“I feel like I am at some sort of outpost of the British Empire.” hmv.com talks to Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield is back, and he’s made a rock album. With words…
We caught up with on the release of his new record, Man on the Rocks to talk about using technology to make an album from the comfort of his home in the Bahamas.
This is your first studio album proper for 6 years, how long have you been working on it?
"About three years, two or three years I think from start to finish."
It’s very different sounding record than we’re used to hearing from you – there are lyrics, for a start! What prompted the change of direction?
"It just felt like a good thing to do I guess. I wanted to do something different to the last project – which was not what I usually do either, it was a classical album! But I wanted to try and do something that I’ve never done before. I’ve tried making ‘songs’ to varying degrees of success, but I wanted to make a record that was more like the music that was around when I was starting out in the late sixties and early seventies, when you didn’t really have categories.
"You never really heard anyone say at that time ‘oh this is rock music, that’s folk, this is reggae’, you know, it was before everything got compartmentalised. It was all just music to us. There was no difference between Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bert Jansch or John Renbourn. There were no divisions, it was all brand new, so I wanted to approach the record in that way."
Not so much of the multi-tracking on this album either, it has a more live sound. Who’s on the record?
"Yes, well I’d worked with Trevor Horn on Tubular Bells II back in about 1991-92, and there was this reprise of the Piltdown Man section on there, it was the only part of the record that had drums on it, and the drummer Trevor chose to do it was John Robinson, who is one of the best session drummers in Los Angeles. So I got in touch with him when Stephen Lipson came aboard as co-producer and asked him to put together his ideal band to go into the studio with. So he chose Leland Sklar, Matt Rollings and all these people, his ideal rock band."
You’ve self-produced a lot of your records but as you mentioned earlier this time you worked with Stephen Lipson as well, how did that come about?
"I actually met him at he Olympic Games opening ceremony, Danny Boyle had used an excerpt of Tubular Bells for the NHS sequence and so I was there talking to the drummer that we used, he was in a band called The Producers with Trevor Horn and was telling me about Steve, so I looked into his work and thought he could be suitable for what I was trying to do. He liked the demos I’d done and had some ideas about it so he came on board."
Where did you record it?
"The backing tracks were all done in Los Angeles but I stayed here in Nassau and was basically remotely co-producing it. I was listening back to live audio streams with cameras set up in various parts of the studio, then the vocals were done the same way in London at Stephen’s studio, we had the same set-up there. I don’t really like to travel anymore so that was my way of using the technology to remotely produce it."
There’s a cover of a song by gospel singer and preacher William McDowell at the end of the record – that’s quite an unusual choice, why did you decide on that?
"You know, I just heard that song by complete accident actually, but I sometimes find that, if I like a song, I want to get involved with it and I just decided to make my own version of it. It wasn’t originally going to be on the album, we’d settled on ten tracks, but Stephen liked what I’d done with it, I changed some of the lyrics to make it better represent everyday life, as opposed to being a song of worship that belongs in a church. So it’s ended up as the closing tracks."
You said in an interview once something like ‘I’m not really a keyboard player, I’m a guitarist’. Do you have a favourite, or one that gets used the most on the album?
"Well, I’ve been getting into guitars with humbucker pickups lately. I’ve got this very strange looking Telecaster. It’s really not the prettiest guitar in the world but for some reason when I plug it into this rack effects box that I have it sounds just like the kind of sound that I had when I was first starting out. By the eighties my guitars sound a bit more refined, like violins, but this is more crunchy, so I’ve used this a lot!"
I understand you live in the Bahamas now and there are some nautical / beach-related themes to the song titles & lyrics. Do you ever miss the hustle & bustle?
"I must say it was really nice to come back to London in 2012, especially at that particular time with the Olympics going on. But it was a bit of a shock for me, it had been a long time since I’d been back. It was also the first time in ages I had felt cold! I’m not a fan of sitting around in taxis in traffic jams so there’s this ‘limo bike’ service that had me whizzing through the streets, from the hotel to the Olympic stadium in about ten minutes flat, it was brilliant! And it was nice working out in the open space, you feel more connected to the city that way.
"But I’m a bit of wilderness person I suppose, I can sit out here and meditate and be alone with the sky and the ocean. I am very much in contact with England though, I read the English papers on my iPad, I feel like I am at some sort of outpost of the British Empire here, they’ve even got the Queen on the money!"
Do you have any ideas yet about what you might do next? Can we expect more vocals?
"Well, I was thinking of maybe making a prequel to Tubular Bells, actually. Electric Organs, guitars, no sampling. But then I also woke in the dead of night last night with another rock-type thing in my head, so we’ll see."
And finally on a totally unrelated note, we hear you’re a trekkie? What do you think of the new cinematic reboot?
"Well, I am a trekkie but I find the movies are getting a bit like all the other sci-fi films, they all seem to have terribly violent endings and they all seem to be going in that direction. I’d like to see them make them more ‘star trek’ instead of trying to compete with Batman or whatever."
Man on the Rocks is available in hmv stores and from our download store now