Interview by Matt Johns, Brain Damage
I caught up with Norbert Stachel, Roger Waters' saxophonist, after the conclusion of the In The Flesh tour 2002, to find out how it had all gone, and his thoughts on various topics. He very kindly agreed to undergo a grilling - thanks Norbert!
When you've finished reading this, why not visit Norbert and Karen Stachel's site at www.purpleroom.net to find out more about them, their music, their photography, and how to get hold of Norbert and Karen's music.
You can also go directly to mp3.com/norbertstachel and mp3.com/karenstachel to buy or download some of their music.
You've performed 63 shows with the rest of the band on this tour, covering most of the planet apart from North America; how've you enjoyed it?
It was an interesting experience. I'm glad I did it, and I would do it again.
What would you think if asked to do a tour of that length and distance again? And would you tour with Roger Waters again (if asked) or would you look to work with another artiste in a different genre of music?
There are other genres of music that I enjoy playing more, but the opportunities to play in those situations aren't always available, and quite often those situations don't pay nearly as well, either.
I've travelled away from my wife a lot, and I usually turn down "Road Gigs" unless the pay extremely well, and they are musically and socially enjoyable for me.
The tour started in South Africa, then moved to South America. Sounds like the band were mobbed by excited fans in those places. What was that like?
I'm not Roger Waters, and I was rarely approached.
As for you and the rest of the band, what was your view of the mobbing? Was it worrying?
Most of the band members seemed excited but maybe a little scared. I only remember one mobbing in South America, it was either in Santiago or Buenos Aires. I think that the tour security and the rest of us were just caught off our guard at that one airport where they rushed Roger. Again, they usually only rush Roger, or sometimes Snowy, when they think that he is Roger.
The Japanese fans are normally very quiet and reserved. Was this still the case, and if so, did it seem strange after the fervour of the shows that preceded the Japanese ones?
I have performed in Japan with other groups in the past for very lively audiences. Roger's audience in Japan seemed asleep and nearly dead. i.e.: yawning, eyes closed, etc. It was a downer for the entire band, but it didn't bother me at all.
The Dubai show received a bit of criticism, mainly over the supposed double standards - lyrics about the evils of money etc, being sung in a "plush, fairly exclusive" venue. Did the band get to hear any of this criticism?
I never personally heard any of that criticism. My comment would be to ask who are these rich criticizers that could afford those expensive tickets and live in the epicenter of all of the Arab worlds' richest banking center and financial source of funding to the so-called "Islamic-based" world terrorist organizations that claim to want to make the world better by killing Jews and Americans. I'll do a gig in the desert for a Bedouin community if they want me to.
On the other hand, ticket prices for the Indian show were high in comparison to the average wage but there was seemingly only praise that the tour was hitting India as most artists avoid it, and an understanding of why the tickets couldn't be cheaper. What sort of reaction did you see from the Indian fans?
As usual, I wasn't made aware of the financial details. I had no verbal contact with the fans, either.
From reviews of the show, the Beirut gig was quite significant, certainly to the concert goers. What was the atmosphere like? I understand that there was the occasional fighter jet overhead!
I didn't hear any jets, but I was made aware by the security people backstage during the show when I don't play that some of the audience were changing the lyrics into anti-Sharon/Israel words and handing out militant anti-Israel leaflets.
The concert in Erfurt, Germany, followed not too long after a tragic shooting in a local school, where many were killed. Did this impact this particular concert in any way? I'm thinking specifically about Another Brick which has school-related lyrics which some people may have been uneasy about so soon after this incident.
I'm sure that this struck a chord with some people in the audience. I usually don't get approached much by audience members, so I have little verbal interaction with people and fans.
I presume that Nick Mason rehearsed with yourselves prior to Wembley. What was the atmosphere like when he arrived, from the personnel in general, to Roger, in particular (for example, any vibes about the acrimonious split of Pink Floyd)?
It was a warm and friendly vibe, and I wasn't aware of any trips between people.
Nick confirmed to me a few days ago that he had played other songs in the soundcheck. Was there the possibility of him staying on stage (or returning to the stage) to play these too, and what did Graham Broad think of it all?
I really don't remember Nick playing any other songs at sound check. I have no idea what Graham thought of it all. He actually seemed quite entertained by having Nick sit-in at the time.
What was Glastonbury like to end the tour with? How was the band feeling at that point, having celebrated the end of the tour proper at Wembley a couple of days before? Were the facilities a lot more basic than you were all used to?
The Glastonbury gig was very similar to a lot of other gigs that I have done in the past with other bands. There was a warm feeling within the band, and everyone was ready to go back home at this point.
The facilities were a change of pace, compared to what came before, but not much time had to be spent there, so it really didn't matter.
Will you be back for Roger's charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 16th?
I will do the gig if I am asked to. However, I would rather play for a charity that protects animals' lives.
You said before that you were looking forward to visiting some countries (South Africa, UAE, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Lebanon, Poland and Russia). What was the interest in these countries, and did they live up (or exceed) expectations? Did some countries surprise you?
I am interested in countries that have a colorful history, culture, and expression of life through their art and music. Unfortunately I didn't really get to do and see as much as I would have liked to, as is usually the case for me on music tours.
I will definitely want to return to all of them.
UAE surprised me in how westernized it is.
There were some unusual places picked as part of the tour. Where would you have liked to have visited, that was not included in the itinerary?
I would like to visit all of the African countries, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Israel, China, Tibet, Rumania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Cuba, Scotland, Wales, Bali, Tahiti, etc.
How did you cope with the travelling and the no doubt endless procession of near identical hotel rooms?
It can get very grueling, but I have many years of experience living that way.
What did you do to occupy your time, or take your mind off the monotony?
My wife and I spoke on the phone at least once a day. I carry my Power Book computer with me and work on composing music. I take walks and try to get in a little sight-seeing and exercise. Many other band members like to go shopping.
Did the tour manager try to find some unusual places for you all to stay in?
What kind of unusual places did you stay in?
The hotel in Cape Town gave us all huge apartment-like suites, and the place we stayed in London was also similar in size, but also early 20th century style.
David Gilmour, Roger's ex-colleague, is allegedly touring at the end of this year. If asked, would you consider touring with him, despite (or maybe because of) the possibility of the same or similar material being covered?
I wouldn't feel that I would be disloyal to Roger by accepting another job from anybody, as long as it didn't interfere with any prior contractual obligations to him.
Putting any issues of disloyalty to one side (I'm sure Roger wouldn't mind, anyway) would this prospect suit you, after finishing a long tour with presumably very similar material being played? What would be your view of working with David and his band?
Just like most people, I work for a living. I play music because it's what I do. I play for the enjoyment and satisfaction, and I also play in order to survive and pay the bills. The work made available to me isn't always exactly my dream come true in every aspect, but if it can take care of most of my needs, I accept the work gladly.
If David or anyone would offer me a good paying job with good working conditions, I would definitely consider it. The kind of music I really love and enjoy playing the most doesn't usually pay very well, even if you are the star. If I can find a way to make an adequate living doing what I love, that would be ideal.
What was the deal with the card game during "Dogs"? Was it played seriously? Was any money (or anything else) at stake and if so, who emerged victorious (and richer!) at the end of the tour?
It was a real game played with real money, but I'm not sure who the final victor was, or by how much.
Were there any jokes played on anyone during the tour? Was there a "band joker"?
No, not really.
Did Harry Waters get treated differently to the others in the band? Often, someone in his position (a relative of the boss) has to work harder (or feel they have to) in order to prove their worth. As far as you could see, was this the case with Harry? Or, being a "Waters", did this give him a raised status in any way?
Yes, young Hal was treated a bit different by some members of the entourage. He didn't seem too worried about proving anything musically.
You played the EWI on a couple of songs. It looks very simple how does it work, and what advantages does it give over more traditional instruments? Had you used it before in a touring environment?
EWI is a challenge for me to play well and musically. Playing it correctly requires more finger precision and oral control than most organic wind instruments.
To change notes within the octave you must coordinate finger combinations on the touch-sensitive keys in perfect sync. You use the thumb rollers to play intervals above and below the octave range that you started from. To control volume, vibrato, and nuance you use the mouthpiece in the same way that you would use any reed-based woodwind by inserting it in your mouth and blowing.
A very interesting description of the instrument! Sounds a challenge - was this why you used it? I was wondering what advantages it gives over more traditional instruments (apart from being quite compact)? Had you used it in a live setting before?
I used the EWI with my own band and a few select others in the past. Using the proper sound sources via MIDI, you can create very unique sounding instruments and textures that you can't reproduce using keyboards or a single wind instrument.
I wasn't able to prepare those kind of sounds in time for this past tour. I arrived in England not knowing that I would be asked to play any synthesizer or keyboard parts. I suggested that it would be a good idea for me to play these parts on an EWI, and ordered a new EWI from the US while rehearsing in London, since my old one back in the US was broken, and there weren't any EWI's available in England or Europe.
I ended up only using the built-in sounds that came with the new EWI module, since we didn't have the time or resources to get a better sounding module or sampler together and programmed for me for use on the tour.
Did Roger allow you a good degree of flexibility or did you have fairly strict musical or time-related constraints (maybe to fit in with projected images or film or whatever)?
From what I know about this musical genre, I can say that Roger was somewhat flexible with me, within a degree.
Has your opinion of Roger's music changed over the past six months? Has anything you've heard (or played on) encouraged you to search out and listen to, the original album(s)?
Not really. I have become more aware of the lyrical and political content in his words, though.
Having very much a jazz-based background, does your soul yearn to get back to "proper" music?
What's "proper" for me is probably "rubbish" to others, and vice-versa! I do look forward to playing any kind of music that is both fun and challenging, and that allows me to express myself without any borders or boundaries.
Although you are obviously a very accomplished and versatile musician, are there any instruments you have an interest in trying out, that you haven't already? Were there any you came across during the tour, unique to particular countries, that interested you?
I love the sound of bamboo and other wooden ethnic flutes and reed instruments from around the world, and I bought several "Ney" while we were in Beirut. I also love the sound of the Arabic Oud (lute), and of course hand drums and percussion instruments from Africa, India, and the middle east.
Did you manage to find things to occupy yourself between songs you performed on? And who was the masked torch-bearer in the second half - was it you?
I practiced piccolo backstage, and the stage manager Bob "Hydro" Mullins was the masked man on stage!
Is it true that Roger (rather sensibly) used a handful of pre-recorded vocal segments to save his voice from too much strain? When I met him at Wembley his voice was struggling and he was sucking lozenges. I'd much rather artists used the odd pre-recorded segment (selectively) rather than have to cancel shows...
Yes, and I agree.
Did the band follow much of the soccer World Cup? Roger used to be a big football fan is he still? I guess the US contingent of the band and crew were pretty pleased with the US team's progress into the later stages!
Yes, and I didn't pay much attention to what the other Americans were saying about the games. I'm not much of a sports fan.
What were your favourite moments from the shows?
I enjoyed watching Roger's stage presence, listening to Pat's vocal solos, and eating great catering night after night!
From the tour as a whole?
It was good to have the opportunity to share the stage musically with Roger Waters and a prestigious group of English musicians, and travel to places that most people don't ever get a chance to see in a lifetime.
What were the funniest moments?
Watching everyone's party piece at the band dinner in Dublin was the funniest moment.
Can you divulge any of these?
Roger made a speech and played the trumpet. (He actually didn't sound that bad for a beginner.) I told a tasteful Jewish joke. Andy W., Katie K., and P.P. sang a classic soul tune with Andy W. accompanying with brushes on snare drum and Andy F.L. on acoustic guitar.
Chester wrote and performed a Bob Dylan song singing alternate lyrics and playing guitar and harmonica. Carol played a song on the flute and sang a song. Andy F.L. and Katie did a little skit using a Hawaiian theme. Snowy made a speech and used a motorized James Brown doll as a prop.
Graham did a magic show and really bad impersonations of a couple of us. Harry stuck a stretched-out condom into his nose and pulled it out through his mouth. Mark Fenwick did a little factory workers skit. Andrew Zweck did a Australian musical skit involving an Aboriginal thunder sheet accompanying some goofy Aussie folk song.
How would you describe the different members of the band, including Roger, having spent six months in their company? Just from an outsiders point of view, there looked to be a good mix of personalities.
Everyone has their good points and their bad points. There were times when there were definite personality conflicts, but everybody's sense of professionalism always persevered in the end.
Were there nights when things went wrong?
Can you give some examples?
Sometimes there were equipment failures involving the guitar amps and pedals, interference with the wireless mics and earphones, and voltage supply or other problems with the keyboards. Sometimes the sequenced lead vocal dubs and counts were off sync or didn't work at all.
Sometimes the digital graphics or projections were also off sync or didn't work either. Sometimes individuals struggled with their voices being horse, or with remembering lyrics or instrumental parts.
What was your favourite show or venue?
I enjoyed the Rome, Moscow, and South America shows the most.
What was it about these shows that put them ahead of the rest?
The good vibe, connection and enthusiasm with these audiences made these shows better than other shows.
Did the weather cause problems for any outdoor shows?
Not for me, but maybe for the sound and stage crew, particularly in Warsaw.
What were your favourite moments from the tour on and off stage?
I enjoyed listening to a Russian Gypsy band that performed at a dinner held for us in Moscow.
Did any illnesses or accidents strike the band during the tour?
Nothing out of the ordinary.
What's next for you? You mentioned a home restoration project how's that going?
My wife and I will be moving into our New York apartment that is presently being renovated. We will both be playing all kinds of music in and around the New York and east-coast areas.
And musically what is next? More touring? Or are you ready to record some more material?
I plan on doing as much of my own music as possible, and also find opportunities to play and record with other great musicians.
When are you looking to release your new CD? Will the tour help with an international release or was that going to happen anyway?
I am presently an unsigned artist, and the tour didn't really connect me with many people relevant to my own solo career.
Will you be making your new music available on the web?
I am going to do all that I can from now on to reach people with my music.
Has your new material been influenced by the tour either in terms of the music (maybe in structure, the use of voices and sounds linking tracks, and so on), or in terms of some of the places and people visited?
I'm not personally aware of any new influences, but if there are any I'm sure that it will come out in the music.
What has struck you the most about fans of Roger Waters?
I find the fans that I have met to be a bit neurotic, but aren't all fans like that?