Q&A: Peter Gabriel Talks Covers and Future Writing Plans

Peter Gabriel

During the past year-and-a-half, Peter Gabriel has taken something of a sledgehammer to a batch of music -- both his own and others'. Working with arranger John Metcalfe, Gabriel first reinterpreted songs by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Arcade Fire and others for his 2010 release "Scratch My Back" (Real World/Virgin), which peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard 200. Gabriel then invited those same acts to take their shot at his own catalog for the companion project "I'll Scratch Yours" (which currently only exists online).

Now, his tour supporting "Scratch My Back" has yielded "New Blood," a set of orchestral versions of 13 of his songs with some new partners -- Ane Brun in place of Kate Bush on "Don't Give Up" and daughter Melanie Gabriel on "Downside Up" -- and an ambient piece called "A Quiet Moment" that serves as a segue between the main album and a bonus track of "Solsbury Hill." "New Blood," again created with Metcalfe, arrives Oct. 10 through Real World/Virgin, with a companion video, "New Blood Live in London," coming Oct. 25 on DVD, Blu-ray and 3D.

1. After doing "Scratch My Back," what led you to approach orchestral versions of your own material for "New Blood"?

This was an accidental project in the sense that it fell out of "Scratch My Back." When I took it on the road, there was about an hour's worth of material and I wanted to play at least two hours. So we started looking at what else I could do, and then it was an obvious thought to try doing some orchestral arrangements from my material. And in applying that to my stuff, it really felt like it was reinventing some of those songs in a way that really got me going, and I thought, "Oh, we better record this."

2. What was the arrangement process like?

Obviously we were applying John Metcalfe's ears and intelligence as well as my ideas. We started off together and I explained what I was looking for, and then John would come back with some first drafts. Occasionally, such as [on Bowie's] "Heroes" on the "Scratch My Back" project, they sounded perfect to me, but more often it would go two, three, four times back and forth and I would point things out that I thought could be better or suggest some alternative harmonic ideas. In the end, the moods felt better defined in some ways, and also the vocals and the lyrics -- you hear them better in these arrangements than in my original arrangements.

3. Did "Don't Give Up" take on a different character or meaning for you by having a different duet partner?

Yes, I think so. That's probably one of the most covered if not the most covered song I've written. There's been quite a few other versions by other artists, and of course Kate is very much in people's minds when they hear that song. So it's tough for any singer to come in and take it on, and Ane did a wonderful job and really made it her own.

4. Is any more being done with the "I'll Scratch Yours" component?

Well, out of the 12 artists [covered on "Scratch My Back"] we've had six tracks back, and there's really outstanding things there. Some of the artists who originally hoped to be part of this just aren't going to be able to come through, so we're looking at getting three or four other artists who have sort of done my stuff in one form or another in order to get to an album's worth. And I know you don't have to do an album any longer; you can do song by song, but I still like the album format.

5. But aren't you also the perfect candidate to embrace more short-form, download-friendly types of projects, too?

I've got no problem with the songs being cut up and distributed separately, but I really would miss the opportunity to put them together and sequence them and have them tell the story as a single, united body of work rather than just a succession of bits and pieces. That's still the way I'd like to work.

6. Do you see yourself continuing to pursue the orchestral, deconstructed approach of "Scratch My Back" and "New Blood?"

I would like to roll it to a halt. We have a short tour in November, and that may be the end of it. I'm itching to get back to writing and to generating some new stuff, and I will review some of the many tracks that are in the can in some states of completion. There's a lot of material, but very few finished lyrics or vocals.