Jazzier, where I might have originally thought of it Rockier. Or maybe he'd play something quite Blues-y, when I'd be thinking, "Should that be more major and Folk-like?" So, his experience and musicality were very important for the band.

TB: And you end up with something like the solo he does on "Real by Reel," which is brilliant.

AP: Yeah. That's almost straight out of a Steely Dan album or something. Several people have said, "That could be Jeff Baxter or someone," you know. Dave really shows his chops there. And what lovely little chops he has! [laughs]

TB: Yeah, but perfectly appropriate for the song, too.

AP: Perfectly appropriate for the song.

TB: So, let's do a quick overview of some of the other songs on this album. I guess I can see what you mean when you say your approach to guitar playing on Drums and Wires was kind of the same as before, because you are still doing a lot of the skanking and looking for holes in the rhythm and things like that.

AP: What a silly little skanker I am! Yes, I am. I'm still very much in love with the tough rhythm between the drums, and still playing like I'm part of the drum kit. Not as musical as my playing got later -- it's still chords and stuff, but it's like my guitar is a piece of the drum kit.

TB: You're also still doing a lot of slashing rhythms, even on Colin's songs -- you're coming up with these chords that cut through the mix.

AP: Sure. Things like "Life Begins at the Hop" -- Dave's doing the Booker T. and the M.G.'s-type figure, and I'm doing those slashing chords with that funny interval -- it's slightly "Jungle Rock" by Hank Mizell, I have to be honest.

TB: I know you've talked about your vocal approach, and the words and consonants you chose, as a way of dealing with shitty PA systems, but do you think your guitar approach, and these slashing chords, was a way of being heard, and cutting through the mix in the same way?

AP: Yeah, I think so. Plus, like I say, I probably felt closer to the drum kit than I did to any other instrument. It's not so much that I'm playing the guitar -- I'm playing a part of the drum kit that you can do chords on.

TB: It's funny that you way that, because in prepping for the interview I was listening to "Senses Working Overtime" on headphones this morning, and Terry's roto-tom pattern mixes up in an almost-imperceptible way with some of your plucking on the acoustic guitar.

AP: Yeah, it's a similar sort of tone.

TB: Exactly. You have to really listen to figure out if it's a string or a skin.

AP: Yeah, that tonk-a-tonk-tonk is the same as the chunk-a-chunk-chunk that the guitar is doing. By English Settlement, I'm still kind of connected -- less, I think -- but still connected to what the kit is playing, in a big way.

And it went both ways -- sometimes, when we were recording, Terry just wanted to play with me. It'd be like [imitates Terry], "Well, you two fuck off and have yerselves a fuckin' cuppa tea, and me and Partsy'll do this fuckin' song." Certainly by English Settlement that was the case. We were largely all playing live, but sometimes he'd want to be playing along just with my guitar, because it was like a rhythmic aid for him, and there was enough information in the guitar to show him where he was with the song, without other distractions.

TB: Yeah, I think for him that maybe it formed the core of the song for him, and that's what he wanted to concentrate on and build his part against.

AP: Right. Which is not to downplay Colin's role, because when he hit that bass, that was totally married to Terry's foot.

TB: And they had that long, long partnership together.

AP: Oh yeah.

TB: "Tell Feet Tall" is kind of your first foray into the acoustic guitar -- it doesn't show up in force until English Settlement...

AP: In fact, in some ways, I prefer the electric version of that, that we were obliged to do as a single. "Oh, the Americans want to put out 'Ten Feet Tall,' but this isn't strong enough -- can you re-record electrically?" So, we did that, and of course it was a complete and utter failure! [laughs]

TB: I've always wondered about that, because I prefer the acoustic version, and wondered why you did that.

"Roads Girdle the Globe" is very guitar-heavy...

AP: Clangorous!

TB: Yes, "clangorous" is a good word for it. It leads me to a broader question of, once Dave came into the band, how did you work with him to create these songs where, as you and I have talked about, the two of you became, in a sense, one guitar player?

AP: One guitar player, yeah. Do you know, I think we just sat down, and I showed him where I was with it, and over the course of several rehearsals, he just slipped in to playing part-chords and inversions and extended chords of what I was playing -- so, you know, the two chords that we're playing became one giant polyphonic mess. But that was the spirit of the track -- the guitars did have to clang and rub together, because it's like two cars crashing, or bits of metal functioning in a car engine.

So, I think that was just basically worked out over a few rehearsals. Dave just kind of clicked into that slot perfectly.

TB: Was that your approach with him, more or less, for all the songs? And, would you and Dave sit by yourselves, or would you guys try to figure this out when all four of you were together?

AP: It'd start out in rehearsal with everybody, and then a mix of the two approaches. It might be, "Fellows, can you give us 10 minutes here?" And they'd go get a cup of tea, and Dave and I would put our heads together, or we'd just pull stuff up together while everyone was playing. It'd be, "Ooh, that was good! What were you doing just there?" "I was doing this." "Oh, that's great! Don't forget that! Turn your cassette machine on and tape it." Because everybody had a cassette player at rehearsal.

TB: You guys were recording rehearsals, then going home and practicing and polishing your parts?

AP: Yeah, polishing it up or extending it. "What was that phrase you just did?" "I dunno, but we've got it on tape, though." "Okay, wind it back and let's find it." So, there'd be four cassette machines whirring away at any rehearsal, predominantly capturing what you were doing, because it was on your instrument -- on your speaker cabinet, next to your kit, next to your bass amp, whatever. It was capturing what you were doing, so you could work up your stuff further when you got home.

TB: It sounds as if you guys had a really good work ethic back then.

AP: Oh yeah, absolutely. It's what we were all preparing for. We wanted to be a big group. I just don't think we had the mental equipment to deal with it. We didn't have the equipment to want to dress in a certain way, or behave in a certain way. I tried to get the others to dress in better things, but they just resisted.

And I didn't have the mental capacity to carry as much as I ended up carrying on my own -- doing the vast majority of the interviews, doing the majority of the writing. You mix that in with coming off of a valium addiction, and things melting for me, and it was too much for me to carry.

I think in one way we were world-class. We were world-class musically, but between the four of us we never had the mental equipment to be like U2, or to be like R.E.M., or to be like the Rolling Stones or whatever. That takes a certain mania, a certain single-mindedness. You've got to have all of the kit, and we never had it. But we certainly, I think, all the kit musically. We wanted to be one of the best bands.

TB: I think that's one of the things that makes you a musicians' band. Musicians recognize your talent, whereas other people, who focus more on the looks or other accoutrements of a band, don't necessarily have the skill to look beyond to see how much talent is there.

AP: Sure. Plus, one of the big things about bands really making it big is the manager. That can't be underestimated. Every great band has a great manager. Make no mistake. And we never did have a great manager.

TB: Going back to Drums and Wires, "Scissor Man" and "Complicated Game" jump out at me as guitar songs of note.

AP: "Scissor Man" -- forgive us. That's just a very silly song.

TB: Sure, but the interplay between you and Dave on that is a lot of fun.

AP: Yeah, funnily enough, he plays it in this band he's in now.

TB: Sure, I can see why -- it must be a ton of fun to play.

AP: It is, because it just falls, like a little clockwork thing, under your fingers.

TB: Talk about what you're doing at the beginning of "Complicated Game."

AP: I'm plucking the strings there. It was just a desire to keep it really quiet. The quiet bits have got to be really quiet. When we played it live, those bits were so quiet that you'd just hear the audience shouting -- you know, the names of their girlfriends, or, [mimics yob] "Come on! What's the matter with you? Turn it up! Rock and Roll!! What are you doing!?" It just says, "You idiots are going to shout for the next minute." And they did. Every time. [laughs]

TB: Let's look at Black Sea a little bit.

AP: The muscular record. Big, big drums, big slashing guitars, songwriting's getting better, we're doing more touring, we're doing bigger venues, we're doing more interviews, more TV, everything's getting big, big, big.

TB: And your vision is getting more and more realized -- the songs as recorded are getting closer to the way you're hearing them in your head. Correct?

AP: Yeah -- I think we're probably at the pinnacle of being a well-oiled machine. Everyone has said, "Okay, this is my job." Everyone knew their spot on the ladder, what cog they were in the machine and how to make it work. I think you can hear that -- it's a very confident album.

Things like "Paper and Iron" -- it's a very unusual-sounding groove, but everyone's playing it really well. You've got that [mimics verse pattern] -- what time signature is that in?

TB: It's in six.

AP: It's six, but not with a waltz feel. It's sixes, but almost feels like an odd time -- it's like a Jethro Tull five, but it's a six. [chuckles] It's a no-waltzing zone. "Viennese barred!"

TB: What do you remember about putting together that song with Dave, and your approach to the guitars on it?

AP: He came up with those cascading, higher lines over the top, while I'm doing the main riff. That was always great fun to play live, because it's so muscle-y -- it's almost like Thin Lizzy or something. You know, all that punctuated stuff on the drums, which Terry loved doing. He could use the snare as his machine gun.

TB: I know when I talked to Colin about "Generals and Majors," he said one of the things that really made that song come together was that chiming repeat pattern that you came up with.

AP: Yeah, if you hear the version on Coat of Many Cupboards, we didn't have the chiming thing yet. We were about to record it, and to me it only felt half-baked. Just messing around with what I was playing, which was sort of fiddling around vaguely with some high-F stuff, I hit this chiming thing, and everybody just turned around and said, "Ooh, that's good." It was what usually happened in a rehearsal situation, but in this case the rehearsal situation happened to be that we were making an album!

And I was shooting myself in the foot, because it was just a case of, "Oh, there we go -- I've given the good-looking one another single." [laughs] "Why did I have to find that great hook? Now Virgin are going to say, 'Yep, that's the single, chaps!' "

I just knew it, the second that fucking hook fell out. [mimics imagined Virgin A&R man] "Move to the back, put your glasses on, keep your head down. Let Rudolph Nureyev with the bass go up to the front." [laughs] Because at the time, he did look like a cross between Rudolph Nureyev and Chrissie Hynde.

TB: [laughing] So, tell me about the "solo" on "Love at First Sight."

AP: What, the chunk-chunk-chunkchunkchunkchunk thing? It was just a bit of mischief, and everyone said, "That's great -- that's so funny." So, it was a matter of, "Oh, okay, leave it then." I don't think I ever had a melodic solo for that song -- I just hit that chord, mucking around, and everyone liked it. So, it was a case of, "Oh, okay. That's easy." It's just a minor chord that I keep playing faster and faster, to make an effect.

TB: So, it was just a bit of fun -- it wasn't you trying to come up with the "anti-solo"?

AP: It was the anti-solo that was just a bit of mischief that everyone liked.

TB: Tell me about the rest of your part on that song. Again, it's one of Colin's songs, and you're playing a distinctive pattern.

AP: It's a cyclical thing, I get to play something that weaves throughout the drums. Great drum sound on that song -- it's Terry's Sniper drum synth, set to bend the note down. We all liked the sound of the drums on Low, by David Bowie, and his drums I think were done with harmonizers.

In fact, when we did that live, I always thought, "Yeah, that's a great drum sound," and when the Sniper was clicked off for the next number, I was always a bit disappointed that we'd go back to the standard live sound, even though his drums by themselves sounded good.

But again, I'm playing a little cyclical thing, based on semi-tones.

TB: It kind of reminds me of "Heatwave," which you and I had talked about in one of our earlier interviews about guitar playing.

AP: Yeah, you might be right! I'd never thought about that, but it could be a distant cousin of "Heatwave." Or not-so-distant cousin!

Dave would drop his bottom string down to a D on this song to do the main guitar figure.

TB: "Burning with Optimism's Flames" is another song where the two songs clash but complement each other at the same time.

AP: That's actually one of those songs where I feel like part of the drum kit, which is in a kind of jaunty four, and I'm playing across it with a triplet feel, and where the triplet rubs against the four is really a great feeling.

TB: That brings up something that I remember someone telling me a long time ago. He'd gotten to see you play live, and said that one of the things that he liked the most about the show was watching you play rhythm guitar and sing, because you would play parts that were a completely different rhythm than what you were singing. Was that ever something that you needed to consciously think about, or did it come naturally?

AP: You daren't think about it. If you think about it, you're completely and utterly fucked. You just have to do it, like a piece of choreography. Remote-control muscle memory stuff. Don't think about what your hand's doing -- if you do, you're going to mess up your hand, and you're doing to totally lose what your voice is doing. It's the equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy.

TB: Sure -- it's exactly what I deal with when I play drums and sing. People are always surprised I can do that, but you have to know one part well enough that you can completely forget about it.

AP: Yeah, you just have to do it. If I'd have thought about it, I would have messed it up.

TB: Did you have to sit and practice that before it did get automatic?

AP: I don't remember it being a problem. And on this song, I used to love playing it live. When Terry clicked in with that pattern, and I would chop against it, it felt so good.

TB: So, Terry gave you the backbone and reference you needed on that.

AP: Oh really, yeah.

TB: Now, I know "Sgt. Rock" is not a song that you're particularly proud of...

AP: But it's a great groove!

TB: It's a great groove, and I love the guitar interplay on it.

AP: It's a really good groove with the drums and the guitars, but the sentiment is kind of stupid.

TB: But it's supposed to be! That's the charm of the song.

AP: I guess so. I'm trying to claw back the singles crown from Colin, and what does Virgin pick? The daftest song on the album. I was proud of "Towers of London," and I think I would even been proud of an edited-down "Optimism's Flames" for a single, but not that one.

But it was a good fun groove to play. Really good. It shouldn't work -- that funny, sort of lollopy spastic drum groove kind of works with the guitar patterns. It's really not a Rock and Roll rhythm -- it's more of a "Here comes Fat Teddy Bear down the forest path" rhythm, but you put it with those slashing guitars, and it really seemed to fit as part of the machine, you know? But as I say, this was the time when we were at our oiliest and cogliest. [laughs] There's a phrase for you.

TB: [laughing, faux reverence] "The Cogliest Band of All."

AP: "The Cogliest Band that Ever Was," yep.

TB: So, you're playing the descending chords?

AP: Yes, and nobody's ever been able to work those chords out. They're really easy. [picks up guitar] We're up near the octave, just one fret under, holding down the A string and the G string, so the notes are bottom E, A-flat, D, G-flat, B and E. Then you slide it down [plays].

TB: That's funny -- it sounds so Jazzy when you play it on acoustic like that.

AP: And then the chords at the end of the pattern are the same as the first, but you add in the A-flat on the B string. See, once you know the secret, it's very easy. I never play anything that's complicated to play. Seriously.

TB: [laughing] Andy Partridge's secret to guitar playing, revealed!

AP: Yep, that's the secret! If you're making it too complicated, that's not what I would have done.

TB: There's a B-side from this album that struck me as a rockin' little guitar song, and that's "Don't Lose Your Temper." Is there anything you remember about this one?

AP: I remember that, even as it was being born, I was thinking, "Yep -- this is a B-side!"

TB: Really?

AP: [laughs] Yeah! Do you know, it's got Rick Buckler, the drummer for from The Jam, doing handclaps on it. He ambled in with a bottle of Bull's Blood wine, because they were in the studio next door, and I said, "Look, come on it and clap on this track." So that's Rick Buckler, myself, Dave, Colin and Terry clapping on "Don't Lose Your Temper."

TB: I've always thought it was a fun little pun and tune.

AP: Yeah, "It's saying don't get too sedate with things -- it's good to turn things up, to cause a little bit of mayhem and keep things fresh. Don't lose your temper, don't lose the ability to have a temper."

TB: Right. But why did you think right away that it would be relegated to a B-side?

AP: I don't know. By that point in time, I just think I had higher expectations for myself, and I thought this one just popped out sounding like a B-side. It didn't have "A quality" to my mind.

Actually, I've got to tell you, I got very annoyed the other day, I was reading through one of the glossy magazines -- it was Mojo, I think -- there was an article about Paul Weller, who can seem to do no wrong in the eyes of the British public. There was a photograph of Gang of Four, with a caption under that said, "Gang of Four, the band that influenced Paul Weller to make The Jam album Sound Affects." And I thought to myself, "Ooh, you bastards! You're rewriting history again, and as usual you're writing us out of it." Because a big inspiration for Paul Weller was the Take Away album.

The Jam were working in one of the studios at The Town House, we were in the other one, and I was out, sitting on the steps, taking a break out at the front of the studio, and he came out and sat next to me, and joined me. He said, "Oh, I really love that Dub record you've done! I really want The Jam to go in that direction -- I really want to do stuff like that. How did you do that?" So we sat talking on the steps for about 20 minutes, and lo and behold, Sound Affects comes out, and it's got lots of Dub-by techniques on it. I felt rather miffed that, suddenly, the supposed "cool" band Gang of Four were credited with that, and the supposed uncool band of yokel bastards from Swindon would be written out of history again.

TB: [laughing] You should write a very strongly worded letter to the editor.

AP: To the Times.

TB: Exactly.

AP: "How many L's in disemboweled?" [laughs] Was that in "The Missionary"? I think it was. Some old colonel's writing a letter to the Times, and calls that question over to the others, and you're sitting, wondering, "What is he writing?"

TB: English Settlement is where the acoustic and 12-string guitars really come out, but do you use them on this album much?

AP: English Settlement was us looking for different textures, and me not wanting to take the album on the road. I just needed a break -- I was getting exhausted, and nobody would give me that break. What happens is, you push something too far, and the thing you're pushing is saying, "Look, you've got to give me a break," and it's "No, no, no, out you go again," it's going to all go wrong. It pushed Hendrix into an early grave. It pushes everyone into an early grave if you overwork them.

TB: Yeah, you start engaging in self-defeating behavior after a while.

AP: Yeah! Like I've said before, when we were recording English Settlement, I was already saying to the band during quiet moments, "Look, I don't really want to take this album on the road. It's going to be difficult to get the acoustic guitars to sound right, there are certain sounds we can't reproduce -- I don't really want to tour this album." But certainly nobody from the band took me seriously. "Oh, you'll snap out of it."

TB: Do you think that's one of the reasons that you were writing on an acoustic for English Settlement? Because you were kind of sabotaging the possibility of touring by creating songs that would be hard to do live?

AP: I was just getting more introspective, and looking for different colors. By the end of all the touring around that went with Black Sea, I was kind of sick of the muscle-y guitar sound. You know, we'd done two albums of big loud guitars, culminating in Black Sea, which bigger and louder. It was almost a Metal album, you know?

I'd bought a new acoustic guitar. It wasn't a very swish one, but it was a large-bodied acoustic guitar, and I was just sort of falling in love with the sound of the acoustic guitar, because I'd never had a nice one. It was a case of sitting in my garden after the end of the big, crushing tours for Black Sea, being off of valium and starting to think clearly about things. "Where's all our money going? We're doing all these tours, all these dates, and we haven't seen a penny. Where's it all going?" Because I was thinking clearly, I was starting to think about the situation, and realized, "I'm being worked to death. I've got to stop this."

I'd moved to a new house -- the one I'm in now -- and I was sitting in the garden with my brand-new acoustic guitar, thinking, "This is great! I don't need to tour. We'll make beautiful albums with more and more textures. We can start introducing stuff like brass and strings," and you can see, with English Settlement, that the musical horizons are starting to widen.

Also, we were looking at Hugh Padgham, thinking, "Wait, it's Hugh Padgham that does the magic; it's not Steve Lillywhite."

TB: Did Steve play the role of idea generator?

AP: Not so much an idea generator; he's more of a vibes man, you see. That was his strong point. He was very good at it, too.

TB: So, he'd create a comfortable environment in the studio for you guys?

AP: He made a comfortable environment, and was always saying, "C'mon, one more take lads, this is really great! That beat you did -- fantastic! Do that again. Brilliant!" It was always positive, positive, positive. It was hardly ever bad things.

But I think we were looking to expand and grow and take control of ourselves a bit more. So, we were looking around and thinking, "Okay, who's the one who gets the great sounds?" It was a case of, "We could produce ourselves and just have Hugh engineer it." So, that was kind of a big leap for this album as well.

TB: Did your trick of closely mic'ing unplugged-in electric guitars start with this album, or did it start earlier?

AP: I think it started with "Pulsing, Pulsing," which was a B-side of "Making Plans with Nigel." It was a technique I'd wanted to try for a while, because I was sort of discovering it at home, playing into my little cassette machine there. I'd have a microphone, and was wondering, "What does that sound like if I just put it on my electric guitar? Wow! That sounds pretty good -- those super-high-fidelity highs, and I could still take the electric signal out as well, and blend the two together!"

So, you get the super-crystal highs, which don't go down the pickups -- they're just coming through the air, off of the strings -- and then you get those low, guttural electric things coming through the amp. You get the best of both worlds. So, I've done that a lot ever since then, but that was the first time it ever got done.

TB: But you guys didn't use it much at first.

AP: T^here's no way on earth you can do that live, so it shows up more during the studio-only years. Previously, the only way I could get that high, scratchy sound was by flicking a little switch on the Ibanez, and put one of the pickups out of phrase, like on "I'm Bugged." That's where I got that very super-thin sound on that song.

TB: The songs that really pop out at me on English Settlement in terms of guitar interplay are "Down in the Cockpit"...

AP: Really? You like that one?

TB: A lot of the rest of the album is you playing acoustic guitar, with Dave playing embellishments, so there's not the same amount of close interplay as on the earlier two albums, you know? As you say, you're concentrating more and more on the song and the guitars are not necessarily as intermeshed -- the roles seem more defined to me. But on "Down in the Cockpit," it seems you and Dave are battling it out a little bit.

AP: Yeah -- to me, that sounds like a throwback to Drums and Wires or something. It's an older song -- the arrangement is a bit more looking backwards than looking forwards.

On English Settlement, I also like the guitar interplay on "Jason and the Argonauts." I thought that was especially good, and thankfully there's a live BBC version online somewhere. We're playing it on a show called the Oxford Road Show for the BBC, and you can hear that we do it live pretty well.

TB: Are you playing acoustic on that?

AP: No, I'm actually playing electric on that -- the Ibanez. We're not dressed very well -- we just all ambled in off the street, like a right bunch of scruffy bastards. But I'd given up on trying to get them to wear anything special by that point. They wouldn't do the kit.

TB: Another one that stands out for me is "English Roundabout." It's one of Colin's, of course, and it seems like a song where you had a little bit more freedom to chop away and come up with some patterns.

AP: Do you know what I think influenced "English Roundabout" more than anything? We were second on the bill to The Police during one tour, and supporting us were a band called The Beat. I think Colin saw them and saw how they were approaching playing a song, that it seemed to confirm that what we'd be doing earlier, with some of the cyclical things. They seemed to take it on to another level, and I think he was trying to take that back, if you see what I mean.

TB: "English Roundabout" does have a Ska feel to it.

AP: Yeah -- we were seeing them every night, and I think it was a case of, "Oh, I see -- they can do that as well, can they? Right, we better have that back, then."

TB: What do you remember about your approach to that song?

AP: Again, it was just a matter of fitting in making the machine work.

Another song that I thought was a very good example of us all playing as one instrument-type thing was "Melt the Guns."

TB: Yep, that was one I wanted to bring up.

AP: Again, what Dave and I are playing just fit perfectly together, and it's one of those things I have burned into my muscle memory.

TB: Anything else stand out to you about English Settlement?

AP: I think we've covered it from a guitar point of view, but I remember a story about the American label, Epic, and the album design. We'd decided on the album cover before we even recorded the album -- it's the Uffington White Horse, of course. Once Epic got to hear of our idea -- we sent them the roughs, pictures of the white horse, and all that -- they sent their own design back! [chuckles] This, too, had a white horse on it ... right? But it was like a merry-go-round horse. It was so wrong. It was like some sickly Christian children's book illustration or something.

TB: [laughing] I'm surprised they didn't make it a unicorn!

AP: [laughs] That's what it looked like! It looked like some really repulsively sickly candy-sweet merry-go-round horse, and we were like, "Oh, for fuck's sake. That is not we mean. We're trying to reclaim our heritage here! This is five miles out of Swindon, it's an Iron Age symbol for the local tribes, and they want to turn it into a fucking merry-go-round horse."

So we had to stamp our little cloven feet and say "No!" But they got their revenge, because they cut it down to a single album! [laughs]

9:36 PM

©2010 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.