An exclusive interview with maestro Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
By: Mark Winston
Letís take a quick look at the period of time leading up to the release of the original 'Thick As A Brick' (TAAB). In 1971 Simon and Garfunkel won a number of Grammys with Bridge Over Troubled Water. Additional winners include The Beatles with Let it Be, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and BB King.
In 1971 Joplinís Pearl and Hendrixís Rainbow Bridge were released posthumously - Aqualung, the Doors LA Woman, the Stones Sticky Fingers, Led Zepellin III & IV, Whoís Next, and Fragile by Yes were all released.
It was a period of astounding musical creativity and competition. Carol King, Santana, Pink Floyd, Weather Report, James Brown, Black Sabbath, Traffic, the Allman Brothers, Ten Years After, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, and Dianna Ross all also released significant works of art.
You may not be aware that Thick as a Brick was a Billboard 200 #1 album at a time when many radio stations never aired songs of this length.
Local artists often toil in obscurity, yet once in a blue moon, we get moments in life, moments of excitement, of connection, of synchronicity. These moments energize us and make the human condition tolerable. That is how I feel (and think) about the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with my all time favorite artist, maestro Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Anderson spoke very fast and I was not set up to record the interview. What follows is a best efforts attempt to communicate (paraphrase) at least a large portion of his responses. I have embedded 2 other interviews and the album trailer for your additional enjoyment.
As we begin I wish for you to know that I gave up my burning teenage desire to be a rock star when I discovered I would never be as good as Ian Anderson. (Anderson is on record as saying he took up the flute because he would never be as good on guitar as Eric Clapton.)
Well thatís really rather sad to think I was the one to sway you from that course.
Musically, you have achieved widespread acceptance without conforming and it would seem on your own terms. Was it dumb luck or are there specific activities you would recommend to artists aspiring to become successful today?
I think artists should go out of their way to gain the confidence to be themselves. Many people set the ability to imitate others as the benchmark for their endeavors. I advocate examination of oneís emotions and psyche. Motivations, fears, and jealousies become powerful tools of emotion in developing your unique artistic expression. Understand yourself and use the tools of emotion in your writing and in your lyrics. Isnít it boring to simply sound like your heroes?
I have in front of me a rather well worn original release of Thick as a Brick. The newspaper inside is still quite humorous. Have you seen any non-rabbits lately?
We use the non-rabbit as a part of the visual presentation during our performance. A rabbit comes out of an abstract design and then becomes a series of rabbits that eventually coalesce into a single image. The production work was done by my son who is getting to grips on visual editing and the other aspects of video production.
Preparing to perform TAAB must have been reasonably challenging. How do you organize practice so your band is productive during rehearsal?
We take pride in doing our homework prior to getting together. We all come prepared by listening to previous recordings so rehearsal is not about playing the actual notes. Rehearsal is about refining the basic performance. So much happens on stage such as instrument changes and changing patches, we practice the technical elements of doing the show. It is like driving a formula one race car, several things are happening at once and it is a lot to remember while we are multitasking on stage.
To prepare for the show we spent 8 days rehearsing the music and 2 days on production not to mention the many days of private work by each individual musician.
The ĎThick As A Brickí sequel asks the question, whatever happened To Gerald Bostock? Boy to man and beyond, it explores alternative life outcomes that might have befallen the child poet.
I grew up mesmerized by Hymn 43, My God and of course TAAB.
Letís pretend for a minute that I am Gerald Bostock which, in a strange sort of way, makes you into a father figure. I forgive you, even though my friends still think Iím strange. When in life do you feel thick as a brick?
Thick as a brick is a northern English term which means stupid. You might say it to a friend jokingly but it is really a cruel expression. One of the things that annoy me is when people out of confidence make mistakes blindly and cannot admit culpability or infallibility. Most often a simple apology will do but many people are unable to say those three words, I am sorry. I find myself having to apologize to someone two or three times a day.
I noticed a very surprising difference between the two recordings. Thick as a Brick II is broken up into tracks. Was this a conscious attempt on your part to get on the radio this time around?
The original TAAB is being remixed and will be coming out in mid September with TAAB2 as a double collectorís edition. As a joint decision with EMI, we moved the needle points and left larger breaks in the recording. In 1972 a special edition was released to radio stations that also broke up the composition. TAAB2 was also designed to be performed as continuous music. In this way both are closely aligned in concept and it is not my intention for TAAB2 to be experienced as tracks. This is like current CDís of Beethovenís 9th Symphony which also have tracks that are not really a part of the music itself.
Although there are ID points to allow separate tracks to be downloaded from iTunes, it is a continuous 53-minute piece of music with recurring musical themes. Itunes users download music in bite size portions for those who choose to snack versus sitting down for a full banquet.
Which of the new tracks are the most fun to perform?
I do not think of the composition in terms of tracks but approached parts of the composition as working titles. There are five musical themes and 5 lyrical themes in the recording. Of particular significance, the part about Wootten Bassett Town concerns the repatriation of dead soldiers from the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts. The route from the airport to the military facility passes through this small town. The local human response has grown into a National symbol of sorrow, reflection, and gratitude for the British people as a whole.
I canít quite recall the transition but then Mr. Anderson then offered in his comical way: No one has yet to run for the exit screaming during a performance although I suppose it is only a matter of time.
In science they use what is called the bell shaped curve to predict phenomena. Anything that falls outside the curve is called an outlier. As the musician who introduced the flute to rock n roll you are an outlier or in other words a genius. How do you cope with that?
I do not consider my self an outlier. My background musically is church music, blues, and other mainstream influences. I donít feel I fall outside the norm. I am not the person who invented the flute, nor the first to use it. The Mama and the Papas, the Moody Blues and I think Peter Gabriel all experimented with the instrument. I may be one of the few flute players, but I am not the best, simply the loudest.
I have an idea for an instructional and entertaining parody of American Idol or Britainís Got Talent aptly entitled ĎBand Rehearsal.í Each week a guest star shows up unexpectedly and wrecks havoc during a promising young bandís rehearsal. Would you like to shoot the pilot?
Thatís a pretty good idea. I can see how that would make good television. I can imagine Keith Richardís walking into the band next doorís practice session.
After the formal interview above, Ian stayed on the line for a number of extra minutes.
We talked about his positive impression of the Raleigh area (and the Southeast in general). He discussed his hope for a better outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq in comparison to Vietnam. We also discussed a few of his many current charitable activities which include giving performances in churches and contributing the proceeds to building restoration.
IAN ANDERSON BIOGRAPHY
(Jethrotull.com) Ian Anderson, known throughout the world of rock music as the flute and voice behind the legendary Jethro Tull, celebrates his 44th year as an international recording and performing musician in 2012.
Ian was born in 1947 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. After attending primary school in Edinburgh, his family relocated to Blackpool in the north of England in 1959. Following a traditional Grammar school education, he moved on to Art college to study fine art before deciding on an attempt at a musical career.
Tull formed in 1968 out of the amalgamation of the John Evan Band and McGregor's Engine, two blues-based local UK groups. After a lengthy career, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have released 30 studio and live albums, selling more than 60 million copies since the band first performed at London's famous Marquee Club in February 1968.
After undertaking more than 3000 concerts in 40 countries throughout four decades, he has typically played 100-plus concerts each year to longstanding, as well as new fans worldwide. Widely recognized as the man who introduced the flute to rock music, Ian Anderson remains the crowned exponent of the popular and rock genres of flute playing. So far, no real pretender to the throne has stepped forward. Ian also plays ethnic flutes and whistles together with acoustic guitar and the mandolin family of instruments, providing the acoustic textures which has been an integral part of most of the Tull repertoire.
Anderson has so far recorded four diverse solo albums in his career: 1983's "Walk Into Light", the flute instrumental "Divinities" album for EMI's Classical Music Division in 1995 which reached number one in the relevant Billboard chart, and the more recently recorded acoustic collections of songs, "The Secret Language of Birds", and ďRupiís DanceĒ. New recordings are scheduled for release in 2012 and 2013.
In recent years, he has toured more and more under his own name in solo concerts with orchestras, string quartets, featured soloists and in his other eclectic acoustic shows. Most of the concerts scheduled for 2012 and 2013 will feature the Thick As A Brick sequel, TAAB2 Ė Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? as well as the original Thick As A Brick album, both performed in their entirety live or, on some shows, various other repertoire staples and favourites.
Anderson lives on a farm in the southwest of England where he has a recording and rehearsal studio and offices. He has been married for 36 years to Shona who is also an active director of their music and other companies. They have two children - James and Gael Ė and two grandchildren. Gael is married to actor Andrew Lincoln, currently shooting more episodes of the hugely-acclaimed zombie thriller, The Walking Dead, for TV broadcast in 2012 and 2013.
His hobbies include the growing of many varieties of hot chile peppers, the study and conservation of the 26 species of small wildcats of the world and the appreciation of mechanical watches, fountain pens and vintage cameras. He reluctantly admits to owning digital cameras and scanners for his work on the photographic promotional images related to Tull as well as his solo career.
In 2006, he was awarded a Doctorate in Literature from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, the Ivor Award for International Achievement in Music and, in the New Years Honours List 2008, an MBE for services to music. In 2011, he received another Doctorate in Literature from Dundee University.
Ian owns no fast car, never having taken a driving test, and has a wardrobe of singularly uninspiring and drab leisurewear. He still keeps a couple of off-road competition motorcycles, a few sporting guns and a saxophone which he promises never to play again.
He declares a lifelong commitment to music as a profession, being far too young to hang up his hat or his flute, although the tights and codpiece have long since been consigned to some forgotten bottom drawer.