"The only way is... up!" - The Ovo Press conference given by Peter Gabriel at Galleria Carla Sozanni, Milan, June 14, 2000. Transcribed for TWR by Roger Salem.
INT: What was the underlying motivation behind the Millennium Dome "OVO" project?
PG: Hi everybody. First I love playing around with video things at the same time as the music. I have always been a big fan of film and I think when film gets it right - with music and image - it is fantastic, so I think there are many ways now with interactivity to play. It means being like a little child where you can make things happen when you are building little castles and buildings and with this show here; someone gave us this enormous playpen; like a big sand pit. So it was very hard to resist when we had this enormous "building" and someone else was paying us to have fun!
INT: "OVO" was not the record that people were expecting, as they were waiting for the follow-up to "Us", which is "Up". Other than asking you when "Up" will be released; what is behind the long wait between the two records? Do you feel that you run the risk of losing some kind of spontaneity in your quest for perfectionism and don't you suffer in the process from this?
PG: Well, I am fifty this year and old men take a little longer to get "up". But I love to work slowly because any time I see a new and interesting diversion I follow it. Also I like to do other projects a little because I think if all our life is tour and a record; a tour and a record; then all you can write about is a tour and a record. So, I have a lot of material now which I tried to finish when I stopped being a travelling salesman.
INT: Going back to technology; new technologies around the Internet. What do you think about the issue of MP3 and the Napster controversy?
PG: Well, on the principle of that "if you can't beat them, join them" we have already started a distribution set up for the Internet for music. It is called OD2. But we think that it is a bigger issue than just music because if you accept that all music is for free, then the same must apply for films, for books and for software and I think at that point there will be too much economic interest that will try and defend copyright.
For the richer artists like myself it becomes fantastic, thank you very much, it is free advertising. But for the smaller artist, the young artist, or some emerging groups it is more than 60% of their income, records. And for many, If they lose that income they lose a chance to become professional musicians. So we hope with OD2 we can protect the rights of artists and other song writers.
INT: What does the Millennium Dome have in common with the theme park project you are working on?
PG: Well, it is a little different because the dream of the theme park was always to trust the artist and the scientist to realise their dreams and although we had a great opportunity with our show, "OVO"; I think in a lot of the areas of the Dome, artists were not given enough freedom, but at the same time it was a good experience and it gave them another opportunity to learn a little about working multi-media with something which may eventually be useful for an experience park.
INT: What are your overall impressions on the turnout at the Dome shows in general, and were you satisfied with the financial return on the project? In hindsight would you use the money given to produce the shows differently or more effectively?
PG: I am pretty happy with the show, with the cast, the musicians and the other people who worked very hard on that. And I think we have perhaps 80% of our ideas that were realised. As an alternative to the Dome there was a good building project that Norman Foster had - the Millennium Tower. I would have made that an alternative health centre, but not just alternative anything to do with health. So you change the idea because there is a culture of curative rather than preventative medicine and I think that in order to start a new millennium you could maybe just shift over to preventative medicine. So it would have made a hospital a very different place which would include a health club; a kids and grown ups play area; psycho therapy; preventative medicine. I mean, just change the culture about medicine, I think that would be useful. It would include all the best traditional and alternative medicine. This could have been an inspiration for the rest of the sanitary system but no one wanted that!
INT: The Real World label carries Italian groups such as Spaccanapoli and there seems to be a project from a Palermo group in the pipeline...?
PG: Spaccanapoli? Yes, but the other I'm not sure about... that's news to me! Spaccanapoli we got quite excited about. The singer too, I love her voice and I think they are an unusual group. Yeah, a lot of life and fire coming from Alpha Sud. There is currently a project with Nucleati in Sicily.
INT: How is WOMAD doing financially and artistically at the moment, and when will you next tour as Peter Gabriel?
PG: Fortunately they are both doing much better. WOMAD which was started in 1980, for its twentieth anniversary made a profit for the first time so that was very good for us. A small profit but enough, and Real World Records is doing well. We get a lot of great support from Virgin too, so that is healthy. WOMAD especially was a little shaky for a few years but they now seem very solid.
I ought to finish the next record at the end of this year or beginning of next year so hopefully I will be doing some touring then.
INT: Coming back to The Dome; with your involvement in this project, do you not think that you have become involuntarily the ambassador for Tony Blair's catastrophic politics in matters of the National Health Service while at the same time you were dreaming of a Utopian health system? What are your thoughts on that?
PG: Yeah, well... look... erm... I think that the Dome has become much more of a political football than it was at the beginning. It was a project from the Conservative Party initially. But now it has definitely become a hot political football, and I think yeah; I was not satisfied with everything the Labour Party has done, but I still have hope that they are pumping a lot more money into the Health Service and into education. But it has not been as radical as many people were hoping. I still think it was a much better option than the alternatives.
INT: Along time has passed since the last time you were on tour. Is there anything you got tired of, or bored with playing live?
PG: No, I still love to play live and enjoy working with a band. It is a lot of fun but I think that there are many other things too that interest me, so I want to do it sometimes but not all the time. The problem with touring is that it is almost impossible to do anything else at the same time. Whereas you can, when you record, you can still follow some other interests.
INT: How do you see the fast moving pace at which technology is moving over the past ten years? For example, the first CD-ROMs of music, artists like yourself made became obsolete very fast. How are you going to surprise us next with anew breakthrough in technology. Is there still anything out there to work with?
PG: Yes, with the first CD-R; the problem with obsolescence, I think you can still play the disc but the speed at which the technology changes makes it very difficult to anticipate the power of the memory capacity and the speed of the various computers in the home. We have a very bright guy called Josh Portway working with Real World and he has developed some new technology too which is called "The Noodle Player" and we are looking at including it on the next disc but it is again a little bit more interactivity with the music. It takes little sections of the music and allows you to manipulate it in different ways. We did something like that on "Eve" on the second disc, but this I think is much more advanced. We made it on DVD but also on a regular CD. With this CD now you can put it into the computer and see the children's story. There is not much interactivity but there is a bit of video... it's like a children's book.
One of the things that is great for me is when I do different arrangements. If I take a thing in three different directions, normally people only hear one direction but with all the interactive music possibilities, you can make us of all the different experiments.
INT: Tony Levin who will be on your next album, as usual, has recently stated that at least eighty tracks are ready for the album and if this is the case, what is missing to complete the album and get it released?
PG: Yeah, some of them are unfinished and not everything is good! And I normally like to follow up new ideas but I am up till now not finished with them. Yes, starting is always easy and fun but finishing is harder!
INT: What is the message behind the story of "OVO"?
PG: I think there are a few ideas but one of them is that each ideology, each system is like a season and has a spring, a summer, autumn and winter. And for some people who are geared to be born, some other thing has to die. And so, in a way we are trying to illustrate three different ideas through three generations of one family, which in some ways represent agricultural, economic, industrial and post-industrial societies.
INT: Congratulations on the album. What influenced you to write the intimate song "Father, Son" which is reported to refer to an experience you have had recently while vacationing with your father?
PG: Yeah, well originally this was a song from "Up" and Mark Fischer with whom I was working with on the show, heard it and asked me to have it included because we have an important father/son relationship. My dad is eighty eight now, and I think it was two years ago that I realised he was getting old and that I didnít know him as well as I wanted. So, we went for a week in a hotel. It was in the English countryside, in the Midlands and I brought a Yoga teacher because it is now forty years that he has done Yoga, and I thought it would be a good way for us to get together.
He taught me a type of Yoga which uses two people. You use the power of all the weight of pulling somebody else's body. So there is a lot of physical contact which is all very un-English!
At one point I did a really big stretch and I just lost it and I burst into tears and we hugged each other for the first time like father and son like we hadn't done for many years. In fact, he called me yesterday to say that he was very touched by the song and I thought, as he has heard it now, I played it to him on the piano about a year ago, but I think he hadn't heard any of the words properly! (laughter).
INT: How did you choose the singers who appeared on the album?
PG: We thought a bit about the characters in the story, and then I asked some of my favourite singers to join, like Elizabeth Fraser, Paul Buchanan, Ritchie Havens, Larla O'Lionaird, Alison Godfrey... they are some of my favourite voices.
INT: Is it true that Ray Charles was going to be on the album, and where did the Celtic influences come from?
PG: Yeah, I did approach Ray Charles for the father's part but I don't think he read the fax that was a very bad joke! I think he has a fantastic voice but anyway I was very happy as Ritchie Havens has a very good voice too, a voice which has been lived in.
INT: Is there any relationship between one of your older projects of the early Eighties, Mozo, the Mercurial Messenger, and OVO. This being because the two sound quite similar?
PG: Yea, I guess there may have been some similarities but it was a different sort of story. I still love short titles because they become a piece of graphic and my favourite always was OMO which is the name of a detergent but I think they have now stopped making it so I may try and pull something out of it.
INT: What part do you have in the organisation of summer festivals such as WOMAD? How do the WOMAD festivals compare to other similar festivals?
PG: Yeah, Thomas Bruman is the artistic director of WOMAD and he has a great team of people and they pretty much run independently. We still meet and talk long term ideas and strategy but I have very little to do with the selection of artists now. It was only really for the first festival that I got very involved in the day to day running of it and that took about eighteen months.
You ask about the experience of going to WOMAD; it varies a lot from which country you see it in but I think when it works best you get an atmosphere in which people can learn about and get exposed to all sorts of different cultures, ideas and music from obviously different places around the world but also for the younger generation, it is also quite often a place to discover some dance in some of the festivals.
INT: Some of the songs from OVO can be downloaded on Napster. What is your view on technology in that respect?
PG: I still think that technology brings more than it takes away but I would be quite happy to see Napster close down like a lot of other musicians (laughs). You will, in no way, be able to stop piracy altogether and I think a lot of people will use that as a service to check out music they are interested in and then you hope that some of them will buy some of it. When you go past the fruit stall you can either sneak an apple into your pocket or you can pay for it. It is the same decision.