Consider a quick list of those occasions when an artist announced an unexpected new musical direction, genuinely provoking a ‘WTF?’ moment from the world at large: think Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’, an unlistenable sixty minutes’ worth of feedback; how about Robbie Williams going electro with ‘Rudebox’? Then there’s Chris Cornell’s ill-fated collab with Timbaland. And who can forget Neil Young’s krautrock detour for ‘Trans’? Not us, unfortunately. A damning list, for sure, and a warning for any risk-taking artist with leftfield notions. So, when Bryan Ferry announced he was going to reinterpret the songs of Roxy Music as instrumental jazz versions, just what was he thinking?
However, like Dylan going electric and Radiohead redefining electronica, some deviations from style are justified. Theirs is not a desperate attempt to keep up with trends, nor to be deliberately obtuse; they are merely following their instincts. In the case of ‘The Jazz Age’, Ferry’s new thirteen-track instrumental album, what we have is a renowned innovator pursuing a labour of love, and if this is his passion, then whom are we to argue? Plus, it sounds great. Bonus.
It’s a distinctly nostalgic adventure, quite at odds with Roxy Music’s devotion to the avant-garde and futuristic tendencies when they first emerged with their self-titled debut album in 1972. Sitting down with their ever-suave frontman in his West London home cum studio, Clash discovers Bryan’s musical tastes have come full circle in that time.
“I’ve sort of gone back to the music that I liked listening to when I was a young lad, nine or ten years old - I was really fairly precocious for that time,” he grins, reclining on a luxurious print couch. “The first records I bought were 78s - big, proper things. Some were jazz, and I was also into the blues. When I got into making music as an artist, then I was trying to do something new, like avant-garde, or trying to create something that was different from what I’d heard before. But, at the same time, I was always looking back over my shoulder at this stuff, and all my sources, which were quite huge by the time I started making my own things. ’72 was the first record, so I had memories of so many notes flying around my head from different styles of music, and when I started doing that, I didn’t listen to jazz for, mmm, twenty years or something; a long time.”
Was that, we ask, because jazz was considered uncool back then? “Yeah,” he nods, his voice hushed and restrained, the result of many recent interviews. “It was kind of uncool and it just was out of time with what I was doing, and I wasn’t really into it, you know? I was more into distorted guitars and stuff for many years.”
Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Bella Howard
This is an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.