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← Peter Gabriel: "Back to Front", Talks at Google

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Showing Revision 18 created 07/31/2019 by Lisa Miller.

  1. (Talks at Google - Peter Gabriel -
    October 2nd, 2012)
  2. [Applause]
  3. Hi there,
  4. [Introducing] Peter Gabriel, Google -
    Google, Peter Gabriel.
  5. [Applause]
  6. So this is another Talks at Google event
    and we're very, very pleased
  7. to welcome musician, artist and activist
    Peter Gabriel today.
  8. We are going to have the great chance
    to ask him questions
  9. about his current tour
    and the 25th anniversary of "So"
  10. which is going to be released
    actually at the end of October,
  11. on October 22nd,
  12. and we'll have also some chance
    for the audience to ask him questions as well.
  13. So why don't we get started?
  14. You 're here on tour,
    in the middle of the tour.
  15. And what was the story behind the tour?
    How did it come to be?
  16. [Peter Gabriel]
    Well, there were a number of things,
  17. I mean I have never really
    done a retro tour before
  18. and I was pretty resistant, you know.
  19. I know Robert Plant quite well
    and we were chiding each other
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    on who was going to succumb
    to the big money first.
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    Anyway, I went to see the Beach Boys
    do Pet Sounds
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    which I always used to love.
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    And that convinced me that
    to see one of the records you enjoy
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    from start to finish
    was an actually good thing.
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    And that coincided
    with some nice offers,
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    so that was an easy decision.
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    I'm actually going to
    take a sabbatical year
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    with my family.
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    We've got a teacher coming out with us
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    and so it helps underwrite
    that sabbatical year as well.
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    There were a number of reasons but,
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    I decided to bring back the band
    that originally toured that record
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    and so that's been fun
    and we're actually having a great time.
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    We do the evening in three parts.
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    The first part is based on the idea
    that the process is often as interesting
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    if not more interesting
    than the final product.
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    So we start off with an unfinished song
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    and then we do sort of rehearsal mode
    with the house lights on,
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    that's the starter.
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    Then the main course is a few songs,
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    more electronic
    or electric versions of things
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    and then the last chunk,
    if you can get through all that
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    you get your dessert
    which is the "So" album.
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    So that's how it works.
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    [Interviewer]
    Specifically about the "SO" album,
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    you're playing,
    the actual tour is called "Back to front"
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    and that seems to be the sort of
    the format you just discussed
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    but playing "So",
    the track order that you have now
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    That wasn't the original track order,
    correct?
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    Well, this is an interesting diversion
    about technology,
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    because although I'm a big fan of vinyl
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    I was also a great fan of
    the digital world
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    because suddenly we could get
    more dynamics in the music
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    and there were restrictions
    in the vinyl world.
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    For example, the track
    "In your eyes"
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    I always wanted to go
    at the end of the record
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    But it has a good bass line there.
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    To get a fat bass line
    on a full vinyl record,
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    you can't put it near the end.
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    You have to have it nearer the beginning,
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    So, it went on the start of side two
    just because there wasn't enough room
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    for the needle to vibrate
    as it got close to the center.
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    so, then, when CDs came along,
    I was able to take that track
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    and put it back on the end
    where it always should have been.
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    And on this release that's coming up,
    it's a couple of variations.
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    As I understand, there's the CD itself
    rereleased and remastered
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    and that's the third time
    you remastered that ...
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    Yes, as long as people keep buying it
    we'll remaster it (audience laughs)
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    And then, it's going to be
    a comprehensive boxed set
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    that's got both CDs,
    material that hasn't been released yet
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    and also a DVD with some concert footage,
    and you've been sitting on this,
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    this has been in the stores...
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    (Peter) Yeah, we'll throw
    any old shit in there.
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    Hey, it was old, get it in.
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    No, but there were a couple of things
    we were waiting for the right day,
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    You know, you always get more interested
    in the latest thing
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    so we'd sort of forgotten about that.
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    Also we shot the film, the show,
    25, 26 years ago
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    Scorcese had been producing
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    and he had got
    this wonderful cinematographer doing it
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    and we hadn't realised quite what we had,
    So we went back to the film,
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    I mean tons of film cans
    had to be carefully resurrected
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    and then we took
    all the data off the film
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    and then
    had a much better resolution version
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    of that concert
    that we had done previously.
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    (Interviewer) And the actual
    production of "So"
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    and also some of the videos
    documenting that...
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    Over what time period
    did that actually happen?
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    From when you thought about
    the album you did originally
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    to getting it out the door?
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    (Peter) So on this latest thing...?
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    (Interviewer) The original.
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    I think that just sort of happened
    as things came up.
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    There wasn't really
    a brillant master plan.
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    You know, when we finish this
    then what else do we need to do?
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    We were trying film things,
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    I mean, again, if you have the opportunity
    to have two gigs in the same place
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    then it makes filming a lot easier
    'cause you can do the set up,
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    and all the mistakes you make
    on the first day
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    you can try and sort out
    on the second day.
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    And we did that in Greece as well.
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    So, when you're approaching songwriting,
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    maybe at the time
    you're approaching songwriting,
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    With regards to "So",
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    did you have a list of songs
    and then say, "OK, right,
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    I'm going to select
    these musicians to start working with"
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    or were you writing
    and recording at the same time?
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    I'm always writing lyrics
    until the day it's released, really.
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    I'm slow with those,
    but there were a few ideas.
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    In fact, I had forgotten this
    but Manu and Tony said
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    that Sledgehammer was an afterthought.
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    There was a taxi,
    waiting to take Manu back to Paris
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    and we had an hour left.
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    I think I said, I've got this new idea
    that maybe we could just put a demo down

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    and that was it.
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    I mean we carried on working on it
    cause it felt great,
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    but it was quite an after thought.
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    And then Sledgehammer
    also took on a life of its own
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    when it came to the video
    which you worked with Arvin on and others
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    My son, first, straightaway said,
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    "The chickens! That looks
    just like Wallace and Grommit!"
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    How did that come to be?
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    Actually, the man who did the chickens was
    the man who created Wallace and Grommit.
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    And I was working
    with this brilliant director
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    Steven R. Johnson
    and he brought in the Quay Brothers
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    who is a fantastic sort of
    dark East European looking animation.
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    And I saw they've now got
    a big thing at MOMA in New York.
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    And I bought an AARDman animation
    who were from down the road in Bristol.
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    Steven and I had a couple of weeks
    just bashing through ideas
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    and then we bought in the others.
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    And it was a really exciting
    creative brainstorming.
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    That's always been one of the things
    I most enjoy about what I do
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    is working with people
    from different backgrounds,
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    often smarter than I am
    and just cooking something up.
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    So that was a great experience,
    but quite painful too
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    'cause we did everything
    the old fashioned way
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    frame by frame.
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    So when you see a sky
    moving across my face
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    that has been painted
    frame by frame
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    and the skin gets very raw.
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    And when you're under glass
    with a lot of raw fish,
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    on day one, that's fun, but day two ...
    at least you put the blame on the fish.
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    And that video I think
    is actually the most played video
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    ever on MTV.
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    I mean, granted,
    they don't play
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    quite as many videos these days,
    but still the fact...(laughter)
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    but that's a huge accomplishment.
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    Having been relatively young at that age,
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    It was so different
    from anything that was out there.
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    And it set a standard for an experience
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    that was getting you
    into the mind of the writer
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    and the artist in a different way.
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    An entertainment value that
    wasn't just for the sake of entertainment
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    but also telling a story.
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    Yeah, I think that
    what was great about videos then
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    is that there were
    people who wanted to watch them
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    and there was a budget
    and there were no rules.
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    So you could do
    what the hell you wanted
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    and there was no one there
    to say "No, this is the way we do it."
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    Back to songwriting, I want to ask
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    Mike Rutherford made the comment once
    that you're a frustrated drummer.
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    You started as a drummer in school.
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    Do you think you think more rhythmically,
    originally, about a song,
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    or do you think more melodically?
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    I think both. There are some things
    that are just based on melody,
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    but groove is
    what drove me into music.
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    I think drummers,
    they seem to be in command
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    of this really loud thing
    and it looks like a lot of fun.
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    And that's what I wanted to be.
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    I was very enthusiastic.
    Not very good.
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    And it was fine
    in the early days of Genesis
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    because we had guys
    who were good solid drummers
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    but they weren't that creative.
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    Then when we got Phil,
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    unfortunately he was
    a way better drummer than I was.
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    But I used to still have
    some bits of my drum kit onstage
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    and I would find my bass drum
    full of carpet.
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    Gradually these things
    were getting reduced,
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    so that was a subtle way of saying
    that maybe I wasn't the best timekeeper.
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    However, being a major drum fan
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    I worked with some of
    the best drummers in the world, I think.
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    And one of those is Stewart Copeland
    who is also a lousy timekeeper.
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    [Interviewer]
    Just don't tell that to Stewqrt Copeland.
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    No, I've told him, he'll say it himself,
    because he races.
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    But the energy he puts into his drumming
    and the attack on that is fantastic.
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    He does that brilliantly.
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    [Interviewer] On that album
    he played high-hat
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    Well, this is the thing;
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    I had so many wonderful drummers
    I could cut out bits and pieces
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    and get a bit of a high-hat from Stewart,
    a kick from Manu and whatever it was...
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    But I'm a bit obsessive
    as you might guess from this.
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    The groove has to be right.
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    We work quite hard trying to find
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    grooves that aren't the regular ones
    you're hearing on the radio.
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    [Interviewer] With having this band
    back on stage together,
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    are there some moments
    when you look around and it's déjà vu?
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    Yeah, and we all look exactly the same
    as we did twenty-five years ago.
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    Actually, a couple of the guys do,
    I wish I could say that.
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    It's a bit like family get-togethers,
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    because you end up with
    the same bunch of folk
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    doing exactly the same thing
    as you always did,
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    with all the pleasures and problems
    that went along the first time.
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    So, it feels very familiar
    but I'm enjoying it a lot.
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    [Interviewer] And as far as the way
    in which the songs evolve
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    when you're on tour,
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    there's that section that's defined as
    'let's play with these more'
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    but do you also come back
    and rearrange the songs a little bit?
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    Are they the same songs
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    you started out with
    at the beginning of the tour
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    that you wind up with at the end?
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    Well, we try to get them right
    so we are tweaking,
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    every sound check
    we're trying to find a few weaknesses
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    and nail them.
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    We never used to play
    all those tracks together
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    partly because two of them
    were a bitch to get right.
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    We couldn't get them working.
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    So I think we're
    closing in on them anyway.
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    You do want to keep changing it.
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    However, I keep forgetting
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    because we did start off
    rehearsing some other stuff as well.
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    Now we've got things
    beginning to feel like a real show
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    and working properly,
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    then when you do change the numbers over
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    that means also
    that you need to re-program the lights
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    and all that stuff.
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    I think we will be doing that,
    getting some flexibility,
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    but gently.
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    [Interviewer] In a tour like this
    I know that you've always
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    put a lot of energy and time
    to make a concert a full experience,
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    not just 'OK, here's some nice lights
    and here are the songs'
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    played the best they can be
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    but also the experience of the songs,
    in a way.
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    How much time goes into
    prepping for a tour like this?
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    It's a fair bit,
    I've got some very smart people.
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    In fact, there was an idea,
    originally 25-26 years ago
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    when I was just doing videos
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    and I saw the cameras on these booms
    that were being manually operated.
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    I thought the way they moved
    was really cool.
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    So we replaced the cameras with lights
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    and now we've got lights
    with little cameras on them as well.
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    But they're still manually operated.
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    I'm working on another show after this
    which will be more robotic, I think.
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    But this one, I'm really enjoying
    the manual element.
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    It feels quite futuristic
    and retro simultaneously.
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    [Interviewer] And speaking of robots,
    you've always been
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    in Silicon-Valley-speak,
    and early-adopter of technology,
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    with CDRoms