Q&A

Peter Gabriel: “All mu­sic is about dab­bling to some de­gree…”

UNCUT - - Archive - In­TeR­vIeW: JOhn LeWIs (FROm 2011)

WITH Birdy, there were some tracks you re­worked from early solo al­bums. Were they the start­ing point? Well, I’ve al­ways been keen on re­cy­cling, ha ha. And of course it saves time. I mean, that was ini­tially the prob­lem for me, with that project: Alan Parker wanted re­sults faster than I thought I could gen­er­ate them. But there was a lot of com­pletely new ma­te­rial de­vel­oped for that sound­track, and the way in which we worked changed be­cause of the de­mands of the score.

How did you meet Daniel Lanois? David Rhodes, my long-term col­lab­o­ra­tor, in­tro­duced me to Dan. I’d loved his work with Brian Eno, par­tic­u­larly the stuff Eno recorded with trum­peter Jon Has­sell, who also ap­pears on Birdy. You can hear echoes of that Eno/Has­sell part­ner­ship on Birdy tracks like “Sketch­pad With Trum­pet And Voice”. I don’t be­lieve that Dan had ac­tu­ally worked with U2 at this stage – I think that came af­ter Birdy and be­fore So. Dan was a great source of ideas and in­spi­ra­tion, some of which he ac­quired from Brian. He had a back­ground in slow­ing things down and work­ing with am­bi­ence, which was an ed­u­ca­tion to me.

When did you start work­ing on The Last Temp­ta­tion Of Christ? Martin Scors­ese had ac­tu­ally ap­proached me not long af­ter I’d fin­ished Birdy, which I think is when he wanted to start mak­ing it. He had all the film set up, with ac­tors in place – I think they were plan­ning to start shoot­ing in Is­rael – and then all the Chris­tian groups turned up and got Para­mount to pull the film. So it was only when he got fund­ing that I started work on it in earnest.

Did you watch it be­ing filmed? I spent a bit of time in Morocco while they were film­ing. There was a won­der­ful mo­ment watch­ing the rushes and see­ing lo­cal peo­ple re­spond to Nus­rat and Yous­sou’s vo­cals. Spine-tin­gling! Be­cause of the bud­get cuts, in­stead of the 19,000 ex­tras that Ber­tolucci could af­ford for The Last Em­peror, Marty had, you know, 12 guys dressed as Ro­man sol­diers. It was like a 1930s com­edy – they had to run around, change cos­tumes and then ap­pear in an­other po­si­tion! But it was in­cred­i­ble to see Marty cre­ate some­thing this epic out of noth­ing. And, for me, there were some re­ally pow­er­ful, emo­tional mo­ments. Marty took his religion se­ri­ously – he was even go­ing to be a priest at one point. He was de­ter­mined to por­tray Christ’s strug­gle be­tween hu­man­ity and di­vin­ity, the pro­fane and the sa­cred. This wasn’t a sani­tised Christ. Marty wanted ref­er­ences to the Mid­dle East, but he wanted some hy­brid be­tween folk, rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic, which made it a pi­o­neer­ing project. I learned how to com­pose for sound and at­mos­phere.

How did you col­lab­o­rate with Scors­ese? As soon as we got some of the early record­ings in the can, I de­cided that I wanted to be where Scors­ese was, so I rented a room in the Brill Build­ing where he was edit­ing. It meant we could grab each other when we needed to and get some­thing spe­cial through this in­ter­ac­tion. We also had Michael Pow­ell, of Pow­ell & Press­burger fame, around, be­cause his wife Thelma was Marty’s long-term ed­i­tor. He was a lovely pres­ence.

Was there ever a con­cern about dab­bling with mu­sic that some might con­sider sa­cred? Well, all mu­sic is about dab­bling to some de­gree, and some of that ends up as a se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion. As long as there is some sym­pa­thy with the peo­ple and the mu­sic in­volved, I don’t have a prob­lem with that at all. It’s usu­ally the rhythms and the voices that get you hooked, ev­ery­thing else comes from that.

How did you get in­volved in Rab­bit-Proof Fence? It was an in­die film that Phillip Noyce was work­ing on and I thought the story was re­ally strong. It was a blank can­vas, with­out huge amounts of di­a­logue, which meant that there was a lot of room for at­mo­spheric mu­sic, so it was at­trac­tive to me in many ways.

Your mu­sic for Rab­bit-Proof Fence uses a lot of am­bi­ent sound, just as En­nio Mor­ri­cone’s sound­track for Once Upon A Time In The West uses wind, drip­ping taps, creak­ing doors, and so on… Yes, that was very much the ini­tial idea. When I first met up with Phillip, I sug­gested that we use the nat­u­ral sounds that he would have recorded while shoot­ing the film. So the sound­track would be­come the sonic jour­ney made by the pro­tag­o­nists along this fence with­out any man-made noises to dis­tract them. The nat­u­ral world was gen­er­at­ing their sound­track.

“Martin Scors­ese took his religion se­ri­ously. He was even go­ing to be a priest at one point” PETER GABRIEL

Peter Gabriel in the early ’90s: “I’ve al­ways been keen on re­cy­cling, ha ha”

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