It might come as no surprise that Bryan Ferry has recurring dreams, each one assigning the Roxy Music frontman a grim fate that manages to paint a picture not unlike those photographs taken of Jayne Mansfield's 1967 car crash site, and, in some respect, not unlike a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan film.
"My leg is trapped and I can't stop the car I'm driving from hurtling forward to doom," Ferry shares. "And there's another one in a plunging elevator ..."
Even when describing a dream via email in fewer characters than Twitter's allotted 280, 73-year-old Ferry weaves poetry lush with levity, depth, and imagination — as he's done for more than 50 years as leader of arresting art-rock luminaries Roxy Music, creator of solo works, and as a general mastermind of elegance, eclecticism, and seductive vulnerability. And yet, Ferry is more than this.
Ferry, who formed Roxy Music in 1971 with Graham Simpson, Andy MacKay, Roger Bunn, Detter Lloyd, and "non-musician" Brian Eno (and would later include Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson), has long since become a totem of style meeting substance. What other man could pen a dizzying, five-plus-minute song about a love affair with an inflatable doll with the breadth of Wuthering Heights and the attitude of Patti Smith?
Sometime between breakfast and lunch just days ahead of the North American leg of his world tour, Ferry answers our — and Metro Times' readers — questions via email.
Is there a reason you prefer email interviews to phone calls? What is your relationship with technology, or more specifically with social media? How do you think Roxy Music's sound would differ if it were made today?
I don't really like telephone interviews, as sometimes the line is bad and it's easy to get misquoted. I must confess, I'm a bit of a technophobe and don't have much of a social media life. I still like handwritten letters, for instance."
Part of the charm of the early Roxy Music records is that the technology was rather primitive in those days and we made efforts to create interesting sounds, with tape loops and crude Heath-Robinson effects pedals and so on, I remember I had a device called the "Psychedelic Mood Adjuster" which I was very fond of, and used whenever I could. Nowadays you dial up zillions of sounds in seconds. But that isn't as much fun.
Many consider Avalon to be Roxy Music's most well-received work; others go so far as to say it's the group's best. (You're also drawing from the record heavily on this tour.) Why do you think it connected with audiences both Roxy fans and non? Can you reflect on Avalon's conception?
I think people responded well to the musicianship and the general mood of Avalon, which was the culmination of several years [of] musical development on my part.
After we recorded Siren I took a break from Roxy Music activity and did a long solo tour. I then lived in Los Angeles for a while and did my preparation for The Bride Stripped Bare solo album, which I recorded over several months in Montreux, Switzerland. When I got back to England and resumed living in London, the music scene there had been radically transformed by the punk movement. During the making of Manifesto, Flesh + Blood, and Avalon, I found my musical ambitions had evolved slightly and I became more interested in making more atmospheric music with sparser lyrics and a less aggressive beat. We had in the earlier records done plenty of cruder up-beat stuff, and I suppose my tastes had become more sophisticated. This seemed to strike a chord with the Roxy audience, who after all had also grown up a bit and maybe wanted some music that reflected this.
I spoke with Susan Whitall, former editor of Creem magazine, who had said that Detroit was the city that sort of broke Roxy Music and that you had acknowledged that Detroit's warm reception proved that Roxy Music was more than an image, that they had substance, too. Do you still feel a connection to Detroit? Any memories you would care to share?
I have always loved the music that came out of Detroit, and from my student days onwards I was a big Motown fan ... The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and all the girl groups. The musicianship on those records was outstanding, and James Jamerson in particular was a huge hero for me.
Detroit in the 1970s was one of the cities that played Roxy Music on the radio, and I've always been grateful for that. The city has a strong blue collar tradition which reminds me of the cities in Northern England where I come from, places where people worked hard and loved their music. The Detroit music press, notably Creem magazine, were also very supportive from the beginning.
What does it take to be a Roxy Music cover girl, which is a job I wanted when I was a kid? And what happens when we die? —Ash Nowak, Detroit
Well, Ash, you have to have an interesting look and be in the right place at the right time. When you die, you go to Cover Girl Heaven.
Why do you think all the glam guys got into eye patches for a minute, and do you have a favorite inflatable doll company? —Dion D. Fischer, Detroit
I think they might have seen me doing "Love Is The Drug" on TV when I wore a real eye patch for my injured eye.
Artificial Intelligence is of great interest to me.
Was it difficult to write Manifesto? It seems so personal, like a man with a broken heart. —Jerry Cook, Sedona, Ariz.
Yes, Jerry, it was difficult ... but then I've always found that writing is hard, especially when it's from the heart.
Would you consider a long run residency? Not Vegas ... but maybe a favorite concert hall. If so, where? —Jo-anne Nugent Sexsmith, Edmonton, CA
Hey Jo, (I've always wanted to say that) – I would definitely consider it. Maybe in one of the big cities that I like ... New York?
Why did you never collaborate with David Bowie? —Tara Chambers, Kamloops, BC
Well, Tara, no one ever asked me to.
So many of your songs recorded long ago have evolved to a somewhat different vibe, tempo, and arrangement as performed live over the years. Would you share your feelings about any songs where the arrangement has evolved to a point where you prefer it, or it's more representative of your initial intentions? —Evynne Grover, New York, NY
A very interesting question. The original versions usually capture a particular vibe and moment in time, so they are generally the best version. But like the great jazz artists I admire, I'm always keen to try alternative ways of doing a song. The second version of "Casanova" is a good example of this. Of course the Jazz Age and Bitter – Sweet albums gave me an opportunity to do this already, and it's something I'd like to do more. However, in the live shows that I do we usually try to play the songs pretty much as they were done the first time around.
Fashion has always been a huge part of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry. What influenced this? —Heather Fraker, Detroit
I love watching old movies, and people like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant were a great inspiration to me. Also my favourite jazz musicians — people like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis — always looked very cool, and dressed in a particular way that I still like.
Music is an inalienable part of human history. There is a concern that as the mode of production of contemporary music is subsumed by the commercial interests of the industry machine, there are fewer opportunities for new musicians to explore or display originality and creativity in the way that Roxy music did. Are you concerned about the effect of this on human culture in the long term? Artists such as Prince resisted this industrialization and homogenization of music. Is this something you think about and see yourself, perhaps, as being in a position to be able to challenge in some specific and overt way? (for example a new record label or mentoring program etc..)...or do you feel you already address these issues by way of your own artistic output?
Yes, it's a drag when everything looks and sounds the same. That's why I suppose I've tried to develop a broad taste in the music I like to listen to and play. It's wonderful when someone like Prince comes along and creates [a] unique body of work based on his own diverse tastes. In the same way I try to challenge myself by working in different genres. I still work with an established record label who distribute my music, but I always like to dictate my own creative agenda. I enjoy working with fresh and younger talent, and I get to meet some of these people in my recording studio, which incidentally is where Prince made some of his final recordings.
Also, in past interviews, you have sometimes considered that you might return to painting later in life, and once mentioned writing a book about your life or work. After your U.S. tour dates and your new project in the studio, do you think you might have the inclination to do those things? And, if you did, would it be as a compliment or a diversion from musical work in the studio. Do you still have an urge to produce visual work or has music satisfied your soul?
Pavane Oliveiro, Sydney, Au
When I finish touring in September, I'm planning to start work on a couple of books relating to my career in music. Writing songs and making records has always been my creative workplace, but you never know what the future has in store.
Do you have a favorite work of art? Have you been able to see it in person?
Chrissy Rossana, Ferndale
No, I don't really have a favourite work of art, but I'm constantly seeing great things when I travel the world. I love seeing the Gainsboroughs in the Frick Museum in New York, the Picassos and Duchamps in Philadelphia, and also I'm very much looking forward to visiting the National Gallery in Washington D.C., which has an amazing collection donated by the late Paul Mellon. These will be the cultural highlights of my current tour.
Mr. Ferry — you're 73 and you look great. How important has skincare been for you over the years? D0 you have a health and beauty regimen you can share?
I have a great Pilates teacher in London and I try to see her as often as I can when I'm there. Otherwise I get plenty of exercise on stage and wandering around museums when I'm travelling. Also I recommend at least one dry martini per day for a good and healthy life.
Also, Stranded is the first Roxy record without Eno and is also Eno's favorite record, released the same year as the very different For Your Pleasure. How different do you imagine Stranded would have sounded with Eno's input?
—Fred Thomas, Ann Arbor
I think Eno would have had a great time playing on the Stranded album, especially on "Sunset" and "Mother Of Pearl." We had such fun working together on those early Roxy records. Maybe one day...!
Do you have any audio or video recordings of the Banshees or the Gas Board? When will you release your live solo performances from 1974 (Newcastle, Birmingham & Royal Albert Hall)? —Victor Hastings, New Orleans
No, I don't believe there are any recordings audio wise, but we have photographs of the Gas Board, nothing of the Banshees. The Royal Albert Hall concert will hopefully see the light of day sometime in the new year.
Over the years, a lot of artists have covered your songs. Do you have any particular favorite renditions of your work that others have done? —Chris Soloway, Wyandotte, Mich
Yes, Chris. I really liked Grace Jones's "Love Is The Drug" cover, produced by the great Alex Sadkin – she gave it such attitude.
What are your most cherished possessions? —Kara Meister, Detroit
My Charlie Parker records and my beautiful garden.
Bryan Ferry will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Fox Theatre; 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-6611; 313presents.com. Tickets are $39.50+.
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