A couple of years ago, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and Nick Mason dug out about 20 hours of instrumental recordings they'd recorded with Rick Wright during the 1993 Division Bell sessions. Stunned at the quality of what they heard, they decided to revisit the material, recording new drum and guitar parts on top of the existing tracks. "As we went through this process, our minds focused on the fact that Rick isn't coming back," says David Gilmour. "We'll never get another chance to play with him. This is his last recorded moment with Pink Floyd. It's so sad."
The end result of their work is The Endless River, a mostly instrumental Pink Floyd album that hits shelves on November 10th. We spoke with Gilmour about assembling the album, why Roger Waters isn't a part of it, why this truly marks the end of Pink Floyd and his future plans for his solo career.
What made you decide to return to this material after all this time?
It's been 20 years since The Division Bell. For a couple years we've been looking at things that, for one reason or another, didn't make the album. It just seemed like a good moment to have a look at what we had and put this together. We were thrilled and really pleased with the material we found in the vault. There were things we could scarcely remember recording.
You originally saw the The Division Bell as a double album, right?
There was some discussion of that, but this is not really the other half of The Division Bell. This is separate. When we began that album, Rick, Nick and I took time to get to know each other musically again. We hadn't played together, at least loosely and without any intent, in a long time. Our albums tended to start with one or two people writing a song and then the whole group would put it together. This was a more organic way of starting something. I suppose you could say we got lured back into the old way of doing things when we made The Division Bell.
I can see now that there are all sorts of options about the way The Division Bell could have gone. But the album is what it is, and it sounds great. I listened to it just last week. I suppose you could say this is a sidekick to it.
What state were these songs in when you dug them out?
It was a very wide palette of stuff. A lot of these things, particularly from the first couple of weeks, were just us jamming together at Nick's Britannia Row studio. We didn't even have a multitrack. I had mics going through the control desk and coming out to a DAT player in the other room. If anything sounded remotely interesting, I'd just press record. It was never even properly balanced and it was committed straight to stereo. What you can do to that is add stuff, but you can't edit and take away.
Then there's other tracks we recorded on my house boat. Those went to multitrack. On some of those, we've subsequently added drums, guitar and voices. But there's only one song ["Louder Than Words"] with lyrics, which were written by [my wife] Polly Sampson, who wrote most of the lyrics on The Division Bell and my solo album On an Island. When we listened back to everything, we realized there was something great there we could tweak into something.
Listening to the album, I realized just how crucial Rick was to the sound of the band.
Absolutely. Roger and I have always made so much noise, on the records and in the press, that Rick tends to get slightly forgotten. But he is just as vital as anyone else to this thing. He creates a whole sonic landscape in all the things that we do. That is something you can't reproduce anywhere. No one else does it quite like him.
Did you ever considering putting vocals on any of the tracks besides the final one?
I think we thought that song was so good as it stood. Polly's words really spoke to something about the band, certainly when it came to Rick and myself. We speak better with our musical instruments. We thought that would be a lovely way to finish the album, by making the statement and not putting words on the other songs. One could argue we should have put words on one or two other songs, but I really like it the way it is.
All of the songs flow together very nicely, and it does really feel like a cohesive final statement.
That's right. It's saying goodbye to the whole thing. It's not me saying goodbye. I'm still around. I'm going to have a solo record next year, hopefully. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye permanently.
Some of them really sound like they were made around the time of Dark Side of the Moon or "Echoes."
I some ways, I think that it's closest to the Pink Floyd of the 1960s. Those pieces came out of Rick, me and Nick just jamming away together. You can hear the echoes of 1960s Pink Floyd in this record.
When The Division Bell tour ended in 1994 did you intend for the band to go away for a long time, or did that just sort of happen naturally?
I'm not even sure that I know the answer to that. I mean, we just never got around to doing it again, so that must say something. I think we had really pretty much done all that we'd wanted to do at that point.
You were only 48 and you'd just finished the biggest tour of all time. Many people in your position would have been tempted to keep the machine rolling, but you obviously didn't feel that way.
Going bigger was something that I was definitely moving away from. I've done those tours. I've enjoyed those tours, loved them. But to me, that whole thing was becoming bigger than I liked. I wasn't enjoying the size of it so much, the lack of connection with people that are a long, long way away from you. I was slightly itching to get into slightly smaller places and play to crowds where you can see them. I wanted to see each individual, more or less. I felt that was something I could do much better as a solo artist than a part of Pink Floyd.
Why did you wait 12 years to make a solo album?
Life gets in the way sometimes. After that tour I was remarried. I had more children to raise. I took them to school in the morning and I was keen to spend more time with them. Having done that huge tour I didn't feel there was any hurry to start getting back to it.
So many of your peers say their biggest regret is not spending more time with their kids when they were young.
When you're in your twenties, just starting out, you are fighting the world to get your career off the ground, to make something of yourself. Sacrifices have to be made, and people suffer. You have to choose what you want. When you're a bit older and you've had that sort of success you can take a different perspective and alter your life priorities. That's what I was doing.
Also, how much bigger could that band get after that last tour? You'd already packed most every stadium in the world several times over.
The whole concept of whether our tour is bigger than a Rolling Stones or U2 tour is of no consequence to me. Those aren't my values. It's lovely to play to a lot of people and get our music out to a lot of people, but the figures that management and the media put out about how many dollars are earned and how many people saw the show…that's never been something that's high on my list of loves.
How far are you along on your new solo album?
It's coming along very well, actually. There's a lot of very, very well done sketches that are not finished yet. Some of them will be started again. There's a few months work in it yet. I'm hoping to get it out this following year.
Is the sound and vibe similar to the last one?
Nope. [Laughs] It's a bit of a departure in places.
In what sense?
I'm not going to give you any more clues than that!
Are you going to tour behind it?
Yeah. I'm hoping to do a bit of a tour, an old man's tour. Not a 200 dates sort of thing.
What kind of venues are you going to play? You played Radio City Music Hall the last time you were in New York when you could have easily played Madison Square Garden.
That's what I was saying before. The huge scale and size of Pink Floyd was something I wanted to gently back away from a bit. I wanted to make these things more personal and more manageable. This time, to be honest, I haven't really gotten to the discussion point yet. But I'm not intending to play vast places, though I'm sure people will try and persuade me otherwise. But, you know. Radio City Music Hall sounds like the right sort of vibe for me.
Getting back to the record, you've said this is the final Pink Floyd album. Are you positive about that?
I don't see how it could be otherwise. We've been through all of that stuff now. Anything of value is on there. Trying to do it again would mean using second best stuff. That's not good enough for me. So I think I can confidently say that is not going to happen. Obviously, going with that, there will be no more Pink Floyd shows. Without Rick, that's obviously impossible.
So there's no scenario where you can see yourself touring as part of Pink Floyd again?
Some fans were hoping to see Roger play on this new record, maybe on just a song or two. Was that even discussed?
Roger was tired of being in a pop group 30 years ago. Why on Earth anyone thinks what we do now would have anything remotely to do with him is a mystery to me. He's having his fun. He's had his world tour, which went brilliantly well. And we are getting on with what we do. You'd have thought that after 30 years people might have thought, "Hmmm, maybe we won't mention him every time."
I guess people saw that you played with him at Live 8, that charity show and one of his Wall gigs, and them maybe just assumed he was at least somewhat back in the mix.
I think Roger is very used to being the power, the sole power, behind his career. And that's great for him. But I think the thought of him coming back into something that has any form of democracy to it wouldn't be be what he'd be good at. It's been much, much too long. As you said, I was in my forties when Floyd last toured. Let me think, I believe I was in my thirties when Roger left. I'm 68 now. It's over half a lifetime away.
We really don't have that much in common anymore. That's not to say that we didn't do some of the greatest stuff that I could imagine in the time we spent together. You know, that was a mere seventeen years. It's been well over that, actually much longer, since he left.
Would you be open to a charity show or something in the future where you play a song or two with him?
I wouldn't rule anything out. I don't want to make hard and fast rules for myself. Anything I say to you about this stuff is, of course, just my opinion at this particular moment in my life. Anything could change, but I think the likelihood of it being any more than one little charity show or something is very, very remote. It would have to be the right thing.
You say anything could change, but you seem pretty definitive about this being the end of Pink Floyd.
I just try to imagine what it would be like and the thought of it makes me break out in a cold sweat. I'm an older person. I'm really enjoying my life. I'm really enjoying the music that I am making, and there's no room for Pink Floyd.