Ian Anderson

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Madhouse Magazine:  I want to go back to Aqualung in 1971, one of the greatest albums of all time. It was constant talk that it was a concept album. This irked you. In response, you released your next album “Thick as a Brick”, as a parody of a concept album. I thought it was just so hysterical. I actually have the album in front of me. I just want to know if you can talk us through the concept and what you were thinking at this time. 

Ian Anderson:  The album Aqualung, I always maintained that it shouldn't be called a concept album. I could understand why people might think in that direction because it was fashionable and becoming more fashionable for artists to make concept albums. This seemed to be on the minds of, certainly, music writers and to some extent the public. It seemed a natural progression. There was, indeed, some element that brought these songs together, which was really more in terms of the album cover and the way that the music was presented. Back then in those days, especially with vinyl, you had the opportunity to make big pictures and try to get things to coalesce in a way that allowed you to bring a bunch of dispirit songs together under one banner. It didn't make it a concept album. There were, perhaps, a few songs that had some relation to each other, but not a single concept running through it. 

 We were very fortunate. People liked the record and it was something that gave me the chance to stretch out a little bit and write songs, many of which were more acoustic and recorded sometimes just by me on my own, rather than all of the band in the studio. It was a varied album, singer/songwriter kind of album with some tougher rock elements in it. When we came to do Thick as a Brick, the follow up, and make it in some ways a bit of a parody. You used that word parody of a concept album. That was part of it, but I think in so doing, it also became truly a concept album. The nature of it was light hearted, a little bit humorous, a little bit surreal. In the back of it all is some seriously thought out lyrics and music and played very well by the members of the band who placed extraordinary trust in me to be presenting them with music that in many ways might have been confusing to them. I had to pretend that it was not confusing to me and that I knew exactly what I was doing. I was making it up, literally, as I went along. 

Madhouse Magazine:    I've been listening to some other interviews and reading the “Thick as a Brick” album jacket. It's quite hysterical. I feel you have a great wit about you, that British wit. If you weren't in Jethro Tull, you could've ended up being in Monty Python or some other comedy troupe. 

Ian Anderson:    I think Monty Python at the time, was probably enjoying it’s first and very strong level of popularity in the UK. It hadn't really made it to the USA or other countries, but in the UK, it was becoming very popular. That British humor was not just Monty Python. It started many years before that... in the post-war era. In fact, there was a lot of British humor that was, I think, rather peculiarly British, that found its way into radio and then into television. Monty Python were just the manifestation of that rather surreal British humor that came about in the early-70s. That fit the mood of the times. I think we were all in some way infused by that feeling of it being a natural humor. It definitely was all about Britishness. It very rarely touched upon other cultures, other stereotypes. We felt safe lampooning elements of British culture. You wouldn't do that about America or Russia or other places because it would be a little impolite to do that. We leave it for you guys to make fun of yourselves. We just concentrate on making fun of ourselves, which I think it the right and proper thing to do. 

Especially with your political realities of today. It's a God send, Saturday Night Live and other ... Probably during the time of Obama, it was, "Who do we go after because he seems too nice a guy. Anyway, it would be improper to pull his shirttail for a number of reasons. Mr. Trump is fair game for everybody."

Madhouse Magazine:    You also recorded “Thick as a Brick” Number Two. I was thinking this would make a great play. Did you ever think of producing this as a play?

Ian Anderson:    No, I have on a couple of occasions written music which could have developed either into a movie or a theater piece. It's nice to think that maybe you could do that, but it is a very, very specific discipline. I don't think I have the experience or talent or certainly not the credentials to do it. If you're doing it based on the fact that you're successful in a given area, then probably people are not going to take you seriously. If I was to suddenly decide I wanted to be an actor, I don think people would take that very seriously. They would rightly guess, perhaps, I was getting a role because I was well known for something else. 

Indeed, there'd been times when I was offered parts in movies or theater. I had to turn them down just because I knew what the end result would be, that people would jump on me, daring to try and do something different. There were other people much better qualified than I to do those roles. I stepped to one side and said, "I'm not your man. Try so and so." 

Madhouse Magazine:    It's like when actors now try to be musicians. There's a lot of that going on as well. 

Ian Anderson:    There certainly are. Everybody wants to be a guitar player in a rock band. If you're Johnny Depp or whoever, it's a lot of fun to get up there and hack away a guitar. If you're John McEnroe, it seems a lot of fun to do that. Of course, however they might have at some point fantasized that maybe it's an alternative way of making a living, I think reality is they know full well it is just a bit of fun. No ones gonna take them too seriously because they're actors. We don't trust them because we know that they're a fake. Their whole shtick is to pretend. Generally, we like our musicians and rock stars to be the real deal. We're a bit suspicious of actors taking on that role and acting rock star. It's not the real thing. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Exactly. I want to congratulate you for being married something like 40 years to the same woman. That's basically unheard of in the music business. How did you manage this?

Ian Anderson:    I don't know. I'm lucky in having a family that we work together. It's been for many, many years a natural extension of doing things together. I share an office with my wife. She's someone that's worked with me since the end of 1973. I think she began working as a PR person at the record company, represented us in media and so on. Then, became essentially our administrator in the office looking after the practical issues of making things happen. We got into a relationship, got married, and had children. We've been working together ever since. She just does the US tour. She's an accountant, so she looks after all the financial issues and I keep out of the way of that. It's her territory and I do my things from the other side of the office like organizing the musical side of things. Although, I do rather enjoy being a travel agent on Sundays, usually because mostly I'm in the office alone on a Sunday. I can sit down and book a lot of airplane flights and hotels and do tour itineraries and things that I actually find quite fun to do. 

Madhouse Magazine:    You mentioned you have kids. Kids sometimes can be the harshest critics. What did they say about Jethro Tull and the costumes, the cod pieces, all of that stuff. 

Ian Anderson:    Who says what about it?

Madhouse Magazine:    Your kids when they were growing up. 

Ian Anderson:    Children, yes. Goats have kids. People have children. This is what my wife is always telling people. Yes, that's what you've grown up with. That's all you know. You just take it for granted. That's what your dad does. It's not so different as opposed to other children who might have parents who are school teachers or lawyers. My son-in-law, who's an actor, he dropped his daughter off at her first day of school. She was met by another little girl in her class and they walked off together. The other little girl looked back at my son-in-law and said, "Is that your daddy?" My granddaughter said, "Yes, it is." The other little girl said, "What does he do?" My granddaughter said, "He cuts the heads off zombies," because my son-in-law is one of the Walking Dead.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yes, of course.

Ian Anderson:    That's what he does for a living, you see, as far as my granddaughter. "I kill zombies," in a very matter of fact way. "That's what he does." Children will just tend to take these things for granted like there's nothing very special about it. They didn't grow up with a sense of being particularly different. It's just the world they've grown into. It seems quite normal. My wife, when she was much younger, she worked in the merch stands sometimes selling t-shits. My daughter and my son, when they were quite young, young teenagers, they also worked on the merch stand selling t-shirts. I thought we must manage another generation. In Austin, Texas, if you bought a t-shirt in the merch stand, it would be sold to you by my nine year old granddaughter or my seven year old grandson who you would see counting money and coming out with the usual spiel when someone said, "Wait, a minute. You've got a large there, but I'm XL. Do you have any XL?" My granddaughter would say, "Don't worry. These are cut on the large side. It'll fit perfectly." Next person come along and says, "I see you got large, but I'm more of a medium." "No, no. It'll shrink in the wash. It'll fit you perfectly." She learned the schmutter spiel very quickly to make sure she got a sale. 

Madhouse Magazine:    You mentioned Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead) is your son-in-law. As I was doing research, I just discovered this. It’s my favorite show and I had no idea. Are you a fan of the show? Do you watch it every week?

Ian Anderson:    That's exactly what I was asked last Friday by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan on The Walking Dead), "Do you watch the show?" We were filming an episode of Norman Reedus's (Daryl on The Walking Dead) program called Ride. Jeffrey and Norman and Andy were all at our place. We were riding bikes around the farm in the rain and getting very muddy and wet. Then we were sitting having some take away Indian food being filmed by a 20 strong film crew. Jeffrey said. "Do you watch The Walking Dead?" I said, "I go back, unlike you ... I go back to episode one series one. Not only did I see it, but I was there when that first episode was being filmed because I happened to be doing a show in Atlanta that night. We went out and watched the early very opening scenes that my son-in-law shot in episode one of The Walking Dead. Then we saw the completed episode one when it was given a private screening in London." I go right back to the very beginning and the original cast members. Over the years, the chances are I'm somewhere else, I don't see it. It's on at a time of night I don't get to see. I've missed so many episodes I have no idea. 

    I did see the first episode where Jeffrey playing Negan in his opening, his first scene. He was incredibly nervous about it apparently. I sent a message saying, "Don't worry. This is the best thing to happen in The Walking Dead for years. Your character and the way you play it is just so good." I think he was quite pleased to get past that first one, knowing that because his opening episode was where he had to kill off two of the relatively long standing members, particularly Steven Yeun, who had been there from the beginning. He was really worried that all The Walking Dead fans would absolutely hate him, but he won everybody over because he's such a bad guy. Of course, in real life, he's just a real pussy cat. He's a cheerful, fun kind of happy guy as they all are. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Do you get any advances of what's gonna happen? Can you tell me what's gonna happen in next week’s episode so I don't have to wait?

Ian Anderson:    The answer to that one is that I never ask that question, because there's a great deal of very, very tight lipped silence. You have to remember that the actors, in fact, they only get to read a script maybe the week before their shooting. They find out if they're gonna live or die. In many cases, a script is handed to the actors and two days later, they get eaten by zombies and it's over." It's a hugely traumatic thing for those who suddenly find they've been written out of the script for theatrical, dramatic purposes. Of course, it has nothing to do with their contracts and the fact that they might come and ask for more money. It is a difficult situation for everybody because the security around the set is very, very tight because there is always those folks who want to know what's going to happen next, of course, they can't resist being spoilers and putting it online and whatever else. I know better than to ask. Having said that, I do know stuff, but it's not stuff that I feel would be ever appropriate to talk about, because you should be on the edge of your seat and not really knowing what's going to happen.

Madhouse Magazine:    Exactly, I wouldn't even want to know. It'll ruin the show if you know what's going happen. No point watching it.

Ian Anderson:    I did say to Norman Reedus, "When are you and my son-in-law going to have your broke back mountain moments in The Walking Dead?" He said, "Hey, listen. I'm up for it. I've been pushing for this for years that we should have a little thing." He said, "I'm really up for it, but in the writer's room, they're terrified of the reaction of the fans if it turns out that Norman and Rick are getting it on." I said, "That's good though. You gotta make these people sit up and take notice and not get too cozy about what their belief about human nature and characters and whatever." It's something that The Walking Dead has stayed resolutely away from. There's been no kind of gay character. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Since you mentioned it, there is a couple now.

Ian Anderson:    It sneaked in I'm told, but I must have missed those episode. It's something where I think any of the main characters, it's been talked about. I'm not the only person to have suggested it, but it's been talked about and decided that we couldn't risk the fan reaction of we found out that particularly Norman and Rick were playing sticky bottoms together. That would not go down well. 

Madhouse Magazine:    They often have guest stars as zombie. Did you ever think about that, going in make up and becoming one of the zombies for an episode?

Ian Anderson:    There are a lot of people who clamor to do that and offer their services. Well known other actors and people in the public eye would love to go on set and be a zombie. My son actually spent a full day from a ridiculously early hour in the morning being made up for six hours or whatever it took to do and was in a scene, a crowd zombie scene in which he attacked I forget who it was, one of the main guys. It was a real close up sort of hacking. He got seriously killed. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the director didn't like that scene and it all ended just literally on the cutting room floors. My son spent all that time being a zombie for $150 or whatever he got paid, all a waste of time and effort. No, not my cup of tea. Arguably, I probably wouldn't need as much makeup. 

Madhouse Magazine:    I want to switch back to music for a bit now here. Every year, you have these yearly Christmas shows in England. You play at churches for charity. I would love to go to this, but I can't get to England. Have you ever considered bringing this show on tour, say for instance doing it in New York City?

Ian Anderson:    I have looked at doing cathedrals or big churches in other countries. I can do it in northwestern Europe and in Scandinavia where the Lutheran church, which is a Reformist church that has relatively open-minded view about musical liturgy and the use of church and cathedrals for more secular performances, it's possible there. It's not possible by and large within the Catholic world because of an edict from Rome going back to 1987 was it, when it was said that there should be no music performed in Catholic churches unless it was part of the approved traditions of the music of the church, literally, absolutely purest religious music and was solely music about worship. It couldn't be just vaguely spiritual. Also, you couldn't have a paying audience. The reason I do this is to raise money for the buildings, for the maintenance and upkeep. The Lutheran church in much of Europe is state sponsored so they don't actually need the money. The tax payer pays for the maintenance of buildings and the heating bill and fixing the roof and the organ and all the other things.

    In the USA, I've looked at the possibilities, but I've concluded from some of the things that I've read online that it would split opinion dramatically and perhaps potentially violently down the middle between those people who deeply resent the fact that I came into their church or ... You don't really have cathedrals in the sense that we have them. There would be those who would be very angry, very upset about it. Then, there would be those who would be a bit open minded and say, "Hey, that's okay. It's Christmas. Let's all celebrate Christmas." I'm very careful how I do these things. I try to observe some of the musical liturgy of the church. I include a blessing and a prayer, not for me because I'm not an ordained priest, so I can't really do that. It's part of the evening of very carefully and sensitively mixing the secular performance with the traditions of the Christian Christmas. I know that there would be people who really would get bent out of shape if I did that.

    At my point in life, I can live without the abuse and the threats. I get it anyway from time to time within certain elements of the more fanatical extremes of religion. I get dragged into that and abused. Enough is enough. I don't think I really want to enter into that in the USA. You, as a people, are very sharply divided. Never more so than today, politically and morally and ethically. There are just so sharp divides in society. You're one thing or you're the other. It's increasingly a polarized society that you live in. I see this much more these days when I travel in America, much more so than in any other time in the last 49 years that I've been coming regularly to the US to perform. I see that as an ugly reality of the way in which society is so divided. It makes me sad because people get angry. With social media at their disposal, that anger is far more on the surface, far more in some weird ways, seductive to get involved in, the abuse of people, the bullying of people, the degree to which really unpleasant sentiments are expressed very often with very unpleasant and very coarse language. It's something that I think is regrettable. Perhaps future generations will look back on it and say, "I'm glad we aren't like our grandparents were."

Madhouse Magazine:    You can only hope. 

Ian Anderson:    It's not exclusively the USA, because we have some of that in our country too. I just always feel it seems rather more evident. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Absolutely. 

Ian Anderson:    It's something that is something that's very regrettable that people feel so divided with each other, even within families. There's likely to be fist fights over politics where in other countries people just respect the fact that you may have different views from your children or your uncle or your brother. It's okay to have different beliefs. Perhaps it's more healthy within a family environment because you do talk about it, you express it, you get to listen to other points of view without it being the graffiti madness of the internet where things are said that can't be unsaid. Once they're there, they're there potentially forever. You've stepped over the line. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Exactly. That's why I don't get involved in politics. I never talk about politics. I just sit in my house. I listen to Jethro Tull albums and watch Walking Dead. Nobody bothers me. 

Ian Anderson:    There you go. That's true escapism for you.

Madhouse Magazine:    You want to talk about the tour before you go. What can we expect?

Ian Anderson:    The nature of this tour is really paying homage to 36 other members of Jethro Tull over the years. The focus is, to a large extent, on the first 10 years of Jethro Tull, which is when we were becoming known to most people in most parts of the world. I think even younger fans who are discovering Jethro Tull for the first time today will likely choose to go and check out the music from that period when we were the spearheading of a new music form in terms of more progressive rock music. I think they'll be drawn to that era when I suppose we were becoming not exactly fashionable, but we were shiny and new and people were excited about it. I'm concentrating on that because this is a 50th anniversary tour, not for me. 

    It's a 50th anniversary tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary for the fans because it's all about what they were doing back then, where they were, what they listened to, what were they doing, were they at school, were they working. It's them getting in touch with their lives of 50 years ago. I think that's that attraction of that kind of anniversary because it's a bit weird for me if I'm getting up and playing a song that I might have written 50 years ago and I'm getting up and playing it. It's not in my head that this is a song that's taking me back 50 years. It's taking me back 24 hours because that's the last time I played it. For me, the music isn't kind of connected in that way in the temporal sense. It's music that's as old as last time I played it. A lot of these songs I've been playing over the years. They don't necessarily have for me that feeling of nostalgia. They're songs that I choose to play because I think they're relevant lyrically and I find them still speaking for me as music and lyrics today. I don't really think about them necessarily as being from a time gone by anymore than I think if you remember a classical music orchestra and you're playing some piece of music written by Mozart. You're not necessarily thinking about sometime 250 years ago, you're thinking about now.

Madhouse Magazine:    Absolutely. 

Ian Anderson:    Music has that advantage of really of transcending the temporal restrictions that perhaps apply in other areas of life. It is truly a timeless art form. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Right, it can bring people together. The country may be divided, but we can all get together and listen to the same music though.

Ian Anderson:    That's right. It is most primitive. Music is about the celebration of society. It tends to be something whether it's sung around the campfire in the most primitive forms that we know of. We know that some 60,000 years ago, there were homo sapiens in some cave dwelling who had carved out some bone and cut a couple of holes and made the most primitive of a flute. I imagine that a little group of people were sitting there and banging some logs together or animal hides stretched over something to make a primitive drum and blowing a primitive flute and singing. These were communal gatherings in which music became part of the celebrating of people together in perhaps just a family or a tribal atmosphere. Of course these days, if you go to some huge rock concert with vast amounts of sound and lights and the Rolling Stones amble onto stage for perhaps their final tour, it may seem like a far away world from the origins of music, but in essence, I think it's the same thing. It's people getting together around that notion or focus where they share some experience together in the same way I suppose you do when you go to watch a sports event.

Madhouse Magazine:    Exactly. 

Ian Anderson:    You're sharing this with the fans of a football team or a basketball team. It's something that we have in our spirit. It's in our nature, isn't it. It's the same as I suppose going to church and singing and being together with other people in this sense of community safety. It's a comfort zone that you embrace because you're with like minded people. That’s always going to be attractive, except for me because I'm a party pooper. I'm a loner. I don't go to concerts or events or things. I feel uncomfortable. I tend to be rather solitary and not really enjoy those kind of events. I went to a Rolling Stones concert once at Wembley Stadium many years ago and I lasted about 20 minutes. I just couldn't cope with all the noise and the crowds and the craziness of it all. It's just so loud and noisy. I turned to my wife and said, "Can we go? I'm not enjoying this." 

Madhouse Magazine:    You mentioned the Rolling Stones. I want to ask you one final question here. You were part of the Stone's Rock and Roll Circus back in the early days. Do you have any memories or recording that?

Ian Anderson:    Oh I have a lot of memories of being there, yes. Memories of working alongside the Stones and watching them and learning a little bit about things, particularly watching Mick Jagger. He was hugely energetic and committed to pushing everybody to do their best. He was, I guess, probably the only member of the Stones who knew what was going on. They seemed a little bemused by it all and just going with the flow because this is what Mick had a bee in his bonnet about, making it as a TV program. During the course of rehearsal, they upped their game and they were pretty good. An example, I guess in professionalism and hard work as well as were The Who. The Who were there as well. They were well polished and at the top of their game. They were rehearsed and performance ready, whereas the Stones hadn't played live for quite a while when they did that show. 

    I remember a lot about it, some of it amusing, some of it good, some of it not so good. It was just a couple of days of my life where I just kind of stood watching what was going on. We had a very small part to play in it because we were the rookie band that represented that element of something new that no one had heard of before. I think Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman had put our name forward to make us this big band that could come and do it and wouldn't need to be paid. 

Madhouse Magazine:    It's been a great career. I want to thank you for calling in. I want to thank you for the music too. It's given me a lot of pleasure and joy over the years. I love you guys and I'm gonna be checking you out on the tour in New York City. I'm going to be seeing you at the Beacon Theater. I'm looking forward to that. 

Ian Anderson:    Alright, yeah. Okie dokie. I look forward to seeing you there too. Thanks for talking to me and take care. We'll see you soon. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Alright, great. Have a great tour. 

Ian Anderson:    Okay. Cheers, bye-bye now. 

Madhouse Magazine:    Bye. 
 
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