My name is Guy, I play music, run a record label, and make a living as a journalist (in that order!).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Scott Walker speaks

I interviewed Scott Walker last night, here's the transcript. My questions are edited to make me look smooth and professional, instead of a stammering idiot, but Walker's responses are faily much as is. This will be written up as a 1500 word article over the weekend to be published May 21.

What expectations did you have on the release of The Drift?
I didn’t have any, to tell the truth. I never know which way it’s going to go. I work on the stuff, I’m interested to see what will happen, and in the end I just hope it connects with someone else.
Each new record seems more bare bones than the last. Is this a deliberate process?
What I have to say about the process is that it’s a quite mysterious one, in that it’s all dictated to by the lyric. That’s why I take so long to do the lyric, because the lyric is going to tell me what to do with everything else - tell me what to do with the track, how to sing it, all kinds of things. So in a way it’s all determined by that. On this record you’re right, there are no lush arrangements or anything like that, because there’s nowhere in the lyric that calls for it. So that’s kind of the mysterious process of it all.
Is there a progression in your lyric writing that would account for this process of paring back?
I think there seems to me a kind of mood running on, but who knows when it will change. If I had a romantic lyric or something that pertained to that, then I would have a romantic string section.
But will that really ever happen again?
That’s what I don’t know, because the lyrics aren’t coming up that way, the ideas aren’t coming forth that way. I try to let the process flow as much as possible, because I believe that’s the best way to do it. If I’m forcing it at all, I can always tell. I can always hear it on other people’s work and I can definitely hear it on mine.
Do you have a daily working routine?
It can’t be routine really, because it’s not like writing a novel, because a novel you can get up every morning and do so many pages, you might not keep them all but you can do them. With this, although it isn’t poetry, it’s a bit like writing poetry, you just have to wait for it to happen. Sometimes it’ll take years to do something, or I’ll be working on three different things at once, until the next piece fits in for one of them. And then when that process is done, I’ve got to find the right music to go with it, and I’ve got to find the right arrangement, or non-arrangement, noise in this case.
How much of The Drift was arranged in your head before you recorded it?
Practically all of it. When I go to a studio, it’s only because of discipline learned from the 60s really, because I was taught to think on my feet, in this particular case all the bass parts, all the drum parts, everything will have been done. Because I work with such great musicians, when I get in there they will be able to play them fabulously. It’s pretty much all done, but things happen in the studio and we always allow that to happen. Because when you’re dealing with sound and all kinds of extraneous stuff you have to be open to that as well. It’s pretty faithful.
People always focus on the Heart Of Darkness moments in your songs. Is there humour that they're not picking up on?
I think there’s quite a lot of it, well it’s absurdity, a lot of it. It’s absurd humour, and I just think people have a certain mindset about these things. But if they can manage to listen on a bit to the record then that other stuff will start emerging.
The Donald Duck noises on The Escape are definitely absurd. Where did they spring from?
I was trying to get something matching up to the lyric at the end there, because you know he’s not saying what Donald Duck says, he’s saying what Bugs Bunny says, so you have a kind of combination of two creatures together. They're kind of morphing into each other. I guess that was what was running through my head. With most of my stuff, I’ll leave it to the listener a lot, because although it all takes a long time to put together, nine times out of ten their interpretation of it would be as interesting as mine or moreso. That’s partly what it’s all about.
The songs are densely packed with contrasting political and artistic allusions. Do you want them to be closely examined by the listener?
I’m happy for it to happen, I don’t think it will, I hope that they’ll take it on just as they would perhaps - although like I said it isn’t poetry - but perhaps something like an Eliot thing. Or they’ll just let the rhythm of everything take over, wash over them and accept it for what it is. Many times the songs will start with something we all know, a political idea for instance, but they will end up at the end with the self on its own, whatever that is. The mysterious self on its own. So it takes political things and they act as a springboard into another world basically, they open up as something else.
I'm always left faced with the unknowability of others when I listen to your music.
Of course, we cannot know each other, and we can never really put ourselves in somebody else’s place, in a firing squad or something like that. We can’t know each other basically.
Is The Drift an endpoint?
Well it certainly feels like it. How much further can I explore this? But who knows, I’m always optimistic that I can start something that I can actually tour with, something on a smaller scale. Then my imagination takes over and suddenly I’m working with big forces again, which makes that impossible.
You said something similar in an interview long before The Drift came out.
Well, it obviously didn’t work out, did it? So after I’ve had a little break I’m going to start again and we’ll see where that takes me.
When was the last time you toured?
Oh god, I can’t remember, probably the late 70s or early 80s.
How do you feel about the prospect of touring again?
Well, I’m not the happiest person on tour but it’s simply that this kind of stuff is very difficult to tour with, because it would cost a fortune and nobody would make any money, promoters or nobody would do it. And things like synthesized strings, I mean I would not do that. So that’s my attitude so far. If I find something that I think ‘I can do some gigs with that’ then I’ll do it.
Everyone wonders of course whether the next record will take as long as the others have.
That was a process. During those ten years I’ve been doing other projects as well. Of course half was the record company, and I’ve had deaths in the family, you name it. I’ve had just a lot of things, I mean this record didn’t take ten years to write, it might have taken four or maybe five, but not ten. There were other things happening, people always come and say ‘you took a decade to write that’, but it’s not the case.
How much time have you spent in America in the last 40 years?
If I compound the time, a little over three months, maybe.
Why so little?
I’ve had a good life over here, I was always drawn to Europe anyway, and I don’t know, there’s just never been a call for me to go there.
Has this ever caused any conflict with your family?
I have no family left apart from my daughter. I have a cousin somewhere, but I have no family left.
How about in the past?
Of course, I had people saying ‘why don’t you come over’ but it wasn’t unlivable. Sometimes I’d bring the family over or stuff like that.
Where else have you lived since you left America?
I lived in Holland for about a year and a half, and I lived in Copenhagen for a couple of years.
When was that?
Holland, that would have been probably 69, and Denmark, probably the early 70s I would imagine.
What happened in the late 70s to bring you back to recording your own songs?
We were with a record company that was folding, basically, and they went to all their artists and said ‘look we’re folding, everybody make the records you want to make’. So we got together and made this record Nite Flights, we basically got a free hand to do what we wanted to do. And from then on it kind of clicked, cause I was in some kind of abyss for years, basically. That sort of reopened everything for me.
How do you feel now about your covers album period in the 70s?
Well I was working off contracts. I’d gotten to my fourth record over at Phillips, and we were starting a new record called Til The Band Comes In, not with any particular purpose, we were kind of floundering along. We were carpeted, along with the guy who produced with me, a guy called John Franz, we were carpeted and told ‘well, the fourth album didn’t do that well, you’ve got to come up with something, do some other material, someone else’s material’. And he took me aside and said ‘look, we’ll finish this album that we’re doing, then we’ll do what they want, and later on we can sneak in another thing.’ And of course it didn’t happen, and I started drinking quite heavily. That continued on and on, and finally CBS wanted to sign me so I went over there, and they led me to believe that I was going to be able to do an original album, and that didn’t work out either. Instead of just stopping, which I should have done, I’d take on some expense over here and I’d just keep going. It just got worse and worse, and I was acting in bad faith basically for years. It was a bad thing to be in, so when I did Nite Flights it kind of freed me.
When did you stop drinking?
It would probably be in the mid 70s. I was hanging around with people who were really really drinking quite heavily and started looking at myself and thinking ‘oh dear’. I started to sneak out of it then. Luckily I’m somebody who if really want to stop something I can will it, you know. I was on Valium for years during that period as well, and I know a lot of people can take a long time to get off Valium, they have to cut down their doses gradually, but I just cut it off and sweated it out for a week, and that was OK. It was kind of the same with the booze. I still drink, but it’s like on the weekend or something.
Did fatherhood have any impact on you sobering up?
Oh, no no no, because like with all popstars who have children too early, I was terribly irresponsible. Especially in those days. I was talking to Jarvis Cocker, who’s had a child recently, and I said ‘you’re so lucky to have had your child now’ cause he’s in his forties now, because early on it’s just chaos. Your career’s still going on and all kinds of things like that, it’s just unfortunate for the children.
What's your daughter's name?
There's a quote I read where you said 'Once I was a romantic, but I'm not a romantic now'. Is that still accurate?
I would have to go back a long way to find when I was, I was very very young when I was romantic. I can see a romantic situation – I’ll explain something about the song Clara, in a sense it’s a fascist love song and there is romance going on there, but I’m not myself romantic.
What brought about the change away from romance?
I think the romantic thing was all bound up with the first flush of success, and fueled with booze and everything else. By the time I get to Nite Flights it’s pretty much gone.
What do you do with your time when you're not making music?
I do a lot of painting at home. I have a lot of that going on all the time. And I’m always just thinking about the next set of songs coming up, trying to gather ideas. It takes time to do all that stuff.
How much time do you spend alone?
As much time as I can, because that’s where everything comes from, especially now that I’m like this. Everything worth anything comes out of silence, so you have to allow a lot of time for that, and you have to forego a lot of things that other people do to achieve that.
What are you foregoing?
For instance, if you’re invited for drinks or something like that, oftentimes you’ll just have to say ‘no, I’ve got two weeks of this, I’ve to nail this’. I don’t want that distraction, I don’t want to go see the latest thing I don’t film need to see, although on another occasion I might.
Do you have much interaction with popular culture?
Maybe not as much as, I know what’s going on, I know what’s out there. I don’t go to a lot of concerts, but then I never have. If Radiohead’s on I’ll go and see them.
Who do you see as your own musical peers?
I can’t think of anyone who’s exactly doing what I’m doing. My favourite band is Radiohead cause in a sense although the music is different, in another way as far as mood goes or textures, there is some equivalence there. But I think that they’re incredible, the whole band, they played at the Meltdown festival that I curated over here, and everybody’s so good in it, it doesn’t seem to have a weak link. I’m very impressed by them.
Why is the Pulp album your only production credit?
That was quite time-consuming, it can be time-consuming, I mean that went on for nearly six months that record. We weren’t recording the whole time but we were in and out, in and out. You can’t do anything else while that’s on the table, you can’t really settle down to something else. It’s just the time-consuming thing about it. It would just depend on who came forward for whatever reason.
Have you turned down other offers?
A few others. I’m not going to mention any names!
Why didn't your collaboration with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois work out?
It’s a strange thing, I don’t quite remember, but I just remember we all went out to Phil Manzanera’s studio, that’s where they wanted to record it, and he worked in a totally, I never realised, I mean I’d had a couple of meetings with Brian, and I never realised the extent that we worked so differently. Materially I’m pretty prepared when I go in, and I’m not really married to doing absolutely everything from scratch in the studio. I like to have some kind of blueprint or something, and of course my work is a totally different process, it takes so long cause that’s how long it takes. When I get my stuff in, like I said I wait for spontaneity to happen in the studio, but I don’t like to start absolutely from scratch, and that was sort of their method and it just didn’t work out.
A friend asked me ask about your feelings for the filmmaker Robert Bresson.
Well I’m a very big fan and have been for years. In fact when I was working with Leos Carax on Pola X, Leos knew him very well and he was still alive then. But you know he was not getting any finance for his films, still even for who he was, and I think he was in his 80s then. He couldn’t raise the money, cause no-one would insure him you see. Leos said ‘well next time you come over, I’ll introduce you’, and of course he died in the interval and I never got to meet him. He’s a fabulous fabulous filmmaker.
Do you feel an affinity with him in your own struggle to get records made?
Oh yes, although to be honest I haven’t had to struggle too hard. The struggle is a process of making them, for instance when we parted with Phonogram, that was a process that went on and on, but once we parted with them my manager said to me ‘we shouldn’t go to another major, because it’s ridiculous, we don’t make demos, it’s so tough, we can get through it, but it’s so tough to do it. And then they don’t appreciate it when you bring it in, because they don’t know how to market it. We should go somewhere else’. He knew these people at 4AD you see, so they were about the first people he approached. We hadn’t been wandering from company to
Are you happy with the way things have been going?
So far so good, I haven’t been with them that long, but I’m very happy.
Do you still feel like a leper in the music industry?
That's just because when you bring something in to a major, you’d have one fan there, he might be the A&R man there at the time, and he was driving everybody else on, but when you bring it in, people’s faces are on the ground. It’s like you’re bringing in the plague to a major company. Especially nowadays, they’re just a money making machine. They want to make money and that’s understandable, but it’s not always understandable, they should allow for other things to happen. But that’s not the case today.
What do you want from the next few years?
I guess that I don’t know until it happens. It’s a strange process, I would like to reach a point where I can make something quickly, which I’m going to have to do, and see where that takes me. Maybe I’ll do some gigs with it, who knows. And things tend to open up for you unexpectedly, like they did with Tilt. Things will come in, very strange stuff, but you don’t know until they arrive.
Are you a happy man?
At the moment I’m very happy, because I seem to be with this record connecting with a few more people than I’ve ever done before. So each time I hope to move further.
How is your health?
My health is fine, I’m OK in that direction.
Do you have any sense of urgency about releasing more music?
Not really, because like I said before you can’t force it. I guess I’m never going to be as productive as, say, Elton John, but then again I’m not really doing the same kind of thing as him.


Blogger Tosh said...

Great Interview!

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice interview, congratulations.
I found it more absorbing than most in the latest string. For one thing, Mr. Walker has mentioned his alcoholism in virtually every interview in the past 25 years,,,,,,, FINALLY someone asked him the logical follow-up question, "When did you stop drinking?" Thanks for that.
I only wish you had followed through on the questions regarding his family......you know, if he has a relationship with his daughter. He seemed more complacent with you and might have answered a few more questions. But, really, I enjoyed the transcript and would like to read your completed article. Where can I find it?

6:43 AM  
Blogger tigersare said...

thanks for your comment.
i wish i had pursued the family question a little further too, but basically i chickened out. i was scared my interview with scott walker would end with him hanging up on me...
the published article is at:

9:10 AM  
Blogger hedi said...

loved the interview, thanks a lot. I'd like to hear more about the leo carax movie.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appreciated your interview with Scott and the pre-article notes. What did you think he meant, in answer to your question about how much time he spends alone, when he replied 'especially now that I'm like this'? Like what now?

6:27 PM  
Anonymous cialis said...

Hello, I do not agree with the previous commentator - not so simple

7:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I,m in Tasmania,Australia... I've been a fan since 1967,will never forget seeing Scott on the cover of Rave mag,and his pics on Melody Makers hung-up in shop windows...yes that's a LONG time ago... but I've stuck thru all the decades since...years of drought,but every album has been a milestone in my life. And yes I dig the latest "Soused", and why not? Scott Noel Engel is so unique, a true artist, and we all don't know just how special!! I,m nearly 66 now...scary ain't it!! But the man has enriched my life,and for that I am VERY VERY grateful! Of course I have hung on every interview over the decades, and appreciate this one - thank you! I'm eagerly awaiting the next album... it can be as way-out as can be.....I will revel in it!! My Cerwin Vega giant speakers will LOVE IT !!!

7:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good interview. Thank you.

4:38 AM  
Anonymous Carole C said...

I enjoyed reading the interview as I interviewed Scott in Sheffield in '68. I found him polite, insecure but obliging. I really think he wasted his early career but that was his choice.

9:42 AM  
Blogger edgarholland said...

Great interview, Scott has become a lot happier over the years - probably because he can finally make the records he wants without compromise. 4ad was a wise choice of record company, if “Climate of Hunter” had been released on 4ad in the ‘80’s he would have gotten where he is now a lot sooner. A great artist who’s work has enriched my life and influenced my way of seeing the world. Thanks Scott!

5:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beyond intrigued. Realize 10 years have passed but beyond intrigued.

11:13 AM  

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