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November 2005 - Galore Magazine, Germany Print E-mail

“Rock stars have to show off because they’ve got weak egos.”

7 November 2005, London. A simple loft in the proletarian borough of Islington serves as the office of Nick Mason, the drummer in Pink Floyd – a reserved, quietly spoken individual with a wiry figure and a good sense of humour.

Interviewer: Mr Mason, what’s the biggest advantage of being a member of one of the most successful bands of all time?

Nick Mason: Do you want to see my cars?

How many have you got now?

Over thirty, but it’s not the quality that’s important, it’s the quality. To put it candidly, success gives you money and the things you can do with it. It’s a wonderful way to make a living! Most people in England would rather be rock stars or professional footballers. It’s certainly an enormously privileged occupation. As well as playing in front of an audience, which satisfies your craving for attention, it’s also a ticket to meet your personal heroes. Being a famous drummer makes it much easier for me to go to a Grand Prix and talk to Michael Schumacher. If I’d become an architect as originally intended, it wouldn’t be that simple. Life as a rock star is like a pass to meet interesting people.

So what are the disadvantages?

The whole area of personal relationships is tricky. All the members of the band are currently on their second or even third marriage. I know that marriages break up in every social group, but the music business is especially unhealthy in this respect. The same goes for friendships; you simply have far fewer structured arrangements in place to keep up relationships. Friends stay away because they think: “Better leave him alone – he’s a success.” Then again, we’re lucky in that we aren’t stars the media are particularly interested in. I see what it’s like for people who get recognised on the street. It may be great to go into a restaurant and get the best table and be served the best wine on the house, but I’d rather go without and do the things I like doing.

Was your low media profile a conscious decision?

No. We found a niche in the music business where we could exist. It took a while before we began to appreciate our anonymity. When we started we wanted to be world-famous pop stars. We just didn’t have a clue....

Didn’t the band want to be rich?

Probably. We wanted to be a rock band, meet girls, get rich and have fun. Money wasn’t the driving force but rather a pleasant side-effect. The overriding motive was purely to show off. Rock stars desperately have to show off because they’ve got weak egos.

Pink Floyd’s roots are in the English middle classes, aren’t they?

Yes, we do come from the middle classes – just like most people. In the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll was the music of the working class. That changed completely in the 1960s when a new generation of musicians emerged from the art schools with original ideas. At the same time albums became popular, giving musicians an outlet to extend themselves. The way we organise things is also typically middle-class. This goes in particular for our communication: we’re eloquent, but there are certain things we never discussed properly. If we had, I’m sure we would have been able to work together better.

Your recently published book Inside Out describes the 1960s as a time of cultural awakening. Can you explain how that happened?

Well, there are certainly others who can do that better than I can. We realised there was a movement going on, but we hardly had anything to do with it. There were poets, artists, fashion designers and the drugs culture, we saw all that. But we were busy making music. As I see it, the 1960s were the time when a young generation acquired money. If you had a good idea, you could shape your own destiny – something that hadn’t been possible beforehand. In addition, there was a new desire for education on the part of the middle classes.

You write that the country had to pay a high price for this liberal climate in the late 1970s.

In my opinion, the people who were left out of the psychedelic revolution and didn’t enjoy it became Tory politicians. That might be an extreme view of things; in fact there were a few good things about Thatcherism, too. Under Labour, taxes were huge and the country was nearly bankrupt. We needed to achieve a balance. Nevertheless, I do think that Thatcher destroyed a functioning education system. The teachers’ strike for example led to a disaster we haven’t recovered from yet. The same goes for the health service: the idea of earning a profit on people’s health simply doesn’t work.

Did Labour drive Pink Floyd into tax exile in France?

No. It was greed that drove Pink Floyd into exile. We thought we could make a pile of cash if we lived outside the country, saved taxes and invested the money. Unfortunately, the people we chose to invest the money were useless.

In contrast to other groups, at least Pink Floyd was never ripped off by greedy managers.

When we started out we simply never earned enough money to be ripped off. The lion’s share of our takings went to the record company. (Pause for thought) But you’re right; I know masses of musicians who got ripped off in the 1960s. We were rather lucky with our management company, Blackhill.

One ironic aspect of the Pink Floyd story is that when Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd, Blackhill remained loyal to him and not the rest of the band.

In hindsight it was probably an error, but it was the right decision at the time. Syd had written all our songs and the rest of us didn’t show much promise. (Pause for thought) With Syd it was like James Dean and Jimi Hendrix. He never really fathomed his potential. He was enormously important in launching the band and steering it through its first few years. But Syd’s drug career put me off. I can’t speak for the others, but I hardly ever took any drugs.

Is it true that Barrett moved back home to live with his mother?

He now lives with his family; they look after him. He still receives royalties so he’ll never have any financial problems. Apart from that one time when he turned up unexpectedly at Abbey Road Studios when we were recording, I’ve never seen him since. We have indirect contact through our business ties. But I gather it gets on Syd’s nerves to be reminded about the band.

Yet he was the one who dreamt up your name – after the blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Did you know them?

I’d be lying to claim that I paid any great attention to them. At that time loads of compilations were being released, but I never studied the covers. They must have made records since Syd came across their names, but I haven’t got a single one of them. That’s probably an oversight....

Have Pink Floyd ever followed trends?

Not consciously, but everything influences you somehow. As far as technology was concerned, we always used state-of-the-art equipment, but we weren’t ahead of anybody. We got Moog synthesisers at the same time as everybody else.

Nevertheless, the band seemed to know the recipe for timeless music.

If I knew what it was, I’d write a book about it, believe me. I don’t understand myself how that happened. We hit upon a style that was rather abstract – that might be a reason. It recently struck me that Roger’s lyrics have much more to say to a fifty-year-old than to someone who’s twenty. Many of his most poignant lines deal with people thinking about their past. But when he wrote them, he was barely in his late twenties.

Who were your idols?

Cream was perhaps the most innovative rock band. Moreover, they had a drummer who sat in the middle, which appealed to me greatly. They didn’t have to make singles but everyone still wanted to go to their concerts.

How do you rate yourself as a drummer?

Technically? Rather feeble. My advantage is that I’m interested in minimalism, whereas the gymnastics of drumming don’t appeal to me one little bit. I find drum solos, even when they’re played by good drummers, extremely boring. I never took lessons, which I now regret. I don’t think much of my musical abilities as an individual, although I think that together we achieved some great stuff.

You even got other people to do the drumming during the sessions for A Momentary Lapse Of Reason.

Well, not all the drum parts! In retrospect I rather regret that, although it wasn’t the first time. There’s an early single on which the producer played the drums, for example. If we hadn’t got much time and I couldn’t play a part, somebody else did it instead. The thing is that on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, too many things were played by other people. That was a mistake, but at the time David Gilmour had an awful lot on his plate. At least with Jim Keltner I chose one of the best drummers around.

If you had a time machine, what point in your career would you return to?

At the beginning when we drove up and down England in a van, we had a happy time. Then again, we had even more fun during the last tour for The Division Bell – as far as I was concerned, that was the best of all our tours. The good thing about doing a nine-month trip is that the show is absolutely perfect. For the earlier tours, the rehearsal periods were very short, and the concerts only got really good at the end of the tour. (Pause for thought) One could also go back to the time around The Wall and perform it more often.... I’d certainly use the time machine to repeat a complete tour. Furthermore, I’d travel back to 1973 and film the recording sessions for The Dark Side Of The Moon.

After a ten-year absence from the stage, this summer you played drums again during the Live8 concert. Did you enjoy it?

Well, being a drummer you’re never at the centre – those bastards at the front of the stage always get all the attention. (Laughs) Apart from that, it was fantastic. I don’t need to do performances like that, but it’s still nice when they happen – especially when it’s for such a good cause like Live8. For us it was the best possible reason to get back together again.

During Live8, it looked as though guitarist David Gilmour had been appointed front man.

Yes, he was the musical director. It was a magnanimous gesture by Roger Waters to step back and say: “Do what you think is right.” We were able to work together again, and that was another triumph. Roger and I have to function well together, of course; David’s at the front and he sings most of the songs. Then again, in the past Roger never doubted David’s musical abilities – they argued about other things.

By contrast, you describe yourself as someone who prefers to avoid confrontation. Does that usually work out?

I prefer a life free of conflict, you’re right. But sometimes you have to make decisions in which confrontation can’t be avoided. That’s why I sometimes need a long time to take certain decisions because I spend forever racking my brains. Then I consult advisers and friends, only to find they can’t help me either. (Laughs)

But somebody must have helped you get over the fear of flying you had for years. You now fly again, don’t you?

Yes. By the way, we were all scared of flying – a dreadful problem for travelling rock musicians. I talked about it to a friend of mine, who happened to be a pilot. He said I should learn to fly myself. It’s a brilliant piece of advice and I can only recommend other people to do likewise – it’s just a shame that flying lessons are so expensive. When you’re the pilot, it’s so exciting that you’re not scared any more. It worked fantastically in my case: I fly a lot and now own two small aircraft and a helicopter. And now I’ve even got a flying instructor’s licence.

You’ve also taken part in several motor races, haven’t you?

My father was a racing driver, which as a child I admired of course. I entertained the idea of taking up motor racing myself for a long time. At some point I had some money saved up, went on holiday and tried out motor racing for myself. I’ve now driven round the Le Mans 24-hour circuit five times.

Is it the thrill of adrenaline you’re looking for?

No, it’s not the thrill. I like precision and machines as such. It’s the same with flying – I find the technology much more fascinating than the thrill of flying.

Finally, I’d like to come back to your book again. In it, you also describe the thorny consequences of free love for the members of the band. Did you decide to completely leave out your sexual escapades?

Come on! Of course I did! I don’t think they’re relevant anyway. Certainly there was sex in Pink Floyd, but I’m not sure the others would like me to talk about it. Let’s put it this way: things certainly went on, but it was never as wild as in Led Zeppelin.

Is the book the final chapter of your rock star career?

No, I’m definitely still up for it. David doesn’t want to go on tour at the moment and that’s to be respected; I won’t push him either. As long as the Rolling Stones are still on the road, there’s no need for us to worry about our age. But if it was all to start again tomorrow, I’d start packing like a shot.


GALORE issue 1405, very kindly translated by Chris Abbey exclusively for BRAIN DAMAGE.

 
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