Interview: Scott Walker
Scott Walker Scott Walker can refer to more than one person:
Full of regret; sorrowful or sorry.
re·gret . 'I don't mind being on my own because when you're on your own a lot as a child, your imagination grows. That is still the case with me.'
Wrapped up in his solitude, Walker can work on the lyrics of a single song for several years. On his last album, The Drift, a track called 'Cue' took six years to complete. 'It was the toughest song to write, but my most successful song lyrically,' he says, his mid-Atlantic tones soft but clear, his eyes half hidden beneath the peak of his ever-present baseball cap. 'It's sharp, it's angular, it all just chimes right. In that song, everything is exactly as I want it.'
'Cue', though, even by Scott Walker's recent standards, is a difficult song. The lyrics are dense and elliptical el·lip·tic or el·lip·ti·cal
1. Of, relating to, or having the shape of an ellipse.
2. Containing or characterized by ellipsis.
a. , the pace funereal fu·ne·re·al
1. Of or relating to a funeral.
2. Appropriate for or suggestive of a funeral; mournful: funereal gloom. and the atmosphere one of creeping anxiety. He delivers it in that doomy, semi-operatic tone that has long replaced the melodramatic flourish of his early solo albums. Featuring a chorus of wailing voices straight out of Dante's Inferno, it is not a song you would turn to for solace or uplift. It is, in fact, another of Scott Walker's musical excursions to hell. Can he appreciate why some of us find his later work wilfully WILFULLY, intentionally.
2. In charging certain offences it is required that they should be stated to be wilfully done. Arch. Cr. Pl. 51, 58; Leach's Cr. L. 556.
3. impenetrable, too far out, in fact, to take in.
'Well, I never think that way,' he says, sighing. 'I think it sounds pretty normal so I'm kind of shocked when people say it's too much. For me,' he says, laughing, 'it's never far out enough.'
We are sitting in the bright, airy living room of his manager's spacious house in London's leafy Holland Park, the place where Scott Walker chooses to suffer through the few interviews he grants these days. While no longer as reclusive re·clu·sive
1. Seeking or preferring seclusion or isolation.
2. Providing seclusion: a reclusive hut. as he once was - Mojo magazine once called him 'pop's own Salinger' - he remains one of music's most famous loners. 'I'm not a recluse,' he says at one point when I ask him what he does when he is not making music. 'I'm definitely not that. I have friends and I go to dinner. I like people, but sometimes I can't wait to get away and be on my own again. I am solitary, though. I need to be for my work. That's the deal.'
Next week, he will break cover when the Barbican BARBICAN. An ancient word to signify a watch-tower. Barbicanage was money given for the support of a barbican. theatre hosts an ambitious series of concerts called Drifting and Tilting: the Songs of Scott Walker. The 70-minute programme will comprise eight songs taken from The Drift and 1995's equally challenging Tilt. Scott will be there each night, but not on stage, not singing. 'I'll help mix the live sound,' he says. 'I got spooked years ago about performing and never repaired the damage.'
In his place will be a succession of guest vocalists including Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn, Dot Allison, Gavin Friday and classical baritone Grant Doyle. A 40-piece orchestra will also be in attendance alongside Walker's studio group and a contemporary dance troupe. 'It will be a tightrope walk,' he says. 'There is never enough time to prepare these things, but if it's going to be a train wreck train wreck Medtalk A popular term for a multiproblem Pt in critical condition , it will certainly be an interesting one. There will be one or two surprises, too.'
Those surprises will not, alas, include performances of any of his older songs. There will be no 'Big Louise', in all its swooning swoon
intr.v. swooned, swoon·ing, swoons
1. To faint.
2. To be overwhelmed by ecstatic joy.
1. A fainting spell; syncope. See Synonyms at blackout.
2. sadness, no 'We Came Through' in all its galloping cavalry clatter clat·ter
v. clat·tered, clat·ter·ing, clat·ters
1. To make a rattling sound.
2. To move with a rattling sound: clattering along on roller skates. , no 'Rosemary' or 'Jackie' in all their lovelorn glory. No Jacques Brel Jacques Romain Georges Brel (French IPA: [ʒak bʀɛl]) (April 8, 1929 – October 9, 1978) was a Belgian French-speaking singer-songwriter. covers either, nor Walker Brothers hits.
'When we began discussing the event, it was taken as a given that Scott would not be singing and that none of his older work would feature,' says his friend and collaborator Michael Morris
In person, Scott Walker does not look like a living legend Living Legend may refer to:
denim jacket n → veste f , trainers - and his manner diffident but charming. Throughout the interview, he sits perched, thin and bird-like, on the edge of a huge, floral-patterned sofa as if, at any moment, he might take flight. He looks much younger than his 65 years but his eyes, when I catch a glimpse Verb 1. catch a glimpse - see something for a brief time
catch sight, get a look
see - perceive by sight or have the power to perceive by sight; "You have to be a good observer to see all the details"; "Can you see the bird in that tree?"; "He is blind--he of them beneath that pulled-down baseball cap, have a flickering intensity that speaks of deep unease. It is hard to imagine that he was ever a heart-throb who induced mass hysteria mass hysteria
1. Spontaneous, en masse development of identical physical or emotional symptoms among a group of individuals, as in a classroom of schoolchildren.
2. . For a moment, though, back in the mid-Sixties, the Walker Brothers, who weren't brothers at all, were known as 'America's Beatles'.
'Oh, it was amazing at first,' he says, smiling, 'but a little goes a long way. I was not cut out for that world. I love pop music, but I didn't have the temperament for fame.'
On their most famous song, and second No 1, 1966's 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore', he sang the prophetic lines: 'Loneliness is a cloak you wear, a deep shade of blue is always there'. He could have been describing his future self, both his personality and his music. The song was teenage heartbreak writ large and remains perhaps the most dramatic example of a certain strain of mid-Sixties pop melodrama, wherein everything - the music, the delivery, the production - was overloaded. It possesses what Johnny Marr would later describe as 'that gothic and beautiful gloom that was as much about England in the Sixties as was "Day Tripper day tripper n → excursionista m/f
day tripper n → excursionniste m/f
day tripper n → gitante "'.
The group imploded im·plode
v. im·plod·ed, im·plod·ing, im·plodes
To collapse inward violently.
1. To cause to collapse inward violently.
2. in 1967, with Scott frustrated to the point of breakdown by the formula into which their songs had fallen. His aversion to fame, and the fan hysteria that came with it, sent him running for the hills. He spent a week in a monastery in 1966, and the following year, there were reports that he had attempted suicide.
The Scott Walker who emerged on the solo albums that followed was a different kind of pop star, a crooner who veered between mainstream, Jack Jones-style balladeering and middle European angst. His hero was the Flemish chansonnier Jacques Brel, whose music he had been turned on to by a German Bunny Girl he had picked up at a party in the Playboy Club The Playboy Clubs were a chain of nightclubs owned and operated by Playboy Enterprises until 1991 with the first club opening at 116 E. Walton in downtown Chicago on February 29, 1960. on Park Lane. 'I don't listen to Brel that much now,' he says, 'but in those days, hearing him sing was like a hurricane blowing through the room.'
By 1969's Scott 4, on which his own songwriting finally came to the fore, his themes were darker and a quote from Camus graced the sleeve: 'A man's work is nothing but his slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.' The pop idol This article is about the British television series. For general popular culture icons, see pop icon.
Pop Idol is a British television series which debuted on ITV on October 5 2001; the show was a talent contest to decide the best new young pop singer, had metamorphosed into an arbiter of existential angst.
'It has always been a certain kind of European writer who has captivated cap·ti·vate
tr.v. cap·ti·vat·ed, cap·ti·vat·ing, cap·ti·vates
1. To attract and hold by charm, beauty, or excellence. See Synonyms at charm.
2. Archaic To capture. me,' he says. 'It started when I was a drop-out from high school in California and read Sartre, who I don't care for much now, but back then he had a huge impact on my way of thinking about the world. And Kafka, of course. Those writers were my main sources alongside the European films I saw in the Sixties in an art cinema on Wilshire Boulevard Wilshire Boulevard is one of the principal east-west arterial roads in Los Angeles, California, United States. It was named for H. Gaylord Wilshire (1861-1927), an Ohio native who made and lost fortunes in real estate, farming, and gold mining. , Bergman and Kurosawa and the like.'
Those solo records have influenced several generations of pop mavericks from Marc Almond and David Sylvian in the Eighties to the Divine Comedy Divine Comedy: see Dante Alighieri.
Dante’s epic poem in three sections: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. [Ital. Lit.: Divine Comedy]
See : Epic a decade later. Jarvis Cocker is a fan and persuaded Walker to produce Pulp's 2001 album, We Love Life. Most recently, Alex Turner's other project, the Last Shadow Puppets, released their debut album, The Age of Understatement, which, despite its title, was a homage to Walker's orchestrated emotional melodramas.
He wrote Scott 4, he says, 'on drink', and fell into depression when it failed to sell like its predecessors. 'I snapped,' he says. 'The pressure was everywhere and, in my crazy imagination, I thought, "I'd better keep doing this just to stay in the game."' In desperation, he reformed the Walker Brothers, and the band had chart success again with the single 'No Regrets'. But his heart was not in it, at least until they went into the studio to record Nite Flights, their valedictory album from 1978, on which he let loose the full force of his teeming teem 1
v. teemed, teem·ing, teems
1. To be full of things; abound or swarm: A drop of water teems with microorganisms.
At its centre is an extraordinary song called 'The Electrician', a symphonic sym·phon·ic
1. Relating to or having the character or form of a symphony.
2. Harmonious in sound.
Adj. 1. ode to S&M that would not have sounded out of place on a Pasolini soundtrack. In the recent documentary film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, an animated Brian Eno Brian Eno (pronounced IPA: /ˌbraɪən ˈiːnəʊ/) born on 15 May 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England) is an English electronic musician, music theorist and record producer. enthused about Nite Flights' sonic experimentation, while castigating the conservatism of most contemporary pop music. 'We haven't got any further than this,' he sighed. 'It's a disgrace.'
The album still sounds otherworldly and futuristic. After it, though, came six years of silence and, with 1984's Climate of Hunter album, the beginning of the enigma that is Scott Walker Mk3. Gone was the musical extravagance of old, replaced by a minimalist sound that bordered on ambience. Only half the songs had actual titles. On the first line of the opening track, 'Rawhide', he sang: 'This is how you disappear.' Then he disappeared again. Tilt was 10 years in the making, The Drift another 11. They both sound, in their emotional and tonal extremity, like nothing else in contemporary music.
'A lot of what I do is waiting,' he says. 'I begin always with the lyrics and they seem to take some considerable time. They have become more angular of late and now come in blocks of words. It's just a different way of writing. When I see the page and the lyrics, I see soldiers in a field. There's a lot of white space which represents me in a sense. It's an abstract way of putting it, but I see it that way visually.'
His songs, he says, are clear to him, but he does not like having to explain or analyse them. He admits, though, that his recent music requires a certain amount of effort and patience from the listener. 'I try to avoid cliché. I want to make it sound like nothing I have ever heard before,' he says, his low Californian drawl drawl
v. drawled, drawl·ing, drawls
To speak with lengthened or drawn-out vowels.
v.tr. still detectable after a 40-year exile in Europe. 'All that guitar-based rock stuff - I just feel like I've heard it before so many times. It goes on and on and never seems to end. It's just the same narrow ground being worked over. It would drive me mad to have to work within those parameters.'
So he has gone the other way - into texture and dissonance. The music he makes with strangely tuned strings and off-key piano chords, is, he says, 'always dictated by the lyrics', which tend to be obscure and, at times, wilfully nonsensical. His songs often seem to be haunted by the darker narratives of the last century, by war, disease, displacement and genocide. 'Cue', for instance, seems to be about a bacterial plague carried by the 'flugleman' of the song's subtitle, a viral pestilence pestilence /pes·ti·lence/ (pes´ti-lins) a virulent contagious epidemic or infectious epidemic disease.pestilen´tial
1. that spreads 'through the dormant wards and nurseries... in the lung-smeared slides and corridors'.
In the documentary, the most revealing insight into his work comes from his orchestrator, Brian Gascoigne (brother of Bamber), who says: 'He believes, and I take issue with this, that to convey a very strong emotion in the music, you have to be feeling it when you're making it. That couldn't be true because the people who are playing Bruckner and Mahler every night would be basket cases... after three of four hours in the studio, he is a basket case because he lives the thing with such emotion.'
How would Scott Walker describe his singular artistic sensibility? 'Essentially, I'm really trying to find a way to talk about the things that cannot be spoken of,' he says. 'I cannot fake that or take short cuts. There is an absurdity there, too, of course, and I hope that people pick up on that. Without the humour, it would just be heavy and boring. I hope,' he says, once more, 'people get that. If you're not connecting with the absurdity, you shouldn't be there.'
Scott Walker's late music, in its evocation of anxiety and horror, may, as Michael Morris suggests, be more comparable with the paintings of Francis Bacon than with any musical contemporary. His songs, if they can still be called that, are as far from the drift of contemporary pop as one could possibly imagine.
'Oh, I have long since stopped worrying about fitting in in any way,' he says, laughing. 'I'm an outsider, for sure. That suits me fine. Solitude is like a drug for me. I crave it.' Why, though, does it take so long to make a record, write a song? 'A certain amount of it is about making it difficult for myself. I'm not interested in traditional narrative, say, or in having pat endings to the songs. I want the sense in my music of a constant moving forward into an open future.'
Of late, though, his music often seems to be drifting towards the last final, awful silence. 'Perhaps,' he says, 'perhaps.' Does he ever, I ask, miss the old days, when his songs lasted three minutes "Three Minutes" is the 46th episode of Lost. It is the twenty-second episode of the second season. The episode was directed by Stephen Williams, and written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. It first aired on May 17, 2006 on ABC. , had verses and choruses and were easier to write? He laughs. 'Not really, no. I mean, back then, I could write a song like "Big Louise" in an evening. That would be good sometimes and, you know, I would do that if the lyrics demanded it.'
Could he ever see that happening again? 'No. I write a different kind of song these days. There's not a lot of harmony and there aren't the thick textures I used to use. It's generally just big blocks of sound, raw and stark. A big emotional noise.' Another silence. 'Essentially, I am attempting the impossible over and over, trying to find a way to say the unsayable un·say·a·ble
Not readily spoken or expressed: unsayable fears.
1. Something not readily said.
2. Something unfit to be said. . For some reason,' he says, laughing, 'that just seems to take a lot longer.'
• Drifting and Tilting: the Songs of Scott Walker is at the Barbican, London EC2 from Friday November 14 to Sunday November 16
Scott Walker: A life
Born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio Hamilton is a city in Butler County, Ohio, United States. The population was 60,690 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Butler CountyGR6. 2005 estimates indicate a slight population increase to approximately 61,943. , in January 1944. Learns to play bass and under the name Scotty Engel cuts a few singles that flop.
1964 Forms the Walker Brothers in LA with John Maus and Gary Leeds. Move to London and chart No 1 with 'Make It Easy on Yourself'.
1966 No 1 with 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore'.
1967 The Walker Brothers split. Scott releases four solo albums in three years.
1975 The Walker Brothers reunite re·u·nite
tr. & intr.v. re·u·nit·ed, re·u·nit·ing, re·u·nites
To bring or come together again.
[-niting, -nited for three albums.
1984 Solo album, Climate of Hunter, critically acclaimed.
1995 Releases album Tilt
2000 Curates the Southbank Centre's Meltdown festival.
2006 Album The Drift
A documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, is released.