Interview with Peter Gabriel conducted by Ingeborg Schober in May 1986. Translated by Guido Truffer with additional textual help by Alan Hewitt.
ME/Sounds: You spent four years on this album - four years since the last one appeared. Why did it take so long?
PG: Well, if you include the live album it was only three years. After that I did some concerts and then travelled around privately visiting countries among others Brazil. Then I began to write some new songs and the soundtrack for Birdy came along and I needed several months to do that. And from February 1985 to February 1986 I worked on So.
ME/Sounds: Do you still live in England?
PG: Yes, in Bath.
ME/Sounds: Do you still prefer the countryside?
PG: I spend a lot of my time in big cities - and if I don’t have to work there as well, it helps. I also have two children and it’s a better place for them.
ME/Sounds: Are there plans for a new tour?
PG: Yes, either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I have to decide whether to do a more musical show with some visual enhancement or a pronounced visual show with projections and lantern slides. I enjoyed this a lot with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
ME/Sounds: Does it mean more of a show on stage?
PG: In one way, yes. I’m ten years older now and perhaps I see things differently.
ME/Sounds: How was the work with Alan Parker on Birdy? Was it a co-operative partnership?
PG: Yes, he came into the studio and looked at the things I had done. This was an interesting experience for me because it is normally me who controls things. And suddenly there was I working for someone else. He added a third of his ideas to the music already written and another third I composed new bits which were used in places and for the last third, I composed purely for use in the film.
ME/Sounds: You have been in the music business for a long time now but this is your first soundtrack. Were you afraid of not being able to manage the task?
PG: Yes, it was easy to make mistakes and it’s a profession that you have to learn. But I was lucky and got clear about it.
ME/Sounds: Your time with Genesis ended after The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, that album and tour were the most successful for the band until recently. Why did you leave then? Were you afraid of the success or did you think it was the right time to make a break?
PG: There were many reasons, on the one hand, the success led to endless tour/album/tour cycles which I didn’t find very interesting. Also I had some personal problems. My first child was born at this time and it was touch and go about her making it, and the band reacted a little bit uncomprehendingly all of these problems which led to differences. And there were some other projects apart from the band which interested me. William Friedkin wanted me to get involved in a film script…
ME/Sounds: And now, with So, it seems that you’ve got a formula for success right. Do you think you can handle this kind of success?
PG: The situation is a little bit different now. I still want to do the music that I want to do but I felt it was time to write some solid songs again after my experimental phase, to make an album I enjoy and I don’t care if it takes two years or two months.
ME/Sounds: If somebody hears a Peter Gabriel song or reads the lyrics then he should have some idea about what was in your head when you wrote it. But with some of the earlier albums, there were many riddles within the lyrics.
PG: Sometimes, as in Biko, I had to tell something directly and unmistakably. But I also enjoy lyrics that convey a mental image without being so forthright.
ME/Sounds: You have always been interested in ecology and politics, the song Red Rain indeed results from the Chernobyl catastrophe but is it connected with this theme?
PG: Although that would be a practical answer, no. I more likely thought of it as a private expression of feelings - about a time when people can’t hide the dirt or store the shit. Red Rain isn’t a political song but a personal one about people who can’t express their pains and work off their aggression. But the song has naturally got some connection with the disaster.
ME/Sounds: Another subject. You have recently worked with two women singers who are completely different; Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, what were your experiences?
PG: That’s true - they are both different, incredibly so. I shared in a video project with Laurie Anderson which was never completed. I wanted to convince her that she should perform in more than just a comical manner. But then a TV project intervened and we decided to save time by working together and the result was Excellent Birds (originally called This Is The Picture). I mostly like her ideas and her power of imagination.
Kate came to help me with Don’t Give Up. I already had recorded the song which deals with the story of a man who nobody listens to because he cannot bear himself. And suddenly I had the idea that the whole thing would be stronger if he could suddenly assume the voice of a woman in some parts of the song.
ME/Sounds: For a long time there was only the rock star who released albums and videos without touring, without interviews etc. Would you have done so if you could start all over again?
PG: I would miss the concerts because you can learn a lot. People quickly make it clear that you have lost their attention. We communicate by feelings and by musical and textural ideas. Concerts are a good training ground for a communicator - and they are exciting.
ME/Sounds: If you looked back over your experiences as a rock star, would you do anything differently?
PG: No. I don’t have sleepless nights because of that. OK, if I do look back I may find some things embarrassing but that’s normal. It’s a part of growing up - you learn and your tastes change.
Thanks to Guido for all the work on the translation of this article. Part Two will follow in a later issue.