30 Minutes with David Gilmour
On an Island has a nice cinematic sound to it, and it gets better on repeat listens. Well, good. I'm glad you agree with me [laughs], because I think that, too. I don't know how modest one has to be these days, but I'm really, really pleased with it. There wasn't really a master plan. I kind of blundered on, and it grew organically as we got more and more into it. And I really couldn't be more thrilled.
To me, the album's main theme revolves around partnerships, shared experiences, and the life cycle. It seems like it's about two people very much in harmony in life and how they deal with the positives and negatives moving forward. I think that sums it up. It does have that sort of feeling and thread running through it. Though that wasn't the plan, it happened organically, and the theme grew with the record.
Was there any one particular song that got you thinking, "We're onto something here"? Well, I had "Smile" for at least five or six years. ["Smile" first appeared on the David Gilmour in Concert DVD, released in 2002.] It's basically my original demo, with modifications - a bass got on there, and so did a drum kit and an orchestra - but the main part's the guitar, the voice, and the slide stuff, which is all from the original demo I did at my home studio.
And then I had the last song, "Where We Start," at least three years ago, maybe four. Most of the other things are pieces of music that I've had lying around for years. I tend to record little snippets onto an audio notebook - a MiniDisc recorder, to jog my memory - and then I work on them later. But sometimes I can't get to sleep if I've got one on the brain. And if I go to sleep, I can't remember it again the next day.
On most Pink Floyd albums, there's a deliberate unfolding of events in the way the music is presented to the listener, so I have to imagine sequencing this album must have been a bit of a challenge for you. Yes. Sequencing is a very important thing. And I did have a running order for this record quite a long time ago, one I was quite sold on. I thought I had the whole album mapped out. My friend [and Island co-producer] Phil Manzanera had been living with that same order. These days, with CD burners, it's a lot easier trying out different running orders, since you don't have to worry about cutting tape. So he came in one day with a completely different order than I had, though it did end with the same track ["Where We Start"]. The rest he'd shuffled around. And I said, "Hmm, yeah, that's better." It hadn't struck me at all, but when he came up with it, it made a lot of sense. And that's the way it is now.
These days, especially with the iPod, a lot of people just listen to select songs and don't even go through entire albums anymore. I think it is an experience listening to the whole album all the way through and getting what you can get out of it. If you get a quarter of the pleasure I got in making it, then it can't be all bad.
Speaking of iPods, when I got my first one, your 1978 solo debut, David Gilmour [scheduled to be reissued with bonus tracks by Columbia/Legacy on March 28], was one of the first things I loaded onto it. Do you have an iPod yourself? I do have an iPod, and I used it briefly - but I didn't stick with it. I haven't found that I want to be with it all the time.
A lot of musicians put their demos on their iPods while they're working. Yes, I did do that for a while. But I'm not really overkeen on wearing the headphones all the time. I've found that it rather shuts you off from the world. I spend a lot of time on headphones in my home studio, but for the rest of the time I tend not to.
Do you have a sense of freedom now that you can record at home and don't have to worry about booking studio time as much as before? I do have that sense. It's very liberating, really. I can spend endless mucking-about time without worrying whether everyone else is getting bored.
ON SURROUND ISLAND
Had you given any thought to recording the new album in surround sound? We did, actually. My initial intention was to release it in 5.1 at the same time as the CD, but we won't get around to finishing the mix until the tour and the summer holiday are over. We recorded all of the drums and orchestral stuff in surround. While I do like to keep the rhythm section more or less in stereo, I tend to bring some of the more fluid things - voices, keyboard textures - around from the front to the sides for a much wider effect. You have to get a feeling for the sounds that are possible and natural enough for your brain to deal with. I don't like to put too many instruments behind the listener.
Did [engineer] James Guthrie work with you on the mix? No, James worked on the mix for The Dark Side of the Moon, but this one was done by Andy Jackson, who was sort of James's pupil and assistant years and years ago. I mean, I had to work with someone who's here in England. James is out in Lake Tahoe.
I think the Twin Peaks-y saxophone at the outset of "Red Sky at Night" will sound awesome in surround. Yeah, yeah. There will be an orchestra all around you on that one.
And the opening track, "Castellorizon," should be amazing in surround with the orchestra, sound effects, and divebombs ... It's all sort of designed for that. Unfortunately, we're stuck with boring old stereo for the time being. [chuckles]