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Roger Waters - New York Times talk, April 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Ed Lopez-Reyes   
Thursday, 27 April 2017
Roger Waters - New York Times talk, 26 April 2017

Last night, New York Times music critic John Pareles and Roger Waters were joined by an audience of 350 for a live interview as part of The New York Times’ TimesTalks series at New York City’s Florence Gould Hall. The interview spanned discussions about the scale Pink Floyd brought to rock music, Waters’ upcoming new album, American politics, and many other topics. A video of the whole interview can be seen at the foot of this piece.

When Pink Floyd and Roger Waters parted ways in the 1980s it was a division not only of musical journeys but also of political presences. David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd shared general philosophical ideas with Waters but the specificity and force with which Waters criticized particular politicians or policies was amplified as he began his solo career.

Waters’ voice on this plane has been rising since and has often demonstrated good instinct for portension: as New York Times music critic John Pareles noted, after 25 years Amused to Death not only remains relevant but has actually turned out “prophetic.”

Given what we know about Waters’ Mexico shows last year (the source of some of the footage shown during the interview) and what he shared with Pareles this evening, it seems we are about to experience the most intense of Waters’ political statements on his new album, Is This the Life We Really Want?, and his upcoming Us + Them Tour. As Waters himself acknowledged following an audience question, it will be interesting how the album and tour is received in proverbial ‘Kansas City.’

The discussion began with questions that were largely focused on the scale, legacy, and impact of Pink Floyd, balanced with questions about Waters’ new album and its construction.

Waters illustrated how the band’s well-known ‘scale’ began with the inflatable pig and the overall Animals era tour. He explained that Pink Floyd scaled up to events that didn’t necessarily glorify the musicians, drawing attention away from the band and toward the theatrics that were becoming increasingly relevant in the rock music era that ushered the band’s greatest successes. Waters also addressed both how much he had disliked this scale and why he eventually embraced it, describing changes rooted in his growing relationship with the audience and a less sarcastic attitude: more concerned with biographical background and questions of who we are.

Regarding the new album, it was interesting to glean the amount of trust he put in Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. In many respects, Waters seemed to admit relinquishing more control than usual over the new album’s stylistic path. When challenged by Pareles to mention specific ways in which he gave the producer more volition he joked about having to cut specific song verses out in the process of reducing what would have otherwise been a very long album (to a more digestible 54 minutes). This particular part of the sojourn resulted in one of the evening’s better treats as Waters recited verses that were left off the new album.

Waters underscored the external challenges attached to the process of making a record today. Given the 25 year span between solo albums, Pareles asked Waters how he felt recording technology had changed in that window of time. His answer was that it hadn’t, that it has only become smaller and more compressed – that a waning and lack of traditional sales models (replaced by legal and illegal streaming services) have forced studios to operate in diminished ways.

When Pareles asked Waters how difficult it had been to relinquish the Pink Floyd brand, Waters stressed the importance for young musicians to follow their instincts and not feel beholden to a brand – a commercial umbrella. If there was any regret, he said, it would be the fact that he was perceived as “the bad guy” for being the one to break from the band – but he thrived in the freedom it availed.

The event included a number of interesting questions from the audience but one that was particularly germane: regarding personnel on the new album in contrast to his upcoming and past touring bands. Is This the Life We Really Want? introduces some musicians into the extended Pink Floyd universe. Waters provided details on which of these will be on tour with him as well as which will remain from previous tours, e.g., Jon Carin. The follow-up question that still remains is how he chose the current band for each his new album and the upcoming tour. Given the scale of The Wall Live and the cohesiveness of that touring band, it cultivates curiosity when such significant personnel shifts take place.

Despite all the music topics discussed, the center of gravity, thematically, was politics, and specifically Donald Trump. It is in this particular subject area that fans will find plenty of room for debate: during The Wall Live Tour, the thread of big brother/mother, lack of privacy, war, and other elements anathema to individual rights was often cast under the light of liberal politics. But politics, much like religion, is never that black and white: many could sense a theme that was more palpably libertarian. Given the hostility Trump confronted within his own Party during last year’s U.S. elections, and the popular oversimplification of many of those who supported him, it will indeed be interesting to see how the album and tour play out in some corners of the United States as well as what debates it compels.

If there was one question that seemed to be missing, it was the question of what themes or ideas being presented on tour could help serve as a unifying force. We know what Waters will object to but have not yet fully seen how that will manifest on stage (except for what we saw in Mexico). Part of this interview with TimesTalks focused on Waters’ relationship with and commitment to veterans – it summons a side of Waters that is most preoccupied with making the most human of connections and appealing to a better part of us. It is this side of Waters that has yielded some of the brightest moments in an impressive catalog of work. Given our current political environment, Waters could help heal wounds by articulating a message that is critical but also invites those who have supported these politics into this dialog. How Waters can capitalize on his voice, transcend partisan or philosophical divide, and engender greater unity is the question that persists. Given Waters’ work with veterans and his investment in that constituency we know there is a history of compassion. There are signs the Us + Them Tour could serve as a unifying opportunity and a chance to understand each other better. It is left to be seen which side of our individual natures is present when the time comes in ‘Kansas City.’

You can see a Facebook Live recording of this event here. Alternatively, you should be able to view it here:

 
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