Nick Mason - NM
The following interview was done at the end of March 1973, shortly after Nick Mason returned from his 8th American tour. Nick lives in London, in a simple house he restored. That's where he received us, with sunny morning light flooding his huge living room, at the center of which a magnificent clavichord is displayed.
Q: Do you remember your first concert with Pink Floyd?
NM: I don't recall anything in particular. What I remember is that, like all other kids at the time (1966), we wanted to become rock and roll stars.
Q: What did you play then? New songs from the tops or rock and roll classics?
NM: We already played three or four of Syd Barrett's songs. The rest, which means 90% of our repertoire, consisted of Rolling Stones and Bo Diddley songs, as well as some old blues.
Q: You were already Pink Floyd's drummer?
NM: Yes. I had always been interested with percussion so I wanted to be the drummer in a rock band. I learned to play the piano when I was a kid, but I was never that excited with it.
Q: When did you start playing your own songs and how did it happen?
NM: It was in 1966. Syd Barrett brought two or three songs for us to orchestrate together and we immediately started playing them.
Q: Was it hard to play Syd's songs?
NM- Not at all. They were good and we all agreed on playing them.
Q: Legend has it the first of those songs you played was Astronomy Domine.
NM: That's false. Our first composition was called Lucy Lee in Blue Tight or something like that. We taped it but it was never released.
Q: And what was the first song you recorded for release?
NM: Arnold Layne.
Q: What were then the band's work habits? Did it feel like you were just supporting Syd, or was it like a real band already?
NM: We were already a band. We all had a word on every song we played. Obviously the band was taking its first steps, which meant that John Boyd, the producer, was leading us ever since we recorded our first single. I can't remember exactly the contributions of each one in particular, but I'm sure John Boyd played a big role in the making of Arnold Layne.
Q: How did you got into the psychedelic?
NM: I'm not sure. Back then we were interested in light- shows and all the potentials that the visual animation had. All those ideas became very popular suddenly. So there was a certain amount of luck with our involvement in the psychedelic movement. It was definitely having met this guy, a reader at the fine-arts school of Hornsea, who was important in all those experiences. Rick, Roger and me, rented him an apartment and met him often at the polytechnic school at Regent Street. He had a light installation shop and, one day, we made an audio-visual program together, very advanced considering what was being done at the time. And after, the Americans we found in London made us discover the liquid light projection.
Q: When did you first used these light-show techniques on stage?
NM: At the Bray Small Church Hall, in London, which was then a renown underground hall. They became popular instantly. So we decided we'd always use them. Other bands took the same decision. Then we performed at the Essex University. There, there was this guy that set up a projection system harmonized with the music. Since then we had our own light-show, which was trusted to Jo Cannon. That was the start of the great psychedelic period.
Q: Drugs were a part of the psychedelic movement. What role did they play on the Pink Floyd experience?
NM- Almost none. As far as I remember, and at least referring to us, Rick, Roger and me, we didn't take them then. On the other hand, I can't say we weren't drinking much. Latter, things changed, and all of us, together or separately, did the drug experiment.
Q: On a recent interview Roger stated the UFO and the underground psychedelic circuit had been, for Pink Floyd, a way to cut through.
NM: In a way, yes. Of course our performances wasn't determined to that point, but those were the only places we could play and, most importantly, to do whatever we wanted. Others went through the same. This statement Roger made is also true because, later on, we changed a lot. The UFO was, at any rate, an extraordinary place, a decisive field of experiment to the history of British rock music.
Q: Did you realize then that the UFO was just another step?
NM: No. What we wanted then was, first and foremost, to become rock stars. We wanted above all to record, play and to be known.
Q: That surprises me because I never saw Pink Floyd as rock'n'roll stars like Stephen Stills or Paul McCartney.
NM: In fact, I don't think we haven't been for some time now. That lasted all of the first year. We didn't know what we wanted, our aspirations were to record, become successful. The band didn't have 10% of the independence it now has. We did everything we were told. At press conferences, we posed as a band and jumped for the photographers. Now we think of it as ridiculous. But we were so naive...and so bad.
Q: Was the entire band really bad?
NM: All of it. That was important in the way we progressed. We could only play in London, because there the audience was more tolerant and was willing to withstand ten minutes of shit to discover five minutes of good music. We were at an experimental stage. We set out for unbelievable solos were no one would dare. The country audience wouldn't go through that.
Q: How did Syd leave the band?
NM: Contrary to everything that was said, things were very simple. It was getting harder to work with Syd, because we couldn't reach him. He was getting more absent every time, in both senses of the word. He would forget to appear at the gigs. When we were at a radio broadcast he left the studio without warning. He wasn't showing up at the rehearsals anymore. In a word, he wasn't in the band. This situation was gradually becoming more obvious and, one day, Rick, Roger and me, became aware that we couldn't keep playing live if Syd continued in Pink Floyd, since he didn't want to show up in public with us. The thought of breaking up with Syd disturbed us. But it ended up happening and we regret that.
Q: What exactly happened to him?
NM: It's almost impossible to analyze what happened to Syd. His psychological balance was very shallow. The causes of that crisis? Acid, maybe, success? I believe no one will ever know exactly.
Q: The five of you played for some time together?
NM: During a month, the five of us rehearsed together. There's no doubt that was what we wanted. Our idea was to adopt the Beach Boys formula, in which Brian Wilson got together with the band on stage when he wanted to. We absolutely wanted to preserve Syd in Pink Floyd one way or the other. But he let himself be influenced by some people, who kept repeating he was the only talent in the band and should pursue a solo career.
Q: Was Syd present at the recording of Saucerful of Secrets?
NM: No, the song Jugband Blues had been recorded before, between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Saucerful of Secrets.
Q: How was David Gilmour recruited? Was he a friend of Roger Waters?
NM: We already knew him for a long time since he was a friend of Syd. What happened exactly was that we all agreed to change the way the band was working, which wasn't that good. In fact, even Syd was aware of the Pink Floyd situation. We needed to get another musician and all agreed to choose David, who could sing and play guitar.
Q: How were the roles in the new band? Who was now the leader? Roger Waters?
NM: Roger, of course. And, later, all of us really, depending on the moment. In fact, in the band, each one pulls or tries to pull in a certain direction that he thinks suits the band. I can't give precise examples, but there are many ways to incite the others to do, or not to do, what you want. It all depends on what you want to do and what they want done. It's really a complex alchemy. I'm gonna fall in a cliché, but a lot of people think that, in a band, everything is simple and the four of us just think about the money, success, trips and the pop star system.
But that's not it, it's a very complex work of politics, and it takes diplomacy. In almost all bands the guys are really close together. But, apart from that, you need organization and discipline, so that each one fulfills his aspirations in harmony with the others'. Their aspirations can be money, success or the direction of the group, and when they're not compatible, the band bursts. That way each one pulls in one direction, his.
Q: How did you meet Barbet Schroeder?
NM: I can't tell. He came to England or was introduced to us in Paris. And then projected the movie he was going to call More.
Q: Was the movie done?
Q: How did you take his proposal? It was a new field of experiment for you or just a commercial order?
NM: Until then we had participated in a few movies. The first was Let's All Make Love in London, in 1967, where we performed Interstellar Overdrive. Then we had done the music for The Committee, a Paul Jones film. It was done in one morning and since it wasn't convincing enough it was never recorded. Barbet Schroeder's proposal, which had taken an interesting subject, was very attractive. Besides that, it was an exciting exercise, because Barbet Schroeder is a director who is really easy to work with.
Q: And Zabriskie Point?
NM: We were waiting to find the same spirit of trust in Antonioni, but, in fact, the collaboration was really terrible. Antonioni is a tyrannic eremite.
Q: Didn't you get the impression that Obscured by Clouds, apart from your understanding with Barbet Schroeder, was a failure?
NM: No. To me it was a little like More. Barbet Schroeder has a very peculiar style that, in fact, isn't really my thing. His characters are very dry and are discovered very slowly.
Q: But what happened with La Valle? I saw the movie with and without music and, and didn't like it either way.
NM: We were very pleased with our music. So I don't see where's the problem, if there's one. Going back to our music, it was, in our mind, a succession of songs. It wasn't a Pink Floyd album, but a group of songs. But still, the whole was balanced, with different rhythms and tempos. I agree when it's said it didn't have the strength of Dark Side of the Moon or Meddle. However, it was a great success and became, most of all in France, a disco classic.
Q: Pink Floyd in Pompeii is, in your mind, the way to repair the lack of visual animation you are sometimes accused of?
NM: No. The producer and director Adrian Maben came up with that idea, which we found very pleasant. Initially we were supposed to do it in playback, but the conditions were such that we went all the way and played live. And I believe that the music, in that arena filled with dust and sunshine, and later on with wind and darkness, was of great quality.
Q: How do you see the evolution of a band that first started with the psychedelic, moved to the classic, before coming back to rock with what is your best record so far, Dark Side of the Moon?
NM: You can't label our music like you're doing. All those stages are part of a general evolution, made of progression and dead times. They weren't exactly succeeding experiments, but rather exercises about a particular aspect of music, so you could evolve after that. Anyway, we never did an album saying - "That's it, we reached the zenith". On the contrary, we always asked ourselves: "What will we do next?"
Q: But still, I'm under the impression that, after Atom Heart Mother, you said: "This isn't getting anywhere, we've got to change."
NM: No, all we did after Atom Heart Mother was realizing we would never record with a big orchestra again, that's it. We wanted to go back to being a band.
Q: I always had the feeling you reflected on your music after it was done, which allowed you to see where you stood.
NM: Certainly, but never to the point where we could see where we were going, no! Evolution can never be analyzed completely, much less in a daily basis.
Q; How was Dark Side of the Moon conceived?
NM: We simply went back to the band notion of rock, composing and playing songs. We worked a lot of time on it, which allowed us to take good care of production and get satisfying arrangements at all levels.
Q: And what will you do from now on? Explore the American market?
NM: Not at all, there are already too many bands frivolously working in the United States. Anyway, we plan to work less. We have an absolute need of time to accomplish and accomplish our music. And American tours take a lot of energy. Take a lot of time to recover from, too much time to put together the material, sound, routes, etc.
Q: France has always had a special importance in your career. What do you think of France? There was a time where you had some very tough words said towards the French public.
NM: Our last tour was amazing! And we played a lot in Europe, it's really our favorite country. The food, the wine, Norbert Gamsohn, the producer we usually work with, are all good reasons to go there often. The only real problem with touring in France is the organization. Even in this last tour there we had some tough nights, in which we ended up almost not playing at all. Nothing was taken care of, from electricity to security. It's the opposite of touring in Germany, where everything is perfectly in order. And in France it's a vicious circle - when a group comes, nothing is really prepared, and since it runs into hundreds of problems, it won't be back. And since it doesn't come back there are no chances for the conditions to improve. It's too bad, because we'd rather play in France than in the United States. When we play in the Midi [south of France, Ed.], the gigs were bad but we had great moments. We all agree - the French public is amazing. For instance, when they decided to go in without paying, they immediately calmed down and found a play to watch - they had come to listen. That is important.
Q: When you listen to Ummagumma, you get the feeling that each one of you is doing his own music, not caring much about the others.
NM: That's right. I can't be precise, but we were very individualistic at the time. Then things changed.
Q: How do Pink Floyd usually write?
NM: Sometimes songs are ready before we go into the studio. Sometimes we don't have any ideas and come up with them in the studio. So, in Meddle, we were three weeks searching. We came up with twenty-five melodies and, with one of them, made Echoes.
Q: You don't write much in group?
NM: I can't say we do. I do my best! Usually I take care of everything referring to the magnetic tapes problem. I'm really not able to write songs. What I often do is give suggestions to the orchestration of the melodies the others come up with. That's the reason why I often co-write songs in Pink Floyd.
Q: Didn't you go in a new direction during this American tour? Became more pop, funkier, spaceier?
NM: Not pop, not funky, not spacey. Maybe heavier, more connected, more electronic, giving more room to the synthesizer. As for the future, we don't know. We want to try a huge project some sort of total show.
Q: Are you interested in playing with other musicians?
NM: Just for fun. If you take the Pink Floyd career in a perspective, it's not likely.
Q: But, nevertheless, you played with Frank Zappa in the Amougies festival.
NM: Frank Zappa is really one of those rare musicians that can play with us. The little he did in Amougies was terribly correct. But he's the exception. Our music and the way we behave on stage, makes it very hard to improvise with us.
Q: Why don't you play blues anymore?
NM: Playing them on certain occasions, like in the Rainbow last year, is fun. Every night, on the other hand, would be boring.
Q: What was Ron Geesin's role in Pink Floyd's career?
NM: Took a part on the elaboration and recording of Atom Heart Mother. Personally, he taught me a lot of things about magnetic tapes and a certain work philosophy. Right now he's preparing a sound track for my father, who is a documentarist, and is doing a movie about the history of motorcycle driving.
Q: Was Norman Smith another individual with indisputable importance in Pink Floyd's career?
NM: Norman Smith, better known now as Hurricane Smith, led us to EMI, our record home, and was our producer for a long time. Taught us a lot of things in the studio.
Q: Did he leave you or did you leave him?
NM: We left him, because we wanted to produce our own albums. He helped us a lot, since he was simultaneously a musician, sound engineer and producer. He can do anything in the studio. In fact he has a very peculiar style, and a very peculiar sound. Just listen to his records. But we also wanted to have our own sound!
Q: What do you think of his actual career?
NM: It's great. Norman, just has we did, wanted to become a
star. And with all his potential you'd expect him to become
successful. Now he's a star. I really like Norman. He has
also, like Ron Geesin, a certain way to live and work. A
true philosopher. Apart from that, I really don't like his
songs that much.