Pink Floyd Drummer Nick Mason Reflects on Syd Barrett, LSD, and the Band's New Box Set Release

Pink Floyd
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Pink Floyd photographed at the Casa Madrona Hotel in Sausalito, Calif. in 1967. From left to right: Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Roger Waters, Syd Barrett.

"The Early Years 1965-1972" arrived in early November.

Besides plenty of memories, putting together 27 discs of audio and visual material for Pink Floyd's new The Early Years 1965-1972 box set gave drummer Nick Mason, at least, a fresh perspective on the fate of the band's original mastermind, Syd Barrett.

"I think we've always maintained that Syd probably was an acid casualty and that we were pretty weak at sort of looking after or understanding how to deal with," Mason tells Billboard. Barrett, who died in 2006 at age 60, founded the group in 1965 in Cambridge, England, and left during the spring of 1968, ostensibly due to mental health issues. "I think more now than then, the feeling is that probably what happened with Syd is he just worked out this is not what he wanted to do. So it was a protest. He realized he didn't actually want to be in a rock band. Really what I think he wanted to do was to go back and paint and be an artist. But we never understood that and didn't grasp that, which made things far more difficult. I think that probably played as much a part in his sort of collapse as any LSD trips."

The Early Years (accompanied by its two-CD distillation Cre/ation) mines the Pink Floyd vaults not only for known material from the group's singles, albums and film soundtracks prior to The Dark Side of the Moon but also incorporates a wealth of rarities and unreleased material from the period -- including two tracks, "The Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man," that feature Mason singing lead vocals. The comprehensive collection includes moments such as an awkward post-performance interview on "American Bandstand" and an improvised live concert the group performed for the BBC to accompany the 1969 moon landing, as well as what Mason calls "a lot of awkward miming" for TV performances.

"For so many people their Pink Floyd experience starts in about 1973 with Dark Side," Mason explains. "(The Early Years) is probably the sort of era where people know the very least about us, and I think the whole business of revisiting the Syd Barrett era and the development of the band between the Syd period and beyond, just pre-Dark Side, is perhaps something people know less about and might influence them."

Mason does not expect Pink Floyd to return to that period for any future archival releases. "One of the things we said to ourselves was that we are not going to do this twice," he explains. "We will put everything that we think is worth putting in or of real interested on this, so we won't come back here again." Other archival releases are being considered, including a set dedicated to 1977's Animals, the lone Pink Floyd album from the 70s that hasn't been revisited yet.

"There's been quite a lot of discussion about Animals," Mason acknowledges. "It's the one album we've talked about, not only for remastering but possibly doing a remix on because it was done in our own studio, and I think that technically it's possibly not one of our finest works. So we could possibly revisit it and maybe just do a bit of a job on some of the sound quality of it."

The group's major heritage project at the moment is "The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains," which is slated to open next May at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London featuring more than 350 artifacts. But the goal is to make the show more than just a collection of objects for fans to look at.

"We're working out what we can do to, less than tell the story, show how things were done, the sort of technical side of it, to some extent," Mason explains. "Interwove with our story it's really the story of recording technology over the last 50 years. So quite a lot of it will be how we did things, maybe utilizing some of the old equipment or making some videos to explain it and demonstrate it in some way, shape or form. It's going to be very exciting, I think."