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October 21st 2001 - Jam Music, Canada Print E-mail

Attempts to mine the Pink Floyd archive for new releases may be close to an end with the November appearance of "Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd," says the band's drummer Nick Mason.

"We haven't got much other archival stuff left," Mason told JAM! Music in a Canadian exclusive interview via telephone from his home in England.

"We could do the not-quite-best of Pink Floyd as the next album, and then finally do the very worst of. There is a bit of a restriction on that sort of thing," Mason chuckled.

"Echoes" (out Nov. 6) is a double-disc set featuring 26 songs drawn from across the band's career, starting with the proto-psychedelia of the Syd Barrett years, through the salad days of bassist Roger Waters' stewardship for "Dark Side Of The Moon," "Wish You Were Here," "Animals" and "The Wall," and on to the latter-day releases with guitarist David Gilmour at the helm.

There have been past attempts to summarize Pink Floyd's career: "Relics" (1971), "A Collection Of Great Dance Songs" (1981), "Works" (1983) and the "Shine On" box set (1992), not to mention the live albums "Delicate Sound Of Thunder" (1988), "Pulse" (1995) and last year's "Wall"-era live set "Is There Anybody Out There?"

The twist on this collection is that the music has been arranged non-chronologically into cross-faded medleys. As well, the "Wall"-period rarity "When The Tigers Broke Free" has been added to the set.

But beyond this, Mason said it's hard for him to imagine drawing another release from the Floyd archive.

"We really don't have much. Considering the length of time we have been going, our output has been pretty meager. There aren't a lot of other live things. It was almost luck that we found 'The Wall' recordings -- they were half-forgotten really," he said, referring to the concert album drawn from the tour in support of that album.

The 30th anniversary of their breakthrough "Dark Side Of The Moon" album is coming up in a couple of years, which could theoretically lead to some kind of tie-in release. But Mason pointed out that the record's 25th anniversary was feted just a few years ago with another reissue of the "Dark Side."

"I suppose we could do it every five years. Great idea. I'll make note of that. And then we could finally package the 50-year one, a five-album set with five different covers," he laughed.

"There's a point where it would become deeply embarrassing without doing something new."

But something new -- say, a new studio album from the active members of the group to follow on 1994's "The Division Bell -- is also a dim prospect. Although he has recently announced some modest-sized solo shows, Gilmour has said he isn't keen on embarking on another tour of Floydian proportions. And it's unlikely the group would prepare another new studio album unless there was a commitment to head out on the road for a year of support dates, Mason said.

So for now, the closest the group is likely to get to "something new" is "Echoes," which is okay with Mason.

"Best-of albums always, I think, come from the record company. Perhaps they look at their sales sheets and think: What can we do?," Mason explained.

"Having said that, I have got plenty of best-ofs in my CD collection by other people. There's nothing wrong with them.

"What is perhaps interesting in this one is we tried, not to take a different view, but we had serious, fairly lengthy discussions on whether to run it in chronological order, whether to do any editing, and whether to do any cross-fading. All of which we did do in the end."

The idea for "Echoes" came up last year when the label floated the idea to Mason, Gilmour, keyboardist Rick Wright, and wayward bassist-turned-solo-act Roger Waters. Given the history of rancour among the band members, it's no surprise that Mason says they never met around a boardroom table as a group to discuss the project.

Instead, the issues surrounding "Echoes" were decided by e-mail and with longtime engineer James Guthrie serving as a diplomatic intermediary, about everything from the song lineup to whether to make the set a single, double or triple CD package.

"I should say it is unfortunately like a lot of group relationships. There is a fair amount of angst about the whole thing," Mason said. "At the end of the day, we have to find some way to work together, even with the ones we have fallen out with, or who have fallen out with each other.

"You use some people, particularly James Guthrie, who we all like and trust, and they can take a view we can all go along with. Or at least, we can find out the bits that we are arguing about, rather than just having one big fight about everything."

Despite all the stylistic, line-up and leadership changes, Mason said he has been impressed by the level of continuity across the group's career.

"If you take it apart, you would say Syd's lyrics were much more whimsical and freer, whereas Roger's were much more specific and dour. And yet there is a similarity between 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' and 'Dark Side Of The Moon.' I think it is probably an element that has to do with the technique of recording. That is part of the whole business, the change in the way records were made when we started, multi-tracking, overlaying sound, which started with Syd and has continued to the present day," Mason said.

"It is curious the band has kept a surprisingly strong musical identity, despite having three strong musical protagonists. It might be a similarity to Fleetwood Mac; you go through enormous changes in personnel, but there is a style adopted.

"It is very much more that thing of someone else taking over and continuing. It sounds very British to say 'taking over the tradition,' but they were already steeped in it when Dave took over or Roger took over. They were really continuing something they understood and were involved with."


Mason agreed to reflect on a few key tracks from "Echoes":

  • "Arnold Layne"
    (first single -- 1967) "It was our first real recording session. We had been in a studio and we were familiar with recording, but it was that thing of having a proper producer (Joe Boyd) that definitely made a difference.
     
    "When we were working with Syd doing the first songs, Syd was not the crazy diamond that he is now perceived to be. He was perfectly capable of assembling a track as a record, rather than a 15 minute piece. We were not trying to curb him in at all. He understood the medium and just got on with it.
     
    "I have not seen (Barrett) in years, although there are occasional sightings."
     
  • "Astronomy Domine"
    (from "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" -- 1967) "It is a great piece to play. It is a great energy song, really. But also, it is abstract enough that it still works. The songs that we found more difficult were songs like 'Echoes,' which lyrically are more... I don't know, they are more part of '60s thinking. 'Astronomy' is... wacky is too lightweight. The lyrics are abstract, the way they tumble around. It is a song that still works, and that is the test. You can't put your finger on it, but it is okay. It's scary, it is almost eternal."
     
  • "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun"
    (from "A Saucerful Of Secrets" -- 1968) "That is one of the tracks I did listen to again, and I thought had lasted well. I don't know why. I look back on that now, and I just remember being influenced by (drummer) Chico Hamilton from (the Newport Jazz Festival concert film) 'Jazz On A Summer's Day.' I remember seeing that when I was a kid and going YES! That is good. And having the chance to do something that was vaguely related -- Chico Hamilton was a little more advanced than I technically, but I suppose this comes by through influences. You can pick up an influence without being able to do a quarter of what that influence does."
     
  • "Jugband Blues"
    (from "A Saucerful Of Secrets" -- 1968) "That was a good example of something that was discussed at some length. But the feeling was it was such a powerful farewell from Syd. The lyrics there stop being abstract and become as sad and down and wistful as anything Roger wrote, very personal again. In a way, what one wanted to do was to put across a bit of the range of Syd's writing. 'Jugband' is a wonderfully tragic piece. It is very poignant, that is the word I am looking for."
     
  • "Money"
    (from "Dark Side Of The Moon" -- 1973) "By then we had developed a style of using natural sounds rather than musical notes for everything. I just remember searching for sounds to make that rhythm track with. In some cases, we were taking sound effects, in others we were creating them ourselves.
     
    "It is easy to sample something, but sampling can take forever to find the right sample. On 'Wish You Were Here,' there is the sound of a door opening and closing. We could have gone around searching for the right door. But what we did is record a fridge door at EMI. It sounded right. It was right there, it took no longer than sampling. You put it down and it is there. You get quite good at it.
     
    "You also get hidebound, of course. We made the transition to digital editing two years later than everyone else, because we got used to working with razor blades."
     
  • "Us And Them"
    (from "Dark Side Of The Moon" -- 1973) "Surprising that 'Dark Side' did so much better than 'Saucerful Of Secrets.' It is a better album, but I'm not sure it is 10 times better, if you get what I mean.
     
    "I think 'Us And Them' and 'Great Gig In The Sky,' probably owe a lot to the non-Pink Floyd element, i.e., Dick Parry, who played saxophone, and Claire Torry, who did the major part of the singing. It sort of lifted up and above what the band have done. For me, the interest is the bit that isn't the band. It adds that extra element to make them as strong as they are.
     
    (On claims that "Dark Side Of The Moon" was written to sync up to visual cues in "The Wizard Of Oz")
     
    "I haven't (tried it). But I hope someone else will do it when I'm there. I can never quite be bothered to do it. I can assure you we never worked with the film when we were working on the track. That would be so convoluted a way of making a record."
     
  • "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"
    (from "Wish You Were Here" -- 1975) "I think it was never intended to be a concept album, say the way 'Dark Side' was. 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' became a Syd-related thing. I'm sure you've heard the story of Syd just appearing in the studio, some of us not having seen him for years, literally. It is one of those very, very strange things that happened and helped us crystallize the idea that it was about absence."
     
  • "Sheep"
    (from "Animals" -- 1977) "'Animals' was done in our own studio in London and was fun to make. It was a much more domestic operation.
     
    "We didn't have a view of any ("Animals") track being stronger than the other. Time constraints. I think it was a bit of a tough toss-up as to which would go on ('Echoes'). As far as I can remember, it could have been 'Sheep,' could have been 'Dogs.' If it had been the other way around, there would be discussion about why 'Dogs' and not 'Sheep.'"
     
  • "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)"
    (from "The Wall" -- 1979) "I think 'The Wall' was such a big magnum opus, really. It sort of took various lessons of 'Dark Side' and took them further. It was the most thought-out, and it brought in extra expertise with (producer) Bob Ezrin, (string arranger) Michael Kamen, (engineer) James Guthrie. We brought everything we could to it.
     
    "It took the most work of anything we'd ever done, and contained the most work. It is not necessarily the hardest, but it contained so much thinking about how to do stuff. And the shows were such a development. They were everything we had learned over 20 years, put together properly.
     
    "Even if you are involved in the most dreadful punch-ups with your colleagues, there is enormous satisfaction in making a record. There is bad stuff, but the simple fact that you made it, and it is there, is a good thing. And it is there. Despite the punch-ups, just listening to it is a reward."
     
  • "When The Tigers Broke Free"
    (outtake from "The Wall" sessions) "We were lucky to have that one track lurking around. I think we just didn't have room (on 'The Wall' originally). We had put everything and the kitchen sink on, so it got left off. There are probably other albums where bits got left off -- particularly the soundtrack album ones, but not anything that could make a piece in its own right."
     
  • "Learning To Fly"
    (from "A Momentary Lapse Of Reason" -- 1987) "Before the '87 tour, we were all in Toronto for two or three months. We rehearsed at the airport, which was a great arrangement. We had a big hangar to rehearse in. And we like airplanes.
     
    "For me, the nicest thing with 'Learning To Fly' was the background noise of take-off, which is myself and the guy teaching me to fly at the time recording it all. Because there was that flying thing, we did something with MTV where they gave an airplane, a small aircraft away, to a prize-winner, along with a set of flying lessons."
     
  • "Keep Talking"
    (from "The Division Bell" -- 1994) "With 'The Division Bell,' most of the concept was set down in the writing. It's like U2; by the time pop stars are getting in advancing years, they become less connected with the problems of teenage love, except for their children's problems. And so consequently, inevitably, they are going to move on to other subjects and things that capture their imagination."
 
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