Rolling Stones Q&A: 'This Juggernaut Is Almost Unstoppable'
Mick, Keith Talk Reunion Shows, Arm-and-a-Leg Tickets and Plans for '13
The first floor of London's Dorchester Hotel is crowded with security men, management staff and press assistants, all moving between various suites. Little sensing the comedy value, they dart through one door only to appear from behind another moments later to check a watch or make another call. The business of promoting a new compilation, a film and a handful of live dates is afoot, and the Rolling Stones are working hard.
On Oct. 19, halfway through an intense run of rehearsal days in Paris, they interrupted that schedule to fly home for the London premiere of "Crossfire Hurricane" -- the documentary directed by Brett Morgen, produced by Mick Jagger and executive-produced by the rest of the Stones -- and a day of interviews. Ronnie Wood looks bleary-eyed, but enthusiastic to a fault. Charlie Watts is laid up at home with the flu. Keith Richards cackles as amiably as ever, noticeably without the omnipresent drink near at hand. Jagger is purposeful but animated.
Billboard shared separate suites with Jagger and Richards to get the word on the film, the "GRRR!" compilation (due Nov. 13 in North America on ABKCO/Universal) and 50 years in the Stone age.
When did a reunion begin to look possible?
Keith Richards: We did some rehearsals in New Jersey [in the spring]. To me that was the acid test, and when Charlie Watts clicked in, then I knew that the juggernaut would continue. We were rocking, and everyone's going, "Yeah, the energy's there." Music takes you over and above any of the petty little things, the bickering and all that crap.
Did you expect to record the new songs ["Doom & Gloom" and "One Last Shot"] for GRRR!?
Keith: They were making this compilation, and at the last moment they tell us, "Oh, it'd be nice to have an extra track or two." So Mick and I say, "Oh, great, we've got a month. Just like that, huh?" I said, "I've got one," and he said, "I've got one"-it was probably the quickest Rolling Stones recording sessions that I can remember, ever. We cut two tracks in three days, boom. And to me just taking one step back, to watch the band playing, just as an observer... whoa, man, these cats are hot.
Mick Jagger: I knocked out "Doom & Gloom" in very quick time, did a quick demo of it, and it didn't come out a million miles away from that, to be honest. Everyone's saying good things about it, so I can't be happier. "One Last Shot" is a song that Keith wrote mostly. I wrote some extra lyrics for it. It's really good.
The retrospective film "Crossfire Hurricane" is quite dark, especially in its coverage of the Stones' '60s history. Was that the intention?
Mick: It is quite dark. Not as dark as it was in one cut. [We said], "Wait a minute, Brett, you've gone too dark! Come back into the light now, you can have a bit more funnies." If you lean too heavily on the dark bits, you can drag people down too much. I think it's a good balance now. Several people said, "I know the story, but I couldn't stop watching it. I still found new things in it."
Keith: Brett Morgen did an amazing job of keeping the story on track. He didn't get hung up with the chicks, which is a difficult thing to do. Also he found some amazing footage.
There's been controversy about your ticket pricing for the London and New Jersey shows. What's your take on that?
Mick: I don't think there should be a secondary ticket market. I don't think it should be legal. To my mind, there has to be a better way of doing it, but we're living, really, with the way the system functions. We can't, in four shows, change the whole ticketing system. You might say, "The tickets are too expensive"-well, it's a very expensive show to put on, just to do four shows, because normally you do a hundred shows and you'd have the same expenses. [laughs] So, yes, it's expensive. But most of the tickets go for a higher price than we've sold them for, so you can see the market is there. We don't participate in the profit. If a ticket costs 250 quid [$400], let's imagine, and goes for 1,000 quid [$1,600], I just want to point out that we don't get that difference.
What sort of shows can we expect?
Keith: We'll have Bobby Keys in for a few horn things but we're not carrying sections. Charlie said, "We should have the stripped-down thing." I said, "Charlie, you realize how much pressure that puts on the guitar lineup?" But at the same time, it's a challenge, and he's right. The fact is that what we try and do onstage is deliver what's on the record, and there's a lot of horns and a lot of voices. OK, you want the blues band, you want the rock 'n' roll, stripped down? You're going to get it. It's going to be fun, man.
Do you see the 50th anniversary as a cause for celebration?
Mick: It's like a big birthday -- you come to it and then you move on.
Keith: There's a sort of sense of timing with this band that you can't really put your finger on. There's a sort of scratch and an itch that comes up, and I suppose the 50-year thing is an added spur.
And 2013? Keeping options open?
Mick: I suppose you could say, yeah.
Keith: This juggernaut, once it gets rolling, is almost unstoppable. "Oh, an extra gig," or, "Let's play somewhere you've never played before." So things go on. Right now, I'm just happy to have the thing rolling and moving. It'll be great, playing London and New York. The rest of it, it'll happen. Don't worry about it.