MATS ANDERSSON, AFP/Getty Images
Pink Floyd‘s status as rock legends is set in stone, but fans of the boundary-defying band can seemingly never get enough of their music — or stop speculating about a future reunion.
While there is no “new” studio material coming from the group, Pink Floyd are reissuing their entire catalog with tons of unreleased tracks, alternate takes and live recordings as part of a series called ‘Why Pink Floyd?’ with the first installment being a new edition of ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ due out Sept. 26.
Spinner recently caught up with drummer Nick Mason to discuss the box set, his feelings on the band’s association with LSD and ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Syd Barrett‘s “demise” and his relationship with the “bastards,” Roger Waters and David Gilmour.
When did this project begin?
Probably two years ago. EMI, at the time, was knee-deep in Beatles catalog. Historically, we’ve always been opposed to putting out anything but the finished album, but post-seeing what the Beatles did, and how much people enjoy listening this sort of stuff and drawing comparisons. … I’ve never bought into that, but I’ve begun to realize there really were people out there who wanted five different versions of ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ If that’s the case, that’s fine. As long as no one feels that we’re trying to pop them off with stuff, then I’m happy. The last thing we would want is for our fans to feel that we’re trying to find the 17th opportunity to sell them the same song.
For a title, ‘Why Pink Floyd?’ seems like it could reference why Pink Floyd matters, but at the same time it’s a joke like …
“Well, what’s the point?” That’s great. That’s what we’ve always liked is to have that ability to make something that could be interpreted in five different ways, either complimentary or disparaging.
You’ve said that a particular highlight for you was listening to some of the Syd Barrett stuff. What stood out from those tapes?
Well, it was very early demos that we did long before we signed with anyone, when we were getting a couple of hours in a studio that belonged to a friend of Rick [Wright]‘s. There’s a great version of ‘I’m a King Bee’ with Syd playing a slide guitar and it’s these kids who want to be in an RB band. It’s light-years away from ‘The Wall’ and the whole full-on Pink Floyd thing. There’s another one called ‘Walk With Me, Sydney’ that’s got Rick’s wife Juliette singing on it. It’s almost like seeing a diary entry with a photograph. It just takes you back, 45 years back to another day, another era, another life, to that person who was you.
Pink Floyd Perform ‘Money’ at Live 8
When you read about Syd, it’s mostly things written about his problems. What are some of the misconceptions about him?
I’m not sure because I find it difficult, myself, to make out what he really was as a person, because there was Syd before and Syd after. The reality was that Syd was an artist. And I think Syd suffered quite badly at the end of the day from being with a group of people who might be artists but were motivated by a wish to actually be successful. I think that Syd really would have packed it in somewhere in mid ’67, early ’67. Almost after [the] Games for May [concert] and our first appearance on ‘Top of the Pops,’ Syd would have retired gracefully and maybe continued in a happier way. He might still just as easily have gone right off the rails but unfortunately we didn’t know any better, and nor did he.
When you were in the early sessions of ‘Dark Side,’ did you realize it was going to be something so special?
No. We’ve enjoyed working on ‘Dark Side’ but ‘Dark Side’ was worked on in between gigging, and we certainly didn’t have any sense of the full structure of the record until the final mixing sessions. So, there wasn’t really any sense what was created until really right at the end of it of all. And even then, we knew we’d done something good but we had no idea whether it would be successful or not.
Do you guys still get the questions about the ‘Wizard of Oz’ thing and did you ever feel tempted to make something of it?
I think that would be truly irresponsible [laughs]. Unless MGM were interested in a deal to provide ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but we have no interest in promoting it. It is extraordinary, and it does sort of work, but much more worrying is that someone spent all that time trying to line that up and who found it in the first place.
Mick Hutson, Redferns
You often get associated with psychedelic drugs. How do you feel about that?
Well, the only people who really do that are the press who work in generalization. The reality is that “psychedelic” was something from mid to late ’60s. ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ might be seen to have vague sort of psychedelic references and certainly the demise of Syd can be possibly connected to LSD, although never proven. But actually, from then on, there is nothing psychedelic in what we did or do. Once you get to ‘Dark Side,’ it’s absolutely non-drug-related. It’s very specific in what we’re talking about, in how the music is constructed. There is nothing free-form about it. It’s not the Grateful Dead meandering along. It’s very tight song-making and recording and over-dubbing and cross-fading and all the rest of it. I’m happy to sort of field the question but I just feel that it’s generally one that usually comes from people who aren’t actually into the music, who haven’t listened to it.
Instead of drugs, we can picture you having a glass of wine while you were recording.
Put that down as a “bottle of wine.”
In a recent interview, you said that Roger is “insufferable.” Is that something you laugh about now?
Yeah, we laugh about it but he’s still insufferable. But if he wasn’t insufferable, we wouldn’t have done the work we did. If you live with people for a long time, which we did, you end up knowing each other really well and getting on each other’s nerves. But on the other hand, if we weren’t how we were, we wouldn’t have achieved what we had. You just have live with the fact that you have to work with bastards to do anything good.
Do you guys ever marvel at how people care so much about the relationship you all have?
I blame the Monkees. Ever since the Beatles, the concept of lovable mop tops, it’s a bit of a fantasy, but it’s a lovely idea that people make wonderful music and live a wonderful life being friends together. Sadly, life isn’t quite like that. But there’s absolutely no doubt that it was heartwarming when we played together at Live 8. I wouldn’t for a minute wish to diminish that. For a lot of people, it was about the affection for the band, but it was also about people who have rather publicly fallen out with each other making up and doing great things for the right reasons.
You mention the Beatles, but they had a big falling out before you guys became the juggernaut Pink Floyd.
Yes. We copied the Beatles. We watched how they did it and we had a big public spat because we thought that’s what you were meant to do.
There was a lot of joy when you guys did an onstage reunion at Roger’s show recently.
Yeah. It’s a great thing to do. The only downside is that the media will then go and say that we’re about to go on tour again. Well, absolutely not, but hopefully that means that we might do other good things together at sometime or another.
Do you guys ever try to see each other socially and try to keep it quiet from the press?
Yeah. Certainly not necessary all three of us, but I certainly see a bit of Roger when he is around, which is limited. David and I both live in England so we do see each other. I still look upon both of them as friends.
Nick Mason, Roger Waters and David Gilmour Performing in London
You and David joined Roger for his London performance of ‘The Wall.’ Were you nervous at all?
I think that Dave was terrified because he was suddenly shot up this 40-foot tower [on stage], which he had done about 30 years ago and I think that it frightened him then. And it was even taller now and he was worried that Roger was going to rock the bottom of it [laughs].
With this box set, are you just trying to say, “Take this and enjoy it,” instead of having people worry about a reunion?
To be honest, I would far rather be on the telephone talking about something new than a new package of the old, but given what’s possible, this is what’s here now.
Roger said that he doesn’t want to do anything, but have you and David talked about doing anything?
No. No, we haven’t. We could go back to Dave and I doing something — if he wanted to do it, I’d support him in it. I don’t think any of us wants to set off, in any shape or form, on a year and a half of touring. It would be to do more things for the right reasons that would sort of stir the soul. And what has been proven is that if the three of us did work together, people would really like that.
It does seem like you guys get back together more for charity gigs.
I think that’s great. That’s perfect. That’s a better reason than doing just for money.
That way you’re not going out of your to cash in, like some other artists.
To my regret [laughs]. Wife, four children and 40 girls to support [laughs].
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