Teenage Wildlife

Planet Rock Profiles

Transmitted on ITV November 24, 1998
Original transmission 1997?

Transcript by Leigh Cook

Dave Fanning: David, let’s talk about the album. Studio album 21, Earthling. Outside was complex, multi-layered - this one is direct, hard delivered, there’s no frills, it’s just brrrrrrrrr (makes energetic gesture).

David Bowie: (copies gesture) Brrrrrrrrrrr…pop! Yes, I think because there was no aforethought. It was a product of trying to get a vehicle to show the band off, more than anything. When we got off the tour we thought we were really good so we thought we’d go in the studio, and virtually wrote material to specifically showcase what the band was like at that particular moment. So it was very immediate, very spontaneous and it virtually put itself together. We did writing and recording two and a half weeks, and then a couple of weeks of mixing, but it was really very fast.

DF: Do you think your approach to this album was different to say, your most artistically satisfying albums, say Station to Station or the commercial successes such as Let’s Dance or Young Americans. Is your approach different?

DB: I think I really have one main way of writing and having a process - an eclectic gathering together of the elements that I actually feel are important at the time.

DF: Did you write the songs on the road?

DB: No, we wrote them in the studio. It’s very hard to remember back to songs I’ve written pre the studio now…I’ve worked so much now in the studio, using the studio to help me write. Reeves and I were talking about writing songs in the future before we got into the studio…maybe for acoustic - I might do some acoustic work - and pre-written songs, which is a kind of different discipline altogether. But I feel really confident just writing stuff in the studio and putting it together really quickly. I don’t have any problem with that.

DF: Is the place important? This was recorded in Manhattan. Could it have been recorded in London?

DB: Yeah - it would have sounded different though. It wouldn’t have had quite the same ‘on the nose’ aggression. I think it would have been a little more sophisticated in a way, and a little more ironic. This one is pretty primitive in a way!

DF: What about the fact that it is the first production job you’ve done for yourself in 23 years? It never would have occurred to me that you didn’t actually produce.

DB: Well I do, I co-produce. This is very different.

DF: Is it very important to have someone else in there? To whip you into shape?

DB: Not really. The collaborations provide the nerve centre for that particular album. For Nile, it’s quite evident what his influence is as a producer. I know pretty much the direction I want to go in and often the producer works in the sonic area and produces the soundscape that’s familiar to him, and what I try to do is subvert it all the time so the frictions between us produce whatever that album’s gonna be. With Eno it’s the same kind of thing. We both have quite different views about what music should be, but it’s the friction between us that produces that particular sound. With this one, I knew exactly what I wanted - we didn’t have any time to pull in a co-producer in that way, so I just sort of went for it.

[Clip: Heroes]

DF: You’ve always switched styles and moods, but the way you’re switching lately - it just seems so effortless. Is it a natural thing for you or do you have to work at it?

DB: I think it’s because my interests at any given time have been in new music, whatever the period, whereas other people would be interested in the mainstream and that would be the body of their record collection. My record collection looks like some kind of bizarre relic-oriented scrapyard of everything from industrial to old Harry Parch stuff from California, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Wild Man Fisher…it’s got the most bizarre things in throughout the years and those are the things I listen to. I like that!

DF: Legendary Stardust Cowboy I know well. He made a guitar from a bucket -

DB: And he had a one-legged trumpet player!

DF: Wild Man Fisher - I had a double album ‘Evening With Wild Man Fisher’ I actually bought a Harry Parch album once.

DB: Really? Good man!

DF: There’s a song called ‘Barstoned (?) and the World of Harry Parch’…he’s made all these things like the chimes when you walk in the door…

DB: There’s actually a school of Harry Parch in California. They’ve resurrected all those instruments, they found them in his warehouse after he died and they’ve refurbished them all, and they’ve got 60 or 70 of these huge instruments made out of glass and tin cans and stuff…

DF: There’s one side of that album that has no vocals on it, and I heard it on vinyl in the old days of 45 and 33, and when I played it, I played it at the wrong speed and I didn’t even know until I turned it over to the other side…

DB: Those kinds of things are glorious! I played 78s at 33 and got really good ideas from them! It’s like playing around with all those sonic areas - that’s what makes life interesting. I don’t want to just put down information I already know, that’s not what I want to do in life - I really just want to keep changing the spin on what sound can do. You’ve got to be prepared to do crap to get to the good stuff. I think if you’re gonna push all the time, you’ve got to be prepared to look like a pranny and do terrible things at some point or other, and just keep assuming that if you keep going through everything then eventually you’ll see light at the end of the tunnel and hope it won’t be an on-coming train!

DF: Is the pinnacle of pranny -

DB: I like that! The pinnacle of pranny!

DF: - the year after Never Let Me Down, Glass Spider?

DB: Er, yeah!

DF: It didn’t work for me.

DB: It didn’t work for me either in anywhere larger than a 5,000 seater, because I designed it to be an all-enveloping kind of spectacular in as much as it was a bit three-ring-circus. There was always three or four events happening at the same time on stage, it was multi-event, very fast event horizon. Individually there were some incredibly good ideas on that stage, and in a small environment it really worked well. Because when your nose is pressed against it all it’s like, wow, a wonderworld! But to put it where you’re a thousand rows back it just becomes this huge mass of confusion, none of it makes any sense, and that was a really bad mistake. I was designing on an intimate level and I didn’t really get that. I was too thick to realise that it wouldn’t translate in a big…I soon found out!

DF: Is the point for you then constant reinvention, or is it the excitement of the shock of the new?

DB: The reinvention thing - I don’t buy into that at all. I think there’s a real continuity with what I do and that’s expressing myself in a contemporaneous fashion. The reinvention thing, it’s an easy description isn’t it? (Puts on smug journalist voice) ‘Hey Dave, you’re a real chameleon!’ ‘Well, you know something, David, I’m probably the chameleon of rock because what I do is all ch-ch-changes!’ It gets all that! And then with the French you get (puts on bad French accent) ‘Why did you kill Ziggy?’ The clichés are stack high!

[Clip: Let’s Dance]

DF: I won’t make you mention names, but I’ll mention names of your peers, say from Rod Stewart through to Elton John. They surf the mainstream, they’re in the middle of the road the whole time, doing what they’ve always done, how dare anyone suggest they take on anything that’s happening around them in a younger context, because it doesn’t work for them, or they don’t want to do it. But it’s a cop out, isn’t it?

DB: We obviously just have different perspectives…

DF: Always the diplomat!

DB: It’s not that, honestly. I just don’t think we do the same thing. We’re all in the music field, it’s just that my choices have always been very different to my contemporaries. Even my very close friends who are of my age and are my contemporaries, we don’t actually have the same ambitions at all. Not even remotely. Probably, my fixation is that I could have been a painter (puts on Brando voice) ‘I coulda been a painter!’ or I could have been a musician. I opted for being a musician. But really I still apply…my mind is much more in the field of a painter than it is of a musician in that way, I don’t know. I don’t know, ooh, stop it!

DF: On that point, a description someone gave of you lately, will you accept this? ‘The Beckenham Arts Lab boy who sacrificed to rock music in the late 60s has re-emerged as a gentleman artist collector patron of the 90s.’

DB: (laughs) It’s all a bit ‘Dame Bowie’, that! I’m sorry, I won’t shift from ‘I’m just a working artist’, working probably in a modern field.

DF: And there’s no way that David Bowie wants to work with a safety net?

DB: Not really. When I’ve endeavoured to do that, I’ve just felt the most dissatisfied creatively as I ever could feel, and I really felt that I’ve just destroyed everything I ever thought worthwhile in my work, and I felt really disappointed in myself. I thought I was letting myself down. I would have quit, I really would have gone back to immersing myself in the visual arts. It seemed at one time a real easy decision. Here I was, making lots of money, performing to these huge audiences, and thoroughly uncomfortable and unhappy with life. I was getting more enjoyment just being back in the studio - I mean the painting studio - and all that and I just thought, why bother? You know, I thought ‘that’s it, I’ve just come to the vacuum of my life!’ (puts on camp voice) You see, I was around 40! So looking back at it, one wonders if it wasn’t just the inevitable mid-life crisis as well - because it all happened in my 40 to 44 period - I tried so hard to feel okay with it all, but it was just so obvious to me that it was going incredibly wrong.

DF: How about being in LA, say in the mid-70s? Was it that bad? Is the story true that you don’t even remember recording Station To Station? If that’s the case, maybe you should forget some more!

DB: I can only think of one incident on Station To Station - it’s the only thing I can remember and that was trying to get Earl Slick….I remember working with Earl on the guitar sounds out in the studio itself and screaming the feedback sound that I wanted at him! I remember doing that! I also remember telling him to take a Chuck Berry riff and just play it all the way through the solo - don’t deviate, just play that whole riff over and over again, even though the chords are changing underneath, just keep it going. He said ‘what, man?’, I said, ‘It’ll work! It’ll work!’ That’s about all I remember. I can’t even remember the studio. I know it was in LA because I’ve read it was in LA….

DF: What made you turn away from drugs then? Is it like, spirituality, you have to find, is that the route you take? Some people do it to get back to a normal life…..

DB: Firstly, physically I was painfully emancipated - emaciated! Emancipated came later! Some points I almost reached like 80 pounds, it’s just really painful, and also my disposition left a lot to be desired - I was paranoid, manic depressive, all the usual emotional paraphernalia that came with abuse of amphetamines and coke.

DF: Okay, if you go back to your 20s and you’re driven, and now it’s the 90s and you’re 50 years of age and driven. What’s the difference between the two drivens?

DB: I have a drive now. I’m not sure that I’m driven. It’s different. I have a motor that works at a 24 hour length. I’m very aware of the day that I’m living through and I’m very happy about being in the ‘now’ in that way. It sounds very neo-Buddhistic but it’s true. I feel very content with what I do on each day as it happens. I think when I was in my 20s, I was always looking to the next thing. I wasn’t enjoying recording - I had made records but I was always three steps ahead of myself, so I never enjoyed process. But now I really enjoy making an album, then actually doing the tour and enjoying the performances, and that’s a different kind of feeling entirely. And possibly, it’s not possible until you get older, I don’t know. I think when you’re young, your projected event horizon is much more fascinating to you, you’re always thinking about what you could do next, you know, I want to do this! Just in regular life - ‘if I get this job, maybe it will lead to this promotion’. You know, that kind of just a young man’s ambition more or less overrides everything. It really does change when you get older. I wouldn’t have guessed that when I was 25 that you could actually still have the same enthusiasm - it’s modulated in a different way, it has different characteristics. It’s still there, the enthusiasm, but it’s not so ambition-driven.

DF: Do you think that getting married has actually made you a better person towards appreciating other people, that you’ve got maybe more real friends now than you did 20 years ago?

DB: I’m not sure if it’s chicken or egg. I think probably I couldn’t have carried out this relationship and continued it if I hadn’t have been in a place where I was ready for a real long-lasting relationship with somebody, so I had changed. (Sarcastically) I’ve been changing over the last ten years - always the chameleon! I guess I just got more…I probably had a greater grip on the reality of what my life had become, and what I wanted my life to become. So I knew that I really was looking for some kinds of emotional stabilities, things that would tether me to the ground a bit more. So I was in a good place when we met for that, and I guess that the reciprocal love between us has just kept me extremely buoyant about life. And I’m in love still, it’s as simple as that. I think being in love has an awful lot to do with it.

DF: Finally, one last question. Over the year, where you’ve played live, with the band pared down from the eight-piece to the five-piece with the Americans in it -

DB: With the Americans in it! I love that!

DF: - the American band, if you like. You’ve played with Nine Inch Nails, you’ve played the Kremlin, Euro festivals as opposed to Wembley Arena, that kind of thing, east coast ballrooms…you get off the road, make an album, and you have this band now…for the last few years of the millennium, how do you see it’s gonna happen? Do you see it continuing with this band for a while?

DB: I think we really have a strong affection for each other, probably because what has happened to me over the last few years…I just find it a real joy to have real strong social contact with the people that I’m working with, as opposed to just popping in, doing my work and leaving, and going back into this hermetically-sealed isolation. So I mean I know already that the rest of this year will be working - we start in rehearsals in April, we’re doing a real biggie from May through December - really smashing! And I’m really looking forward to that a lot. I don’t know what’s going to happen after that - I think that frankly that’s enough for me to know, that I’m going to be doing that through Christmas and that’s fine, that’s enough. Let’s see next year how it is, I don’t know.

[Clip: Little Wonder]

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This document last updated Tuesday, 01-Dec-1998 11:44:58 EST
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