Never a Tull moment
Ian Anderson is an iconic figure of rock with his amazing vocal range and prowess on the metal flute. But the man who has been omnipresent in Jethro Tull for decades, discovers ANAND SANKAR, is as entertaining when he talks of American politics or chicken tikka
I would say get MTV off the air Ian Anderson
NOT TUNED TO THE ROAD Ian Anderson: `I am quite a good flute player and can strum a guitar with the best. But it's my wife's job to drive. She tells me I'm not temperamentally suited for driving'
Jethro Tull was more than a phenomenon from Luton, U.K.. By 1984, the band had released 15 albums and the count today stands at 22. And their records sales and number of Billboard hits are better left to the statisticians.
Since 1967, Ian Anderson has remained the band's vocalist, flautist and multi-instrumentalist. Besides his amazing vocal range, it is his flute that has seen him labelled the Pied Piper of rock. And that classic silhouette of him playing flute on one leg has become a cult icon of sorts.
Also the main songwriter of Jethro Tull, his writing has always taken potshots at religion, society, politics, war and fellow artistes. In a freewheeling telephone conversation from Germany with MetroPlus, Anderson had an opinion on everything from driving a car to chicken tikka masala and George Bush, in addition to music.
Excerpts from the interview:
Is it true that a guy who plays the flute, acoustic and electric guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, Hammond organ, drums, keyboards, trombone, a variety of whistles and violin hasn't taken or cleared his driving test? How much more complex is driving?
There is a correlation there. If I played the violin or the guitar I would get a few squeaky notes. If you put me in my wife's Mercedes and ask me to drive down the road you would have a couple of dead dogs and a wake of destruction.
I am quite a good flute player and can strum a guitar with the best. But it's my wife's job to drive. She tells me I'm not temperamentally suited for driving. I am an expert off-road driver, though.
In 1989, Jethro Tull beat favourites Metallica to the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Metallica is today called a grunge rock band. But The Christmas Album, 2003, is still Tull. Has it ever occurred to you that you might have to change?
I suppose if we were a conventional band then it would be the case. Fortunately, we came in at a time when we had freedom. The record companies were not investing in us. I paid for my sessions and I hand-delivered the records.
We have had a very free and artistic career. We are unusual as not many bands have the freedom to cover the style and territory we have. I have experimented with all kinds of music. Jethro Tull is a huge array of influences. Metallica has a tightly defined style, which I am not saying is bad. We are open to different kinds of music as long as it is not Caribbean drums or Hawaiian guitars.
You have had famous run-ins with the rock press over your flute. You reportedly took out an ad in a British music periodical with the line: "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument!"
There was a lot of criticism about that Grammy awarded to us. So, tongue in cheek, our record company placed that ad in Billboard magazine. The next year Metallica won the Grammy and they put an ad in the same magazine thanking the band members, the record company, the fans, the family dog... and Jethro Tull for not releasing an album.
There are three kinds of instruments in rock music. Those that fit in, those that need a shoe-horn, and those that need the right ambience. The flute is not easy to integrate into rock. That's why not many have taken to it. There is something tricky about it. Only once in a while do you see a unused instrument come along. It is very difficult to sustain such an experiment. Rock music is suited to a certain class of instruments. I don't call myself a rock musician; I am an acoustic musician in a rock set-up.
Is Ian Anderson Jethro Tull? Everything seems to revolve only around you.
It is not for me to pontificate on something like that, which will alienate the other band members. Including me, there have been a total of 22 members who have passed through Jethro Tull. Enough for two football teams. Jethro Tull has been a kind of a revolving door for musicians. I am the only one who has been there all the way. I have been in good terms with all the members and we are one good family. But it is true that a lot of people think I am Jethro Tull.
Did you expect the folk elements in your sound to make it across the English Channel?
We have a saying in England: "Carrying coals to Newcastle." It is ridiculous to go to North America and play American music. So, when British rockers went there, they took with them something Americans didn't have. I was pleasantly surprised during my previous visits to India on seeing how much Indians knew about Jethro Tull. I think it has got to do with the number of Indians who brought music with them from places like America.
The number Only Solitaire from War Child was allegedly aimed at L.A. Times rock music critic Robert Hilburn. How comfortable are you with criticism?
I was asked recently by the editor of the L.A. Times to write a word about Robert Hilburn as he is retiring. I could make a point that here I am still doing my job and he is retiring.
But I have appreciated any journalist who has spoken his mind. You only learn from criticism. I once told the record companies that I only want bad reviews sent to me even though it may be painful, hurting and embarrassing. I want it that way because I might very easily believe what the press is writing and become an insufferable bore.
Is there an absence of social critique in music today?
People don't like being preached to. Bob Dylan rose to the fore back then because people were up for it. Today there would be zero reaction. People want instant gratification from entertainment. They like to sink their teeth into the sticky fruit of MTV music.
I 'd say get MTV off the air. Young musicians don't copy what's on MTV. What you see on it sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll is perpetuating a myth.
The Tull concert is on February 3 at the IIM-B campus. Tickets are priced at Rs. 1,200 and Rs. 600. The first 2,000 people in each ticket category will get a Rs. 500 collector's edition CD of Aqualung Live. Tickets will be available at Pizza Hut outlets and on www.fabmall.com For enquiries, call 98453-50091.
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