Karl Dallas talks to Rick Wright about his solo debut, only to find him preoccupied with a mysterious Floyd project – “The Wall” – that will soon drive him out of the band.
Having just divested himself of his first solo album, Rick Wright has a second project roaring and ready to go. But he reckons it will have to wait for at least two years, when the Pink Floyd have finished the massive project-the most massive, he thinks, in a career not distinguished by its belief in the “small is beautiful” philosophy – upon which they are about to embark.
“I think most people would have expected me to do a sort of keyboard extravaganza,” he told me, in the “relaxing room” above the Floyd’s Britannia Row studios. “Maybe similar to what I did on Ummagumma. I decided not to do that because there was something in me that I wanted to get out. Certainly in the future I would like to experiment with keyboards on an album.
“But the Floyd are working again next week, the beginning of a whole new project that will take, I can see, the next two years, from writing it, to making a film, and doing a show. After that, I don’t know. As soon as I have another period of eight months’ free time, I’ll probably make another album, whenever the opportunity comes up again, like it did for this – unless the Floyd decide to make yet another album.
“The Floyd finished working at the end of July 1977, and we had no plans for the rest of the year. So David and myself, and Roger (Waters) had been wanting to do solo albums for a long time. While David and I were doing our solo albums, Roger was working on the next Floyd project. I can’t say what it is, it’s too early. It’s a very definite idea but I wouldn’t like to talk about it, basically, first because it’s Roger’s baby, his thing, and, two, it’s too early to say we’re doing this and this and this. In case it doesn’t happen.
“We haven’t actually come into the studio and started working on it yet. Roger’s done demo tapes and we’re listening to them, and hopefully Dave and I and Nick (Mason) will come in and we’ll work on it and pull it to pieces, improve on it and add our own thing to it and whatever.
“But it is a very strong idea which has originally come from Roger. It’s a very involved thing and we’re doing a film as well, which always takes time-not just a film for the show, but an actual feature film, with animation, live action, there maybe actors. That, again, it’s too early to say. It’s still being formulated, but it will be a feature film with a story, not just a straight rock film of a concert like the Pompeii film, a film with a story and a plot. It’s a film based on the idea of the music that Roger has written for the album.
“It’s just all starting new. It’s Roger’s project, but I think he worked on the music for the LP, and out of that came the idea for the film.”
It’s inevitable, I suppose, if only because of their famous collective reticence about giving interviews, that when one finally does run one of them down to earth, albeit to talk about a solo project, one ends up, willy-nilly, talking about the band rather than the individual member. And Rick Wright’s insistence that he could never allow a solo project to get in the way of a Pink Floyd album, even the next two Pink Floyd albums, coupled with the certain fact that it is Roger Waters’ commitment to the next Pink Floyd album that has robbed us, so far, of his own planned solo album, prompted me to ask if the band was always to get this sort of top priority from him and the rest of them.
“It has, up to now,” he replied, “and always will do, until any of us feel that it is important to work without the Floyd, which I certainly don’t feel. It was just something I’ve always wanted to do, and there was the opportunity. But still the foremost in my mind was working with the Floyd, and will be until I decide otherwise. If I wasn’t happy working with them, I would stop. It’s as simple as that. But I’m very happy working with the Floyd.”
Another factor motivating this new album at precisely this time is perhaps his own admittedly low level of contribution to Animals, the last Floyd album.
“Yes,” he agreed, “Animals was certainly mostly Roger’s ideas, and Dave wrote the music for Dogs. I, in fact, didn’t contribute anything, and that was partly because there was enough material from Roger and also because I wasn’t feeling very creative anyway. That’s the reason why I didn’t write anything.”
It struck me as surprising, therefore, that when he did get into a creative groove, the album that resulted should sound so much like the Floyd, even to details like the sax playing of Mel Collins, so reminiscent of Dick Parry‘s work on The Dark Side Of The Moon.
“I quite agree,” he said. “This has got a lot to do with how I was feeling, actually. I wrote all the material in Greece, where I was living. It’s a very personal album. It’s not to say that’s what I always want to do, it was just the way I felt at the time. I wanted to feature saxophone on this album because I played the saxophone myself for a bit, but not successfully. The music I first listened to that made me decide that I wanted to be a musician was back in the days of Coltrane, Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy. If you like, they are my heroes, funnily enough, and not keyboard players.
“I like the sound of the sax that the Floyd had, so obviously I tried to get that kind of sound. I originally wrote Waves on my album for the saxophone, and he played it so well that I brought him on to another couple of tracks.
“The title? That’s a funny one. Wet because the record has a sort of watery feel to it. Some of the Floyd does, as well. Dream – there’s a things on the songs where I’m questioning where my roots are, where I want to live, if I should be in England. It’s about this place Greece. Against The Odds is a song about a .village where I originally went on holiday now it’s my second home. I lived there for months last year, writing this album.
“So really, it’s not a wet dream, it’s just a play on the words. It may have been a mistake to call it that, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It’s hard to say why, really.”
Mention of Rick’s Greek domicile – and Dave lives in the same village – raises, inevitably, talk about the Floyd’s supposed millionaire status, the fact that they can own Greek islands (as it is put), presumably hobnobbing with Greek shipping magnates and the like. Rick scoffed at the image.
“Yes, I know,” he said, “the boring old farts syndrome. I’m just waiting for someone to knock us off the top. That’s what should happen. Millionaires? Living on Greek Islands? I just happen to have lived in Greece for the last six months. I would have to be a millionaire to own a Greek island, and I’m not.
“It’s true that we’ve made enough money to have time to really consider what we’re doing rather than just rushing on and on and on. We don’t have to work, but for how long, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought of that, actually. I haven’t actually thought: ‘Ah, I can stop now.’ It never occurred to me.
“But it’s true that we’re not doing this next Floyd project for money. We no longer have that pressure, since The Dark Side Moon, because that was the biggie. That pressure, to go out on the road because we had to financially, is over, but the other pressures that came, since Dark Side, were probably even harder to cope with, because it was a success. What does one do now?
“I think, looking back at what we were like when we started, and people I meet today, it’s all to do with: ‘I want to be successful. I want to sell lots of records.’ It seems to me that’s the goal. It was our goal, sure, when we started, simply to be very famous, successful. And after that one, you find you really have to sat back and think: ‘Well, now what happens?’ So the pressure then is on: what to write, what to play? And they’re harder pressures than managers breathing down your neck to go out and earn a few bob.
“That’s why it’s so good that we give our time to do solo albums. It relieves that pressure. It did for me, anyway. It was a great relief, just to do something like that. And this album helped me to get back my creative energies for doing the next Floyd thing.”
All the time, you’ll note, we keep feeding back to the band, to which all individual ends must be a means to the greater, collective end. It prompted the question what, if anything, did he get out of making the solo album per se that he didn’t get out of a Floyd production?
“The most obvious thing is that on a solo album you’re producing it, you’re playing on it. With the Floyd when we work, obviously there’s four of us and there’s a compromise involved. Also one day, mentally you’re a bit exhausted, someone else can take over. So it’s a shared responsibility.
“On a solo project, you have to be on top of it, all the time, constantly. I’ve never been in control before, totally, so that’s one of the reasons I did a solo album, to put myself into that sort of situation. I wanted to see if I could cope with it. It was a challenge, because it is such a different way of making a record, than working with a band like ourselves, who share the production, and work together quite a lot.”
Although Rick had belittled his contribution to the last album, I had noticed, during the live concerts, that he stretched himself out rather more on keyboards, and he imparted the surprising news – surprising, since it’s common knowledge that they dislike touring almost as much as they hate interviews – that he preferred touring to work in the studio, and that, what’s more, so did Dave Gilmour.
This was surprising, also, because one had always thought of Dave and he as the quiet men of the Floyd, least likely to feel at home in the unreal, rave-up plastic bubble world of the major touring band.
“Dave the quiet one?” he said. “That’s an interesting impression. I can’t speak for him but I do like going on the road. It’s still, for me, the best part of being in the band, actually playing onstage. I always love doing it, even if it goes badly. And, for Christ’s sake, it does go badly at times. Looking back at what I’ve done, in 10 years or so with the Floyd, the high points have probably been on the road.”
With such tightly structured music as the Floyd’s, one wondered how much scope there was for real playing, blowing in the jazz sense, and how one could tell a good gig from bad.
“There were some bad ones on the last tour. The times when we came offstage and say ‘That was incredible’, don’t happen many times. The times when we come off stage and say ‘That was pretty good’ happen a lot. Part of it is how much effort one puts into it. Because it is tightly structured, one can just go through the motions. You can play and hardly be there at all. It doesn’t have the spark. And we’ve done what we think are bad gigs and the audience have really liked it. And also, we’ve done gigs which I’ve thought were bad, and the others thought were good.
“There’s not room for what you might call blowing, ‘cos it is tightly structured, and that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact of having so many effects, which you have to time, narrows yourself. There maybe a bit where you can play a guitar solo, say, but if it’s going well you can’t go on longer because there’s this huge pig just about to fly up. That kind of thing.”
Didn’t this mean, as some had charged, that the effects were getting in the way of the music?
“No. I don’t think so. It’s great when everything works together. We’ve been doing it for quite a long time now, right from the beginning with the light show, which was a haphazard affair, obviously. But we’ve been interested in doing more than just playing onstage. It’s great fun when it works. It doesn’t get in the way of the music, that’s not the right expression. It just limits the amount of improvisation. It imposes a discipline, but within that framework you can still perform and improvise just as well.”
One legend about Rick Wright’s new LP which should be dispelled before it gains any more credence is the thought that his wife Juliette’s Pink’s Song is in anyway a comment on the band, despite such lines as
“I had to stay, I could not leave
Give me time so I can leave
Give me time so I can grieve
I must go, be on my way
Let me go, I cannot stay.. .”
Unfortunately for the Floydologists, Pink also happens to be the nickname of the friend who went to Greece with the Wrights as tutor for their two kids during the six months they were out of Britain and the song is about him. So now you know the answer (Have A Cigar) to the question: “By the way, which one’s Pink?”
“I think what people are trying to find out is whether, having done this, I now want to carry on with the Floyd. It is simply that we had time. Now I’m going to put all my energies into the next Floyd project. Quite often, when people start to come out with solo albums, the media start thinking this is when a band starts splitting up. Quite often it does happen like that, people start doing solo albums because they’re dissatisfied with working in a band. It’s not like that with us.
“Look at Joe Walsh. He’s still with The Eagles. I think it’s an ideal situation – the Floyd have been together now for 10, 12 years – that we can work like this, we can work as a group, and also work as individuals. We’re lucky that we’re in the fortunate position that we can do this, we don’t have to go out on the road every day, we don’t have to bring out an album every six months. We’ve worked for this situation. It’s the best position to be in, I think.”
Melody Maker, November 4, 1978