Roger Waters last recorded with Pink Floyd in 1983, but that hasn’t stopped his music from menacing teenagers for the last two decades. The band’s best albums — The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and Wish You Were Here, all made when Waters was Floyd’s main creative force — have remained on the Billboard charts for nearly thirty years. The influence of those records can be seen in young groups such as Radiohead, whose music shows the formal adventurousness, pure emotion and grim worldview of prime Floyd. The most recent proof of the band’s impact is the two-disc greatest-hits collection Echoes, which was released last fall and has sold more than 3 million copies. After disappearing for much of the Nineties, Waters ended the decade with successful tours of North America and is now preparing for a four-month tour of Europe and Asia. He’s also working on his first studio record in eight years, a concept album about a torture survivor from the Balkans who drives a New York cab. His subject matter may not be getting any lighter, but Waters seems content, and he may finally be ready to call off the decades-old hostilities between himself and ex-band mates David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright. Still, he can get catty when speaking about Gilmour: When told that the Pink Floyd guitarist might be retiring from the road, Waters says, “It’s about time!”
It seems as if the anonymity that you cultivated in Pink Floyd hurt your solo career and helped the band members who carried on under the Floyd name.
What’s served them well is the enormous power of the trademark, which all of us underestimated. I know they did, because when they went on tour [without Waters] in ’87, they were terrified that people wouldn’t buy tickets. And then at the beginning of the tour, they sold 160,000 tickets in two days! The name is incredibly powerful.
Back in the Seventies, the Sex Pistols slagged off Pink Floyd as the ultimate pompous stadium-rock band. Now punk bands play arenas, and Pink Floyd have become almost an underground influence. Has the world turned upside down?
It’s just a generation thing. The Sex Pistols were just trying to make noise. It was so clearly contrived. You know, they were managed by a bloke who ran a shop selling silly clothes! And then one of them died, so you got that iconic thing that lives on. If somebody dies, that’s always good. Except for him, obviously, and his mom and dad, and [his girlfriend] Nancy; but for everybody else, it’s brilliant.
Have you heard Radiohead?
My son Harry gave me OK Computer. I really liked it. I thought it had two or three really great songs on it. Then a friend gave me a newish album with a red thing, I can’t even remember what it was called —
Yeah, Amnesiac. That was beyond me, I have to say. I listened to it once in the car and went, “Well, OK, guys. Good, but you’ve left me.” You know, where’s my Neil Young? Where’s my John Lennon album?
Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall still sell more copies every week than half the bands we cover in the magazine. Any new thoughts on why?
For years and years and years, I couldn’t answer that question, because it was such a surprise.
You can describe both records in the same way, I think: They are very well crafted and cohesive, and they’ve got some really good tunes in them. And both — particularly Dark Side of the Moon — are prepared to be puerile in their attachment to some basic fundamental beliefs. It’s very difficult to write “Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care,” without people going, “Fucking wanker!” [laughs]. And I think that’s what Radiohead and these other bands are attaching to. There is a purity in those records. The records are bought by people when they hit puberty, when it becomes important to us to attach to ideas. That’s why people are still buying Catcher in the Rye: To help us discover how we think.
Pink Floyd are one of the most famous concept-album bands of all time. How did you approach Echoes, a greatest-hits compilation?
If I had the power, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I’m not a big compilation person. Almost all my work is stuck together philosophically and musically. But clearly there were other people involved [smiles]. I was at a picnic on a beach on the island of Mustique just after Christmas, and I suddenly saw [drummer] Nick Mason on the other side, who I haven’t spoken to in fifteen years. And I thought, “Fuck, this is nonsense!” So I went up behind him and massaged his neck. He turned around, and he nearly fell on the floor when he saw who it was. He’s invited me to dinner, and I shall go, because we were very close friends all those years. I feel as though at age fifty-eight I’m ready to let go of my end of the bone. Because it takes two terriers to tug on a bone, you know?
Are Pink Floyd going to be the one huge Seventies band that could have gotten back together but didn’t?
I don’t know — probably. In the case of the Eagles, I doubt that “hell froze over” because of a huge outpouring of brotherly love — I suppose cash had something to do with it. And Dave recently was quoted as saying he’s got far too much money. If I was on my uppers, it’s possible that we might have a reunion tour. But I’m not, thank God.