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Pink Floyd's 'Wall' Reissue: Nick Mason Looks Back at 'Fraught' Recording and Roger Waters 'Losing It'
- Posted on Mar 8th 2012 1:00PM by Eric R. Danton
A lacerating double-LP full of angst, alienation and a generous allotment of killer guitar solos, 'The Wall' has sold 23 million copies in the United States alone since its release late in 1979. Now the enduring concept album is the latest Pink Floyd release to get a lavish expansion, with new 'Experience' and 'Immersion' editions containing previously unreleased demos, video, live performances and other material.
"For people interested in the music and like the music, it brings a lot of extra depth to it," Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason tells Spinner.
Along with sharing his memories of making the album, and performing it in concert in the early '80s, Mason tells us that while fans are unlikely to see a full-scale Floyd reunion, principles Roger Waters and David Gilmour have reached a wary truce.
"It's like growing up, and it's very difficult to grow up in a music environment," Mason says.
What stands out most about the album after all these years?
I suppose its sophistication, in a way. There are so many ingredients that are contained in 'The Wall' that were not necessarily contained in other Pink Floyd records, particularly following on from 'Animals,' which was very spare and sparse. Production on it was much more massive, the complexity of the recording was much more intense.
Looking back, do you hear the music in the context of the circumstances it was made?
With all these things, it's very difficult to work out what effect the environment had on the music. It was a fraught period, but not necessarily between the four of us, initially anyway. The initial part of the record was the whole thing of suddenly moving, lock, stock and barrel, from London to France, to make the record. That was a fraught experience. On the other hand, that fraught experience may be one of the reasons why 'The Wall' is as focused as it is. Instead of being done between holidays and school terms and all the other bits of real life we were living then, a sort of comfortable pop-star version of real life, we were thrust into the thing where we've really got to do this, and we should do it now. Since we're out of England and abroad, we might as well do it absolutely full-time.
When had you last heard the demos that are part of the bonus material?
When we were actually doing it 30-something years ago. It's a wonder in a way that we've got anything at all. Left to our own devices, we would probably have slung lots of stuff. All too often, that is what's happened with history. People simply don't have room, physical room, to keep, for instance, 2-inch tape in the sort of quantities that are required to hold a full archive. It's not just a matter of having three or four boxes, it's 40, 90 boxes of 2-inch tape, and very few people have the resources that sort of stuff properly.
What went through your mind when you listened back to these demos?
It's sort of nostalgia in a way, because you forget how crude the initial idea might be, but how the initial idea is absolutely carried on through the entire process. It's a skeleton that turns into a human figure.
What do you think listeners will get out of that?
Watching something being constructed, whether you're passing a building site or whether you're watching an artist at work, is fascinating, and I think that's the enjoyment. Sometimes you can hear elements in the original demo that you wouldn't recognize unless you'd had them pointed out, so that you do get greater depth because you've seen the foundations of the piece.
How much of it sounded familiar?
All you need is one pass to hear it, and you go, "Oh yeah, I remember that." It just immediately takes you back. Sometimes it takes you back to the occasion you were working on it, a particular moment in the studio or whatever. Sometimes you'll listen to it and go, "I remember that. Why didn't we use it?" I've certainly had that happen in the past. What you sort of remember is, you do so frequently have to refine during the recording process, because toward the end you've still got far more stuff recorded than you end up using.
'The Wall' was done in concert only a handful of times back then. What do you remember about those tours? Though, actually, they were more like stationary events.
Yeah, they weren't tours. I tend to remember the fact that unlike a regular live show, it was far tighter, far more precise and in some ways, far more satisfying, because if ever there was a situation when you really, really felt you could engage the entire audience, that was it. Part of the gestation of 'The Wall' was this business of alienation from the audience, and so the interesting thing was, what 'The Wall' eventually became was something that absolutely engaged the audience. It was absolutely clear what it was about and the very back of the auditorium were paying attention, which has to be one of the goals of any performance.
What did the rest of you think when Roger Waters presented the initial concept of walling off the band from the audience?
First of all, we probably all thought he was mad as a hatter, but once we got a clearer view of what was happening and how it worked, it made absolute sense. The fact that we could project on it, the fact that we had [cartoonist] Gerry Scarfe working with us, meant we were already halfway there, and as the piece was developed, it became clear that it wouldn't just be a blank wall with nothing happening. There would be elements that would happen on it or in it or whatever, and it very quickly became apparent that this was intended to be a show and not a punishment. [Laughs]
How much has the video component of the reissue given you a sense of what audiences experienced back then?
I suppose you get a flavor. It's just so difficult to imagine being front of house when you're backstage. What you are conscious about is what we were talking about earlier, that thing about the audience being absolutely on it. One of the moments, the moment that actually made 'The Wall' come together with the famous events of Montreal in '77 [when Waters spit on a fan climbing the chain-link fence separating the band from the audience] was the feeling that we had lost the audience, and Roger sort of lost it completely, and it was because there was that feeling that the audience weren't in line with what we were trying to do for them, any more than we were in line with what they wanted.
There have been highly publicized difficulties over the years among members of the band. Are those things in the past at this point?
No, I don't think they are, really. We've learned to live with them and are perfectly capable of doing something like Live 8, which I think was terrific from that point of view. But I think the sort of issues that engaged Roger and Dave in particular, and their differences in how they wanted to work or how they worked with each other and whether Roger feels sort of stultified by working in a band situation, they don't just melt away. That is how it is now, and it doesn't just revert to, "OK, we'll be the Monkees again, going about having a great time together and waving our floppy hair about." [Laughs] It just isn't like that, but what it is is civilized.
How was it for you joining Roger on stage for a performance of 'The Wall' in London?
It was terrific, great. I really enjoyed watching the show. It was the night Dave went to the top of the wall to play 'Comfortably Numb,' and the atmosphere in the place was fantastic. Everyone wants people to be friends rather than enemies. The sight of people who have been known for being at loggerheads was just fabulous, so I loved it. And then I went up on stage just for the last song, tapping a tambourine. Brilliant, fantastic night out. Watch the show, enjoy the show and then go on stage and take the applause.
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