Painting By Candlelight
While he works on a new studio album, Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters is lighting a corner of the dark side, one candle at a time
by Lee Abraham
To say that Roger Watersí creative fire Ďburns brightlyí is a gross understatement. ĎRadiates brilliantlyí may be closer to the mark. Face it - Waters is a unique and ground breaking artist who altered the consciousness of an entire generation. Itís just that simple. From being a founding member of Pink Floyd and driving force behind arguably the most influential rock album of all time, "Dark Side of the Moon," to the grand architect of "The Wall's" massive stage production, Waters has always been an innovator. Not to mention wildly successful. Forget about selling millions of records - his music has changed peoplesí perceptions of reality.
"Thereís a feeling that Iíve learned to recognize that says: ĎGo to the piano. Take with you a piece of paper. Sit down...í, you know, and I do and then something comes out," says Waters. "But once that something comes out, itís very rare that itís complete." Enter the recording studio. Thatís the laboratory where inspiration meets magic, transforming Waters into the mad scientist of sound. He turns dials and knobs like an audio Leonardo Da Vinci to reflect the scope of his vision - itís vast.
"The analogy I keep coming back to is that itís like a painter painting a picture. However many people youíve got stretching the canvas, or even filling in bits of the canvas, you know, a lot of great painters had teams of people helping them, blocking bits out. In a way itís not a good analogy because itís not like that, because obviously the musicians that I work with are highly skilled and are painters in their own right. Theyíre just not doing the design of the painting, I guess."
Waters has designs on releasing a new studio recording sometime next year. Thatís good news. His worldwide legions of fans have been waiting for a new album since 92ís critically acclaimed, "Amused To Death." "I took the band from last summerís tour to the Bahamas for a month in February," explains Waters. "We just set up our equipment in the studio there and played the songs, worked on them, learned them, worked out parts and things, and allowed them to develop as songs played by a band."
Although the record is a long way from being finished, itís taking shape conceptually. "I had thought that probably the album would be based around the idea that the only new song that weíre going to be doing on the road this time, a song called ĎEach Small Candle,í says Waters. "The chorus is that each small candle lights a corner of the dark. The idea is that we each have a flickering flame within us that we each individually light a corner of the dark... and in some sense, we each have that responsibility. And that weíre all important because we have that potential."
"The question is whether change is important or desirable, or not," continues Waters. "And if it is, whoís going to affect that change, we canít rely on our government to affect it. We can only rely on ourselves. Essentially, you canít really change anyone but yourself anyway, the idea of personal responsibility in terms of change is maybe what the whole thingís about." And in Waters eyes, the Internet makes it easier than ever to affect change. Example - the upcoming album. Call it a case of art imitating life thatís imitating art. "Iím inviting people to answer some questions that I occasionally post on our website (http://www.columbiarecords.com)," says Waters. "Part of my reason for doing that is to draw raw material for this work out of people out there on the net."
Waters is also working on an opera. Thatís right, an opera. No, not a -rock- opera. A -real- opera. "Itís a French libretto," explains Waters. "They asked me to set it to music, which I did. Then I went to Sony with it and they said it was wonderful, please write an English version." And of course, he did that too. The opera will be released in French and English. Although Watersí music has always had a theatrical element, getting involved in a French opera is something new. "Itís an acquired taste," he says. "I donít have a very broad taste in opera, I have to say. I like the ones with great tunes in them."
The truth is that Waters just loves "great tunes." Regardless of style. Or which century they were written in. "The new Randy Newman album is stunning," says Waters. "But, Iím deeply unhappy because I gather thereís a new John Prine record out, which I havenít heard. I think heís one of the great geniuses of songwriting in the 20th century. Heís a big hero of mine and I canít wait to have a listen to the new record."
Hopefully Waters can snag a copy on the road because thatís where heís going to be for the next few months. Dubbed the ĎIn The Flesh Tour 2000,í Waters and company are zig zagging their way across the country playing a wide variety of Pink Floyd tunes as well as material from his solo projects. His band is outstanding. Longtime collaborators and guitarists extraordinaire, Andy Fairweather-Low ("Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" tour in Ď84) and Snowy White (1980 "The Wall" tour) are both on board. Not that the rest of the group are slackers. Far from it. Drummer Graham Broad from Procal Harum is Watersí rhythm section partner. Texas guitar slinger Doyle Bramhall II (Stevie Rae Vaughn), keyboard players Jon Carin (The Who, Brian Ferry) and Andy Wallace (David Bowie, Whitney Houston), as well as vocalists Katie Kissoon (Eric Clapton, Van Morrisson) and Susanna Melvoin (Prince), round out the band.
The current tour is actually the 2nd leg of "In the Flesh." The first go round took a Winter break giving Waters an opportunity to tinker with the show. "Iíve done quite a bit of work in between the two tours on the visual aspect of it," he says. "Iíve dropped a couple of numbers, put a couple of different numbers in and just changed a few things." Pink Floyd shows have always been renowned for their mind bending multimedia presentations. Not just colored lights, but huge flying pigs and crashing airplanes, to name a couple of their most notorious props. As always, Waters innovative stage production continues on this tour. "We project lots of images onto a big screen behind the stage, but we have no lighting truss over the stage. Itís got kind of an open look to it. Iíve always loathed lights going on and off, you know? I find that really distracting. I like lighting thatís much more like theater lighting."
And after all the years, monumental tours and monster albums, Waters is as excited as ever about the future. These days though, heís not only exploring new outlets for his own creativity, he's sparking as many little candles of inspiration as possible. "The canvas is still there for anybody to paint whatever picture they like. Iím sure that there are works out there waiting to be written and people may respond to in a similar way that they responded to The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon."