Moondogs Magazine interview with Peter Gabriel transcribed by Peter Morton.
INT: Tell me, what were your first musical influences?
PG: I was born the son of an inventor, an electrical engineer. My mother was always involved in music and so were my mother’s sisters. On my father’s side, one sister was an opera singer so, as a kid I listened to a lot of classical music. Every Christmas there were family gatherings - musical performances. I think that was my first influence.
INT: Was music an obvious choice for you?
PG: No, not really. I didn’t show that much enthusiasm to begin with, I remember a tiny tape recorder around the age of ten or eleven. The first pop song I recorded was Red River Rocks by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, I think this had a very rough sound which excited me when I played it in my bedroom.
INT: When did it occur to you that you wanted to be in a musical group?
PG: Well, we were very lucky with Genesis at school. We were allowed to make a record in our holidays. Our first record was with Decca and was a bit like a schoolboy’s dream. We went into Carnaby Street to buy clothes to go on Top Of The Pops. The record, of course, wasn’t a hit. We were connected to Jonathan King at the time and he proposed that we call the band “Gabriel’s Angels”. He was older than us and had had single success. We were very impressed because we were so very young at the time.
INT: What was the reason for you leaving Genesis?
PG: I think there were a variety of reasons. I though we had reached a level of success, and we had achieved everything I had wanted. Then there was the music and it was harder to write co-operatively. We were all gaining in confidence, we were wanting to expand and I didn’t want to become part of the Rock ’n’ Roll circus. Then there were personal problems; my first daughter was born during the recording of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and at first they didn’t think she was going to make it.
The others were sympathetic but they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t spend more time with them. I think I was just a little sick of the music business so I took two years off, not doing any work and gradually getting the bug again and began first of all, to write songs as a writer, not a performer. Then I realised that to get the song recorded properly I was going to have to get back into a recording studio.
INT: On one of your albums you have Robert Fripp as a producer?
PG: I always worked with someone else as a producer. On the first album it was Bob Ezrin and he was more from a school and he was listening to a lot of ideas but it seemed that his hands were on the board, not the artist. On the second LP I wanted to participate more and Robert was more of a musician, but as a producer I don’t think he was such a good idea. I think that particular with synthesiser and sound work I try to focus on detail. That requires a lot of patience and I try to combine getting the spirit of a performance as fast as possible and then really working on the detail of the sound and the synthesiser work. I think that was hard for Robert because he was used to getting things done in two weeks. I like to take two years!
INT: Why release your third album written and sung in German?
PG: I still think that English has an almost Imperial position in languages and although its my native language, I think it is much healthier for world music if there were many language recordings and also we wrote to the distribution companies asking if they would like a recording in their language. Most people said no.
INT: Was it hard for you?
PG: I did a little German at school. The second time I tried it, it was a lot better and I had the help of a translator.
INT: why write the song about Stephen Biko?
PG: There were quite a few things. One thing was the shock value in the story because when he was imprisoned the publicity, especially in the Left Wing press in England and in other places, I though this would protect him, so I was shocked when I heard that he had been killed. Also, the main sources for our music is black Africa, so there is a direct link and for us to ignore that is ignoring directly our own responsibilities.
INT: Tell me about the soundtrack for the film Birdy…
PG: There was one freedom - in that I wasn’t writing with lyrics and this was a new experience although I had experimented before. Alan Parker, the director, had quite a few ideas of the sort of music he wanted. For different scenes he already had some suggestions of pieces I had already done. I think in fact that half the material was old stuff and the rest new material.
INT: I would like to know is there a time limit, or limitation on how far you can go on a collaboration? Can you go beyond your own albums?
PG: I think in some ways you go beyond your own albums. You become the servant of the film and its director.
INT: Tell me about Sledgehammer.
PG: OK, well, Sledgehammer that’s a different format to what I am envisaging, it’s a three minute video but I worked with a friend of mine before and I liked some of his more recent things so I wanted a new partner to pull together a video and was sent a whole pile of videos and while watching them I found it a very depressing evening. I didn’t like most of them but there was this one little quirky little tape which had s student film on it called “Homebody” which I thought was fantastic. I had seen some great animators in Bristol called Aardman Animators so we met them and had two big meetings and put together all sorts of crazy ideas. I think we did about a hundred hours of shooting in a week. A lot of the credit should go to Steven Johnson and to all the animators.
INT: Would you like to push away from this field?
PG: Yes, I have always been interested in visual images and I think it is still very much of a formula, the Rock video, and it doesn’t have to be. So, I would like to see it broken up, particularly in this long term video where people from different fields will be involved. I think we are just beginning that era and I hope the cable and satellite possibilities will enable us in this experimental field to get air play and a market.
INT: What will there be first; the movie that needs a soundtrack, or the movie that needs the visualisations?
PG: Exactly! At the moment it is normally the movie, with the music as its servant, or the music is the boss and the video is the servant. What I am interested in is the collaboration where you bring in visual people, whether they be film makers or whatever, and put them with the different musicians.
Unfortunately, this interesting interview was overlong for one issue, so it
has been split and part two will follow in a future edition in which we shall
hear more about Peter’s ideas in the video field as well as his involvement
in a futuristic theme park (fascinating stuff, I promise…. ED). Thanks
to Peter Morton for transcribing it for us.