After a long absence Bryan Ferry just finished hopscotching around the United States in support of his latest album, “Olympia.” It features an impressive array of guest musicians like Nile Rodgers, Scissor Sisters and Groover Armanda. And keeping with his debonair image longtime fan Kate Moss graces the album cover. The 66-year-old singer spoke to Billboard.com about his long career, Roxy Music, his dazzling fashion sense and that kerfuffle a few years ago when he gave an interview to a German newspaper commenting on Hitler’s persona. It’s still a subject that clearly rankles him and feels that he was completely misunderstood.
You haven’t toured in the States for a long time.
They’ve been really terrific audiences, great reaction. I’m very pleased. The American audience is really into music, they appreciate all the solos and the nuances of the show. We’re talking about coming back in March and doing all the places we missed.
You’re touring to support your latest album, “Olympia,” but a lot of the audience is coming to hear Roxy Music. Does that ever bother you?
No. I’m thrilled my main body of work as a writer is with Roxy Music. They’re my babies. We do songs from the first two albums from ’72, ’73 and throughout the whole Roxy career. It’s strange having so much material to choose from. It makes it difficult to pick the songs to do in a show. But you try to get a balance between the hits people know and the more off the wall songs that we like to play.
You’re known for doing covers. Will we be hearing some, say, Lady Gaga in the show?
God no, but I do like her. I think she’s very good. I haven’t taken my admiration that far. We do a couple of Dylan songs because I’ve done a lot of his material in the past. I even did an album of his songs once.
What do you think is the state of British pop music now?
Oh, I don’t know much about it. I don’t keep up with it really. I hear this and that and I have four sons who are all very keen listeners of music. They keep me up to date on what’s happening.
Your mentor, artist Richard Hamilton, recently passed away.
Yes, very sad. It’s great when you’ve worked with someone who’s a genius and it just kind of rubs off you in different ways. He was very eclectic. He did these collages which made a big impression on me, I think I can see how I collaged musical genres together at the beginning of my career with Roxy, I used to jump from one musical realm to another and I think that was in part due to being a follower of Richard’s.
You studied art.
I lived through my eyes a lot but I was also a huge music fan from an earlier age. Music seemed to mean so much more in those days. Maybe more than today. You had to save up to buy a single even and you’d listen to it endlessly. It was a different process where you were physically involved, touching and holding this piece of music, reading it and looking at the artwork endlessly. Visual things have been a huge part of my career, doing all the album covers, it was fun for me. We’re having a show in L.A. of the Kate Moss images we did for the album sleeve.
When you say “we” what do you mean?
Me and the photographer. I was the art director. Kate is a friend. She’s also a big fan of the music. We actually played at her wedding. She asked if I would return the favor and play her wedding because she’s a big fan. We played a big festival in the South of England and I said to her, ‘You know I can’t really do it because we’ve got this festival thing,’ and she said, ‘I’ll get helicopters to take you,’ and she did. She got this giant helicopter, 16 of us piled into it and went to her wedding.
What was the first song you played at the wedding?
It’s her favorite song. It’s called “If There Was Something.” It’s from the first Roxy Music album. It’s the only wedding I’ve ever played. It was really cool; it was quite bizarre having such a celebrity studded audience right in front of you. It was a tiny stage. Jude Law, Christian Louboutin, John Galliano, Paul McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Jack White.
You’re an amazing dresser. Is it important to look a certain way?
There’s nothing bizarre about it, but there was in the early days of course, we were much more theatrical. I used to work in a tailor shop when I was a lad to make money to buy records. I guess that’s where I became interested in clothes. Also, all my musical idols like Charlie Parker, even Leadbelly, all the American musicians I idolized were very snappy dressers. Going on stage was a serious business. They made the audiences feel special. The best I ever saw was Otis Redding with the Stax road show and they looked really cool. That’s when I really decided I wanted to do it myself.
Does it hurt you to put on a cheap suit?
No, I can grimace my way through that. My sons are actually all snappy dressers.
Would that kill you if they weren’t?
Yes, I would have been mortified! (laughs)
Have you been approached to design your own line?
No, but I’m open to offers. What’s his name has done incredibly well hasn’t he? Puff Daddy.
You’re 66. Do you have any thoughts on retiring?
People say ‘aren’t you fed up with it?’ I say not at all. I love making music. I neglected touring in America for quite a while. One of the reasons was because it was too expensive. I don’t play stadiums and it’s very hard to make ends meet if you’ve got 30 people on the road with you. I’m doing like an arena show in theaters so it’s quite expensive but I love doing it. I could go out with a trio but I really wouldn’t particularly want to.
I have to tell you I’m Jewish and I totally understood what you were talking about with your Nazi comments a few years ago.
It’s totally bewildering and it’s absolutely outrageous but I really don’t want to go into it because it’s just a bad vibe. But if I tell you my best friends are Jewish, it’s totally absolutely true. It’s so annoying to me. You can’t say anything. Even if you say he’s bad, it becomes, ‘Hang on, he’s brought that up.’ It was actually very malevolent. I’d love to meet the people who did it face to face, a couple of female journalists who picked up on this interview and I have the tapes of it. There’s nothing… it’s extraordinary. I had a lot of letters from people like yourself who said it was absolutely ridiculous. Black music and Jewish music have been the two sort of big musical influences in my life. I just said the fact that they mesmerized a whole nation is pretty amazing through the general way they were so organized.