David Gilmour has spent much of the past 20 years trying to make Pink Floyd a thing of the past. The band broke box-office records touring behind 1994's The Division Bell, but Gilmour grew tired of the rock-star life. "The whole thing was becoming bigger than I liked," he says. "I wasn't enjoying the lack of connection with the audience."
The singer-guitarist focused his energy on raising his young children and making the occasional solo album. But one piece of unfinished Floyd business stayed on his mind: their final jam sessions, from 1993. The band – who, at that point, had been without founder and chief songwriter Roger Waters for nearly a decade – cut 20 hours of tapes for a disc of ambient music to be included with The Division Bell, a plan they ultimately scrapped. A couple of years ago, Gilmour dug up the tapes and found himself pleasantly surprised. "I realized there was something good to be tweaked out of all this stuff," he says.
To the surprise of everyone else in the Pink Floyd camp, Gilmour decided to resurrect the material. He and drummer Nick Mason overdubbed new parts and turned the old material into a new record, the largely instrumental The Endless River (due November 10th). Gilmour swears the album marks the end of Pink Floyd. "Anything we had of value is on this album," he says. "Trying to do it again would mean using second-best material, and that's not good enough for me.”
Fans shouldn't expect a tour to support The Endless River – not without keyboardist Rick Wright, who died of cancer in 2008. "Without him, that's kind of impossible," says Gilmour. "I'm really enjoying my life and my music. There's no room for Pink Floyd. The thought of doing any more causes me to break out in a cold sweat.”
In many ways, The Endless River is a tribute to Wright. Without any vocals, his organ comes to the foreground of nearly every track. "Roger and I always made so much noise on the records and in the press that Rick tends to get slightly forgotten," says Gilmour. "But he was just as vital as anyone else in this thing. He created a whole sonic landscape in all the things we do. That is something you cannot reproduce anywhere else.”
The music sounds like classic Floyd, evoking the instrumental passages from "Welcome to the Machine," "Echoes," "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and some of their early, more experimental work from the late 1960s and early 1970s. "There's a lot of throwback in there," says Mason. "It's funny how you sit down with a blank canvas and somehow you end up retreating into familiar drum fills no matter how hard you try. Eventually you realize that's just what feels comfortable.”
The album's 18 tracks are divided into four distinct sections. "I Googled ‘How long is a movement in classical music?'" says Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, who co-produced the disc. "It was almost the length of one side of a [vinyl] album, about 15 minutes, so we did four of those. At first, we were just working with the old tapes. Then David decided they wanted to play new parts. That's when he really took command of the ghost ship of Pink Floyd.”
The album wraps with "Louder Than Words," the only song with lyrics. Those were written by Gilmour's wife, Polly Samson, a novelist who also wrote many of the lyrics on The Division Bell. The song seems to close the curtain on the entire Pink Floyd saga, which has featured lots of acrimony between Waters and his former bandmates. "We bitch and we fight," sings Gilmour. "Diss each other on sight/But this thing we do . . . it's louder than words."
At no point did Gilmour even consider bringing Waters in to work on the album. "Why on Earth anyone thinks what we do now would have anything to do with him is a mystery to me," says Gilmour. "Roger was tired of being in a pop group. He is very used to being the sole power behind his career. The thought of him coming into something that has any form of democracy to it, he just wouldn't be good at that. Besides, I was in my thirties when Roger left the group. I'm 68 now. It's over half a lifetime away. We really don't have that much in common anymore.”
There have been reunions with Waters in recent years: The entire classic Pink Floyd lineup played a triumphant set at the Live 8 charity concert in 2005. Gilmour also shared the stage with Waters at a 2010 charity show, and he and Mason played at one of Waters' gigs the following year. Would anything coax Gilmour back onstage with Waters again? "I wouldn't rule anything out," he says. "But the likelihood of it being anything more than one little charity show is very, very remote."
But Pink Floyd fans do have something else to look forward to: a new Gilmour solo record. "It's coming along very well," he says. "There are some sketches that aren't finished, and 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. Then I'm hoping to do an old man's tour, not a 200-date sort of thing."
Gilmour could easily fill arenas, but he plans to play smaller venues, similar to what he did on his most recent tour, in 2006. "There haven't been many discussions about the tour," he says. "But places like Radio City Music Hall sound like the right sort of vibe for me."
As for Mason, you get the feeling he would be happy to go on tour tomorrow. "If David resigns, that leaves me in total control of Pink Floyd," he says. "I'll go 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."
Still, the drummer refuses to give up hope that Gilmour will change his mind one day. "I believe when I'm dead and buried," he says, "my tombstone will read: 'I'm not entirely sure the band's over.'"