Interview: Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
Published on March 20th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Jethro Tull legend Ian Anderson is set to release a sequel to his band’s classic 1972 LP Thick as a Brick on 2nd April, before embarking on a mammoth world tour (click here for dates), the shows of which shall be comprised of complete airings of both albums. Rocksucker heartily approved of Thick as a Brick 2 in our recent review, so we were delighted to get the chance to fire some questions to Ian himself…
Thick as a Brick 2 album trailer
Congratulations on a splendid album. How much do we owe its existence to the insistence of Mike Andrews and Royston Eldridge? Did they approach you outright about doing a follow-up to Thick as a Brick, or was it an idea that emerged from a discussion?
Well, it was initially Roy and Mike of old Chrysalis Records days, about ten years ago and then, in 2010, Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant prog-rock fame who tried to get me interested in a sequel. But it was only when I found a plausible direction and concept that I felt enthused to take the project on.
You mentioned that you broke with your usual process for this record by writing the lyrics first. Was that a conscious decision based on the nature of the project at hand, or did it just kind of end up happening that way?
Conscious decision as it was so lyrically motivated; and anyway, the music is always easier for me to write. I don’t usually work like that but I had to have the words drive the music, rather than the other way around.
The album is more ‘theatrical’ in feel to the original. Was this intentional?
It was written, rehearsed and recorded with live performance in mind so a little theatricality in vocal delivery and the dynamics of the music seemed like a good idea.
Are those guitar/piano stabs at the very beginning of the record sampled from the original? Or were they performed/recorded anew?
They were performed anew as opposed to the half-speed tape replay version used on the original. We thought about sampling but playing live was more fun.
To what extent did you draw from your own experiences when mapping out Gerald’s various futures? Do you still feel in touch with the person you were when you made the original TAAB?
To varying degrees. Sometimes quite a bit but sometimes basing characters and developments on other people I know well or know of. I am quite “in touch” with my earlier self – especially from 1968 onwards – as I can’t escape my sordid musical past since it is definitely “on the record”.
Why didn’t Martin and Doane feature on the album? Can you see yourself working with them again in the near future? (Apologies if this has been covered elsewhere.)
Martin has a full year coming up with solo projects and tours and Doane is working on a few things at home in the USA too, so we have a little while away from simple, generic Jethro Tull tours. I like to have the guys who are the best for the job at hand and so chose the musicians I knew – or was very confident – would both deliver the result and enjoy the experience, intense as it was.
Am I right in thinking that you will be playing both TAAB and TAAB2 every night for about two weeks on your forthcoming UK tour? If so, is that a daunting prospect?
Yes, both albums live all the way through and back-to-back with a twenty-minute intermission. Daunting it certainly is, but musically very challenging and satisfying from my excursions thus far with playing the material live.
Do you know yet which festivals you’ll be playing this summer?
Just a handful in France, Norway and Austria. 90% of the shows are the Thick as a Brick production tours.
And do you know yet when the 40th anniversary surround sound edition of the original TAAB will be released?
September some time in both the digital and stereo vinyl versions. I cut the new TAAB in vinyl at Abbey Road last week and it was really great. Best cut ever and the longest playing time. So no mean feat in engineering terms. It compared very favourably with the 24-bit digital master. Amazing.
In this interview, you talked about the need to accept that art is consumed differently these days. Does it sadden you to see the art of album-making getting diluted by shuffle functions and whatnot?
No, not saddened. Freedom of choice is everything and today listeners have that choice: whether to sit down for the full eight-course musical banquet or just to snack on the bite-size portions from iTunes.
Do you have any idea yet of what your next project will be, or are you not yet looking beyond touring TAAB?
A string quartet album, a singer/songwriter stripped-down acoustic album, and – just maybe – a hard rock album. That takes me to 2015 and almost certain early bed.
Serious TAAB2-based question: Is “Wootton Bassett Town” to do with Gerald joining the army? Have you ever been there to see one of the military repatriations?
Yes, and yes. The imagery of Wootton Bassett town is on the new record and there really was a politician (James Gray, Con.) and HRH The Prince of Wales there too, by chance. Bikers galore. Those things stay with you. Well, me….
Frivolous TAAB2-based question: What is your favourite flavour of pie in the Fray Bentos range?
Steak and kidney. But if I could persuade them to introduce Fray Bentos Quorn Pie to the range, I would.
Were you a fan of Tommy by The Who and Arthur by The Kinks?
No, sorry. But I saw Quadraphenia, the recent stage version with musical direction from John O’Hara our keyboard player and starring Ryan O’Donnell who joins me on stage for the TAAB tours this year.
Are there any young bands that you feel are carrying the torch for progressive rock?
Porcupine Tree and Dream Theatre, obviously. Opeth too. Mostly, these days are of a more “metal” nature but any day now there has to be a folky prog band to gain real success.
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Beethoven (just the symphonies, thanks), Roy Harper, Muddy Waters, A R Rahman, Seth Lakeman.
Ian Anderson, thank you.
Thick as a Brick 2 will be released on 2nd April through EMI Music. For more information, including a list of live dates, please visit www.j-tull.com