The name Pink Floyd conjures up all sorts of memories—some very distant and others not so long ago. Over a span of 17years, they have given us such classic records as A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968), The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), just to mention a few. Perhaps the first British “psychedelic” band, Pink Floyd became known for the experimentation in their music and their shows.
Their beginnings, however, were much like any band—a coming together of young musicians, gathering their influences and honing down their own sound. At co-founder Syd Barrett’s prodding, the fledgling band began to write its own unique compositions, which managed to attract a cult following. When Barrett left the band after only one album, there was speculation as to the future of the band. By then, however, Pink Floyd had made its mark. Recorded effects and elaborate light shows enlarged their cult following and began to earn them worldwide respect, landing them a major position in the annals of rock history.
So it was with a fee/ing of honor and privilege that I made my way, on that brisk London morning, from the underground station to the appointed spot to meet with Pink Floyd’s drummer. As I walked up High Gate Road, a feeling of apprehension grabbed me as well, though. Members of Pink Floyd rarely granted interviews, and through the years, a rather eccentric, although revered, reputation had grown. I was surprised and pleased when I found Nick Mason to be quite your normal bloke.
“One problem is that the general music press has taken a great dislike to us quite recently because we’re extremely uncooperative about interviews, and that’s how the whole system works,” Nick explained. “People do interviews, the press writes about it, and if you’re unhelpful to them, they get mad at you. The interviews are not in enormous depth, so it’s a constant repeat of how the band came together, what it’s really like, and what sort of girls do you like? If it’s more specialized, it really makes a lot more sense.”
RF: Okay, so let’s get specialized. First, though, where are we?
NM: This is my garage.
RF: You must be very much into race cars.
NM: Obsessed with race cars.
RF: When did you get into this?
NM: I’ve liked cars ever since I was a very small boy. I started this workshop about eight or nine years ago, when I began racing. We repair and restore old racing cars, and I actually prefer to run an office out of the garage than at the studio. It’s less chaotic. The hours are better suited to running things.
RF: What have you been up to recently?
NM: The main thing is that I have been doing a film on motor racing, which I’m in. I’m doing the music for that as well, and working in collaboration with a man named Rick Fenn, who is part of lOcc. It hasn’t got a title yet, but it’s probably going to be called something like Profiles. There will be various films made about different musicians with obsessions outside the music business.
RF: Are you playing on the tracks as well?
NM: Yes. There will be some new music and some old Floyd music. We plan to do an album afterwards.
RF: So why did you choose drums and not cars as a profession?
NM: Because cars have always been fun. What I like about cars is driving them and racing them, not repairing other people’s cars. I’m certainly not good enough to make a career as a racing driver. I’m too old. I’ve been able to indulge my hobby through music.
When I was about 11, a friend of my parents who messed around on the drums gave me some brushes. I just immediately started there. I suppose that it’s partly circumstance. I was 13 or 14 when I showed any interest again, which must have been around the time of the beginning of bands in England. You realize that the start off was slightly different in England than in America. There were more bands in England and it went in a slightly different way. It was almost more natural to think of forming a group than being a solo performer. So in the group I was in, no one else was interested in drums. Someone else desperately wanted to play the guitar and someone wanted to play bass. Then Christmas came along and everyone asked what I wanted, so I locked in to drums from there.
RF: Was there any formal training or did you just pick up the drums and practice on your own?
NM: I just picked up the drums and practiced myself. I’ve never had any formal training and I think it’s a big mistake. I think the easiest way to learn to do something properly is to be taught it. The only qualification to that is the business where you pick up methods of doing things and don’t find your own way, which sometimes can lead to more interesting things.
RF: So you feel that your lack of formal training made you more creative?
NM: No, actually, I’d say that at the end of the day, I really wish that I had taken formal training. But I think that there’s one argument against too much teaching or against bad teaching, which is the fact that people with classical training frequently are unable to improvise. I know that the teaching of music is changing at the school level, though, and people are no longer approaching it quite the same. But 1 feel that it is as important to be able to improvise as it is to play.
Even if you don’t have a lot of training, if you’re taught from the very beginning just to read the notes, it’s very hard to think in another way after that. I played piano—very short lived—but I found an absolutely wonderful teacher who, right from lesson one, made me bring in some work of my own. So even if we were doing a very simple scale, I brought something in to make me think about how I could make the piano work for me. If people would teach like that, music education would be much broader.
RF: How did you teach yourself?
NM: Just literally from playing in bands. I’ve never been a good practicer. I’m a very, very bad example of how things can still go right without trying—how you can still get lucky. I love playing music with other people. I’m deeply bored by the drums as a solo instrument, which could be because of my lack of ability. I don’t want to get too stuck on my disapproval of drum solos, but they tend to be gymnastic, rather than musical, exercises. That’s what bugs me.
RF: How did you actually learn to play the instrument, though?
NM: I did most of it by playing with other people—people who were at the same time learning to play the guitar, for instance. The earliest thing was very rudimentary drumming with a very rudimentary three-chord guitarist.
RF: One of my music encyclopedias said that you were a timpanist.
NM: That is completely untrue. Well, it depends on what you mean. It’s probably something I said of myself at some point— that at some point in my career, I had played the timps.
RF: It said you were an “accomplished” timpanist.
NM: Maybe one of my fans said it then. Certainly I used them on records, but I was never trained.
RF: Did you grow up with any drum idols? Did you grow up learning about any of the drummers who were happening at the time?
NM: The answer is yes, but in different periods. Obviously, there were drum idols when I was younger like Tony Meehan, who was one of the original Shadows, Sandy Nelson, and those kinds of people, who I wasn’t trying to emulate, but I was just sort of interested in. Then I became interested in a whole range of jazz drummers like Chico Hamilton, Art Blakey—all the good players. Finally, the picture was completed when Ginger Baker and Keith Moon moved the drums from the background to a fuller sound. That was really the springboard. I remember the first time I saw Baker with Cream. It was just incredible. I went out the next day and bought a second bass drum. From that era, it went to the people who were happening just when we started, like Mitch Mitchell. I thought Mitch was a marvelous drummer. He was always trying stuff. Even if it didn’t work, he’d have a go at it. He had a lovely combination of a sort of hard style and a slightly jazzy style. What was interesting, particularly in the middle to late ’60s, was getting the musicians themselves to play. A lot of the earlier records used session musicians. While they were maybe better players, some of them never really picked up the feel for the music.
RF: You’re known to spend a lot of time on your records.
NM: Yes we do. But we’re generally irritated at the amount of time we end up spending. We always want to work faster.
RF: Since you go in with the idea that you’re going to work faster, what happens?
NM: I think one thing is the way the ideas are continued in the studio. We go in with something well prepared but it reshapes itself in the studio. So we have the luxury of spending that time.
RF: How finished is the product when it’s brought in?
NM: It can vary. One time, we spent a year with nothing at all, literally going into the studios in order to find ideas for the record.
RF: It was totally a group effort then?
NM: Yes. That must have been Meddle.
RF: But that’s not the standard way of working in the group?
NM: No, generally the people who write the songs have an idea of how they’re going to be arranged. But, of course, we don’t like to get locked into who does what, which is something people love to argue about. If one person writes a song, the thing that will enhance it is someone else’s idea of how it should be played. At times, Roger will arrive with something, and Dave provides a middle section for it, or whatever, from some piece of his.
RF: You met Roger and Rick in architecture school.
NM: That is correct.
RF: Were you serious about architecture?
NM: Oh yes. I did five years of it. I played in bands for fun when I was in school, but it never occurred to me that I was going to be a professional musician. While I was in school, someone had written some songs and wanted to play them for a publisher. He asked who could play instruments. There were four or five of us who could, and we put ourselves together for fun.
RF: That was with Rick and Roger?
NM: Yes, and we did it. We played the songs and the publisher liked them, so we kept going and never looked back. We had it running in college for two years, just for fun.
RF: That was Sigma 6?
RF: And that became the T-Set.
NM: Right. We had different people involved with it. At one point, a guy named Mike Leonard was involved. He was actually very important to the band because he was a lecturer at the school. He had bought a house in High Gate and we rented a flat from him. He played keyboards with us for quite a while. Then he stopped working at Regent Street Polytechnic and went to another college of art where he was involved with the light/ sound workshop. That was how we got involved with light shows.
RF: When did the name change to Pink Floyd and why?
NM: There was another band called the T- Sets, so we changed it in ’66.
RF: Why Pink Floyd?
NM: No reason, really. It was based on a blues album with two players on it, Floyd Counsil and Pink Anderson, but it was really just random.
RF: When it was the Sigma 6, didn’t you play R&B?
NM: Yes. We had a repertoire of 18 songs which consisted of Bo Diddley things, Rolling Stones numbers—anything. It was sort of R&B, but when Syd started with us, he said to start writing. We needed a launching pad to come up with something of our own.
RF: How far into it did Syd join up?
NM: It was when we were still in college. Syd was in art school at Regent Street Poly.
RF: So when did you actually choose to make the career move to music.
NM: Not until late, late, late. After we had gone professional, I was still going to college in the mornings. I had done my three years and gotten my degree, and I had done a year in an office. Architecture train- ing goes on for an eternity. It’s three years in school, a year out of school working in an office for experience, and then you do two more years in school, and finally another year or so in an office. I was very lucky because I had a terrific year master [counselor].
It is obviously a big jump, really, even if the band is doing well. You still don’t think of it as a full-time career. You think of it as something that could very easily be very short lived. But my year master was terrific and said, “It’s going well . …” I don’t think I would have been a great architect anyway. I think I was starting to realize that. I probably could have been reasonably happy being an architect, though. But obviously, you don’t turn down that kind of opportunity.
RF: How did the music evolve electronically?
NM: Just very gradually. Things have a natural course of development. If people have a liking or feel for that sort of thing, they’re perhaps not aware of it until there’s a bit more money around or a bit more opportunity to experiment with other instruments. It was a time when experimentation was very fashionable anyway. There was more likelihood of getting more studio time and people in the studio being more interested in other possibilities. It was the time when the Beatles made Sgt. Pepper next door. In some way, EMI is a rather staid company, but at the time, the studios realized they could contribute more than just saying, “Do it like this.” They had all sorts of technical people there who suddenly were being asked to do new things and were very happy to work at it. There were new ways of making tape machines—building their own automatic double-tracking machine, which now has been done a million times, of course. But at the time, it was fairly advanced.
RF: How did you feel about the change to electronics?
NM: I liked it. I like recording studios. I think what’s always nice is that you can create sounds so people can’t say, “Oh it’s this and that.”
RF: Isn’t that difficult to reproduce live though?
NM: I don’t think so, because they’re different disciplines. You can record something in the studio in the most elaborate and complicated way, and when it comes to performing it live, you can simply sit down and try to create the same characteristics, which, in fact, will work perfectly well. In our case, we recorded with lots of wine glasses, and then did it live with an organ and an echo machine. All you have to do is create the impression of it. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same.
RF: Wine glasses?
NM: We made up a scale—sort of a quadruple track of wine glasses at one time. I think it was done for an album that was never released, and then used again on “Wish You Were Here.” All of us played the wine glasses.
RF: How did that idea evolve?
NM: I think it was when we were working on an album which was not going to use musical instruments. It was going to be made with sounds from other things. It was an interesting idea, but totally impractical.
RF: Were there other effects?
NM: I can’t think of examples, but lots of things that were thought at the time to be sophisticated, modern synthesizer sounds were nothing of the sort. They were often relatively simple things like backward tapes, a wah-wah pedal plugged in back to front, which produced an amazing scream, or a piano played through a Leslie speaker.
RF: How do you feel about electronic drums?
NM: I think they’re very useful tools. I actually like them very much from the point of view of using them as a guide to ensure that the tempo is perfect. In some ways, it will free you up to play with more feeling. I use the LinnDrum. I think it’s just a fashion thing, just the same way that everyone said that the Melatron would put millions of musicians out of work. It’s so distinctive now when you hear mechanical drums. People who aren’t drummers always tend to use the same sort of thing, perhaps.
RF: How do you feel about the Simmons?
NM: I’ve been astonished by them. I really like using those with a kit.
RF: What opened your eyes to that?
NM: I think just having a go on a set and the SDS7, which seemed to have so much more scope than the previous sets that all made the same kind of sound.
RF: What do you like about them?
NM: I like the very fast change in sounds where you can press a pad and get a completely different sound, which gives you enormous flexibility, particularly working live. I also like the fact that you can tune them accurately just by turning a dial, rather than winding away at heads.
RF: Are you using them in the current project?
RF: Would you use them in a Floyd project?
RF: Can you recall some specific drum effects on certain tracks?
NM: It’s difficult because with things like putting the drums on backwards, the most interesting thing is working out how to do it. And then if you want to add backward crashes, you have to figure out how to put the echo on forward. What you usually fall into is thinking, “Oh, it’s interesting that we can make the drums sound like that,” instead of taking things a stage further to find out what else you can do to make it sound a little more vibrant.
The thing I remember most clearly is, again, part of our experiments. We tried things like going out to the studio and letting one person put something down. Then the next person would come in and put something down without reference to what was going on the original track, which turned up something that was completely useless. Then we tried things like talking backwards and trying to learn it, so we could speak it backwards and then play it back again. It’s the business of experimenting to find out how things work. The one I remember particularly was saying [speaks what sounds like gibberish]. If you speak it into a tape recorder and play it back, it should say “fooled again,” very clearly. If you just wrote out “fooled again” backwards and then tried to enunciate it, you’d get nothing. It was that sort of trickery, because it changed the quality of the voice as well.
RF: Do you recall which song that was on?
NM: I’m not even sure it went onto the song in the end. No, I definitely can’t remember. I haven’t a clue, I’m sorry.
RF: I assume there was a lot of overdubbing, or at least as much as the technology of the day permitted.
NM: Oh yes, and that was a problem because we’d go through extra generations.
RF: Has overdubbing increased through the years with the advance of technology?
NM: I think because of the improvement of the range of instruments available, particularly synthesizers, you can knock it off easily now. Perhaps also, there is more confidence. If you know more about what you’re going to do, you can shove your drums to make it four tracks instead of eight, particularly with the advent of the 16-track.
RF: Were the drums usually laid down first?
NM: Yes. That’s the other advantage to the LinnDrum; you can give yourself a guide track that everyone trusts, so you can take drums off and re-record them. I don’t actually like doing that. I prefer to put the LinnDrum down as the backup, then put the drums down properly with perhaps some guitar overdub, and put down the genuine drum track.
RF: Did things alter musically for you when Syd left the band?
NM: They just became more disciplined. By the time Syd left, it had gotten so crazy. The chaos had been extremely useful in terms of finding ideas. When I say chaos, I mean musical chaos—playing long, long improvised pieces—whereas, in fact, that had stopped being very exciting. It was just becoming rather long and out of control. I think the majority of the group wanted a more disciplined sound when Syd left.
RF: How did you go about actually approaching that?
NM: I think we simply started to rehearse in a different way.
RF: Less improvisation?
RF: Who has, or does anyone have, a symphonic background?
NM: Rick always used to maintain that he’d been to music school, which he had, but he only went for a year. And he was pretty lethargic about that because we were working. I think it’s an impression that’s created. It’s one of those interesting things that people think, “Ah yes, classical music.” What they mean is it has some sort of vague resemblance—particularly the early stuff. Later on we used arrangers and so on. But particularly in the early stuff, it was just the use of those long, held organ chords. It was just the style.
RF: Were you producing yourselves in the beginning?
NM: No, we had a man named Norman Smith, who later became know as Hurricane Smith. We started producing our- selves on about the third or fourth album.
RF: How did that change things for you?
NM: Norman was terrific and he knew exactly how to make records. But we just felt that eventually we did want to produce ourselves, and Norman was not that enamored of the direction we were moving in, particularly the longer, more elaborate pieces. I don’t wish to sound disparaging, but he was more interested in straight-forward pop-music styles.
RF: Did it become more of a creative environment once you were producing yourselves?
NM: Oh yeah, but I think it was sort of an indulgence as well. Particularly at that time, with the four of us all busy producing, it was a very slow way to work and not entirely satisfactory. But what is satisfactory at the end of the day is that the record gets made, the musicians like it, and it sells. I think we feel now that some of our records are not brilliant and could have been better. But would they have been better with an independent producer? That’s another matter. I think the answer is possibly yes if we could have found the right person. There’s no doubt that Chris Thomas, who did the mixing on Dark Side Of The Moon, was a great help in distilling all the work that had gone on.
RF: Are there particular tracks that you are the most pleased with?
NM: Yes. “A Saucerful Of Secrets,” the title track, because I think it was really ahead of its time. It still works very well I think. Because of that sort of curious drum rhythm thing—which, in fact, is a double-tape loop—it just works. There was a short drum fill which was double tracked and then made into a loop. It was all done really rather quickly. It has a nice flow to it. I still like that very much. I like certain things on Dark Side Of The Moon, such as “Time,” which I did with RotoToms. We tried it with things like boobams—those very small tuned drums which are usually made with a two-inch tube, and the tube is cut to get the tone, so it’s almost like a xylophone—but the RotoToms were just the right sort of thing. Again, that knocked off very quickly, or relatively quickly—maybe three days instead of three weeks. I was also quite pleased with a lot of things on The Wall. I think that they’re played well and in a slightly more restrained style than my usual sort of thrashing about. They work well, which I think was due to our co-producer, Bob Ezrin’s help, and his sitting down with me and working out my stuff.
RF: How so—sound-wise, technically?
NM: Technically really—different ways of playing things in a very relaxed atmosphere. We were trying to get it right, rather than worrying about running out of time or whether Dave wanted to get on with his guitar solo.
RF: I was going to bring that up and ask you if your playing, style or technical ability had matured through the years.
NM: Oh definitely, but not commensurate with the years I’ve been at it. I like playing drums and I like playing music, but it’s not consuming. I like producing and messing about in the studio just as much. If there’s a drumkit in the studio, I’m not necessarily going to go play with that. I might prefer to mess about with the board. I lack motivation.
RF: You made a statement that cars were always fun. Is music still fun, even though it is your profession?
RF: Maybe that comes from not being consumed by it.
NM: Perhaps. I feel a little uneasy saying that, particularly to Modern Drummer. I think, however, that drummers tend to become a little obsessive, and consequently, they become good. Playing any instrument well demands an enormous amount of practice. I have to confess that I don’t give it enough time to ever be a great drummer—someone who is technically very competent and plays nicely. There are technically brilliant drummers who are actually boring, but the idea is to have someone who is technically good and who also plays nice and interesting things. The first time I saw Billy Cobham, during the time of his first album, Spectrum, I suddenly heard someone who played things I had never really heard before.
RF: Can you give me an idea of what your studio set is and how the basics have changed through the years?
NM: We always used to mike up an enormous kit in the studio—two bass drums, four toms.
RF: Did you use the double bass on many of the tunes?
NM: The first three or four albums, I would think. Now I’m more inclined to get just one bass drum that works properly and leave it at that. I’ve started using bigger tom-toms now—the power toms. I think the move is towards a better sound on fewer drums, because even with very careful tuning you simply can’t hear the definition, particularly when there are a lot of other things going on. You do better, really, by spreading fewer drums wider so you’ve got full right, full left and center with three toms.
RF: Why don’t you use the double bass in the studio anymore?
NM: 1 think the parts tend not to require an enormous drumkit. The music generally doesn’t require that sort of heavyweight backing. The purpose of using two bass drums is usually to do those very fast, double-beating bass drums. If the music doesn’t call for it, it’s just an extra thing you have to carry about.
RF: What about the double bass live?
NM: I think I’m more interested in the hi-hat than I used to be.
RF: Why is that?
NM: I think it’s just that the sort of music I’ve been playing requires more of a hi-hat line through it than heavy bass drums.
RF: If you were to go on tour with Pink Floyd again, would you go back to using the double bass?
NM: No, I’d go for the hi-hat. I think what I’d look for is more cymbals and a combination of real tom-toms and Simmons.
RF: Can you detail your present setup?
NM: I have the tendency to use quite a lot of cymbals and perhaps change the cymbals according to the track—larger or lighter or whatever. It’s hard to pin down what I use in the studio. Halfway through I might decide to use a different snare drum because the other one is rattling too much, and I finally decide to do something about it.
I was with Premier for a while but have been with Ludwig a long time now. What I use live is their maple-finish kit with a 16×24 power bass drum, 12×13 and 13 x 14 top toms, and 14 x 14 and 16 x 16 floor toms. Live, I would augment the kit with two or three Simmons pads. I use a Black Beauty Superphonic 6 1/2X 14 snare and Hercules hardware.
For recording, I basically use a 16×22 bass drum, 8×12 and 9 x 13 top toms and the same floor toms with the Black Beauty snare. Really it should be flexible. What I do is set up both kits—Simmons and acoustic. At times, I might play one off the other, and other times, I might move live cymbals over to the Simmons kit or move Simmons toms over to the live kit. My Paiste cymbal setup live is 15″ 602 heavy hi-hats, a 16″ 2002 crash, an 18″ 2002 medium, an 18″ 2002 ride, a 20″ 2002 ride, and an 18″ 2002 China type. For recording I use 15″ 602 Sound Edge hi-hats, a 16″ 2002 crash, a 16″ 2002 ride, an 18″ 2002 ride, an 18″ 2002 sizzle China type, and a 20″ 2002 China type.
RF: What about tuning in the studio?
NM: I think fashions in tuning change. I’ve tried all sorts of things, including different skins. Now I’m using the Remo Ambassador. I almost tune them through the control room rather than acoustically. I just tune by my ear now. I used to go through the theory of fourths and fifths. Actually, I think it’s far more important for the drums to have a good tone to them and sound rich. It’s like a snare drum; how much can you say about how to tune a snare drum? It’s hard to put those things in words.
RF: Do you use any muffling or taping?
NM: I usually damp the bass drums heavily live, and in the studio there is usually some dampening on the drums. The first thing I do is tape the mechanical dampers in the drums because they tend to rattle. Usually, a little bit of tape will do with some tissue between the tape and the head. I usually use the drafting tape rather than heavy gaffer tape. That’s something James Guthrie taught me. My more recent drumsets have all been tuned by James Guthrie.
He is a marvelous engineer, who will spend forever on the drum sound. He drives me crazy. We’ll be having a dinner break or something, and James will come up and say, “Well I think I’ll just stay and play with the snare drum.” And it’s reflected in his work, I think. He’s taken it far beyond my original concept of studio drum sounds. He joined in on The Wall in 1979, and he’s a terrific engineer. Drums are much more sensitive to miking and sound than other instruments. For years, I just set my drums up and that would be it, but James taught me that things can go wrong—even a top-of-the-line snare drum isn’t always right. Maybe it sustained a fall, and although there’s nothing visibly wrong, perhaps it’s slightly distorted and you can never quite get it right. James would never give up. He’d carry on to the point where he’d say, “This is not right. Go get another drum.”
RF: You had the 360-degree stereo system. Did that alter the miking or anything?
NM: Not really, because it was all done by the mixer. It didn’t alter miking in any way. It actually took a single input and then threw it around the room, rather than reproducing it onto four. It was really just the original joystick control that you find on a studio desk. The drums are less suited to throwing around anyway.
RF: Have you found that miking has changed radically through the years?
NM: With stereo, you tend to mike closer, but, you get some of the best sounds by miking further away. We use a mixture of overheads to capture the cymbals, and also to take ambience from everything else. I don’t think there’s anything magical about where the mic’s are positioned. Even from the days with EMI, we seemed to have quite a lot of mic’s.
RF: You’ve been basically playing with the same people for 16 years. I would imagine there are terrific advantages and disadvantages to that.
NM: Yes there are. The advantages are all the normal advantages of working with a good team, i.e., you feed off each other and the sum becomes greater than the parts. The disadvantage is that it leads to insularity that stymies personal development.
RF: Musically, I would imagine that there’s almost telepathy after working with the same musicians for so long.
NM: There certainly is live. You have a pretty good idea of what will happen next. In the studio we tend not to go in and work together once it’s decided what’s going to happen. We’d rather go in to work on our own without the pressure of wasting some- one else’s time.
RF: Have there been any group tracks?
NM: Not recently that I can remember, but we may play through it as a group first, and go back and re-do what we don’t like.
RF: What do you think the components of Floyd are? Why is the band so unique?
NM: I don’t know. It’s a combination of like-minded people to a certain extent. It’s a certain amount of lack of thinking. I don’t wish to offend my colleagues and friends, but no one of us is a brilliant musician, so we found other ways to get the ideas across. Particularly now, it’s all tied up with Roger’s concepts of what records should be—especially the idea of concept albums and stories being told. So the question is, how do you tell the story? It’s the same way with the live show. How do we do it best? We’re not necessarily the best musicians so maybe there are other ways to tell the story apart from just playing it with such technical expertise that everyone is captivated. It involves theatrics when we’re talking about the live shows. But when we’re talking about the studio, how do we make something sound spooky, sad or eerie, or give the impression of what the song is about? Sound effects is a good way, but how can we use sound effects musically rather than just as extraneous noises? Again, it’s part of this thing about how you can be mislead or blinkered by expertise. If you’re not that convinced by your playing, you may want to augment the whole thing with noise or something, and then find that it actually becomes the ideal way to segue something and give it a sort of mysterious atmosphere. That’s sort of my feelings, in a nutshell, about why things are the way they are. It has to do with looking for other ways to express yourself.
RF: What do you feel is required of you as the drummer for Pink Floyd?
NM: The role changes all the time. At one time, it was to be more involved in the production. Now it’s about playing the drums in a more specific way, coming to grips with that, and retaining a say in what actually happens. We all have a responsibility to criticize what we don’t like in any given song, track or record. It isn’t a matter of it being a specific job. The answer is that I get on with whatever I do best and whatever is necessary at the time. It could mean going out for sandwiches, or it could mean going in and working the faders.
RF: Would you say that your approach to your instrument within the context of Pink Floyd is to be simple?
NM: Yes. I think that’s a very important part of the way we work, because historically the tracks and recording have always been elaborate. It is confusing to have overcomplicated drum tracks or rhythm tracks. Looking back on a lot of our early stuff, I think that the drums just tended to get pushed down and down and down, probably because there was too much of them. Again, it’s fashion, but ten years ago, the drums were deeper into the mix.
RF: After working so long with the same people, you did Fictitious Sports with other musicians. What was that like?
NM: Great. I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most over the last few years is working with Carla Bley and Mike Mantler, because it’s completely different music and it stretched me enormously. It’s fun and I think they quite enjoy my influence. I have access to the most amazing players and I think it’s quite useful to them to have someone come in with simpler ideas.
RF: Sometimes that’s the best. A lot of players have a philosophy that it’s not how much you play, but how much you don’t play.
NM: I think that’s absolutely right. I think it’s a philosophy that most of us subscribe to, but don’t carry out.
RF: The solo venture seemed to be almost a return to your roots with horns and kind of a jazzy/bluesy effort.
NM: That was something I very much wanted to do, but it was also something that Carla wanted to do as well. Originally, I had arranged to go to America and make an album using all sorts of material, but then Carla sent me a cassette with some of her ideas. It was very different from what she had done before and absolutely in line with what I like. So I thought it would be much better to do that than to struggle desperately to find things that work together.
RF: When you decided to do a solo project, was that a scary proposition?
NM: Yes. It’s a bit alarming when you kick off on your own after working in the security of a group for a long time.
RF: That was in ’80?
NM: No, it was ’79. We were just finishing up The Wall.
RF: You really haven’t done a lot of live playing over the past several years. How do you feel about that?
NM: I like playing live. In fact, in the past year, I went to Germany to work with Carla Bley and Mike Mantler. We did a live concert in Cologne of some new music.
RF: Will you be recording that?
NM: I hope so. The idea had been to record it live, but we weren’t happy with the recording so we’ll have to do it again.
RF: How did you feel playing live after so long?
NM: Terrific. I love it.
RF: Are you interested in production?
NM: Yes. I’ve produced four or five acts. The first band I produced was Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, which must have been around 1969. There was Robert Wyatt, for whom I produced a hit single, a remake of the Monkees’ track, “I’m A Believer,” and I played on that one as well. There was Steve Hillage, who used to be in a band called Gong. I produced an album for The Damned, which was not a good production on my part. I just didn’t come to grips with what was necessary. Not to make excuses, but I think the band itself was torn about what to do at the time. I did a mix for Carla Bley and a couple of other things.
RF: What about other solo projects?
NM: I’m thinking about doing something, but I don’t know what. I think it’s a matter of finding people I’d like to work with. I’m not a natural group leader, but I like to make records.