[% META title = 'Ian Gillan, Interviews' %]
From Kerrang #22 Aug 12-25 1982 entitled "If I Were A Carpenter"
Dante Bonutto talks exclusively to Ian Gillan and finds out why he would knock on wood if he didn't enjoy music any more.
In a field somewhere between London and Reading lies a tape of "Double Trouble." A two-record set containing both live and studio material, it surpassed all previous Gillan albums in terms of overall sales. Yet a pre-release earful of the studio half (and only part of that) during a fifth-gear burn up on the M4 proved more than enough for Ian Gillan himself. The songs he liked, the mix, handled by US producer Steve Smith, he didn't.
"I wound down the window, ripped the tape out of the cassette player and threw it away. It was...*crap*!"
There are times, even for one of rock's most articulate spokesmen, when the simple, graphic expression carries most meaning. Clearly Ian gleans little pleasure from the memory of that album but, a pub near the Hounslow district of London being our chosen rendezvous, he can at least console himself with a pull on a pint.
"All the power was missing from it," he continues, setting down his glass, "I just hated it. The sound was more acceptable for American audiences, I suppose, but I don't really give a monkey's toss about American audiences or any audience when it comes to writing the songs. Which isn't to say I don't care about the fans, just that, ultimately, you have to make your own judgement on music, you've got to be proud of what you do because you're the one who has to live with it, be it a success or a failure.
"As far as I'm concerned the public can take me or leave me and what I do. No compromise at *any* stage at all. I'm not interested in it. I left Deep Purple for that reason, because suddenly we were beginning to do what the audience expected. Even if 'Double Trouble' had been multi-platinum...well, I haven't played it since."
And that goes for all four sides. It may have been the studio material that first incurred the Gillan wrath but the live recordings mixed by, yes, Steve Smith proved no more appealing.
"It was balanced all wrong," he explains. "I said to Steve: 'make sure you can hear the audience', and that's about all you can hear. It's just like a huge hippo wallowing as far as the sound's concerned."
Up until recently the band placed the emphasis on performing rather than recording and didn't pay a great deal of attention to the production side of things, handled for a long time within the Gillan camp. The aim was simply to capture the rawness and spontaneity of a gig on vinyl, an approach most exhaustively explored on 'The Maelstrom' (the B-side of 'Mutually Assured Destruction') where key, tempo and structure were decided over a brace of swift halves and the end result left to stand without the assistance of overdubs. Eventually, however, the time came for a re-think.
"As a result of growing maturity within the band you reach a stage where you feel an element of control; you're no longer fighting and struggling to come to grips with your own identity and the music you're trying to play. It's a wonderful moment when you get there, though you know you've got a very short time to capitalise on it artistically, which is why for the last album we started thinking seriously about using a producer.
"Now I've nothing against Steve, he's a great guy to work with, very professional, but he's really been involved with different kinds of music (Robert Palmer, Bob Marley) and I don't think he quite understood what we were trying to do. It just didn't work."
After the experience of 'Double Trouble', Ian was sorely tempted to give up with outside producers but Virgin Records, with whom he enjoys a comfortable working relationship, persuaded him to persevere. Mick Glossop, responsible for the production on the forthcoming Gillan album 'Magic', due for release on September 17, was their suggestion and, while the other major artistes on his worksheet (Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, The Skids) certainly don't come under the HM banner, Ian's more than happy with the results.
"I heard the mixes yesterday yesterday afternoon and I phoned him up and said: 'It's the best vocal sound I've *ever* had'. He's a great producer. He picks the stones out of your path and he's got this marvellous ability to act as a catalyst and turn things in exactly the right direction. Before entering the studio we spent two weeks arranging and rehearsing the new material in a village hall on the south coast and he even came down for that so he'd be with the songs from their conception. I can say with some confidence that I wouldn't want to record again without him."
The next single, one of nine tracks on the new LP, is 'Living For The City', a cover of the Stevie Wonder song, backed with 'Purple Sky' and 'Breaking Chains', two homegrown compositions that won't appear anywhere else. 'Helter Skelter' by The Beatles and 'Smokestack Lightning' by Howlin' Wolf have also been given the full Gillan treatment but, for the moment at least, they won't be transferred onto vinyl.
"Y'know, Janick (Gers) had never even heard of 'Helter Skelter'," recalls Ian, still incredulous, "and discussing 'Smokestack Lightning' was like talking about a Napoleonic campaign. That's how historical it is in his eyes, yet everything he plays is based on those roots."
Ian's no doubt right on that score but the way the Gillan guitarist composes himself onstage -- his mannerisms and stylised flurries -- show a clear debt to Blackmore too.
"Well, I think he's a combination of Blackmore *and* Page, cos Page does that hemorrhoid kick. But he's a great technician also. He's learnt how to play his guitar properly."
It's now almost 14 months since Janick Gers replaced Bernie Torme at Gillan's right hand and, with the ghost of his predecessor firmly and finally exorcised, he's starting to have more of an influence on the writing side -- in terms of quality and quantity. His role, and that of the other band members, is to provide the basic musical input to which Ian, hopefully inspired by what he hears, adds the lyrics.
"I do them in the khazi at the studio," he explains matter-of-factly, "it takes about an hour. I go and have a dump and ideas usually come."
Do you start with a title?
"No, I start with noises, percussive sounds; I start singing gibberish. Then, when I've got some kind of phrase structure and the metre of the verse worked out, I do a lot of notation and start on the subject matter. When that's decided I just write about a page of a story to get the ideas out, the colour and the pictures, then go back to my notes on the metre and the phrasing and start looking for musical words because you can't take poetry and short stories and put them to music. It doesn't work."
The next day...