'On an Island' due March 6.
David Gilmour has remained quiet since Pink Floyd's reunion last July for the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park; quiet but hardly inactive.
The man described as "the guitar and the voice of Pink Floyd" was busy putting the finishing touches to his only third solo album in a career spanning close to 40 years.
The 10 tracks on "On an Island" bear Gilmour's trademark -- atmospheric guitar and ethereal vocal harmonies. Some of them -- such as the title track, or "A Pocketful of Stones" -- would easily fit on a Pink Floyd album. There are inroads in blues and jazz, and a couple of instrumentals, including one, "Red Sky At Night," which sees Gilmour playing the saxophone.
Gilmour co-produced the album with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and Chris Thomas. It is due out March 6 through EMI in Europe and a day later via Columbia Records in the United States. "I do really think it is about as good a piece of work as I have ever done," says Gilmour.
To promote the album, Gilmour will embark on a 25-date sold-out tour starting in March in Europe and crossing to America in April before returning to the U.K. at the end of May for a series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert set list will include tracks from the new album as well as Pink Floyd "favorites."
Despite Gilmour's acrimonious split with Pink Floyd bass player and main composer Roger Waters, both artists agreed to appear together at Live 8, fueling speculation that Pink Floyd could reform.
Here, Gilmour talks about his new album, his creative partnership with his wife and lyricist Polly Samson, his aspirations in life and, of course, Pink Floyd.
Q: You've recorded only three solo albums in 25 years. What triggered this one?
A: As well as the two previous solo albums there's been two Pink Floyd albums in '87 and '94. So while it is not very frequent, quite a lot of more work has gone on in the intervening period. I have remarried and had four more children and I have been enjoying bringing those children up. But in the last couple of years it felt it was time to start again and start working on a new album.
It felt to me that this album should be me and not Pink Floyd this time. It's just a slightly different way of working. I worked from home on my own [without] having to be involved in the rather large machinery that is the Pink Floyd thing.
Q: Did it change anything in the songwriting process?
A: Well, it was me writing little pieces of music and picking up what I wanted to work on. But I don't think it would have made any difference to the selection of the pieces of music whether it was Pink Floyd or me on my own. I want to be a little smaller and more compact in my work and the Pink Floyd is so big and unwieldy that I feel more comfortable doing this.
Q:You have guests on your album such as Crosby and Nash on 'On an Island,' Robert Wyatt and a few others. Did it happen organically?
A: If happened fairly organically. I had a song [on which] I had sung some demo harmonies and I went to a Crosby and Nash concert in London. Listening to them singing in the concert with that sort of magical harmonies, I thought it would work so well on that track. I had not pre-planned it or written with them in mind but when I heard them I just thought, "Yes, this would be lovely." I went backstage and asked them if they would play on the song and they said, "Sure, we'll come." That's what happened.
Q: What about Robert Wyatt?
A: That's partly because he invited me to do his Meltdown Festival and I always loved him and his work. When we were working in [Roxy Music guitarist] Phil Manzanera's studio in London, Robert was also going to be working there on his own stuff so it was very easy and convenient to get him in and try a few things for us. We did not use his high-pitched falsetto; instead we used his [deep voice] low tones. [laughs]
Q: You are producing the album alongside Manzanera and Chris Thomas. That's a lot of people for one album.
A: Well, you know we all play slightly different roles in the production process. I am writing, recording and deciding and it wouldn't be fair to say that I was not taking part in the production process. I spent a long time with Phil Manzanera at my home and in his studio, but as we were reaching the last three months or so of allocated time -– because I already had dates booked for shows –- I felt like we needed a little bit of a boost to help push things along. And Chris is very good at all that. So we brought him in to help push the process along because we felt we were slowing down at that time.
Q: With your body of work, you could probably get any lyricist in the world pen something for you, so why work with your wife?
A: When you've got such a good lyricist so close by, I could not feel the point in going elsewhere. She worked with us on "Division Bell" and I like to keep things around me to my friends and colleagues that I've worked with. I am a bit shy at times, and moving outside of that is sometimes difficult for me.
Polly and I are on a working partnership as well as a life partnership and she's as good as I can get. Other lyricists would be writing more for themselves than for me and they would not know me that well. If I asked Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan to write for me, I love their work but I don't know these people. So it seems to me more artistically sound to work with someone who I live and breathe with every day.
Q: Let's talk about the title of the album "On an Island." Some would say it is a metaphor for your life, in that you live on an island -- which is technically true, as you live in the U.K. -- but also that you are quite isolated from the rest of the world. Is this the right perception?
A: Someone in the position that I am in -- in being well known to some extent -- has a tendency to become a bit cut off from the normal world. However, I don't think it applies to me as much as it applies to many other people.
It is one of the great benefits of having been in Pink Floyd that we are not that recognizable. Pink Floyd fans might know what we look like but most people just don't. So I can live a very normal life. I can take my kids camping in France in public campsites and I don't have big problems. I can go anywhere and do whatever I like. So I don't think that is the major issue.
But, as you say, the title is "On an Island" and that title applies to both the one experience that I am describing in the song but also describes the fact that I am an English person born on an island, living on an island. It is also, as you say, a metaphor for the insularity of life that is possible and that one should try to break out of.
Q: Do you feel part of the British music scene?
A: Well, I'm English and I am British. I don't know if I feel part of a music scene. Musically, I have as many feelings and affinity with Americans or Canadians, or all sorts of people as I do with English people.
Q: One of the things that defines you is your guitar playing. Is it correct to think that there's something of a blues guitarist in you?
A: I am a lover of all sorts of different music. I love blues and every piece of music that I have listened to has become an influence. But you're right, there's a distinct blues influence within what I do but at the same time I am not frightened to step out of that. I don't even think whether I play the blues or not, I just play whatever feels right at the moment. I also will use any gadget or device that I find that helps me achieve the sort of sound on the guitar that I want to get.
Q: In 1972's movie "Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii" there was an interview of you in which you said that you used technology but did not want to be slaves to technology. Is that still the case?
A: I think that's still true. I am not a technophobe and I am using the latest technology today, some 30-odd years later, and I am really enjoying what some of the new technologies can offer. But at the same time I am always aware that one can get bogged down in that technology and that it can become more than just a method. That's something that you have to be slightly careful of.
Q: Pink Floyd concerts in the '60s comprised songs such as "Set the Control for the Heart of the Sun," but also some extremely experimental parts, with a lot of unstructured sounds and noises. Do you miss that kind of experimental space?
A: I am in a space now where I can try anything; and with Pink Floyd we've always been in a space where we were able to try out anything. I think we were very young then and we were very keen to experiment and try things out. It seems to me that this sort of experimenting is like working yourself towards something and trying to find what you like and what you want.
To me, I feel that I grew out of that sort of experimenting because it felt at the time that the rewards were small compared to the amount of boredom that you were inducing. When we did these concerts, there were some magic moments but they did not last for the whole set or for the whole concert. I found in the end that I am a person who likes a bit more structure.
You could say that I sort of grew out of that phase and wanted something which was perhaps more normal. [smiles]
Q: Are there bands that have taken on Pink Floyd's musical mantle these days?
A: I don't know about taking the mantle, but there are a lot of people who have tried very hard to move music into a different direction and take it their own way. There's Radiohead, obviously.
Q: Which are the Pink Floyd tracks you really like and that stand the test of time?
A: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here" are standout tracks. "Comfortably Numb" is another one. "High Hopes" from "The Division Bell" is one of my favorite all-time Pink Floyd tracks. "The Great Gig in the Sky," "Echoes," there's lot of them.
For the tour, we have a list of songs that we want to try to decide on and that we'll be rehearsing.
Q: Are you frustrated that the tour is sold as "The voice and the guitar of Pink Floyd?"
Q: Well, to make sure people know who David Gilmour is, the promoters have to add "The voice and the guitar of Pink Floyd."
A: Well, I am David Gilmour the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd. I have been since I was 21. I can't see any reason at all when trying to promote my shows and my album, I shouldn't mention the fact that that's what I spent my life doing.
Q: You're playing a selected number of mid-size venues. Are you aware that you may frustrate millions of people who may wish to see you?
A: I can't help other people's frustrations. I don't owe people anything. If people would like to come to my concerts I'd love them to come. And if they like the music that I make, I love that too. But I do not make music for other people. I make it to please myself.
To go out and tour for months and months on end is not just what I want to be doing at my age. Sorry if you don't like that, but it's my prerogative.
Q: Why did you feel you had to do Live 8?
A: For one thing, the cause. What Bob Geldof was trying to make happen was to persuade the leaders of the G8 nations to cancel the world's debt. Obviously if one can do something about that, one wants to help.
The second reason is that Roger and I had a lot of bitterness and anger over the years and this was the first time that he had seemed to be wanting to put some of that behind him. And getting rid of anger and hatred is a good thing to do.
I also thought that if I did not do it I would regret it. So there are a lot of reasons for doing and I did thoroughly enjoy doing it. And it is very good to get over some of the bitterness and very good to have some sort of closure on all of that.
Q: Have you spoken to Waters since?
A: Not since that week, no.
Q: He seemed very happy on stage.
A: Yes, he was, and so was I.
Q: How did you pick the tracks you played at Live 8?
A: We picked the songs that we thought would work the best for that occasion, songs from that era of our career. I did not want to get into major arguments with Roger in trying to get in something newer. The choice of songs was not exactly how Roger wanted it to be but I think it was a very good set. "Money" being part of it seemed to me to be very appropriate because money is what that concert was about.
Q: From the audience, it did not look like you had not performed together for 25 years.
A: We did rehearse. We rehearsed for three days together and I did rehearse myself at home for two weeks, every day, many times, in order to make sure that I really knew what I was doing because a lot of the burden of the work was mine. So, I was concentrating on singing or guitar playing for the whole set. I did work a lot.
Q: Do you think that Live 8 did really achieve the goals that Geldof set to reach?
A: There was a large cancellation of debt. Whether that made a lot of difference to it, I don't know. You can only look back at these things historically. But it is better to do something than just sit by and [not] do anything at all.
Q: Why did you decide to give back the royalties you'd earn from your performance at Live 8?
A: I felt that it was not an act of generosity, but it was a debt. I don't think that being invited on a concert like that and have that massive advertisement for your career is something that is yours. It belongs to the cause so I absolutely think that it is morally wrong to hang on to a profit that you have made out of something like that.
Q: Is it correct to assume that you turned down an offer to tour after Live 8?
A: Yes, we were offered a lot of money to go on tour. And I did turn it down, yes. The offer was made to tour with a lot of money and it was with or without Roger. But I have no interest in going on a tour to make money without making new product, new art. So just going out and replaying our old hits again on a tour does not appeal to me at all.
Q: Will there ever be a chance to see the band live together?
A: Who knows? I have no plans at all to do that. My plans are to do my concerts and put my record out.
Q: Is retiring a word in your dictionary?
A: Being a musician, being a person who's playing tours and making records is a part-time thing for me at age. I did it, I lived it and I breathed it every day of my life for 30-odd years and now I am slowing down a little bit. But it does not mean that I am any less intense and dedicated to the work that I am doing now. I have other priorities in life as well.
Q: What do you think your legacy will be?
A: Oh! [Long silence] Legacy? What's a legacy? I think our music will continue to be played for a while. Then it will be forgotten like everything else will be forgotten. How long will that take? A hundred years, a thousand years, a million years? I have no idea. This is not something I think of very much.
Q: What's your life going to be in the next couple of years?
A: I have no idea what the future holds. I hope that I am going to get through my tour and enjoy it, and then I will be back home looking after my children, while my 16-year-old boy gets ready for his exams. And I shall be trying to steer and guide my children into their future.