enduringly debonair, witty and with-it Bryan Ferry has
an excellent new record out called Frantic, on Virgin Records. Mr. Ferry, late
of avant-rock frontiersmen Roxy Music and the creator of numerous diverse
and critically praised solo works, has followed his 1999 Õ30s-tribute album
As Time Goes
By with another wide-ranging and rather forthrightly rocking collection
of tunes that brings the elusive and esoteric Ferry back down to earth, or
perhaps to his roots ŠŠ roots you may not have suspected the arcanely
elegant crooner had. We chatted a bit about his penchant for finding an
unorthodox beauty in the simple and direct, and a few other thingsÉ
BLUEFAT: Frantic is certainly an
interesting hodgepodge of material. Did you have a concept in mind?
just turned out that way, actually. I chose the songs I liked, did them in
a naturalistic way, with a band feeling, and mixed them up with some of my
own songs. This album was started at the tail end of the Õ30s tour I did,
and the second half of the show on that tour was mostly rock stuff; I was
enjoying playing with the band on the heavier things, and I thought, Well,
I want to do a rock album again. So I chose a couple of Dylan songs; I like
the words of those early Dylan songs, theyÕre wonderful, and they mature
very nicely. The main thing was to do something quite earthy and slightly
bluesy, and I eventually got around to doing a Leadbelly song, even,
ŅGoodnight Irene.Ó It fitted in very well with the other things I was
you find yourself thinking, IÕll try something because it wouldnÕt seem a
Doing a Leadbelly song is not what people would
associate with me, although they donÕt know that IÕve been a blues fan
since the age of 10. That was the first music that actually attracted me,
and hearing Leadbelly later and other people like Big Bill Broonzy, and
other country-blues artists. From there it seemed a short hop into jazz and
then R&B and rock & roll. The other kind of American music IÕve
always liked is the composed stuff from Broadway, as well as Hollywood
musicals. ThatÕs a different kind of American music, which doesnÕt normally
have a blues root to it ŠŠ itÕs more European-based, probably.
IÕve strayed from one thing to another, I suppose. When I did my
first solo album [These Foolish Things],
there was Leslie GoreÕs ŅItÕs My Party.Ó Maybe itÕs time I did something
more in that vein again. ItÕs such fun to sing songs and get away from the
angst of writing, and just enjoy the performance of other peopleÕs
material. ItÕs a sort of busmanÕs holiday.
told that one track on Frantic was written by Richard the Lionheart.
IÕd done the song which follows it, called ŅA Fool
for Love,Ó which is another love song, as it were ŠŠ a highly different
twist again on the love song ŠŠ so I thought, LetÕs do one from the point
of view of a medieval troubadour singing a courtly love song, and use some
instruments from that period. Then Colin Good, my arranger, came up with
this track, ŅJa Nun Hons Pris,Ó which is done in medieval French, and itÕs
written apparently by Richard the Lionheart. I thought, Oh, cool, how great
to have a song written by a king on your album. A rock & roll warrior
sort of thing.
ItÕs nice, that early-music
world. I remember having an album of that music when I was doing the early
Roxy stuff, and it has an influence on one of the songs I did, called
ŅTriptych,Ó which was on the fourth Roxy album, Country Life.
you use juxtaposition like this, it would seem to derive partly from your
visual-art background [FerryÕs a former art teacher]. Do you still think of
what you do as a kind of conceptual art?
I try to be creative, even if some of the things I do
now are quite direct and plain, which I wouldnÕt have done before ŠŠ I would
have embellished things more in the past. The Bob Dylan song ŅDonÕt Think
TwiceÓ I did with my voice and harmonica and a piano, but putting in the
piano instead of DylanÕs acoustic guitar makes it a very different song,
and it creates a different ambiance for it; thatÕs a very subtle way of
changing a thing.
I see it all as one big
experiment, really. At the end itÕs, Will it work if I do this Õ30s album
dead plain, with string quartets and jazz horns? I find each project a
riddle that has to be solved.
the pop-art-conscious leanings of Roxy Music and much of your own solo
work, critics make an assumption of irony in what you do.
Yeah, I sense that as well, but everything is played
quite straight on this new album. ThereÕs no double take at all.
seem to be enjoying getting out of the laboratory and hitting the road
the main feature of my life has been live performance, which IÕve embraced
in old age. IÕve been on tour for the last three years ŠŠ a lot like Bob
DylanÕs Ņneverending tourÓ ŠŠ and it suits me quite well. IÕve enjoyed
seeing my audience again. ItÕs funny, as you get older, they tend to become
much more appreciative and affectionate toward you. And itÕs rather nice,
I feel much more
energized about everything to do with my music as a result of having the
courage to go onstage again ŠŠ and it takes a bit of courage to do it.
Doing that Õ30s album got me playing again with musicians in a live way
rather than my rather solitary studio life, where you just sit there
experimenting on your own like a mad professor.
What sorts of things guide your songwriting? And are you a disciplined
I have to be dragged to it by wild horses; I find it very painful, very
hard work. The tunes tend to come much more readily than the words; the
words are a bit of torment, Õcause IÕm quite particular about words, and I
love words. Which is why I love Dylan ŠŠ there are very few people who
write well in pop music, and he is one of the few;
Cole Porter was another
person who could write words and music. IÕve always longed to meet a great
lyricist I could collaborate with. IÕve never been aware of any knocking
about, but one day maybe I will, and then thereÕll be a great flurry of
IÕve always gone back
to T.S. Eliot ŠŠ we share the same birthday; he measures words beautifully.
Scott Fitzgerald IÕve always liked. And Evelyn Waugh, very amusing, a
fantastic writer, really. John Donne, the metaphysical poet; Sylvia PlathÉI
like sadness, in writing and in music. It always strikes the right note for
Your records have grown increasingly beautiful. How
does one address beauty in music or art without falling into the sappy and
a lifelong quest to search for beauty in everything, and I find it in all
sorts of things. ItŌs interesting, the whole thing of taste and beauty ŠŠ
how does it form, where does it come from? I live through my eyes quite a
lot; one of the great things about living in Europe is that you can go to
Rome and see all these beautiful things. I like a lot of old things as well
as new. I like history, and I like old buildings.
How would you assess your career arc? Does it tell
you anything about how youÕre evolving as an artist or as a person?
got so much more I want to do, and I get a bit exasperated, really, not
enough hours in the day. I love the touring life, but I want to start
making something new again now. So far itÕs been very interesting, and I
wouldnÕt exchange my catalogue of work for anybody elseÕs, IÕm very pleased
with it. I just keep wanting to add to it. And that probably says something
about me, but how much about me, I wouldnÕt know.