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Home arrow Interviews arrow David Gilmour interviews arrow June 5th 1995 - Der Spiegel, Germany
June 5th 1995 - Der Spiegel, Germany Print E-mail

Interview by Wolfgang Hoebel and Thomas Huetlin, in London


Pink Floyd boss David Gilmour on pop protest, wealth and his opponent Roger Waters

David Gilmour joined the British rock band Pink Floyd in 1968 as a replacement for the drug addicted Syd Barrett and is now at the helm of one of the most lucrative pop enterprises in the world.

Since the departure of Roger Waters in 1985, Pink Floyd shrunk to the trio of Gilmour, 49, Nick Mason, 51, and Richard Wright, [almost] 52 - and is more successful than ever with gigantic concerts and records made "in the old style". This week, the double CD "Pulse" with live recordings from last year's Pink Floyd world tour is released.

Q: Last summer, you had dinner with Vaclav Havel [the president of the Czech Republic], was that the high spot of your tour?

Gilmour: It was very nice, but not the high spot. Mr Havel is a very friendly man, and most of the people working for him seem to be musicians or music critics.

Q: Did you give him any political tips?

Gilmour: No, I'd find that too obtrusive. But I have to say that he is planning things that worry me a bit. He wants to introduce capitalism [to the Czech Republic], and sometimes he is too careless with it. When he told me he would like to see some skyscrapers when he looks out of his palace window, I was horrorstruck.

Q: What is so bad about tall buildings?

Gilmour: I don't particularly like them. Four to five storeys are OK, but go higher up and I start to feel uneasy.

Q: Your tour, which is now being documented on CD, was one of the most successful tours in rock history. You have earned more than $100 million in 1994. With sums being this big, does money still have any appeal to you?

Gilmour: I see myself as being [politically] left-wing, but not far enough left to be against money. I am no radical anti-capitalist. I quite like earning a bit of money.

Q: We're not talking about "a bit of money".

Gilmour: I regard the amount of money we're earning as obscene.

Q: Do you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think "I've made too much money"?

Gilmour: Frequently. And then I try to regain composure by getting up and just writing a few checks for charity.

Q: What causes your bad conscience?

Gilmour: The amount of money. Then again, when you compare that to what chairmen of big companies earn, I think that I am more entitled to my millions than they are. After all, I have made the world happier than Unilever.

Q: Your company is called Pink Floyd, and it works like an industrial enterprise. When you go on tour, you carry loads of equipment, and almost every newspaper article written about you begins with the 49 trucks and the number of planes which are needed to carry your equipment.

Gilmour: These boring figures don't interest me. Before we go on tour, we get together and I say, "I want laser, I want quadrophonic sound, I want this and that". And in the end someone says, "OK, that's 700 tons of equipment. That is going to cost a lot of money". I'd like to do it cheaper myself.

Q: Rumour has it that you developed all this high-tech equipment to divert the attention from the musicians.

Gilmour: We expected very early [in our career] that fame is like a prison. Besides, no-one of us was a shining magician. With just us four guys on the stage, people would have been bored soon. Therefore we developed Pink Floyd into a multi-media event...

Q: ...and that is how a gigantic inflatable pig became the best-known star of the band.

Gilmour: Last year, the role of the pig wasn't as important, but people like it, so we set it free again. Without the pig we probably wouldn't have sold a single ticket.

Q: At least this time you got by without the wall you once put up because the audience was getting on your nerves. You are obviously more relaxed.

Gilmour: The Wall project was Roger Waters' idea, and he took it with him when he left Pink Floyd half-way through the 1980s. I myself never had any real problems with the audience.

Q: Not even with all those people in the audience that are over 40 years old and sing "We don't need no education"?

Gilmour: That song deals with the authoritarian English educational system in the days of our youth, which I hope is extinct by now. But you're right: to sing "We don't need no education" today isn't extremely relevant.

Q: Many of your fans obviously are of a different opinion. "We don't need no education" is seen as the hymn of the anti-authoritarian left-wingers. Even demonstrators against Runway West sang that song as a protest against authorities. [The Runway West project was a very controversial extension to Frankfurt Airport in the early 1980s, adding an extra runway to the existing two, and sparked protest demonstrations by local residents and environmentalists.]

Gilmour: That song was also sung by black school children in South Africa and was promptly banned by the government. But in the case of Runway West I can't quite see the relevance: These people should have sung "We don't need no aeroplanes" instead.

Q: Every piece of work that is conceived starts a life of its own. Your "Wall" project once began life as a statement against mammoth concerts, against stadium rock. But where was it staged? In stadiums.

Gilmour: Roger Waters said that it was a piece against stadium rock - but, you know, when he wrote The Wall, he had been playing stadiums for six, seven years and he had never really complained about that. The Wall was Roger's story, and he wanted it to be about a universal symbol. The walls that surround people. Walls between you and your parents. Walls between you and your environment. Walls between a rock band and their audience. The great estrangement.

Q: What did you think back then, locked away behind your wall?

Gilmour: I felt part of a wonderful show - until the moment that thing fell down, that's when I became frightened, really frightened, even though I was protected from the falling bricks by a steel cage.

Q: One of your most famous songs is called "Welcome to the Machine". Have you ever thought of simply placing machines on the stage and totally stepping down as musicians?

Gilmour: We once intended to send other musicians out and let them do our work. But that remained just a joke.

Q: Do you think someone would have noticed the difference?

Gilmour: Yes, the way we play our music is very hard to imitate.

Q: Roger Waters has a different opinion: he reckons the trade mark "Pink Floyd" is so famous that he believes there will be Pink Floyd concerts long after all of you have died - even in 500 years time.

Gilmour: Oh yes, good old Roger. He staged The Wall in Berlin. Did that sound like Pink Floyd? No, it sounded terrible.

Q: He doesn't get it done as well as you with your business company. A critic once wrote: "As long as Pink Floyd release a new CD every five years and as long as they keep touring the stadiums with it, no power in the world will stop huge masses of people from buying tickets".

Gilmour: Pink Floyd is not a big enterprise. It can rather be seen as a cottage industry with very few people who really have some say in it. We do everything by ourselves, from the music to the visualisation, and when it's finished we give it to the record company and say, "Sell it".

Q: Have you produced that dead smart VW Golf "Pink Floyd" all by yourselves as well?

Gilmour: We have contributed ideas. My idea was to use the most ecologically friendly engine developed by VW.

Q: Apart from the DM 20 million (8.5 million UK Pounds) sponsoring money, did you get one of the cars as well?

Gilmour: Yes, but it hasn't arrived yet: they must have forgotten to send it to me.

Q: Do you miss it?

Gilmour: Not really. This whole Volkswagen story has caused me a very bad conscience. I have donated the money to charity. I feel better now.

Q: The major themes of Pink Floyd have always been estrangement, isolation, the curse of money. Has Pink Floyd changed the world - apart from the fact that in 1989 the mayor of Venice had to resign because listed buildings threatened to fall down due to the noise created by a Pink Floyd concert?

Gilmour: Please, be realistic. Whatever had caused the damage to the Duke's Palace, it was not our fault. The annual fireworks over Venice are much louder.

Q: So you haven't even overthrown this mayor. Are you a disappointed dreamer from the Sixties?

Gilmour: After Bob Dylan we all thought we could change the world with pop music, make the world a better place. And what has become of that? Not very much. The human nature is a very stubborn thing. If something has to change, for example in getting rid of racist prejudices, it takes at least three generations.

Q: But Pink Floyd has caused at least one thing: Punk. When the Sex Pistols' singer Johnny Rotten was discovered in 1975, he was wearing a torn Pink Floyd T-shirt on which he had painted the words "I hate".

Gilmour: Johnny Rotten has told me later that he actually liked some of our records. But, of course, we were a good target, otherwise the man would have ripped a T-shirt of the group "Yes" to shreds and painted his hatred on that. It was an honour for us.

Q: When you started Pink Floyd in the 1960s, you too used the attitude of rebels.

Gilmour: We were rebellious guys who didn't like the establishment and couldn't play their instruments.

Q: And the audiences liked it?

Gilmour: In London, yes. People were full of drugs, and they went along with everything. A full hour of guitar feedback - no problem, they loved that.

Q: And outside London?

Gilmour: Outside London people threw bottles at us or left the gig.

Q: On a good evening, how long did it take you to drive everyone away?

Gilmour: On a good evening 20 minutes.

Q: Have you yourself taken LSD?

Gilmour: A few times, but LSD was clearly not our thing. After all, the man I have replaced, Syd Barrett, has suffered real damage from LSD and similar drugs. He was useless [after that]. I haven't seen him for 20 years. He lives in a house in Cambridge, goes shopping and washes his clothes in a launderette. But that is about all he is capable of doing.

Q: What do you think of your early records like Atom Heart Mother and Ummagumma today?

Gilmour: I think both are pretty horrible. Well, the live disc of Ummagumma might be all right, but even that isn't recorded well.

Q: What about Dark Side of the Moon, the album that stayed in the charts for fifteen years after its release? Was that a dream come true or a nightmare?

Gilmour: What is the difference? It was both. It is nice when other people work for you, it is nice to sell a lot of records. But it isn't nice when you mustn't try anything new musically so as not to disturb the fans.

Q: Why did Roger Waters leave the band?

Gilmour: He was our head. Roger is a great lyricist, but as a musician he's not so great. I think I am the better musician and I write better music. But Roger suddenly started to believe that he was the better musician.

Q: And he wanted to keep you and the others working for him as employees?

Gilmour: All we should be doing was follow his orders.

Q: Nick Mason has said that during that phase there were only two alternatives - total silence or war. How did you cope with things during that era - did you see a psychiatrist?

Gilmour: Sometimes I drove home from the recording studio and screamed and swore, although I was alone in the car. That was Roger's fault. He didn't want my music, he didn't want my ideas, and that's why I said, fine, if my ideas don't count please delete my name from the album cover, but either way I want the money for my work.

Q: And he accused you of having a luxurious lifestyle.

Gilmour: Wasn't it him who had this beautiful, expensive, big house in the countryside where he wrote The Wall? A house surrounded by a lot of land, about the best one you can find in England? But he had to play the suffering artist! How are you supposed to understand someone like that?

Q: Was Pink Floyd at that time still a band or rather a bunch of psychopaths someone had locked up in the same room?

Gilmour: There was only one psychopath and three normal people.

Q: Why did you carry on after the big row - did you want to prove you could do it without him?

Gilmour: That is certainly one of the reasons. Roger wanted to pronounce Pink Floyd dead. But shall I finish [my career] just because someone else lost interest in it? I didn't see it that way, sorry, and today I still don't see it that way. I mean, this is my career. I joined this band when I was 23 and I have spent a big part of my life in this band.

Q: Is there such a thing as friendship in the band today?

Gilmour: When you're 40, a band is something different. As a teenager, you have no house, no family, no place where you belong; in most cases not even a stage to play on. Nowadays we get along well, like business partners who have been working together for a long time.

Q: You own a collection of six airplanes, Mason stacks sports cars, and Wright owns a few yachts. Still you play the outsider and claim not to be part of the establishment.

Gilmour: Actually, I am not a part of the establishment.

Q: You are sitting here in an exclusive club in London, sipping cappuccino for six quid a cup and claim not to be part of the establishment? This is pure luxury.

Gilmour: Certainly.

Q: Mr Gilmour, thank you for this interview.

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