Rock Compact Disc magazine, Issue 3, September 1992

Interview from Rock Compact Disc magazine, Issue 3, September 1992.

Roger Waters

In an age which is starting to see a generation of Rock stars going to seed in the comforting cocoon of a Georgio Armani suit, there's something almost unnerving about Roger Waters. Holding court for the day at London's Conrad Hotel, the estranged Pink

Floyd bass guitarist, vocalist, songwriter - and, if some sources are to be believed, musical despot does not look like a man approaching his 49th birthday. Waters has the look of a tanned, affluent executive with hair slightly longer than might be acceptable on the Stock Exchange floor. As he politely offers me a beer from the well stocked drinks cabinet, it's difficult to believe that this is the same man that co-wrote Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, a hash-stained copy of which graced every student bedsit throughout the 1970s. Whatever legal wrangles and bitter power struggles have occupied his time since leaving Pink Floyd, Roger Waters is no casualty. The original shoe-gazing band, Pink Floyd were pioneers of the hi fi era and one of the first band to experiment with the mammoth sound systems and stage shows which have since become a staple part of rock performances. As the Seventies drew to a close Floyd enjoyed their finest hour with The Wall, the deeply personal creation of the band's principal songwriter Roger Waters. With many of their peers coming under the knife in the wake of the Punk explosion, The Wall found Waters aligning himself with the new breed; a disgruntled thirty-something ranting and raving and scoring a number one single in the process with the wonderfully doomy Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two).

In 1983 Waters recorded his last Pink Floyd album, The Final Cut. A year later he released his first solo album, The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking, following it up in 1987 with Radio K.A.O.S. - all album 'dedicated to all those who find themselves at the violent end of monetarism. Having officially resigned from the band in 1989 Waters set about staging his own production of The Wall in Berlin with an all-star cast that included the likes of Joni Mitchell, Tim Curry, Jerry Hall and Sinead O'Connor. It was oneof the most ambitious musical productions ever, later immortalised on album and video. Meanwhile a bitter legal war raged between Waters and Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason when the two admitted their intentions to continue as Pink Floyd without him. Waters subsequently issued several law suits to prevent them using the name and even the band's distinctive flying pig mascot. While Floyd had left the Seventies on a musical peak, the end of the 1980s found them at each other's throats.

Roger Waters' reason for breaking silence is the release of his third solo album Amused To Death through Columbia records. Alongside several members of the Bleeding Heart Band (from 1987's Radio K.A.O.S. tour) the album includes cameo performances from Don Henley, Rita Coolidge and Jeff Beck, as well as being the first collaboration between Waters and Patrick Leonard, the former Madonna producer who played keyboards on the post-Waters Floyd album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Now enjoying a taste of life on the other side of the Floyd fence, Leonard's involvement with what Waters has scathingly called the 'fake Floyd' is apparently of little consequence.

'I liked the cut of his jib,' quips Waters, flashing the first of several disconcerting smiles. 'Whatever Pat had done before didn't interest me. He had sat in a Chicago theatre aged 14 watching Pink Floyd play Dark Side Of The Moon when it was still called Eclipse. He knew all my work and I was impressed.'

Like all of Waters' work since Dark Side Of The Moon, Amused.. has a central theme running throughout. This time the plot concerns the power of television (the 'alien prophet') characterized by a monkey flicking through TV channels trying to find something of interest. Ironically, while most of the record was written and conceived before the Gulf war, Waters' recurrent obsession with human conflict is evident in the lyrics to songs like Perfect Sense, The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range and Watching TV, a cutting indictment of the Tiananmen Square massacre which includes a vocal duet with former Eagle Don Henley. In the light of recent events the album's message seems even more poignant.

'The Gulf war has given the album a topical edge,' agrees Waters. 'It's proved to be quite prophetic in the light of what's happened. My main inspiration behind the song Perfect Sense came from thinking about the days of the Roman empire, when they would flood the coliseum and have fights between rival galleys. I've always been intrigued by this notion of war as an entertainment to mollify the folks back home and the Gulf conflict fuelled that idea.'Waters believes television is 'one of the most influentialfactors in the modern world. Amused To Death deals with the argument of whether TV is good or bad. And I set out to show that it can be both. A great inspiration to me was a television documentary in which World War One veterans talked about their experiences. It was from this programme that I sampled dialogue for the album's first track The Ballad Of Bill Hubbard and then again for the last song, Amused To Death.'

Alfred Razzell (ex-Royal Fusiliers) is heard talking about his failed attempt to save a fellow soldier's life during the Battle of the Somme. And the album is in fact dedicated to the soldier, Private William Hubbard.

'There was always a question mark in the back of my mindas to how relevant it was to include his dialogue,' offers Waters. 'I found it very moving but I didn't know whether anybody else would. So far the reaction from those people who have heard the record has been favourable. They're making the connection. That original programme confronted the horrors of war and told the real story. It was an example of television taking its responsibilities seriously.'

Waters expressed his serious doubts about the sinister misuse of satellite communications on the Radio K.A.O.S. album and admits that it is still an obsession of his. 'I watched with horror and amazement CNN's coverage of the Gulf conflict (parodied during Perfect Sense Part II) and I've viewed with mounting disgust the way in which they have built his empire on that, their finest hour. Worse still, we, the public seem to be buying this notion that a global communications network is a good thing.'

Like some of Waters' previous work, notably Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond from Wish You Were Here, the album's key composition What God Wants is split into three parts across the album. The first part is strident hard rock enlivened by Jeff Beck's swooping guitar - 'a charming man, a real sweetheart' - and the vocal backbone of a full Welsh choir. It also pulls few lyrical punches with lines like 'God wants peace, God wants war, God wants famine, God wants chain stores...'

'I'm very upset by religious dogma,' reveals Waters. 'I get angry, gobsmacked in fact when I hear George Bush saying that God was on their side during the Gulf war. It's amazing that in 1992, one of the most powerful men in the world can reduce political rhetoric to that level. But that's what he has to do, to get votes and maintain power and then use that power to help the American automobile industry.

'I've spent the last six months in the US and the entire nation is obsessed by the trade war with Japan, brought about because there are more Toyotas on the streets than AMC cars. They want to nuke these people back to the Stone Age. Yet they're oblivious to the fact that America encouraged competition and free trade. They created the beast that's now nipping at their ankles. They've developed an us and them mentality which is being fuelled by the TV networks.'

Ironically, while Waters has targeted the crassness of cable television 'it's a real de-humanizing, deadening experience,' the need to get his music across to a wider audience has led to him agreeing to submit a video clip from the new album to MTV. 'Part of me wishes I was brave enough to say no,' he laughs. 'I watched that channel when I was in Madrid a couple of days ago. I thought it was horrible. There was this prat, all mouth and trousers, delivering nasty, cheap, puerile banter about the video countdown... What is this video countdown? Is it based on real sales figures?' Waters frowns disgustedly. 'I recently found out how Billboard magazine compile their charts. They've shifted the emphasis away from proper record stores to super markets. That's why Garth Brooks is Number One in the US. This is what people buy when they're passing through the checkout with their weekly groceries.

'I have an obvious interest in this because of the Floyd back catalogue. Both Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall should be in the Billboard Top 200. They're not because they've created a rule which says that if a record drops out of the 200 it's never allowed to go back in again. Yet The Wall still does anything up to 4 million each year. Instead they've created a catalogue chart in which to place all these old albums, leaving the main chart free for all the artists record companies will want to book advertising space for. It just offers further evidence of the dishonesty that's rife in this business.

Enthusiasts of the Floyd back catalogue will find the new Waters album spiced with musical and lyrical references to the past, including the battle of wills that has raged since Waters' departure from the band. 'I don't want to go into all that,' he insists. Yet one obvious dig at his former colleagues deserves a mention and occurs during Too Much Rope with the line 'Each man has his price Bob, and yours was pretty low...' A reference to former Floyd producer Bob Ezrin who, having agreed to work with Waters on Radio K.A.O.S. ended up producingA Momentary Lapse Of Reason instead?

Waters starts grinning before crooning the line in the fashion of Bob Dylan. 'When we recorded the album I would sometimes rehearse vocal takes by impersonating Bob Dylan. That line originally read "Each man has his price my friends...'' so make of that what you will. As a joke I sung Bob instead and Pat insisted that we left it in. So although it was unintentional I'm happy that it's there for Bob Ezrin. I hope he appreciates it.'

Waters remains philosophical about the continued existence of Pink Floyd. Even if beneath the calm exterior there's the distinct feeling that he remains appalled by their decision to carry on using the name after his departure. 'Dave's done what he's done and that's his problem,' he states flatly, averting his gaze and staring blankly at the table in front. 'He has to live with it. It would have been just as wrong if I had carried on using the name. Pink Floyd was four people and as those four people are no longer working together, in my mind that band doesn't exist any more.' Have the rows and disagreements tarnished your opinion of the music?

'Not at all,' replies Waters. 'There's some of it I'm very keen on. Atom Heart Mother is a really awful and embarrassing record. But most of the albums were good in one way or another. I honestly believe we were very progressive for the time.

'I think Floyd hit two real peaks in terms of creativity. Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall were the most complete albums we ever made. Wish You Were Here came close, without being a complete classic.' I mention the fact that readers of the Amazing Pudding Floyd fanzine voted Wish You Were Here best Floyd album in their 1989 poll. Waters looks surprised before continuing: 'I can see why to some degree, but for me that record and Animals signalled the end of the band as it had been before.'

Floyd's 1983 death rattle, The Final Cut was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. With the rest of the band relegated to backing musicians it was virtually a Waters solo effort.

On revealing that I always found it painfully depressing Waters bursts out laughing. 'That was a reflection of the time and the problems we were going through. A lot of that aggravation came through in the vocal performance, which looking back really was quite tortured. As a body of work I'm quite proud of them all. Although you can't expect everything to be a fucking masterpiece.

'I think The Wall is stupefyingly good,' he continues, warming to the subject. 'Christ! What a brilliant idea that was. It holds together so well. I played it the other week and The Trial scene still grabs me. And of course Dave (Gilmour)'s musical influence on that was considerable. Despite what has happened between us since then, I still have great respect for him as a guitarist.' Considering the success of The Wall Live In Berlin project would you ever consider performing it again?

'I'd love to do it in the year 2000,' murmurs Waters. 'We did it in 1980, then again in 1990. I think it works best in 10 year cycles. I've already got my eye on the Grand Canyon as a possible venue, or somewhere equally dramatic. It would have to be different from Berlin show and there wouldn't be an all-star cast. In order to sell the idea to TV I had to get people to commit themselves and it very nearly killed me. I've vowed never to get involved in anything where I have to rely totally on other artists. The likes of Joni Mitchell and Bryan Adams were prepared to say yes from the start but there were so many others who were just waiting to see who else was involved before they made up their minds. At this point in time I'm considering touring with Amused To Death but only if it's a success.'

What would qualify it as a success?

He pauses. 'If it sold between three to four million worldwide,' he replies. finally. 'I'd have to feel sure in my own mind that there was enough interest. I don't know whether we'd just perform the album or include material from the other records. Last week Andy Fairweather Low (guitarist in the Bleeding Heart Band and I played through some of the songs from the The Pros And Cons... album and I was struck by how good they sounded. Looking back that record dragged a little but individually some of the material was excellent.'

'Radio K.A.O.S. I'm less sure about. Between Ian Ritchie and myself we really fucked that record up. We tried to hard to make it sound modern. Also the part where Billy (the album's central character) pretends that he's just started the third world war I now find faintly embarrassing, and I dislike the backing vocals on The Tide Is Turning...' He hesitates. 'Then again if we performed live there would always be a demand some of the old Floyd stuff. Perhaps we'd relent and play some encores,' he adds, grinning. 'In fact you've really got my mind ticking over now...' It comes as little surprise to find that Waters now has a desire to break into print: 'Most of the songs I've written have always followed the lyrics. I've often tailored the music to fit the words, especially something like Money or Mother from The Wall. But until recently I would never have considered writing prose. I always used to look at books and wonder how anybody could come up with so many words. But my divorce (from Carolyne Waters) and then falling in love with somebody else has released in me an ability to write in other ways apart from songs. I've now written four or five short stories based on events in my life, going back as far as 1960 when I spent some time hitchhiking in the Lebanon. I can't really say much more about them at the moment. But I think they're very good.' With Waters considering the material for publication would the next step be an autobiography? An opportunity to put across his side of events?

'Oh God, no,' he shakes his head. 'It would be too much hard work. I couldn't write an autobiography without going through that whole thing with band...' he waves his hand, dismissively. 'Frankly I don't give a shit about all that any more.' He cracks another smile. 'Well, yes I do give a shit actually. I probably always will but I can't face going through it all again.' If The Wall was Roger Waters ranting against the injustices in the world and seeing no possible solution then Amused To Death finds him addressing the same problems while sounding optimistic for the future. Waters is adamant that Amused... does not end on a pessimistic note: 'If it does then I've failed to make record I set out to. I feel very strongly that there's something in this record that people can relate to. The feeling that what we do does matter. We can make a difference. You can't give up. You have to keep bashing away or else you're finished as a human being.'