Our recent interview with Peter Gabriel was more than just the Genesis Inquisition. During the course of a 40-minute chat, we touched upon everything from Bruce Springsteen to the overuse of “Solsbury Hill” in movie trailers. We also talked about his long-awaited studio album I/O, which is fast becoming the Chinese Democracy of Peter Gabriel albums. But we started off with New Blood, his new CD where he re-recorded songs from his back catalog with an orchestra.
Can you explain how New Blood came out of your Scratch My Back covers project?
When we brought Scratch My Back on the road we wanted to have two hours of music and I only had one hour with Scratch, so we started working up my own stuff. It was opening up something and I wanted to explore it a bit more. I was really pleased with the Scratch My Back portion of the show, but people seemed to really like the second half better. I was really enjoying it too. I felt that we were discovering something special. It wasn’t just an orchestral version of an old hit.
Were there any songs from your catalog that just didn’t work with an orchestra?
“Digging in the Dirt” took a long time. I just couldn’t get the groove to sit. I made the rule “no drum kit, no guitar,” so this sort of funk generation of machinery was missing. It took awhile to get the orchestral players to sit in the pocket.
What’s the status of I’ll Scratch Yours? Is Thom Yorke going to cover “Wallflower?”
No, he’s definitely not. And I’ve sort of given up waiting for the others. But we have six excellent tracks with Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, David Byrne, Stephin Merritt and Elbow. So now I think that I might try to find three or four other people to cover my stuff so that I can make an album out of that, and then get that out next year in some form.
So Arcade Fire and Neil Young just are just too busy?
Yes, I think so. I met Win and Regine yesterday, actually. They came to Montreal for the showing of the film. They’re great people. But they’ve had fantastic success and they just got swamped.
Are you planning any shows after the South American tour?
I’m just doing a last little bit in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico. That’s it. I really want to start doing new stuff or re-looking at stuff that’s in the can.
When I spoke with you in 2005 you told me that you had 130 songs in various stages of gestation for I/O.
Not songs. Ideas. They’re still sitting there and I haven’t done much work on I/O. Some I’d probably like now and quite a lot I’d just leave by the wayside. A lot of them are starting points and some more are fleshed out recordings.
When the tour ends I definitely want to look at that stuff. But having just done something that’s been seen as so serious, adult and difficult, it would be quite fun to do the opposite. So I’m going to explore a bit of that too. Maybe something lighter, rhythmic, more electronic maybe . . . into acoustic and dark.
So you might just start a new album from scratch?
That’s the thought. I mean, I’ve got one or two ideas, but . . . It may be I’ll just follow my nerves when I start. But I’m really looking forward to it.
I think some of your fans are a little frustrated that there hasn’t been a new album in nearly 10 years
Exactly. I think that’s right.
I’m sure you don’t know for sure, but do you suspect there will be an album in a year? Two years?
I hate saying time now, because I always take longer. But there are things I’m mucking around with on the piano that I’m enjoying quite a bit. Let’s put it like that.
Is the album going to be called I/O?
Well, it depends. With I/O I was thinking of a particular batch of material, which is sort of half-finished. So if it becomes something else, I might look at it and see if it still seems relevant.
Do you think that one day there’ll be this huge box set of all these ideas and sketches you’ve been working on all these decades that never see the light of day?
Well, I’m not sure how good they are. That’s the truth. Some of the things need to be cooked a little more in order to become edible.
Someone might look at your career and say, “This man has committed career suicide. He had this gigantic breakthrough album in 1986, and then he waited six years to follow it up. Then he waited 10 years to follow that up, and here we are 10 years after that and the next one isn’t even close.” How would you respond to that?
I’m sure that’s correct, commercially. But I have had a really interesting life. And that seems to be a much more sensible goal at age 61. If I can still pay my bills, which does become an issue sometimes, then I’m a happy guy.
You always hear about these rock stars that work for 30 straight years or something, and then realize their kids hate them and their marriage is over.
I still had a divorce, but I get on pretty well with my ex and I have a great relationship with my kids – both sets. So, I’d say to people now that the joy of success is “no” is a good word to learn early.
Right, it’s just hard for some people when they hear, “We’ll give you x millions of dollars if you tour for six months straight.”
Sure, but in the end you gotta live with yourself. And if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing or the people you’re with at the time, then you should be somewhere else. It’s pretty simple. It’s extremely lucky and privileged that you can do do what you love to do and get paid for it.
On a very random point, I’ve always read that “Solsbury Hill” was inspired not only by your decision to quit Genesis – but a Bruce Springsteen concert you saw in London in 1975. Is there any truth to that?
I’m trying to think, because I think that was written prior . . . I don’t know. I saw Bruce’s first gig in London, I think at the Odeon house. That blew me away. Second only in my favorite gig list to Otis Redding in 1967. But I don’t think it’s connected to “Solsbury Hill.”
The story goes that Bruce is the “eagle that flew out of the nest” and you were so inspired that you wanted to leave Genesis and do your own thing. Is that just a bunch of hogwash?
I think that is hogwash. Because when I left Genesis, I just wanted to be out of the music business. I felt like I was just in the machinery. We knew what we were going to be doing in 18 months or two years ahead. I just did not enjoy that.
I remember that once I met Bruce at CBS. He had an armful of Roy Orbison records under his elbow. So I think he drew from rich veins of rock history and absorbed and pulled them together in a very interesting way with a great band.
Do you ever get sick of seeing “Solsbury Hill” in trailers for romantic comedies? It just seems to be everywhere.
Yeah, maybe I’ve let it go too much. But I’ve started to take the attitude that it was harder getting on the radio, and trailers and film music and synchs are a good alternative. But I know some people feel that song is overexposed and I let it be used too many times.