By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
At the age of 66 years old, classic rock legend and former Jethro Tull leader/songwriter/vocalist/flautist, Ian Anderson, finds himself in the twilight of his career. But, he refuses to slow down, and continues his quest for musical brilliance by passionately writing and recording. With Jethro Tull now on hiatus, Anderson currently records and tours under his own name. During the last two years, Anderson has released two sophisticated and mind-bending solo concept albums, ‘Thick as a Brick 2,’ and ‘Homo Erraticus,’ which was just released last April.
Ian Anderson is still an extremely driven entertainer, and is currently on a world tour promoting his new release. In addition, he will also be performing the greatest hits of Jethro Tull during these performances.
Recently, we had the privilege to talk to Ian Anderson for the following interview. It was an honor to talk to this musically brilliant, iconic pioneer. What follows is the exclusive RMS interview with the intelligent and witty Ian Anderson. Here’s what he had on his mind.
RockMusicStar: Your new CD, ‘Homo Erraticus,’ was released less than two years after the ambitious, ‘Thick as a Brick 2’ record. Why did you decide to write and record another complicated concept record so quickly afterwards?
Ian Anderson: Well, it was a period of two years; excuse me if I’m being too energetic. But, in years past, it was always a two-year gap to allow for touring twice around the world. It’s really not that tall of an order, to buckle down and work on it during that period of time. I started working on ‘Homo Erraticus’ on January 1, 2013, and we recorded it at the end of 2013, and finished by the end of January 2014. So now, I’m doing a series of tours that go on until 2015. But, probably at 9am on January 1, 2015, you may well find me sitting down with my guitar and flute, working on new project that could be scheduled for release in 2016. But, a two-year cycle is sensible for me.
RMS: It’s impressive because many musicians in your age group have become creatively lazy, and have really become a shell of what they once were. Most of the great classic rock artists are not releasing a concept album or quality record every two years. You could have toured the ‘Thick as Brick 2′ record for the next five years, if you wanted to.
IA: We did two years for it, and it was great fun, and we still have a few more ‘Thick as a Brick’ shows to do in New Zealand and Australia at the end of this year. And, I’m looking forward to doing those shows after a whole year of not doing them. But, I think that we have to remember that the audience doesn’t really demand that old bands do new music. If the Rolling Stones released an album tomorrow, people would greet it with a polite yawn, and they would go and buy ‘Exile on Main Street,’ or something, because, quite frankly, nobody wants a new Rolling Stones album. People want a new, old Rolling Stones album. In other words, they are looking for something that is impossible to deliver, which is the style, the content of that original material cloned but different; it’s an impossibility. So wisely, the Rolling Stones are not releasing a new album. Led Zeppelin is not reforming, or putting out a new album. But, to prove that the opposite can be done, David Bowie, after a long absence, did put out a new album. But, as far as I know, he is not on tour. He has seemed to suffer some health problems in recent years, and isn’t really out there doing anything. I thing he is the same age that I am, but not as lucky in terms of his physical health. But, then again, I could drop dead tomorrow.
RMS: No, you can’t do that!
IA: You’re right; I have to be in London to do two shows (Laughs). It can’t be allowed.
RMS: No way, I don’t want to be famous for being the last person to interview you. But, what is your motivation to continue to write? You have already made your mark in music history, your past work is incredible, and your last two solo releases are very impressive.
IA: Well, as one of your ex-presidents, John F. Kennedy said when he took office, or shortly after, he said, “We choose to do these things, like go to the moon, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” That, as a philosophy, is a very good one. There is little point in patting yourself on the back or going through life with a sense of accomplishment if you never do anything difficult. For me it is, especially while I’m getting older, doing the difficult stuff while I still can. You have to remember that Neil, Buzz and Michael, when they did get to the moon- within the ten years, like JFK promised- when they finally got there, they weren’t 20-year-old hot shots; these were guys that were rapidly approaching what we consider “middle age.” Those were people who better get strapped in that rocket now, because if you didn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot of career left as an astronaut. In thinking about it, I know of three different astronauts that have done three different missions, but know they will never fly again. When they hit 50 years of age, it’s kind of over. They still wake up every morning with that dream still alive in their heads, that they may get that telephone call that says, “We need you to get back in training.” But, that will never happen. But, they have to keep that thought alive in their head, because everything that they stand for, and everything that they have achieved in their lives have culminated from those missions into space. It’s something you do, because you can do it, and it’s going to be taken away from you at some point. My motivation is that, while I can do it, I better get on with it. That wouldn’t be an option in probably 10 or 15 years from now.
RMS: Over your career, you’ve gone through many different musicians, and justifiably so, because you’ve been doing this for over 45 years. But, were these musicians terminated because you no longer wanted to work with them, or because they were no longer able to meet your musical demands, or see your vision?
IA: I think that the way you are phrasing it, to “go through musicians,” sounds as disparaging as saying I’ve gone through a number of girlfriends or wives. It’s not a question of going through them; it often is a long and passionate relationship between people that you enjoy being around and value, all with the hope that you keep them near to you for the rest of your life, even after you are no longer working together. I think of all of the musicians that I’ve worked with as being part of a big extended family. Sadly, two or three of them are no longer alive or functioning, but those that are, I’m happy to say that I have a good relationship with. I speak to most of them on a fairly regular basis. It’s something that I do hold dear. But, it’s not a question of going through them and discarding them in some way. It’s about things playing their course.
Sometimes people become a member of the band for a limited engagement, which is mutually agreed, or even laid down by them, and I’ve been sad to see them go. That’s happened on a few occasions. Some have told me they are only here for a certain period, and then they are off to something else, and you have to respect that. They have the rest of their lives to live. Sometimes they leave the band to do other things outside of music, which is also a healthy pursuit. Some of them have been pushed, maybe in two cases, for personal reasons, but that was then and this is now. But, it is an intense relationship, and it is a working relationship.
But, there is no point in pretending that members of the band from the late 60s and early 70s could have possibility played on the record that I just made. It’s not to say that they aren’t good enough, it’s just, their style and way of doing things just wouldn’t be in their reach to do it, and they wouldn’t want to do it either, because they would have to accept a lot of very specific arrangement ideas and musical ideas that they probably wouldn’t want to play. You have to have people that are excited and able to work with someone that directs them, but gives them a degree of leeway and interpretation, but nonetheless has them stick to form. Sometimes, I have made records where I have been very much restricted by people’s way of playing. Looking back on it, I think, “Well, I’m not sure about that one, there were great lyrics, but unfortunately, the way it turned out, musically, it really wasn’t that good. “ That’s not the fault of those people, it’s just that I don’t think you can expect people who have evolved their style within rock music to necessarily be as wide open and as musically expert as to play in to other genres and other styles. You need a certain type of musician who is very well acquainted with a big, broad, brush treatment of contemporary music. They really have to understand, and know a lot for it to be a workable relationship with me now. Not only do they have to play my new material, but also everything from the beginning, as well. They need to know every nuance, every element of the songs that we pick to do live on stage. I don’t think that previous editions of Jethro Tull could have dealt with what we are doing in the shows we are doing now, for example.
RMS: So, is that the reason you have been releasing your new material as Ian Anderson, as opposite making it a Jethro Tull release?
IA: Not really. There’s really a few different parts to answer that. Jethro Tull has always been, to me, has been a name that’s a bit of an embarrassment, because it was ripped off from a historical character by our agent, back in February of 1968, who gave us the name. He was a history graduate; he knows who Jethro Tull was. I, on the other hand, did not know, I thought it was a name that he made up. I didn’t quite grasp the importance of Jethro Tull, the historical character. I always felt embarrassed and awkward about trading under the identity of someone else.
Secondly, with there being a huge repertoire of Jethro Tull music, I do like to separate it out, especially in live concerts. If it says “Jethro Tull” on the ticket, you’re just going to get, or would expect to get, the best of Jethro Tull. These days, I spell it out a little more. I’m going to play the new album, and then the best of Jethro Tull. So, people come to the concert knowing that they’re going to be subjected to some new music, which may not be of their liking, and in some cases, they may choose not to come. But, I think that it is important to tell people what they are going to get. I’ve used my own name increasingly more over the last 10 to 15 years. That’s because I’m more engaged more often in project-kind of concerts and project-kind of recordings. I think, to simply call it “Jethro Tull” would somehow suggest that it fits in with that popular conception, stylistically with, let us say, the period of “Aqualung,” and that would be wrong, to give people that impression. I think that I would rather finish my career under my own name, just because it seems a little more dignified. And, it explains it rather better, that I’m still engaged in new work, as well as performing old records.
RMS: I agree with that. However, some of your fans would love to see you get back together with long-time Jethro Tull guitarist, Martin Barre, for one last Jethro Tull album.
IA: I’m sure that they would, but that’s not something on the cart for the moment. Martin has his own series of tours and concerts. He has recorded some stuff, and I’m sure that he is working on new recordings. Over the years, I’ve always urged Martin to go out there and get on doing stuff. It’s important for him, musically, to do things outside of the music that I write. I think that, perhaps the combination of lack of confidence, and maybe a little bit of laziness, stopped him from doing that to any real extent. Sometimes, you really have to push people to the state where they are really going to go out and do things, to prove to themselves and others that they can actually do that in their own right. I think that it’s important for Martin to do that now, not just be wrapped up again learning songs that I write and go out on tours which he has no control. Because, I do sometimes choose to do things that Martin doesn’t want to do. There are countries that he doesn’t want to visit and hotels that he doesn’t want to stay in. We all know that, as you get older, you get a little more set in your ways. He’s not too keen on going to certain places. But, I have noticed, with interest, that he’s going to play in Russia. Years ago, when I had some Russian tour dates, he declined to come along because he didn’t like the food (Laughs). I think that was the reason he gave. But, I’m pleased with Martin and that he engaged in doing his own music, which is something that’s been a long time coming. I’m pleased that he is doing that for himself, and indeed for the fans that get to hear what he is doing.
RMS: In 1989, Jethro Tull won the Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock/Metal performance” over the heavy favorites, Metallica. You, and other members of Jethro Tull, did not even attend the Grammy Awards because it was not very likely that you would win. How surprised where you that you actually won?
IA: I didn’t attend the ceremony because our record company at the time didn’t think we had a chance of winning. So, they felt that it was pointless to contribute to the cost of flying us to Los Angeles. We live roughly five thousand miles away; it’s an expensive and time-consuming trip. We were also in the studio at the time working on a new album. So, we didn’t go because we weren’t invited. But, that’s okay, and we didn’t expect that we would win. I was very surprised that we were nominated in the first place, especially in the category, which was a new one that year, for “Best Hard Rock/Metal” act, and we won. I think, not because we were a heavy metal, or even a hard rock act; we won because we were a bunch of nice guys that had not won a Grammy before, and 5,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts just decided in their voting wisdom that we should be given a Grammy. Since there is not a category for “Best One Legged Flute Player,” they just had to take what was on hand. We were pleased to get a Grammy. Like I said at the time, Metallica was a hot new band, and I’m sure that they will win a Grammy next year, which indeed they did.
RMS: Would you ever consider collaborating with Metallica, and possibility making the greatest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock song of all time?
IA: Well, I have played actually with a few acts that you may not call “Heavy Metal,” but certainly “Hard Rock” or even “Thrash Metal.” Yeah, I do from time to time do that sort of thing, because it’s a challenge to me to work, especially as a flute player; to find a way to make that fragile little voice work in the context of the ultimate sort of aggressive, loud rock music. I have had some fun doing that with a number of acts, usually just playing on their record. I’ve played on quite a few hard rock/metal records, not necessarily all by famous people. The last one that I played on was a few weeks ago. It was a young, new indie band from the USA called “Jeff The Brotherhood.” They’re from somewhere around Nashville, and they are full-on-distorted-guitars-kind of act. But, it is a challenge to find a way to integrate my instrument into their music, and that’s why I did it. Not because I knew who the hell they were- because I didn’t. They sent an email saying, “I don’t suppose that you could possibility play on our record,” and I decided to say yes.
But, If Metallica got on the phone or sent me an email asking me to play on a track, I would say, “Yes, but don’t expect me to come to America to do it.” I would tell them to send me a rough mix, and tell me where you want me to play and give me some vague verbal description of what you are looking for, and let me loose. I’ll do it and send it back to you. If you like it, use it, and if you don’t, just delete the file. No charge, no expectation, no damage done if you feel that it doesn’t fit. Those are the terms that I always used when playing with other people. I never accepted a fee or a royalty from anyone in which I played on their record. It’s something that I only do because I want to do it, because it is a challenge and I’m pleased and honored to be asked by musicians, whether they are famous or not. But, I can also say “No,” too. I’m not prostituting myself. I’m not a musical hooker doing it for the cash. I don’t give flute blowjobs.
For more on Ian Anderson, visit www.jethrotull.com