Ian Anderson needs no introduction. After having spent 45 years on the music scene, he has left a huge legacy in his wake, one that has inspired many musicians in the past and no doubt, will inspire many more in the future. Not one to rest on his laurels, he still strives to create and extend this remarkable catalogue.
After the 2012 return of Gerald Bostock in the shape of Thick as a Brick 2, a sequel to one of progressive rock’s most revered and classic albums, he is bringing Bostock back again to tell the story of the wandering man, Homo Erraticus, who is on his own journey through the historic past, on to the present and into the future.
Anderson himself, this time as his alter-ego Gerald Bostock, is a renowned story teller, and he is also a great creative mind whose writing is showcasing that great music stands the test of time and knows no boundaries. The 66-year-old composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist talked with Prog Sphere about his most recent effort, the future, Jethro Tull and progressive rock.
Prog Sphere: Homo Erraticus feels a bit more heavier in comparison to the previous two albums that feature your alter-ego Gerald Bostock, if I can put it that way. Where does that heavier direction come from?
Ian Anderson: Well, it comes from my intention to make a more rock sounding album and less acoustic which is what I decided to do back in 2013.
Tell me something about the creative process. How did it go this time around? Especially knowing that this is your third album based around Bostock.
I set myself a target of beginning work at 9am on the 1st of January 2013. I went into my writing room to start work to write the album. At that particular hour of that particular day, I would have nothing in my head – I would have an empty head to start writing because I wanted to be fresh. So that was the beginning. I went in and wrote some introductory music in the morning and then in the afternoon I’d piece together the elements of a verse and a chorus and decided the song was going to be called Doggerlands. Later in the afternoon I wrote down the essential elements that would follow on from that. It’s what I do – I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be creative so I wrote all of that down and then started to work on the other material to complete the writing process about three weeks later.
All of the songs from Homo Erraticus tells a story for itself, but in a big frame it crystalizes the album’s concept which is divided in three parts: Chronicles, Prophecies and Revelations. I understand that Chapters 14 and 15 are yet to be experienced. Is it how you sense the future?
Not only do I sense the future but many hundreds of people involved in the recent climate change conference said the same thing yesterday about the problems that would follow on from climate change and would affect migration and would affect warfare and territorial boundaries and food production in other countries. The only thing they didn’t dare to say was that what it has to do with sustainable population on planet earth – nine billion people and planet earth don’t go together. That’s a pretty logical assumption I would have thought – you don’t need me to tell you that do you? You can figure that out for yourself.
The elements are, I suppose, classical music, church music, folk music from my own country but also other countries of the world. I don’t use very much in the way of American rock and roll or blues, which really only features on one piece of music on this album and then it’s a blues tempo but the melody line is much more connected to medieval music or church music. There are plenty of people out there doing derivative rock music and working with the pentatonic scale which is fine but when it comes to that blues music style it’s very much part of my history too but I don’t choose to use it very often in work that I do because I prefer the cadences, the melodies, the chordal pattern that derived from music that I feel closer to which is classical music and church music in North Western Europe.
How does the album cover depict the story of the album? Where is the connection? We see you as a homo erraticus, a wandering man who is on his own mission or pilgrimage through the history. Am I on the right path?
The wandering man is the migratory species that we are looking for something better so we see the character on the cover coming from somewhere which looks dark and threatening with smoke on the horizon and he’s looking out on the back cover to a more utopian horizon which looks happier and more pleasant and more idealistic – and that’s the story of all of us – why you guys are in Berlin and in parts of London where many Turkish people (ed. the interviewer is a born Serbian, living and working in Turkey) have made their homes in many different parts of the world particularly in Germany and in the UK because you figure it’s a better life and so that’s why people come here and being nice guys we let you in, but I think my great grandchildren or anyone else will be letting you in because we have 70 million people here now. We’re the most crowded population per hectare in Europe. We don’t have the facility, we don’t have the resources, but someday, maybe in ten years, maybe in fifty years it’s going to be very hard for people to come from other countries into Britain because we’re going to be full and we’re already struggling to support the population we have, so things will change. It’s been the story of my country – we’re all from somewhere else, my ancestors came here from somewhere else. We should be very proud that we have so many people who are immigrants from other countries that make up our society and collectively we are a tolerant society but when there’s no more room, there’s no more room and that is something which will be coming. It’s not me who’s going to say ‘you can’t come in’ it’s going to be the people of the future. It could be ten years away but more likely it’s going to be 40 or 50 years away. With our population growth we have the second highest fertility rate in the UK of any of the North Western European countries – only France is slightly higher than us and so our population is growing faster than almost all the other European countries.
Does your approach to playing flute on the new album differ from your previous releases?
How do you go about deciding whether an album should be released under Ian Anderson’s or Jethro Tull’s name?
Well, you know, Jethro Tull means three things to me: Jethro Tull means the 18th century agriculturalist who invented a seed drill; Jethro Tull means the band of 28 different musicians over the years who have been part of Jethro Tull the rock band that stole the name of the 18th century English agriculturalist back in 1968 and Jethro Tull means the repertoire – the huge collection of music that I have written and produced and engineered and managed and mastered and mixed, and it’s the stuff that I do. So if I’m going to call it Ian Anderson then it’s probably going to remain the case that I prefer to be known under my own name rather than the name Jethro Tull because I feel a little guilty being named after a person whose name our agent stole back in 1968 and I feel embarrassed by that. I always have. Someone asked me about twenty years ago what the thing was that I most regretted in my musical career and my answer has always been the same – the choice of the name.
You will be touring in support of Homo Erraticus, playing the album in its entirety plus the selection of Jethro Tull’s songs. You are known for capturing the theatrical segment of the albums, but it feels somehow that with Homo Erraticus this segment will be even more emphasized. Have you prepared anything special for the upcoming tour?
The tour will be about 40% of Homo Erraticus and about 60% of the best of Jethro Tull, so when we tour in the USA or mostly the European countries when we are touring as a production tour with videos and screens – more of a theatrical show than when we play a festival date in Switzerland or outdoor shows in the summer when we can’t do the video screen or projectors because outdoors it’s not safe to do that because of the wind and the problems technically of doing that so we just play with a normal lighting rig and normal sound and we do the music but we don’t do the full production tour. That’s for when we’re playing indoors in proper theatres that we do the full production tour and that’s special in sense that I’m working at the moment to complete all the video recording and editing for the tour production because we have a lot of things happening on the video screen behind us.
You mentioned that you will be playing the selection of some of your favorite Tull songs on the upcoming tour. Can you reveal some titles? Are they the more obvious choices or will there be some surprises?
Well there are certainly some surprises for me because there are at least three songs I’ll be playing on this tour which I said I would never ever play live on stage because they are songs I didn’t feel comfortable with but this time I found a way to like them again! I tried to ignore the one or two lines of lyrics that I hate – I shall just blank my mind at that point, but there’s some stuff that is unusual but of course for audiences everywhere we have to remember that there are people in the audience who have never seen Jethro Tull or Ian Anderson before so we have to remember that we can’t get too clever or esoteric about the choice of songs and try to make a good balance of Jethro Tull songs and a few songs which perhaps aren’t so commonly heard over the years or not so commonly heard in our concerts. Like everything else it’s trying to find the balance.
Back in the 1970′s it was quite unimaginable to perform full albums in their entireties and then with the new century it sort of became a trend. Bands today release an album and go on tour performing it from front to back. How do you look at it?
I think that’s not been very common for particularly older bands to go out and play all of a new album because generally fans don’t want to hear a new album, they want to hear a new ‘old’ album. They want something which is very much in the style of and that reminds them of earlier work and that’s not very satisfying to have to go out and try to write music in a style that’s perhaps – you know, you had forty years ago. I try to concentrate on finding the balance between doing new music and making it entertaining. If you don’t make it entertaining people won’t enjoy it because it’s too much new music which they don’t really know or perhaps they’ve never heard, so we have to make it easy, we have to make it invitational to draw people into the performance. You don’t go to see a movie because you’ve seen it before; you go because you haven’t seen it before and you think it’s going to be good and entertaining. You don’t usually pick up a book and read it because you’ve read it before; you go and buy a new book which you’ve never read before. With rock music why should it be different? We should continue to be excited about new work from artists whether they are new artists or old artists. For many people the old songs are part of nostalgia part of their growing up and so we have to find the balance between playing new stuff and playing old stuff. These days I’m prepared to take the risk of playing a lot of new stuff because I’m old and I don’t give a damn any more if people enjoy that or not – I’m going to play what I want to play and do what I want to do and if people don’t like it they can stay at home. And if nobody turns up for the show I’ll just play it for me! I’m someone, who at my age, can pretty much do what I want. If I can make it entertaining for people as I have during the last two years playing Thick As A Brick 2 onstage – no one left at halftime; they stayed and everybody sat through the whole show so we know that we can make that work. We know we can play new material and keep an audience interested. That’s what I’m supposed to be able to do – that’s what I set out to do this time around as well.
Does songwriting still give you the same satisfaction like it used to be, say in the 1970′s when you were writing some of the genre’s all-time classics?
Actually I find songwriting much easier now, much more enjoyable and uplifting because I’m always very confident that I’m going to be able to write something. I think perhaps going back to the early seventies I was quite nervous about writing music because it seemed too scary that I might fail. But these days I’m very confident that I’m going to be able to write some music and very confident that it will begin to develop organically as I start writing something and it becomes very exciting so I really enjoy writing much more now than I did forty years ago. I find it really exciting because I have the confidence to know that I can do it.
What is your view on today’s progressive rock scene? Are there any modern progressive bands that you listen to?
Not really. I think I stopped listening to music about 1970. I’m not a music listener. My work is so much music in a day that the only time I ever listen to new bands is if someone else asks me to play on their record. That sometimes happens and then I have to learn about that artist and about their music and try to understand it and try to get more involved in their way of working. That’s kind of exciting in a way. I only do it when I really have to do it – I’m just not a music listener very much. After forty years or more I just don’t really listen to much music. I only have about five hours of music a day that I can concentrate on so I’d much rather concentrate on my own music, or occasionally working with somebody else on their music. If I’m sitting on a long journey I don’t listen to my ipod. It’s something I don’t do – I didn’t listen to my cassette player very much either in years gone by. I’m just not that interested in listening to other people so I can’t tell you who. I get to hear some of them because they sometimes ask me to play on their records. In the last month I think I’ve played on other artists music three times and I have another one to do today with an American band called Jeff The Brotherhood. They’re an American band who seem to be in what you would say slightly prog/metal, they’re certainly not particularly musically sophisticated but they’ve asked me to play on their record and they seemed like nice guys and their music has a lot of energy and so I said ok and I’ll see if I can do it on Tuesday. And now it’s Tuesday so I have to play some flute on their record. So of course I had to listen to them – I read about them and found out about them. The only thing they didn’t do was they didn’t send me the lyrics to the song so I can’t really tell what they are singing about which would have helped me to know a little bit of what the song is about – it’s hard to pick out the words.
Do you have any other collaborations in the pipeline for this year?
I played with a Canadian band called Tea Party – a progressive folk rock band from the late 80’s/early 90’s. They reformed and asked me to play on a track so I did that. At the beginning of the year I played on a track by an American progressive rock band called Tiles. There was another one I played on… Can’t remember now! The only things I have to do are the one today for Jeff The Brotherhood and the other one is for an old band member called Peter Vettese who wants me to record a piece for an album of Scottish music that he’s doing. So those are the only two things that I’m doing and I shall probably be too busy after that to do any more for quite a few months.
Ian Anderson will release Homo Erraticus on April 14th via Kscope / Calliandra Records. Pre-order your copy from THIS LOCATION. For more info about the album and band visit following links:
Big thanks to Mike Ainscoe for helping with the transcription of the interview.