Bob Ezrin & Other Collaborators Talk 'Pink Floyd The Later Years' Box Set

Pink Floyd
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Rick Wright, David Gilmour and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd photographed in London in 1988.

The mid '80s were anything but comfortably numb for Pink Floyd.

The group was divided, divisive and splintered -- and, as far as Roger Waters was concerned, over. David Gilmour thought otherwise, however, and he was joined by Nick Mason and, subsequently, Rick Wright in creating a new album, 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason. "We never saw the band as broken up," Mason said at the time. "What Roger said about the band being creatively dead was probably true -- with him in charge. His suggestion was we could carry on, but only if he had total control. No thank you."

Gilmour, Mason and Wright were proven right by the multi-platinum success of Lapse and the Billboard 200-topping 1994 follow-up The Division Bell, along with sold-out, stadium-sized live tours that yielded two well-received live albums, Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse.

That period is recalled with the Dec. 13 release of Pink Floyd The Later Years, a lavish 16-disc collection featuring an updated and remixed Momentary Lapse -- with new parts by the late Wright (from the archives) and Mason (newly recorded), along with unreleased outtakes, live recordings, videos material, memorabilia and more. Preceded by the single disc The Later Years -- Highlights, it is, like most things Pink Floyd, grand, majestic and a labor of love for all concerned. Three of those people -- Momentary Lapse co-producer Bob Ezrin, longtime Pink Floyd recording engineer Andy Jackson and package designer Aubrey Powell -- gave Billboard a look behind the scenes at those later years, and The Later Years.

Was there any sort of mission statement for The Later Years, an idea that "This is the story we want to tell"?

Jackson: No, not really. I've worked for this band for 40 years now, so it's just on an instinctive level. I just know what it's supposed to be and allow it to do that, really, and sit down with David and refine it. It's very established, so our mission statement is to do what we always do, if you like.

Powell: We'd already done a box set together, which was The Early Years (in 2016). It was decided to follow that up with a project called The Later Years that involved all the music and film we could plunder from the archives, from 1987 onward, after Roger Waters decided to leave the band. I got together with David Gilmour and asked him what he fancied and he said, 'Well, I'd like to find as much material as we have in the archives in terms of music and film and pictures that haven't been released before.' The visual material was all down to me, so we went looking for stuff and came up with quite a lot of interesting things.

It was a pretty charged time back in 1987. What's your take on that decision by David, Nick and Rick to continue the band?

Ezrin: David wanted to keep going -- why wouldn't he? This had been his life for a very long time. He didn't decide to stop; Roger decided he didn’t want to be part of the band anymore, and I think Roger was convinced once he left no one would want to be part of the band, but that was not true. The other guys enjoyed being in Pink Floyd. Being in Pink Floyd is fun; you get to play big places and have huge productions and adoring fans and you have a great body of work to dig into, not to mention the new stuff that was coming out. So I think all of them decided that they weren't going to be told when to retire, except by the audience.

Jackson: Without going into any questions of politics, most of the elements were still there, so there seemed to be no reason not to...carry on. It had already survived a fundamental shift from the Syd Barrett days, you know, so I think there was a feeling it could continue under these circumstances.

What was making Momentary Lapse like?

Powell: To be quite frank...I think panic, and I don't say that lightly. I think the departure of Roger was quite traumatic, especially for David. There were suddenly a bunch of responsibilities dumped on his shoulders -- "OK, my creative partner of Pink Floyd left," so David was left with the responsibility of carrying it back and forward in the relay race called Pink Floyd and having to come up with interesting concepts and songs and material to make it work -- which he did, and hats off to him. But I do think there was a sense of urgency and panic, saying, 'We better get this together. How the hell are we going to do that?'

Ezrin: The challenge was to retain, legitimately, the character of Pink Floyd but at the same time recognize that one of the key players was not a part of the team. But we still had some of the most recognizable elements of Pink Floyd in the band; I mean, Pink Floyd was noted as much for David and Rick's voices as it was for Roger's voice. So those were two really familiar sounds, and David's guitar was unmistakable.

Powell: You can hear a sense of urgency and panic through songs like "Learning to Fly"; It's almost prophetic about what was about to happen -- "We've got to learn to start over again without one of our contributors," which was Roger. Sometimes when you're backed into a corner your best work comes out.

The Later Years' edition of Momentary Lapse features drum and keyboards from Nick and Rick. What led you to do that?

Ezrin: At the time we had to focus much more, obviously, on David. We wanted to focus more on Rick and Nick, too, but it was a situation where schedules clashed because we were making the album on two different continents. We had a lot of beautiful Rick stuff, but we didn't have as much Nick as we would’ve liked, so I'm really glad we got to go back and do more afterwards. The minute Nick sat down at the kit it just felt timeless.

Jackson: (Momentary Lapse) was also an odd one out. It was always a record that was made to sound current of the time, which of course means it eventually sounds dated. So it was an attempt to do it like we should have done it in the first place. It's cliché to say it, but it all just makes it "more Floyd." I remember when we started the session doing the new drums with Nick, he started playing on the first song and Bob and I just looked at each other with a tacit and huge sense of, "Ooh, boy. This works!" There is something unidentifiable about the way individuals play -- in this case Rick and Nick -- that just has an identity, which makes something very familiar and "right."

Ezrin: The original album was at a transition point in music-making, the beginning of the digital revolution. The essentially Pink Floyd sound has always been very elemental, very much four people and the sound of every individual. So it was great we were able to reinstall Nick and Rick in the places they should have been if only we were all available at the time. It has a greater Pink Floyd-ness than it ever had before.

Were there any "holy grail" finds as you dove into the archives to put together the box?

Jackson: No, not really. It's not like other projects where I've gone through them and I find stuff, 'cause I was involved in the first place and knew exactly what was there. There was no, "Oh my God, I found this thing, the legendary such and such!" It was nothing like that. There's a few bits of jam-playing from The Division Bell sessions that I didn't specifically remember, but it was nice to dig those things out again.

Powell: On my end there is -- and it's a fascinating story. On the Highlights front cover there’s a picture of two men standing on a landscape, looking at a white sheet of paper, which is sort of mad. The photo was taken by me in 1975 and we were looking for ideas for Wish You Were Here. It was never actually shown to Pink Floyd and never actually presented to anyone, ever, and it just remained in the archives. Whilst I was going through all the archival material for (The Later Years) I pulled it out and looked at it and thought, "You know, there's something interesting here." It's very much part of what I would call Pink Floyd history, visually. I presented it to Dave and Nick and they both went, "Fantastic, let's have it." And in a way it represents their breakaway from Roger, too. It's sort of representative in a symbolic way of what happened then.

Why wasn't The Division Bell included in the set as well?

Powell: I think probably because it's been well-document and re-released. I think it was a conscious decision by David that we were trying to find things that had not been so well documented.

Jackson: There's no point in putting that on there since there'd be nothing different. It hasn't been changed. There's no new mixes. It's been out in high definition before. So there's nothing to be gained there.

After the huge immersions of The Early Years and The Later Years, what else is in the Pink Floyd vaults that you'd like to see come out?

Jackson: Well, there were things that were not included in this box set, but that's because they didn't want it to. But ultimately it's down to the band and what they want and what they don't want to come out. You don't want to do something that feels like you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. So there's no great missing bits now. I think we've done it all, really.

Powell: You mean in the future? I don't think I'm permitted to tell you that. (laughs) But to be honest with you, I don't really know. Once you start plundering through things I can present it to the band and say "We found this" or "We found that," but the decision is always theirs.

One thing fans wonder about, however, is a deluxe package of Animals, which is the one album that's not been treated in that manner yet. Will it happen?

Jackson: There's nothing other than the album to be had out of that. There are no leftovers or anything like that. There were prototype versions (of the songs) but they've already been out. There's no further expansion to be made out of that (album).

Powell: I've asked Nick this question five times in the last year or so. I've certainly been working on a couple of things related to Animals and... let’s see. It's certainly in discussion, and I can't commit to more than that. But fingers crossed that something might appear in the future. We'll see what happens.