Polly Samson Details The Lyrical Journey Behind Rattle That Lock

As David’s writing partner, what comes first, the music or the words?
On the whole, it’s the music first. There’s been one exception, which was Louder Than Words on the last Pink Floyd album [2014’s The Endless River]. I didn’t really want to write lyrics for that album. I loved it so much as an instrumental album and to impose lyrics without Rick [Wright] being around felt presumptuous or wrong.

What changed then?
David wanted something as a full stop to the whole Pink Floyd thing. So, without a piece of music, I wrote Louder Than Words. It was an easy lyric to write because for years I’d noticed this thing. If you’re in a room with David, Nick [Mason] and Rick, or as I was in at Live 8 with David, Nick, Rick and Roger [Waters], nobody speaks. There is nothing but awkward silences. They have no small talk with each other, they have no big talk with each other, they just do not speak. If you happen to be the unlucky person in the room, it’s the most awkward feeling you can imagine. And then they get onstage with their instruments and suddenly they’re so eloquent, and the way they communicate is beautiful. And so I wrote Louder Than Words just to express that feeling. 

How come David finds it so difficult to write lyrics? Is it just easier for him to communicate through the guitar?
Yes, the way he communicates is through the guitar. And in conversation he’s quite ponderous. Although I think he’s written some good lyrics, and I think the two lyrics he’s written on this album [Faces Of Stone and Dancing Right In Front Of Me] are fantastic. I don’t find it hard to write lyrics, but I find it very hard to get David to write lyrics.

How did you get him to do it?
I’d just written the lyrics to Rattle That Lock, which David was very keen on. But I said to him, “I’m not writing another one now until you’ve written one.” And it really was a bit like trying to get a child to do their maths homework. I had to shut him in a room with a blank paper, and he would stare at that blank paper. And I’d come in with a cup of tea and say: “How’s it going?” And he’d say, “Oh, not very well.” And then we’d go for a walk and talk about what he was trying to write about, and it was like squeezing the words out of him. In the end he got there and I think they’re two very fine lyrics. But it took a lot of work [laughs] – on my part!

So you trick him into writing?
Oh, yeah. But I think it’s partly a muscle he doesn’t use. David, at a very young age, found music was his thing. And I think the brain develops strengths in those areas.

Which raises the question: doesn’t he want to get better at it?
No! [Laughs] He will do anything rather than write words himself. He would rather go and wash the car than write words himself. He will find anything to get out of it. But he needs to do it, because otherwise where am I going to get my love song? I can’t write my own love song! It’s not fair, is it?

How much of yourself or your personality is in those lyrics?
Very little. When I started writing with him in ’93, I had to try and work out what was in him, and to treat him like a character I might be writing in a book. I was very conscious of him as the person who would be singing my words. And as I’ve gained confidence over the years, and learned more about songwriting, I’ve realised that one can write a third-person song, and it can be observational and it doesn’t have to be what David is feeling in his heart.

Have you run into a situation where he isn’t happy with what you’ve written?
Only once, with an earlier version of [the Rattle That Lock song] The Girl In The Yellow Dress. That jazzy piece of music was around at the time of On An Island [Gilmour’s last album, in 2005]. It was very suggestive to me of a story from my own life. When I was 19 I was new in London, didn’t know anyone, and I used to go to a place called the Tufnell Park Tavern on my own, just to sit and stare at this man playing the saxophone. It was sort of like a crush, really. And a very unlikely one, because he was an ancient old man. But I loved the way he played the sax. And so I wrote a song trying to explain that. And David really didn’t want to sing that, and I could understand why.

So you changed the lyric?
That piece of music was still around, and I still loved it. Then Phil Manzanera, who’s produced this album, said: “You know, that song, it’s so obviously about a beautiful, sexy woman.” And I thought: “You’re right, but how do I write about a beautiful, sexy woman? I can’t write about myself, can I?” [Laughs.] And I’m not going to write about some other beautiful, sexy woman for David to sing.

This article originally appeared in Prog 59.