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Jethro Tull

Interviewed by Bob Cooper
Interview with Martin Barre of Jethro Tull from 2003


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.


I am pleased to see that you have just released your new solo album STAGE LEFT.
Yes, that's right indeed.
MSJ: The press info stated that it was your first solo album, but I can remember you doing another about the time of the JTull.com tour.
Yes, I have actually done two others that were released worldwide, but they had very bad coverage. The first one was released on this small German label that had an office in America but had very very poor distribution. The second one was on an American label called Imago. That one got into quite a few stores but still didn't have good representation.I feel that this one with Fuel 2000 should get a good crack of the whip and should get pretty reasonable distribution.
MSJ: Yeah, looking back to the second album I think the only ads I ever saw for it were these handbills you guys gave out at the dot com tour, which also mentioned Jonathan's album as well. And of course Ian made a point to mention it during the performance.
Well, it's very frustrating the way it turned out with those things, but thankfully I've learned my lessons and this time I've done a lot of it myself, and that has been quite helpful. Being with Fuel 2000 for quite a while with Jethro Tull I have their track record and I know them pretty well and I know they are going to do a good job with it. I know they are putting lots of work into it, so if we just keep our fingers crossed it will make it into the stores before long.
MSJ: That's so true about the labels, and you are basically at their mercy as far as getting your records out there. I remember that Tull started out on Reprise, then switched to Chrysalis where you remained for quite a while. What ever happened to Chrysalis anyway? They were huge and carried some great bands including Procol Harum, but just basically disappeared.
These companies went through massive changes. Chrysalis sort of got wrapped up into EMI, then EMI sort of went strange. The relationship between Tull and EMI didn't go well near the end, so we are much better off with the label we are on now. They are more middle-of-the-road and rather like us, so rather than being with a bigger company and getting very little attention we think we are getting more attention from Fuel 2000.
MSJ: Another peril that comes with the major labels is that they are constantly on your case to write that "big hit" just like the others that rule top 40 radio, and for bands like Tull that would be selling out hugely because Tull has a life all it's own. The average Tull fan really respects you guys for doing what you do and not buckling under to reach a wider audience.
I think so because it needs a bit more work and effort because it is a more specialized area, and I wouldn't think at a big label that people would have the patience to put that time in there. If there is a bigger artist that is easier to sell, then that's where their work load is going to be aimed at.
MSJ: Did you record this new record at your home studio?
I did. I actually did all three of my albums at my home studio, and it was mostly me working with the engineer because I did all the guitar tracks before the Christmas of 2002, mainly because I was going snowboarding and if I broke my fingers, I would have no album. But it worked out pretty good because it pressured me into getting everything more or less finalized by the end of the year, and then in January I got Darren Mooney and Jon Noyce to play drums and bass. That way I was able to sit in the control room and have more of an oversight into the other parts. It was good for me to do it that way.
MSJ: How is the way you approach your solo work different from the way you approach working with Tull?
Well, first of all it is really nice to be able to do everything I think because in Tull everybody has been doing everything so long that we tend to know each others job, so in Tull everybody is an engineer as far as the music writing. Everybody is also a producer, and an arranger. Everybody wants to do it but of course that isn't the way it works out. So to me it is just a great pleasure to have your finger in all these pies and I really do enjoy everything to do with albums. It is quite refreshing to have the overview over everything.
MSJ: I must say I am very pleased that you are pursuing more solo projects because I feel that as a guitarist you have a lot to say, more so than is evident in Tull. My first glimpse into this came once during the sound check for one of your shows here in Oregon. I had just interviewed Doane and when I came out you were up there strumming away, not to Aqualung or Bungle In The Jungle as one would think, but with one of your songs from your second album, and some blues stuff too.
Well, I like lots of other music. I don't dedicate my entire life to Jethro Tull. I would be fairly boring if I did do that. There is space for other stuff and I like other peoples music as well. Maybe the next sound check I'll play a little Hendrix or maybe some Led Zeppelin riffs or whatever. Like any other band I just like good things, and I'm not too worried if they are mine or someone else's as long as they are good fun to play. I'm lucky in that the other guys in the band are really into my music as well, and they are very keen to play on my album and I think if I do...or WHEN I do tour this album over here that again they would really like to be involved with that as well.
MSJ: Oh, so you will be touring the solo album as well?
I think something is going to happen, and I am not sure how it is going to be, but that is my intention. That would be good, and I do get a lot of people asking me when I am going to do it, and that will be when I can make the economics work. I'm sure it will happen.
MSJ: Have you been doing any small gigs near your hometown to sort of test-drive the material?
I did tour in Germany about four or five years ago based on the second album, and it was fun and very exciting to do, so I got off to a good start with that, but I am also trying to do these guitar demos which is basically an evening with me where I play with a cd and talk about whatever. Jethro Tull, or my music, or other peoples music and afterward have a question and answer thing. It's a real fun thing to do, especially with young kids who play guitar. I think it's nice to involve them and I think it would be an enjoyable evening. It's a bit nice, as I don't often get to talk.I'm not particularly good at it but I do enjoy it. It's a challenge for me and it's quite nice not to have just music all the way through it. I can still play an hour or hour-and-a-half of music and I get feedback from the audience about the music to see where their interest lies. And I have lots of little anecdotes I can throw in. Of course there are some I can't throw in.
MSJ: What is your guitar of choice these days? In the early days it was almost always the Les Paul, but I have lately seen you with Strats and Hamers.
Well, I'm back on Fender Strats for the moment and have been for about four years now, but I jump and change a lot and I have been playing Tom Andersons for quite a while, and also an electric guitar by Hugh Manson which is a small English company. I move around, not particularly because I have lost interest in an instrument I'm playing, as I like to jump around anyway. The Strats are a good compromise and they give me all the sounds I need without taking a lot of instruments on the road. In fact they are a really good instrument all the way around and when I play live, I can basically use one for a whole show which makes life much easier. I have used Seldano amps for about ten years, and again I use just one amp for the whole show, plus I bring along a backup just in case.
MSJ: You do not sing much, but do you write lyrics for any of your songs in hopes of finding a singer?
Not really. I sang on the first album, but I have great reservations about the course in my voice. I distinctly hover around "average"...with a small "a" standard. I don't have a great voice. And you listen to bands like Counting Crows, Matchbox Twenty, Red Hot Chilipeppers, Coldplay, and all these bands that got just amazingly great singers with really great voices and fantastic tonality, and really if you can't hold a match to these people then you shouldn't be doing it in my mind. I quite like writing songs and I am not particularly confident with lyrics. I tend to hold off writing the lyrics until the very end and go through ten to twenty versions of it and throwing them away the next morning. Bit then I like the idea of when I play live and do shows that it is just not all instrumental music. I do want that certain flexibility of having songs with vocals in there. I think that holds the interest of the audience.
MSJ: Well lucky for you your songs and melodies on STAGE LEFT are intriguing enough to carry themselves enough to hold the interest of your fans, myself inclusive. There are very colorful aspects to the songs. There are certain types of music that more or less take the listener on a little journey via intricate and moving melodies, and there is much of that present here. Call it animation or whatever, but it is there. Pair that up with a variety of styles, genres, and feels as you have and what you have is a sort of storybook effect.
I think it's the way I listen to music. I usually lose interest, and there's very few albums that I can listen to all the way through that offer enough variety. Maybe most people are most happy to listen to an entire album of blues or jazz or any single style and don't get fed up with it. But I tend to lose my concentration when going in one direction, so the way I write is the way I would like to hear an album, so I try to diversify and swap things around and go in different directions. I find that I do that naturally anyway, having written a piece of music on a Monday that might be a bluesy sounding thing, and inevitably on Tuesday it's going to take a complete about-turn and be in a totally different vein. I generally go by my instincts really. I think you really have to think about the end product. I get very tied up in the music I'm writing and have to sort of see where it goes and apply some sort of discipline that I have learned from the first two albums. I think maybe they were a little bit too complicated, and I try to make them nowadays more listener friendly. I don't think a listener should have to work hard to enjoy the music. I think the music should do all the work for them, and it's just a matter of sitting back and enjoying it.
MSJ: I was looking at your website looking for things you have done for other bands in terms of contributions, and while there are very few listed I do seem to remember you working with John Wetton on one of his solo albums. What was that like?
Oh yeah...the story of my life. Yes, with John Wetton we toured with UK and of course Alan Holdsworth was the guitar player for UK and the band was Eddie Jobson, Terry Bozzio, and John Wetton, and of course my dream was to play with UK being the guitar player who was, not replacing I hasten to add, but at least following for Alan Holdsworth so they asked me to play on their next album. I said yeah, I'd love to. But then the band split up and John called me up and said "I know there is no UK anymore, but would you like to do my album?". Being a gentleman, I said "of course I'd like to do it". But of course I was desperate to play with Terry Bozzio and felt it was a dream come true. But anyway it was good fun and he was a nice guy. In fact I think it was the first or second session I did outside of Tull. Being in the studio with Tull at the time was quite disciplined and even a bit starchy, and I wouldn't say entirely atmospheric in a positive way. For John Wetton's session I went down there and he says," Right...can I offer you a drink?" Right, at eleven o'clock in the morning. I said "yeah, I'd like a coffee. That would be great". They said "come on, what do you like to drink?, and I said "I think I'd like a glass of wine", and so they produced this bottle of red wine and a glass and put it on this table in the studio, so I had this pot of coffee and this bottle of red wine and they're saying "help yourself". I remember jumping about in the control room and started playing on these tracks, and they said 'look, we'll give you four complete clean tracks. Just play whatever you want wherever you want and we'll record everything. Just do it four times for every track and we'll put the things we like together". Now, this is SO alien. This is completely the opposite of Jethro Tull where you've got a track, and if it wasn't a master it got erased straight away. It was just really great fun John Wetton and the engineer were just leaping up and down enthusing in the control room and I thought wow, this is the other side of recording and I've been missing out some. It was really good and I must say since then I really do love playing on other peoples albums, and I get people coming into my studio and if I get to chat with them and get on with them quite well then sometimes they'll ask me to come play on a track. It's good fun and it's a challenge and it introduces me to a new style of music, so I like to be put in at the deep end and put on the spot and see what comes out.
MSJ: Well, pushing yourself is often how the best stuff comes out and I imagine you even surprise yourself.
Yeah, I like to. It's good to do that.
MSJ: So what is Wetton doing now? I haven't heard a peep out of him in years.
Well, I have heard things that his band after UK...it wasn't UK, but.....
MSJ: Asia?
That's it, Asia. I've heard whisperings that they were going to be doing some gigs together again, but other than that I don't think he's been doing much. I think he was on the downhill path after UK folded. I thought UK were a great band.
MSJ: I agree. I saw UK at the old Paramount Theatre here in Portland years ago. In fact it was one of my first concerts I'd ever been to and they were outstanding even without me knowing what stellar parts they had or were about to play in the history of prog music as we know it. I loved Asia too though, and I think John is one of those rare singers with the perfect rock and roll voice, much like John Lennon and Freddy Mercury. In view of the fact that he replaced Greg Lake as the singer, I'd have to say that he did Lake better than Lake did Lake. I understand that there is a Tull Christmas album on its way.
Yeah, that comes out in October. There are three albums out this year. Mine comes out August 10, Ian's solo album comes out August twenty-something, and then the Tull Christmas album comes out in October. It was sort of a half-serious idea to put something together for the Christmas market. I thought at first we all thought it was a bit suspect, but once we got involved in it I think the end product turned out quite good actually. It was fun to do, and there is a nice cross-section of different kinds of music on it. We re-recorded I think five old Tull Christmas tracks, most of which were singles in the UK. We re-recorded all of those, and then we've reworked about half a dozen Christmas carols. They are traditional ones, but we messed about with them and added bits of music, so they are a bit more fun and a bit more relaxed if you like - informal. And then there is a track off of my solo album on there and three new tracks that Ian wrote for the album as well. It's a good package really. I mean the minute you think of Christmas, you think of cheesy music and in many ways there is not much difference between Christmas carols and hymns, and it's just an unfortunate crossover, and hopefully that won't involve us.
MSJ: I don't think so. I think you guys are here to help set the record straight and as far as I am concerned it wouldn't be Christmas without hearing A Christmas Carol amongst my holiday playlist. I look forward to hearing this new album. Well, what is next for you now?
For me it will be touring with my new solo stuff, and then next year it is back on the road with a couple of American tours, one of which will be at the end of the year and will be based on the Christmas album. It will be sort of a virtual Christmas show and should be lots of fun and a bit different and informal. Then we will possibly be going to India and then South America, so there is quite a bit of work for next year.  

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