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Progressive Rock Interviews

Carl Palmer

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Carl Palmer From 2006
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

I'd like to start by finding out what you're involved in at this time, tour wise, what kind of projects you're involved in, that sort of thing.
Okay, listen, I'll tell you the whole thing, what I'm doing, all of the dates and what's happened, all the releases and everything is on the web site (www.carlpalmer.com). You can actually go to my web site for all that information. I'm going out on tour, May the 23rd right on through to July. So, whatever you're short of in this interview, you can go straight to that web site and pick it up. Yeah?
MSJ: Yeah, no problem.
In my band, I've got two guitar players. On lead guitar, Paul Bielatowicz, a young guy who teaches at the Brighton Institute of Music down on the Southeast coast - great guitar player - 27 years old. On bass, I've got Stuart Clayton who's also written three or four books on the bass guitar and teaches in the South of England also. We're playing approximately a two-hour show. There's quite a few classical adaptations - there's stuff by Prokofiev from the Scythian Suite. We play a piece called "Enemy God." I play a couple pieces by the American composer, other classical adaptations yet again. Aaron Copland, "Fanfare for the Common Man," which Emerson, Lake, & Palmer did play. I also play "Hoedown" from the Rodeo Suite, which is very cool. As far as original pieces from Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, I'm playing Tarkus, I'm playing Trilogy. I'm not playing all of Tarkus, but ten minutes. I am playing all of Trilogy, but only the title track. Also, I'm playing the first piece I wrote with Keith Emerson, which is called "Tank," which is on the first ELP album. There's a piece I wrote with Joe Walsh in the mid-to-late seventies whilst I lived in LA. That appeared on the Works album by ELP and that's called "LA Nights." I've recorded two live albums with my band. Both were called Carl Palmer Working Live. Volume One and obviously, Volume Two. There's a DVD, which is coming out in about two and a half, three months time, and that was recorded in Romania, Bucharest for the MTV Prog Festival, which is roughly a three-day prog festival. We've been working constantly for the last five years. So, you know, I've been active quite awhile. This has been the first trip into America. The guys haven't played there before, so it's all kind of new to them and we're out there for five and a half weeks, about five to six gigs a week. So, it's going to be a lot of fun.
MSJ: Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process, what you are doing nowadays that might differ?
Well, the albums that we've made, the last album I made came out about a year ago. There's no songwriting. We don't play songs. We're an instrumental band. As I say, you can find out all of this on the web. It's an instrumental band and we play classical adaptations. We don't play blues. We don't play rock. We're a European, balls to the walls, prog band. We're instrumental all the way. We use the classical adaptation side of things just to give it a little more cultural value. The pieces that I've written on my own like "Bullfrog" or whatever that we play on stage, there's a track called "Bullfrog," it's also on an ELP album. That process is I sit at home with a keyboard or the guitar and I work it out or I sit there with a mallet instrument, but the other pieces, which are the classical adaptations, which is what the band is all about, basically, we get the score, we look at the score. I see what could be played on guitar. I check it out with a guy that does transpositions, you know, from keyboard to guitar, so we can see if it's within the realms of possibility and we take it from there. That's what that's all about.

MSJ: You've probably been asked a lot about your favorites, so let's talk about some of your current favorites. What's your current favorite album, something that's kind of recent?
My current favorite album that I'm playing today? Well, it really depends on what you're talking about, I mean, I just managed to get the Dave Brubeck, which is a re-issue, Live at Carnegie Hall. I just got that the other day. I managed to find Hot Rats by Frank Zappa. As far as music like right up to today, my daughter brought me in the Blink One Eight Two album. I've got the Green Day album, you know, what can I tell you? I listen to a lot of stuff. They're not relevant to what I do, but I listen to them.
MSJ: What's the last movie that's inspired you?
I don't really get inspired by movies. I go to movies for pure escapism and the last movie I went to see was like an art movie, which was called "The World's Fastest Indian," which was with Anthony Hopkins. It's a motorcycle movie. I see art house movies. I don't go to mainstream.
MSJ: What TV show do you watch frequently?
I'm not big on TV. I like news programs. I like documentaries. I like National Geographic. I don't get into the sitcoms. I'm not into that.
MSJ: Do you have a favorite book?
Have a favorite book? I have a favorite book like I have a favorite film. One of my favorite films was Raging Bull, Robert De Niro, which was a great film. As far as a favorite book is concerned, I read a book about, it's called the Ultramarathon Man, and it's a guy from San Francisco who would run like 120 miles a day type of thing and that was a book that kind of inspired me. I wouldn't say it's a favorite book, but there's books like that, which I get turned on by. The Muhammad Ali book, Cassius Clay, way back that turned me on. That meant a lot to me. I don't really read science fiction or anything like that. I only read biographies, autobiographies, that kind of deal.
MSJ: I'm curious as you've had a lot of success in your career, but what would you say is the worst part about being a musician?
I don't really know if there is a bad part in being a musician. There's lots of good times, there's lot's of, there are bad times, but I don't know. Even the bad times are good. That's how I look at it. I don't look at it negatively. I'm 56 years old. I've been doing this professionally since I was 15. I started when I was 11. You can find all this out on the site. Everything has got its price. Everything has got its area of boredom. Everything has got dues you've got to pay, so it's hard to say. There's not one particular thing. The outcome of it all for me is the fact that I'm still playing. I'm still enjoying playing and that's what it's all about. So, I don't actually, I don't focus in on anything that's bad. It's not important to me, because it goes and it comes very quickly.
MSJ: You've probably been asked this a lot of times, but I'm kind of curious and if maybe you can come up with a unique experience, would you say you've had any Spinal Tap moments where things have gone wrong, maybe in a comical sense or something along those lines?
I think there's always Spinal Tap moments. I could give you Rock n' Roll stories all day long. I've been in eight ELP albums and a band called Asia. I was in a band called The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I can give you all those stories. They're not really relevant to me today. I mean, I've got an absolute ton of those, I've got horrific stories where I've rented a plane, a convert plane, and one of the engines has stopped and we managed to fly an hour 45 minutes on one engine and the reason for that was that we couldn't turn back and land where we took off, because we'd need a longer runway with one engine. I could talk all day about those things, you know what I mean, there's just millions of them, millions of them.

MSJ: Being Carl Palmer, really famous, a lot of people get starstruck when they're around you. What would you say is your best fan interaction?
I don't think that you'd get starstruck if you're around me. I think that you could walk past me in the street and you wouldn't even recognize me. I mean, you know, it's not on the Mick Jagger level here. It's on a different level here. So, people don't get starstruck. People get nervous around me once they know who I am and it registers, but it's not as if I'm bombarded in the streets or whatever or in the town where I live. It's not like that. Well, it's not like that here in England. I don't know what it would be like in America cause I don't live there.

MSJ: You've been doing this for a long time. What's kept you in the game all this time?
I'll tell you what it is, I think it's a deep down true love for the actual art. I enjoy playing. I enjoy being a drummer immensely. I enjoy leading a band. I enjoy being in a band. I'm going to play with Asia, which was an old group of mine in September and we're going to do kind of like an anniversary tour, though it's about a year older than what we should be doing. We've decided to do it, because people have shown a lot of interest. I just have a lot of interesting music in my past and what I'm doing now and that's what has kept me there. When something is your hobby and it's also your business and it means everything to me, there's no reason to stop here. I just cut down on the amount of work and I can be selective now. So, there's no one thing that keeps me going. It's just part of me. I couldn't actually say I do it because of "this." There isn't just one thing. It's a whole lifestyle. It's a whole being.
MSJ: Since you brought up Asia, how did you come up with the name of that band?
We came up with the name of that band purely from an accounting point of view. We wanted something that began with A, so we got paid early on in the day. When it goes on into the actual accounting in any record company, they pay out in alphabetical order.
MSJ: That's pretty funny and practical… I ask this next question to identify with the artist and I'm sure nobody else will ask this, but do you have any pets?
No, I have no pets at all. I used to years ago, but I have no pets at all. I've got no time for it. I love animals, but just no time. When you go away like I do, backwards and forwards, in and out, in and out, I live in two countries, I don't live in one place all the time you see, so that makes life difficult.
MSJ: What do you see for the future? What do you wish for in terms of your musical career?
I'm hoping to set something up in America, so at least I can go there once a year or even twice a year if it works out well. I'd be more than happy to get that going. I can play for five, six months of the year here in Europe, all over Europe, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, you know, so I've got tons of places to play and I enjoy that, because culturally they're a lift. It's not like in America where you go 200 miles south, 200 miles north and you still have the Burger King and McDonalds. Nothing wrong with that, but culturally things don't change ever. So, I enjoy what goes on here in Europe, but I very much like to play in America, mainly because the audiences are just fantastic there. If I can get a situation going where I can tour once a year or even twice a year, I'd be more than happy.
MSJ: You've actually played with a lot of great musicians, but is there anyone that you haven't played with that you'd like to play with in the future?
I would have liked to play with Miles Davis if he was still alive. I went around to his house once with ELP. I always thought he was a little bit of a trendsetter in what he was doing. He tried to lift jazz out of the rut that it got into. Instantly, I consider what we play, this kind of instrumental prog rock that I play with my band, I look at this as the new sort of jazz form. It's not jazz, but it's that intellectual music that jazz was meant to be. I believe that this is what it is today for today's people and I think the demographic that come to see me are anywhere from about 20 to 50 plus. So, that's what I think that I've got here. It's not the big supermarket. It's more the corner shop. It's more a delicatessen for like slightly more intellectual people and a lot of musicians who pioneered this music in the past whether you call it jazz or prog rock, somebody like Miles Davis I think did an incredible job, you know, to move it along as much as he could. So, I've liked to play with him at some stage, but I don't regret that I didn't. I don't lie awake at night thinking, "God, why didn't I play with Miles?" It's not like that.
MSJ: Have you ever thought about playing a different instrument or a career other than being a musician?
No, no, Josh, I'm a drummer 100%. My grandfather was a drummer, my brother's a drummer, my nephew's a drummer, there's a lot of drummers in my family. They're all musicians, period. My grandfather was a professor of music at the Royal Academy. His mother was a Spanish guitar player, so what I'm doing is what I should be doing. I started on violin. I didn't like it. I found it sounded better when I banged it suddenly realizing I was another drummer. So, that was it! Now I'm a drummer. End of story.
MSJ: Is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
Well, I'd just like them to just sort of check my site and come and see me play. The dates are all up there and if they can make it, I'm looking forward to seeing as many old fans and hopefully new fans, as many as I can see on this tour cause I'm playing in quite small places, like small art theaters and theaters of some rock clubs, you know, it's anywhere from five hundred people up to like eighteen hundred people this tour. It's quite an intimate sort of situation and I just hope everything is going to enjoy it.
 
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