Pink Floyd, seizing the day and Polly Samson: David Gilmour Rattles That Lock

Before we begin, I’ve been told not to ask you any questions about Pink Floyd. Why is that so important?
Because I’m sick and tired of it. I’ve been asked every question about that band there possibly is – at least twice. And that makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel. It’s going on forever and it just becomes boring after a while. Plus, I don’t want to live in the past – I want to live in the very moment I’m in, and I want to enjoy that to the fullest. So I’m here to talk about a new album and a new tour, but not about my relationship with Roger [Waters] or what we created in 1975 or anything like that. Pink Floyd was great, but it’s over, it’s done. Life goes on. And some people don’t realise or they are simply ignoring it. So, I need to ask them to be respectful to my views and wishes. And I do.

You’re also insisting on being called David instead of Dave. Why does that bother you?
It’s the same thing, basically. I’m a 69-year-old man who has had a long and fruitful career, and I want to be treated with some decency and respect. I mean, it’s okay if my closest friends call me Dave or if my wife does. In fact, she can call me anything she pleases. But not someone in the press who hardly knows me and vice versa. So it’s David, I’m afraid.

We’re talking on your houseboat studio, Astoria, but you recorded most of the new LP Rattle That Lock at your home studio in Brighton.
The one in Brighton is more of a recording space, and it doesn’t have a mixing desk. But it’s hardwired in such a way that it makes it very easy for one person – that’s me – to work it all. So I work without an engineer. I work entirely on my own most of the time when I’m getting started on these things. I can record a guitar with a mic on an amp, and [engineer] Andy Jackson will make it sound great later. So this studio with the full flying faders desk is great for mixing. We did two Pink Floyd albums in this room. This is where A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell were made.

Rattle That Lock is about a day in the life, and starts with a song called 5 A.M. Is that when you get up and go straight to work?
No, I don’t often get up and start recording then. But I did record the birds singing at the beginning at five in the morning, because I often wake up then, especially at this time of year when there’s a touch of light in the sky. It’s lovely to sit and look out of the window and feel that moment of the dawn.

The album’s mantra is ‘carpe diem’ – seize the day. Is this you trying to make the most of life? Are you scared you’re running out of time?
I think you should try to make as much out of life as you can and that’s the theme that’s found its way into this record. Polly [Samson, Gilmour’s wife] has verbalised and lyricised it in a beautiful way.

She’s your official lyricist, isn’t she?
She is. But she’s been writing lyrics for and with me for 20-something years now. She’s finding her feet much better now, and is less constrained to try to imagine what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. She’s more liberated to put her own thoughts into it, and if her thoughts are strong and cogent, great. When I sing them, they’ll sound like they’re my thoughts. We’re turning into a better team.

So you’re happy with every influence? Using whatever fits your songs?
Yeah. I don’t like narrowing my vision. I like all influences to be there.

If you look at the album as a ‘day in the life’ thing, then it’s quite a full day, isn’t it? There are lots of things going on in these 10 songs.
You can think about how shitty it must be for a soldier in Afghanistan to not know whether the people who surround him are friends or enemies, and the consequences of that. So that can be a five-minute moment in your day, and then you can spend another five minutes of your day thinking about Rick Wright and the fact that he’s died and you no longer have the musical partnership you used to have. You can spend a minute or two thinking about your parents or a minute or two thinking about your children and your hopes for them. There’s plenty of room in a day.

Even for some jingles you recorded at a French train station? The title track begins with a French train operator’s announcement jingle, recorded at Aix-En-Provence station.
That’s right, yes. To remind you of how nice a trip through France on the train can be.

I thought you’d be more of a plane enthusiast, flying over the country?
Polly doesn’t like aeroplanes very much, and I love the Eurostar and the French TGV trains. We take trains whenever we can. It’s not really slower. We took a train back from Spain once. It took, I think, eight hours from the Spanish border to our house in England. By plane, it’s an hour to the airport, two hours to check in, an hour-and-a-half flight, an hour to get your bags, an hour to get home. It would have taken six or seven hours. So much simpler and easier on the train.

Would you be interested in composing music for Heathrow or Paddington, then?
No, no, no. That jingle is a speciality of this guy who wrote that piece. It’s the only jingle I can think of, having been in airports in England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and in train stations in all those countries too. Most of the jingles come on to say to you: “Listen. There’s going to be an announcement…” Most of them ain’t very good. And this one is good. It’s got a tune, it’s got syncopation. It’s quite clever to say as much as that with four notes.

There are also some heavier emotional themes on Rattle That Lock, like talking about war, and the loss of a friend. What do you make of the 21st century, with us being quite close to another Cold War?
Yes. We had a moment, the build-up to 1989 where things were getting lighter, where the Berlin Wall came down and we thought the world was moving into a better place. Then there were massacres all over Eastern Europe, where people were no longer held down by a dictatorship and their liberation allowed all sorts of bad feelings to come out and create all sorts of shit. In the intervening years we’ve got things like ISIS and all sorts of other stuff going on. In England, it’s like more of a police state where the government is cracking down on protest. The world is tightening up again, and I don’t like it. Polly’s lyrics on Rattle That Lock are encouraging people to make their feelings known and don’t let the bastards beat you down.

Were the days of your youth, the 60s and 70s, more liberal then? Or is that just a myth?
Some things have got immeasurably better since those days. The homosexuality laws and attitudes towards homosexuality have changed radically. Also, women in the workplace and feminism has come on fantastically. It’s not finished with. None of these things are done, but some you can look and see real progress. But the world is a slow mover. Things go forward, things go back. We think progress is being made but it’s painfully slow, and at the moment it feels like more things are shutting down than are opening up.

Have we built our own cage, with the help of technology? Have we become prisoners in some way?
I think you’re right. Technology is moving at a speed the human mind can’t catch up with. I won’t be around, but I suspect in 30 years’ time, people will look back at this moment and say, “God, it was so confused.” And I think there will be solutions to many of the problems we have. I hope so. But they’re not going to happen as quickly as we wish they would.

You’ve described the upcoming Rattle That Lock tour as an “old man’s tour”.
The “old man’s tour” is a silly expression that popped out. But sometimes you say things and think, “Maybe I could have put that better.” The tour I’m doing is fairly gentle – it’s 10 dates this year. We may do some dates next year, but it’s not 100 per cent decided. We will see how it goes, see how I enjoy them. This career of mine is not really a career any more. It’s a bit part-time. I’ve had my career. I have other responsibilities, and I really don’t want to slog around the planet playing thousands of gigs. I’m not made that way.

Hence leaving that to the Stones? They need it. I don’t think Keith Richards could ever slow down.
What motivations drive other people is entirely up to them, and I’m thrilled the Stones keep getting out there and doing it. The equivalent for me would be to get out there with Roger and Nick [Mason] and do it, and… ah, I’m sorry, I don’t have any desire to go in that direction.

Will you play some Pink Floyd songs on this tour, though?
Yeah, of course. I’ve had a long and fruitful career, some of it with Roger, a lot of it with Nick, and I’m very, very happy about that career. The unhappy moments are less than five per cent, and the 95 per cent is nothing but joy and satisfaction and pleasure in each other’s company. But shit happens, things break down. Fine. It’s all part of the tapestry of life.

Do you follow what’s going on in music these days?
No, not really.

Why is that? When did you lose interest?
I’m as interested as I’ve ever been in making music, writing, performing. But I’m not so interested in that searching process that I was happy to spend 23 hours a day doing for years. Now I let other people do that and they occasionally play me something that turns me on. But I’d buy the new Bob Dylan, the new Leonard Cohen and the new Neil Young record. Probably a new Joni Mitchell record if she made one.

What do you think about streaming and Apple Music and their plan not to pay artists royalties during their three-month trial period?
I’m with Taylor Swift [who opposed Apple’s policy, forcing them to back down]. I think she’s dead right. Why should they get three months free when what they’re doing is research and development? This is what I was talking about before. We will look back on this from the future and see how this conundrum pans out. I have no idea. A lot of young people today seem to think it’s fine we should get music for nothing and films for nothing. I don’t agree. People put in years of hard work and expect to get paid something. And if it’s pinched, it doesn’t do any good, and it doesn’t encourage young people. It might prevent talented young people from being heard.

Yet there’s been an increase of vinyl sales lately, which is an interesting development.
I’m very happy that people like vinyl. But I was never like that. I always scratched my vinyl and cat hairs would get on the LPs. I loved it when CDs came along.

For a full vision, you need proper artwork, don’t you? On Rattle That Lock, you’ve gone for a picture of crows leaving a cage.
Corvids, yes. Various types of crows flying out of a gilded cage.

Which is a metaphor for liberation and freedom?
All that sort of stuff, yeah. It’s jolly, isn’t it?

This article was originally published in Prog 59.