Ian Anderson has been creating and performing music for around 45 years now, and his immense contribution to the music world with Jethro Tull has been recognized by a wide range of musicians from different genres including The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Johnny Rotten and most notably Iron Maiden. Ian Anderson's music is appreciated by a lot of Metal fans and he talked to MetalTalk about his new performance piece "Thick as a Brick 2" (a sequel to the classic 1972 concept album) and about his current touring activities that include a very special live show at the iconic Royal Albert Hall on June 30.
We have the interview in both written and audio formats. The call dropped at the beginning, but then everything went smoothly and Ian was able to delve deep into every topic. Listening to him talking about his upcoming show at the Albert Hall, the influence of Tull’s music on a new generation of fans and his touring experiences during the seventies with Led Zeppelin was a real treat. To know more about it keep reading, and make sure you also listen to the audio version for some bonus bits.
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1. I was listening to "Thick as a Brick 2" and I hear some motives that connect it to the first part, the classic record but I wanted to know, in your opinion what is the strongest connection between the two and how do you recapture the vibe of the first part in order to create the second one?
Well, you know, I'm a music and lyric writer. I'm supposed to know how to do this. You're writing a sequel, somewhere there is a connection between the two pieces of work and choose to employ the methodology, repeating motives and developing extemporization. (Call drops)...
(After Ian called again...)
Ok, you asked me a question and my answer was that I've been writing for forty five years, I'm a musician and lyric writer. The tools of my trade are to use reiteration, development, extemporization. I'm writing a connecting piece even if it's a sequel forty years later and I want to make some references to musical lines or lyrical lines that's part of the job or the art of being a songwriter. If I ever have to do it now after forty five years shoot me. Ok, it's kind of simple stuff really. We're writers. Next question.
2. Some purist fans are often critical of sequels and want history untouched, especially with this kind of classic record. The record's been out for some time now. How has "Thick as a Brick 2" been received and are you happy with the reception from fans?
Well, I performed it on stage. I mean, it was written as a performance piece not just as a record never to be played live, so my experience of it as a performance piece that I've probably played about a hundred and thirty, hundred and forty concerts of this material. I have a pretty good idea that is well received wherever we play, and we've played in many different countries, pretty much all the major markets through last year and this year. So, with the exception of Australia I think we pretty much covered everywhere that we could play and the reaction is pretty similar regardless of language, regardless of country and culture. People respond in the same way.
I think the way we present the music as a more theatrical show seems to connect with the audience, seems to keep them interested, no one leaves at half time. I don't know if there are many other bands around who would risk playing a two hour, two and a half hour (show) including a thirty minute intermission with simply two large extensive pieces of music, especially when the second half of the show consists of something completely new that most of the fans wouldn't really be familiar with. That's taking a big risk in these people's view, but I get away with it because I'm clever. I also get away with it because the fans are not stupid either, they're there to be entertained and they know when it's working for them. So, no one's leaving at half time unless we're doing something right. It's a big success, otherwise we wouldn't have gone to a second year of touring this show, we would have given up after our first (leg), you know, after 2012.
So we're going back to play second and third shows in New York this year, second show in Los Angeles, second show in Chicago, second show in London, where we'll play the Albert Hall, so clearly the demand from people is something that by word of mouth, perhaps by word written on the internet seems to be positive. However, bottom line is: I'm not doing this for you, and I'm not doing it for the fans, I'm doing this for me. I'm the guy looking for my jollies and if other people enjoy the show then that's great, but my primary reason for doing this is to make me happy. So I present myself with a big challenge of composing, creating and then performing a big piece of music. I'm doing it for me. That makes me an honest man, not some old fart who just plays the "Best of..." music all the time until he dies in order to rake in a few more coins to pay the rent. I'm doing this for more artistic reasons. And if I get away with it and succeed, I'm a happy man.
3. Awesome! And everybody is looking forward to the Royal Albert Hall show on June 30, and it will certainly be a special event. Can you tell us something about what will happen there, what can we expect, what can set it apart from all the other successful shows that you've been doing?
What sets it apart is that it is in the iconic Albert Hall, and that brings about a number of compromises that have to be made in staging the show because the Albert Hall is not an Arts and Theatre show, is not even a summer amphitheater show in the USA which has, you know, proper stages with wings and access... there's a platform rather than a stage in the Albert Hall with the difficulties of hanging sound and lights and video screen and the fact that you can't get on and off stage without being in full view of the audience for about twenty meters of either side of the stage. It is a compromise, also a compromise from the audio perspective because the Albert Hall, as you possibly know is one of the most difficult acoustic environments in which to stage a concert in the UK. Not the most popular place I think with either fans, orchestras or musicians. Possibly tennis players like it, I don't know... but it is a difficult one and we have to try to cope with the intricacies and the idiosyncrasies of the Albert Hall but we will do it OK, and since we played Thick as a Brick back in 1972, that more than for any other reason is why we chose to put it in the Albert Hall this year, just to... I suppose, round it off in that way that we are repeating something from forty one years ago along with its sequel, and it's... I suppose the atmosphere and the special nature of playing at the Albert Hall, but it's a tough one to do, it's a tough one to do, and nobody wants to buy the cheap seats at the Albert Hall you know (Laughs).
It's not really from an audience perspective that great a place, you know, when you're seating on the not so good seats (Laughs). People enjoy it because it's The Royal Albert Hall and they enjoy going to many other iconic venues. People enjoy going to Carnegie Hall in New York, but it's another difficult place to play if you're playing anything other than quiet orchestra music. But these are the challenges that make life interesting. We look forward very much to play at the Albert Hall, and we have a couple of special guests that will appear briefly with us just to celebrate the moment. Unfortunately some of the folks I've lined up as guests just to... you know, sing a verse or appear briefly on the stage, as is always the case they turned out to be either washing their hair or off on a tour or off to do some promo. It's always hard finding guests other than Christmas concerts and Cathedrals or the occasional people. I don't have that problem in Iceland, I have two very good guests this week in Iceland performing with us, but at The Albert Hall this time of the year is not that easy to find the people that I look to do it. Probably (there are) two or three people that would love to but unfortunately they're in the middle of a tour or doing other things, so sadly it didn't work out, but I do have some others who said yes straight away and happily agreed to do that.
4. Is that classified information or can we know who they are?
You can't really because we'd make it sound like we're using their names to sell the show, and so, in a way I guess it's gotta be a surprise. I mean, one of the guests said to me the other day "oh, is it OK if I put this on the website?" and I said "well sure, if you don't mind sort of being public about it, but you know, part of the fun is that people aren't expecting you, you suddenly appear and take a place on the show". It will be a surprise, and I think and I think "surprise value" in a theatrical sense is always something worth having, and if you give the game away and I told you it was Cliff Richard you wouldn't believe me and it would disappoint you and didn't turn up, so I'm not going to tell you it is Cliff Richard, and is not Cliff Richard but you know what I mean. It would be fun if it was Cliff but I don't even bother to ask him because he doesn't live in this Country very much anymore (Laughs). I think for sure he'll be in the Caribbean or in Portugal or somewhere. So you always have that problem: trying to find guests, and those who say yes like Alfie Boe the Opera singer, he was going to do it, but then suddenly he got the promotion tour in America where he had to do TV and radio stuff urgently so he wasn't able to do it; he came back and said "I'm afraid I can't be there after all", but maybe another time it could be Alfie Boe, we will see.
5. (Regarding) your collaborations with other musicians (that are) younger as well. I saw footage of you with, for example, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden. There's certainly an influence of your music that is transcending. A lot of younger fans are coming to your shows. How do you see your influence in newer artists? Is there any artist in particular that you appreciate?
Well, I mean, from time to time I hear that sort of sentiments, you know, people who say that they grew up listening to our music. Bruce Dickinson is one of those guys who was listening to Jethro Tull before he became a professional singer. And sometimes there are really unusual people, I remember meeting a couple of guys from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and one of them was a big fan who grew up listening to Jethro Tull, and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, you know, he was a huge fan of Aqualung apparently and whom I think based all his stage persona on that kind of hunched, kind of weird homeless looking, kind of dropout. So some of them are surprising... Marc Almond, the synth pop star of the 1980s Marc Almond wrote on his website quoting Jethro Tull as being one of his earliest influences when he was beginning in music, and so there are very often people who didn't come from the same musical background, I think that's probably encouraging to know that people are listening to music outside of the world in which they find themselves in terms of peer group and in terms of musical styling of an era.
So it's kind of interesting but not something that I pay an awful lot of attention to, and I'm not really a music listener myself, so I really don't really listen to much music. You know, when I was a teenager before I started as a professional musician I did listen to some music, I listened to Blues and Jazz, Rock music and R&B, and Folk music and I tried to have a broad understanding of how music works. But since I was a professional musician in my late teens early twenties I more or less stopped listening to music because I didn't want to be influenced by more things, I really just wanted to concentrate on what I could do, what I could find in myself. I mean, I have plenty of influences from my teenage years when I first listened to music. I don't think I want to really listen to other artists or other kinds of music. So from my twenties onwards if you ask me what was in the... I couldn't tell you. I couldn't tell you in 1972 and I certainly couldn't tell you now. I've no idea about what's off, what... what is popular or what people are listening to. I'm just not much of a listener; I don't have a record collection. All the mp3 files on my computers are basically Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson back catalogue because I need to be able to learn the music and find all the lyrics again, so I'm afraid you won't find that many other artists on my iTunes playlist, there's a few classical performers, some folk music and mostly Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson stuff. So, I can't be an expert on music, and you can ask me about a lot of other things in life and I may know something about them, but hopeless asking me about other artists, I don't really know that many.
6. Ok Ian, last question. I heard somewhere that there are new Prog-Rock followers in other countries like in South America, for example Brazil. How do you feel about it? How do you feel about these new markets, so to speak?
Well, I noticed that about four or five... maybe four years ago, or maybe three years ago when I was in Brazil. I noticed that there were a lot of younger people in the audience. It wasn't just an audience of people in their fifties, it was suddenly teenagers and people in their early twenties, you know, a lot often near the front in a seated confortable, very slick modern concert hall, it wasn't an outdoor festival or somewhere where you expect to see a lot of younger people, this was an indoor venue with expensive soft furnishing and the people that I could see closest to the front of the stage were not old, but many of them or most of them were remarkably young, so I noticed that there was a new intake of younger people there and that applies in many Latin American countries and applies in many of the Eastern European countries and it also applies in the summer wherever I go because young people tend to go to the outdoor shows, festivals or maybe the outdoor concerts sometimes we play in. I see a lot of younger people there but it's all a little unnerving because you know, I'm a man of sixty five years old and it's all a bit weird when I find myself accidentally... you see, when the spotlights are in your eyes you can't really often pick out who's in the audience, you're kind of blind, you know, from the spotlights and sometimes you can look a little closer, you realize you're staring into the eyes of some eighteen year old school girl, and that's a little scary because you get arrested for that I believe. So far the ‘Savile Inquiry' has not been knocking on my door, so I think I must've led a sheltered life at least when I was a musician with part of that world where they were groupies and a lot of crazy fans who would do anything to get backstage, so I don't seem to catch any of that fallout in later life, mainly because we didn't really let them come backstage because it all seemed a little... backstage is private, you know, it's a haven of quietness, of order, a time to think about your show, preparation. The last thing you want is all these half naked girls hanging around, taking drugs, I don't really get involved in that, but we were on tour with Led Zeppelin, so we saw the masters of the art at work (Laughs), when it came to making use of that availability of new found young flesh I think Jimmy Page probably ranks as the "master of dark seduction" (Laughs). But he has not been arrested as he made sure the girls he went with were way sensibly over the age of twenty one, which is probably a good thing.
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After answering this question our time is up. Ian finishes the conversation in a pretty nice way asking me about my background and pointing the similarity of our names. We say our goodbyes and after hanging up I start listening to "Heavy Horses" again...