"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds MARCH 10, 1973 - by Steve Peacock
UNEASE OF THE BOGUS MAN
Some things don't change a lot. For instance... one of the fundamentals of Roxy Music has always been their costumes, and here's Eno - the man who proudly entered his occupation on a Speakeasy membership form as 'non musician' - sitting amid the bustle of their management office talking about some stage-act ideas.
"I've got plans for some fabulous new costumes, but they're going to be rather difficult to construct because they're made from totally outlandish materials which will have to be gathered from all parts of the globe. One actually requires feathers from the tail of a lyre bird, which might be a bit difficult - I've never actually seen one, just in children's encyclopaedias and things, so they might be extinct for all I know. But I need three, and then I'll be away." As he says: "I do love the whole costume bit - it's very important to me musically, not a superfluous thing in any way."
But then again some things seem to be definitely on the change for Roxy. Their new album is almost finished, just a couple of vocals and mixes to do - and there's a track on it called Bogus Man Part One that Eno feels points up the way the band are developing. It's a question of the band really starting to feel like a band - something that wasn't apparent on their first album and that they were only really groping towards on their British gigs last year and to work together with enough strength to be able to loosen up.
Eno says he only realised Roxy had that potential at the end of the American tour - an irritating series of short, down-the-bill sets that built up a lot of frustration. When they got to a three-night stint in a club in Washington at the end of the tour, and had less pressure, the pent-up energy exploded into the music, surprising Eno in the resulting musical fireworks. That has carried through, and he sees Bogus Man as an expression of their newfound improvisational abilities.
"We had an undeveloped idea of making something that had a sinister feeling to it, but with that being an undertone with a fairly happy sounding riff; it was just meant to sound uneasy. But the problem until about a week before we did the album was that it was tending to sound a bit 'let's do something sinister', very forced. Then Paul started playing this kind of reggae beat to it, a very bland sort of thing, and John Porter," (who's playing bass on the album for them) "joined in, which it put a totally different face on it, and it gradually developed parts that were completely incongruous but worked because they were held together by sheer willpower. Andy was playing a kind of a-tonal saxophone part that had nothing particularly to do with the song - the same twelve notes over and over again in different times and inversions, a kind of Schoenburgian thing of all the possible ways of arranging twelve notes. I played a thing on synthesizer that was derived from the sound of a steel band, and Phil played a very simple thing based on echo guitar, repeated. All the elements are very strange but they do work together to give this feeling of something very uneasy proceeding in a direction its not quite sure of. For me it's probably the most successful track because it's the one on which the band is most obviously working together, and it's also got a lot of discipline."
And another kind of discipline is another of the main changes he feels will be noticeable on the new album - not so much a change in direction as a narrowing of the group's catchment area. They've paid a lot of attention to getting the rhythm section down solid.
"I think the the first album stressed all the things about us that are esoteric, ethereal and spacey, but as far as I'm concerned those things don't come off unless they're anchored to a strong base, and they've generally gone deeper into more limited range of ideas than on the first record. I think that one of the things that attracted people to the band before was that feeling of dilettantism - a lot of ideas being just touched on but I felt that nothing was really being taken far enough, and this album's got over that to an extent. But really, an album's so short, there's so many things we want to do and forty minutes isn't a long time to do them. The album might be criticised for not showing enough ideas, but the ideas in there have been investigated much more thoroughly."
And much the same will apply to their stage performances on the forthcoming British tour. The trappings will be similar, and there'll be a few of the old numbers, presumably Re-Make/Re-Model among them, but there should be a lot of the new numbers, and hopefully a new-found confidence in the playing.
"There was a stage when we would have been very lost if something had gone wrong on stage - we used to think of the stage act in terms of a progression of events that was worked out in one particular way so that if something went wrong it was a major disaster, something that had to be covered up. But now we'd tend to think that nothing can go wrong, that anything that happens is part of the event and we'd engineer the thing from that point."