Nick Mason: 'I'm Not Entirely Sure Pink Floyd Is Over'

Drummer on the group's last album, his dreams of a documentary and why the box sets will never stop coming.

Nick Mason at the Grosvenor House Hotel on October 22nd, 2014 in London. The drummer has played on every single Pink Floyd album. Credit: Dave J. Hogan/Getty

Nick Mason truly loves Pink Floyd. The drummer is the only member of the band to play on every single album, and ever since the group went on hiatus in 1994 he's been the one out there promoting the reissues and keeping the flame alive. He's also the only one to have written a book about his experiences in the band, and the upcoming release of the group's new disc The Endless River gives him a chance to add a final chapter to it. We spoke with Mason about the creation of The Endless River, why he refuses to ever admit the band is dead, his dreams of a Pink Floyd documentary and why the box sets will never, ever stop coming.

I never thought I'd get to hear a new Pink Floyd record.
I think I feel roughly the same, actually. It's slightly curious to be back in a world where you're curious about whether or not someone likes your new record. It's been a long time.

How did this project begin?
Essentially, when we recorded The Division Bell 20 years ago the idea was to make a double album. We thought we might do one disc of songs and one disc of ambient music, a throwback to jamming. As so often happens, we ran out of time. There was a tour coming up and we'd got the songs finished. We'd probably also run out of steam. It seemed like too much of a mountain, that second element of it. It just got shelved. It stayed shelved for a very long time.

I don't think we would have done anything with it had it not been for Andy Jackson, our engineer. He said, "Why don't you let me fiddle around with it and see what I can do?" He spent some time and worked quite hard on it. It was interesting, but it still felt like a collection of unfinished demos. He persevered and did some more, and eventually it got to the point where it felt like something. David and I were still unmoved, though, and David didn't want to spend much time on it. Then getting Phil Manzanera involved came up, and that moved it on. Eventually, Youth also got involved, but still at this point we hadn't made any real commitment to it to do very much with it.

A little less than two years ago, Phil and I met to go meet with the Wachowski siblings. They are working on a new movie and it seemed like that might be a place where the music could wind up. We've always liked the idea of film music. Maybe fortuitously, it didn't work out and it was back to the drawing board.

How did it start gaining momentum?
Once Youth had done some work on the thing, I went in to do some drum parts and then David came in and he picked up a guitar. I think that was the point at which he got involved and decided to really put some time in it.

As you listened back to the songs, was there a lot of material you'd forgotten about after all these years?
Completely. I have to say, there's a lot of throwback in there, but hopefully there is nothing wrong with it.

It does sound like you're drawing little bits out of the band's whole history.
It's a very funny thing. You sit down to play and it's a blank canvas, and somehow you end up retreating into familiar phrases, or in my case, familiar drum fills, no matter how hard you try. Eventually you settle into it. You realize, "This is what we like doing. This is what feels comfortable. Carry on."

Did you know from the beginning you wanted it to be all instrumentals until the final song?
Initially, we hadn't made a decision about that at all. If some of the material had been more suited to vocals, that might have been the way forward. Once we worked out there was really only one real song on it, I quite liked the idea. At one point we thought, "No songs." But "Louder Than Words," in a way, really helped link the album to The Division Bell. That seemed quite important. It is important for people to understand where it came from, that this wasn't new music that's just been created in the last year. It is, by definition, very connected to something that was done 20 years ago.

It's nice to hear so much Rick on the record. It's a great way to remind people how integral he was to the band.
I think that's really important. That was one of the big things on listening that came across, the realization that this was some great Rick stuff. Over our history, Rick is the least recognized considering his input into our sound and what we are. It was a good opportunity to maybe redress a bit of that balance.

It must have been emotional to hear so much of his work through the speakers as you worked on this.
Yeah. It makes you stop and listen and ago, "You know what? There's nobody else that plays anything like that."

Most of the drumming on here is recent stuff, and not things you recorded 20 years ago, right?
That's right, yeah. I think that's sort of inevitable. When you revisit something you always think you can do something better or different. That's probably true for most people, really. If you get the opportunity to revisit something, you do it.

At the end of the Division Bell tour, did you realize the band was done or were there any plans to go forward?
I don't think there was any sort of grand recognition that it was over. I just think that over a period of time, David realized he didn't want to go back and do the next big Pink Floyd album and the next Pink Floyd tour. Sadly, if that's the case, you can't make people enjoy doing things. The only way you can play that sort of music for that sort of length of time is if people are really up for it.

The fact there's no definitive Dark Side film is a shame.

It makes sense he wanted to end it there. You'd re-established the band without Roger and done two really long stadium tours. It just got as big as possible. 
Yeah, but it wasn't done as sort of making a point to Roger so much as feeling that we wanted to carry on. It did cross my mind that if David announces this is really the end of it, if he resigns from Pink Floyd, that leaves me in total control. God knows I'll be out on the road playing the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon, just the drum parts. It'll be quite dull. Please know that I'm joking. I can see the headline now, "Nick Mason to Tour."

I would guess that if you were in charge back then, the band would have kept on going. Yeah. I think that's a particular problem for drummers. We can't operate on our own. We always have it in the back of our minds that we'd like everything to continue forever. I was watching the new documentary about Genesis. There was great moment where Phil Collins is talking just before Peter [Gabriel] left the band. Phil remembers thinking to himself, "I just want to play the drums." For a lot of us drummers, that's how it operates. We're happy to carry on, but we don't have the shoulder the burden, perhaps, of having to be out front and having ultimate responsibility.

You must have been a little surprised when David decided to do this new project then. That's right, but David actually called me a little before we were doing the Pink Floyd recording bits and asked me if I'd play on one of the tracks on his solo album. I suspect that David will do almost anything to not have to do real work on his solo album, so he was delighted to get sidelined on another project.

Do you see this as the final Pink Floyd album?
I think I'll let David do the, "This is the last, this is the end." I now believe when I'm dead and buried my tombstone will read, "I'm not entirely sure the band's over."

The fans always fantasize about a tour with you, David and Roger, but it's just hard to imagine ever happening.
I think it's unlikely. Live 8 was such a great opportunity to do it for the right reasons, and if something like that was ever recreated where we knew we could make a difference, I hope that we would all sort of step up and do something.

"Louder Than Words" is a nice way to wrap things up. It addresses the whole saga of the band.
I agree, and I have to say, I've spent quite a lot of time over the past 15 years doing promos for reissues of things. There is a point where if you've been in a band long enough, every year is a birthday or something. Tenth anniversary of something or the 50th anniversary or whatever. It's so much fun talking about something new, something people haven't heard before.

Are the vaults empty now? Are you guys done reissuing the old albums?
Oh no. [Laughs] I can assure you that our record company has no doubts at all that there's more box sets to be done. Recently, I've seen two videos. One on the Genesis story and one on Spandau Ballet, both of which were really good. I hope that at some point we might do something like that. I think there's no substitute for visuals to go with music. I hope at some point we do some sort of anthology of the band with video.

The fans would also love more live albums. Maybe something from the Animals tour or something.
It's such a shame. The problem is the technology wasn't around so much and we were all paranoid about bootlegging, so we didn't actually record or film many of our tours. The fact there's no definitive Dark Side film is a shame, really.

You filmed The Wall tour in some capacity, right?
Filming the Wall tour was a bit of a red herring. It started with the idea of filming the Wall tour, but that didn't seem satisfactory so it transformed itself into a totally different film with Alan Parker. Having said that, I think what Roger's done with The Wall recently was fantastic. The film that went with his show was just mind-blowing.

It's amazing that when you guys toured with The Wall, it only hit four cities. Roger did over 200 shows.
And he made a fortune, but when we did it originally we lost money.

Is the story true that only Rick profited from the tour because he was fired and brought back on salary for the tour?
That's true. Having left the band, he was the only one that made money. It shows there is a God that dispenses a certain amount of justice.

Getting back to the album, the first time I heard it I was pretty stunned. I never thought I'd hear the sound of you guys playing together again.
I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that. I'm really enjoying the excitement of hearing about people enjoying it. It's so gratifying that it's almost pathetic, me sitting here almost sobbing. I really like the way its divided up in a completely old fashioned way. It's not cut to iTunes length or whatever. I think we have possibly been aided, very slightly, by Bono and Co. They did it the wrong way around and I'm fond of saying that what we did is a very old fashioned musical concept. We're hoping people might actually buy this record.

I didn't think U2 had any idea that giving away an album for free would backfire.
It was so unexpected, I thought, and interesting that people took such umbrage at being given something. That does devalue things. Music has been horribly devalued by being given away. It's funny they didn't sense some of that. It's been the big story of the 21st century, music being de-valued.