Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason Discusses The Band And The Upcoming Reissue Campaign
Over the next several months, starting September 26, EMI will launch a massive Pink Floyd reissue campaign, with each of album in their legendary catalog digitally remastered. There will be bonus content galore, a new 5.1 surround sound mix for Wish You Were Here, and a brand new hits collection, A Foot In The Door (click here for the full details.) We caught up with drummer Nick Mason to ask him about the new discs, Syd Barrett, Dark Side Of The Moon‘s strange relationship to The Wizard Of Oz, and more.
With the reissues, what are you most excited about as far as bonus content?
The version of “Wish You Were Here” with Stephane Grappelli playing violin on it. I think it’s perhaps the nicest thing. The big question about it is why on earth we didn’t use it at the time. I also like some of the extras for Dark Side. There’s a version of “On the Run” that was done in 1972 before we added the VCS3 loop to make the rhythm track, where it’s played as a slightly funky almost sort of jazzy, Weather Report-type piece. It’s very up-tempo, but I think it’s got a Fender Rhodes Piano on it, with Rick playing that. I like that just because it sounds so unlike anything else we ever did.
As far as the remastering goes, Pink Floyd’s music has been remastered in the past. How do they sound now?
The good thing is that the old masters tended to be of very good quality anyway. In general, I think there’s been a sort of rise in quality over everything that’s been redone. Which is good, because sometimes I’ve listened to things that have meant to be remastered, and I can’t tell the difference between it and whatever went before. It’s been very useful to have James [Guthrie], who is familiar with our music, working on records that he had absolutely nothing to do with originally.
Part of the reason behind the reissues is to introduce new fans to your band’s catalog. What album would you give someone who had never heard of Pink Floyd before? Would you give them a Greatest Hits album, or one of the records?
I’d probably kick them off with something like Dark Side, which is a good representation of the mid-period. Although, for me one of my favorite albums is A Saucerful of Secrets. If they like that, there’s quite a lot of development from that album through the next five or six. I think the title track itself was a sort of blueprint for other extended tracks, where they sort of move from different moods or tempos, but all contained within one track.
Some of those longer, more complex Pink Floyd pieces — they were in vogue at the time, and they’re amazing, but do you think young listeners today have the attention span to appreciate them?
Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m gonna have to find out. Yeah, I think so. I don’t think the concept of a piece of music being more than about seven minutes long is something that is beyond a Twenty-First Century kid. And in fact, they’re likely to be listening plugged in to an iPod. I think they might well find it something they could get into. You know, there is a tendency to…I suppose you could call it the shuffle culture, but maybe that’s the thing I would most like to introduce them to.
What do you like to listen to Pink Floyd on? What type of stereo equipment do you play it through?
Well, I’m sort of different. I wouldn’t dream of listening to it on an iPod, because I’d probably just choose to listen to other things really. I think if I was going to have to listen to things we had done I’d probably try and do it on major proper big speakers and good players. Big speakers is the thing that I really miss in the iPod culture. Something with proper bass.
Would you want to recommend any particular stereo equipment?
Sadly no, I haven’t got any deals with anyone [laughs]. I mean, there are all sorts of great speakers. What I really miss is are the Monitor Golds, Tannoys, or Altecs. There are some great speakers that… I don’t know what they’re using in the studios these days. Any ideas? Hang on I’m gonna get some expert’s advice. What has Abbey Road got? [Asks engineer Andy Jackson in background]. Oh B & W’s. Okay, that’s what I’d recommend. Yep, I’m just getting a thumbs up. They’re delivering a pair to me now. They’re just trying to carry them up the stairs.
How much of a hands-on approach did you have on these reissues?
Everything that has been done has been sent out to all of us for comment and there’s been quite a lot of exchange on the detail of it. In fact, that’s one of the quite nice things that all the band is still alive. All still very defensive of what was done. You know, we feel that it’s very important to maintain the standards.
You recently praised Roger Waters as a great songwriter. How would you assess Syd Barrett’s songwriting abilities?
I think Syd was a great songwriter as well. But it’s a different genre. Syd’s songwriting is still of that time, the late ’60s psychedelia. It’s got a very distinctive style, and that’s what makes him a great songwriter. What I was talking about with Roger was, someone asked what was the success of Dark Side was due to. One of the elements that’s really interesting is how the lyrical content has lasted. It’s relevant to a much older age group than the age Roger was when he actually wrote it. The example is to take the lyrics from a song like “Time,” which were written by a 24-year-old, that actually could be seen as being more relevant to someone facing retirement.
Speaking of Dark Side, here’s a question for the fact-checkers. Is it Dark Side Of The Moon, or The Dark Side Of The Moon?
I think it was originally The Dark Side Of The Moon, but it has become Dark Side Of The Moon, in the same way that many years ago we were called The Pink Floyd. It’s probably not something we’ve thought about very much, or for a long time, so for fact-checking I’m not sure I am an entirely reliable witness.
Have you ever watched Dark Side alongside The Wizard of Oz?
What did you make of it?
It’s extraordinary. And it works extraordinarily that anyone had the patience to sit there and knit them together like that. But I can assure you that when Dark Side was being made, I don’t think any of us had the slightest interest in The Wizard of Oz or Judy Garland ,or indeed anything else apart from that actual album. But I mean, maybe people should try Wish You Were Here and Ben Hur. Or maybe not. How much time have you got?
Oh, I love that stuff. I’ve seen Lord of the Rings with Led Zeppelin IV, and that’s pretty much the same deal.
Yeah. Maybe it also has something to do with time and meter and the way people move across the screen.
Well, absolutely. I mean the reality is you can take almost any piece of film and almost any piece of music, and show it to someone, and forever after their brain will sort of knit it together. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things about doing film music, is that if the director has been working with some rough cut of some music already on the film with a favorite record, he will find it almost impossible to accept anything else that you give him.
So when you listen to old Pink Floyd records, which I’m not sure if you do that much …
No, not much, not if I can help it.
Can you hear them as finished records, or do you hear things you would change?
I’d say 70% of the time I hear things I would like to change, or would like to have done differently. And 30% I’ll go, oh yeah that was right. I wouldn’t change that.
Is there an example of something you would change that comes to mind?
Well, it’s nearly always the drum parts. Sometimes, with some of the earlier records, there’s a musical idea that is overworked, and then is repeated too often. For things that I’m happy with, I think tracks like “Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun,” or “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” there’s very little I’d change on that now. Things that were done quickly, right at the moment.
As the drummer of the band, were you able to give much input, and get your suggestions heard as you were creating these songs in the studio?
Of course not! No one listens to the drummer. I think the answer to that is, it probably depends upon what track and which record. Certainly on the early records, there was a sense of all four of us being involved in the production, which would lead to comments on almost everything. Most of us were in the studio for most of the time that we recorded together. It wasn’t like people were left to get on with it. There was that sense that it was a group activity. Even the drummer was allowed to give a comment.
We’ve seen the members of Pink Floyd reunite a few times now on stage, something no one could have imagined ten years ago. What are your thoughts about a Pink Floyd reunion going forward?
It’s not something that’s on the table, but you can live in hope. There’s always the outside chance that there’ll be enough reason to do something.
There’s a couple of bands over the years that have taken up some of the approach Pink Floyd has had musically. One of them would be Radiohead. Do you have any opinion on them?
I don’t really hear much of anything from them that can be attributable to what we’ve done. I think it’s very flattering if people make that connection. I think all bands, any musician, takes inspiration from what’s gone before. You know, we took it from lots and lots of other people. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m more interested in people who do take a bit of inspiration or interpret something than in tribute bands, where they sort of slavishly copy every mistake you’ve ever made.