A Visit With Ian Anderson – Yes, That Ian Anderson!
I was almost giddy with excitement at my impending interview with Ian Anderson, scheduled during a break between legs of his current American tour (he is touring in support of his 2014 release, ‘Homo Erraticus’ – a wonderful album – I suggest buying it). Not only was it my first interview (although I feel it was more of a conversation) but I would be talking with rock royalty!
I admitted at the outset that it was my first time interviewing anyone and that admission seemed to set me free to relax and enjoy the process, and enjoy it I did! Ian did an amazing job of making me feel at ease.
I began by asking Ian if, when starting his career, he had imagined he would have the nearly 50-year career (so far since he shows no sign of stopping) he has had. I found his answer fascinating.
Ian: “It didn’t seem entirely improbable because as a teenager my musical heroes tended to be either dead or about the age of my father who was much older than I was (being something like 45 years old when I was born). So I grew up with the idea that music was played by old guys whether it was classical music or folk music or jazz or blues. These were people of an older generation whose music I revered and from whom I learned so much. It didn’t seem to me that I was embarking upon a career that was devoted only to music of young people in the sense of the pop music or rock music as it evolved in Europe out of the 50s rock and roll. I felt that I was embarking on something that you did hopefully for all of your life! It didn’t seem to be a huge stretch to think that at the age of 60-something, I would still be playing music because that was the age of many of the jazz and blues musicians who I listened to back then.”
When asked why he thought he had been able to achieve this longevity, Ian said he does not believe there’s a special knack to it. “Those that did stay around or manage to correct the errors of their ways before they became terminal are still around playing music today. We still enjoy the music of Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton [interviewer’s aside: and Ian Anderson, of course!], and of all those guys who at some point straightened themselves out and applied themselves to doing the important task for which they were born which is to bring music and the enjoyment of music to a hungry planet.”
Ian segued into the business of making music, which is something many fans do not consider. As Ian expressed so eloquently, “I’ve always thought of music as being a job of work. It’s not something you entirely do for fun. You make commitments when you sign contracts and organize tours; you commit yourself to airplane flights and hotel bills and crew costs and trucks and buses, and you’ve got to get up every morning when you’re on a tour – you’ve got to be there. You’ve got to do what it says on the tour itinerary. It is very much a job of work for all of us in our different roles in the band and in the crew. We’re luckier than most in the sense that our job is one that everyone else would love to have because it’s not your every day profession. There are some elements that to many would seem rather glamorous and enviable in terms of lifestyle and the opportunity to visit many different places. We see those places not just as performing musicians, but we can enjoy the sights and scenery of the many places we visit. Everybody would love to have my job, but let’s remember it is a job. It’s not just fun. I have to get up in the morning and catch that 7 a.m. flight whether I want to or not.”
I was interested in whether Ian has a favorite venue in which to play, and his response surprised me. He tries to tune out the past and enjoy that sense of mystery and of renewal that he has when he goes on stage. “I’m spooked by realizing I’m in the same venue that I played two years before, and even more spooked if I recognize somebody in the front row of the audience who was there last night! I have to pretend to myself that every day is a new day and there’s a total disconnect between one concert and another and one audience and another. To me that keeps it fresh.”
He has played in many unique venues, from 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatres to concrete amphitheatres built for Nazi rallies in the 1930s to a salt mine in eastern Germany that is 1,500 feet below sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level in La Paz, Bolivia. He has reached the “true highs and lows of the musical performance experience!”
I asked Ian about his songwriting process because every musician works differently. He considers it a very personal process and has rarely collaborated. He tends to sequester himself in a hotel room or a remote part of his home where he will not be interrupted or overheard. “I always try to write these days with both [music and lyrics] of those very different aspects of songwriting in my mind at the same time. If I write a line of lyrics it already implies rhythm. It has some cadence. It rises and falls. It begins to suggest melody to me even reading it on a page. Similarly if I write a line of music very often it throws up something that’s a visual reference of something to which I can easily put words. In an ideal world the two are pretty much tracking one another in a parallel way. I don’t like to get ahead with either the words or the music and leave either one a long way behind because that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Ian told me that on January 1, 2015, at 9 a.m., he intends to take himself off the road to begin work on a new project! That’s exciting news!
When asked how he keeps in shape to tour the way he does, Ian replied, “I actually spend two hours five nights a week on my personal gymnasium stage, because I do my two hours of aerobics and physical exercise and get paid for it. I stay in shape by doing what I do and trying not to spend too long off the road because then I get fat and flabby.” He is obviously doing something right!
I read that Ian is fascinated with ultra-hot chili peppers, so I asked about that. “The hot peppers that I grow tend to be towards the extreme end of hot. The capsaicin content is high. The Scoville count is usually between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. This next growing year I shall be planting some Trinidad scorpion seeds that I’ve obtained. They’re currently the world’s hottest chili pepper, although somebody comes out with a hybrid that’s reputedly higher than last year’s with bewildering regularity. At the moment the Trinidad scorpion is the big boy. I rather like the Bhut Jolokia and the others that are far too hot for most people’s taste.” Bring it on, Ian! I would love to try some of your hot sauce or finely ground peppers!
I spent a lot of my teen years listening to the music of Jethro Tull and was quite impressed with Ian back then because he is an extraordinarily talented musician. After speaking with him, I realize that he is more than a musician; he is an erudite and eloquent man who is passionate about everything he does, whether it is writing music, growing hot peppers, or contemplating the world political situation (about which we have a similar perspective).
We ran out of time, but there were so many other questions that came to mind as I listened to Ian. Maybe I will be lucky enough to speak with him again after he writes his next album and is about to embark on another tour.
Be sure to check Ian’s tour dates. When I spoke with him, he was back in the United Kingdom after finishing the first part of an American tour. He returns for the second half of the tour on October 16. He is performing in Burlington, Vermont on October 28; Providence, Rhode Island on October 29 (where I hope to see him); Ridgefield, Connecticut on October 30; and Lynn, Massachusetts on November 1. Limited numbers of tickets are still available for the New England shows. Check his website for shows in a city near you.
© Suze Reviews the Blues (and other music and arts)