Roger Waters has a reputation for being someone who keeps a tight rein over every aspect of the recording process. But the singer, bassist, and former Pink Floyd member says he allowed producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney) a surprisingly free hand when overseeing his new album, Is This the Life We Really Want?, which arrives June 2.
“I was used to being in control of everything and doing it all,” he tells EW. “I realized, watching Nigel work, that it wasn’t going to work if I was me. I was going to have to learn to be ‘Quiet Roger.’ So, I went, ‘All right, let’s try this.’ Which is difficult, but I’m glad I did, because he did a really, really good job. And he’s made a record that I couldn’t have made.”
Recorded in part at the L.A. house of producer and singer-songwriter Jonathan Wilson, the result often sounds far more like the music Waters did make with Pink Floyd back in the ’70s than his previous solo output, like 1984’s The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking or 1992’s Amused to Death, his last collection of rock songs.
“He has a fan’s deep attachment to the oeuvre,” Waters says of Godrich. “He’s enjoyed having the opportunity to do it himself, if you see what I mean. Because that’s what he’s done. That’s why the studio was full of two-inch tape in big f—ing loops going round!”
Read on for more from our conversation with Waters, which includes his thoughts on Donald Trump’s proposed wall and details on his upcoming live shows.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The album is full of these musically lovely ballads with rage-fueled lyrics. I’ve been describing it to people as a mixture of beauty and anger. Does that seem about right?
ROGER WATERS: Sounds perfect, yeah. It’s about the transcendental nature of love and, I suppose, how it can transform anger into compassion.
What was the genesis of the project?
The genesis of the album was me writing [the song] “Déjà Vu,” which you only get a bit of. Godrich has edited the rest of the song out. Not because he disapproves of it, I don’t think, but because he’s completely focused on making this thing that is a gramophone record, which is very much in the tradition of what gramophone records used to be like, when you could only put 19 minutes on each side if you wanted it to sound any good. Although this is 54-minutes long, it’s that kind of a vibe, so you have to keep throwing bits away in order to make the shape of something that is that. And I don’t disapprove of that at all. I think he’s made a great record and I say he’s made a great record. I wrote it and sang on it but he’s made the record. So it started with me writing that song, and then it developed into a long meandering radio play with lots of other songs on it, which I played to him. He listened to this long rambling thing and went, “Hmmm, it’s really interesting, I don’t think it’s a gramophone record though.” And I went, “No, you’re probably right, it is a radio play, but do you want to make a record?” “Yeah.” So, he got involved.
Tell us about the single “Smell the Roses.”
That song is almost an afterthought. It’s Nigel going, “Oh f—, you’ve written all these ballads, thank god we’ve done some jams. Could you please write some words to this thing?” “What thing?” “Oh, that thing in E.” “Do I have to?” “Yeah.” So I wrote that song four or five times and then eventually I said, “I’ve had this idea, which I think might work. What if Battersea Power Station is a munitions factory? And also it’s where we torture people? And it’s also this, and that, and the other, and we wrap everything up?” “Whatever, just write it!” So that’s it. It’s the image of this malevolent presence.
You recorded it mostly in L.A.?
What was that like?
Fine. We were in Ocean Way, which is like an ordinary studio. It’s perfectly nice, got good equipment. But then we moved to Jonathan Wilson’s house, where it’s ramshackle hippie-dom. Lots of good old analog steam synthesizers, and lots of guitars, and bits of this and that. Stained glass. You imagine any minute some woman’s going to walk in smelling of patchouli oil and last night’s sex.
The album features a sample of Donald Trump speaking and, from a lyrical point of view, generally feels like a very Trump-era collection of songs.
Well, unfortunately, it’s a very Trump era. It’s not just Trump. It’s all over, everywhere. It’s Brexit and Le Pen. It’s, “Let’s all lie about Syria, whoever we are.” “Let’s just make up any narrative that we want and say it’s true.” It’s like truth is now a completely alien concept. It’s not what is — it’s what you believe, or what you can persuade people.
Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a double album about the danger of people erecting metaphorical barriers between themselves and their fellow man. I imagine every time Trump talks about building an actual wall between the United States and Mexico it must literally hurt your head.
[Laughs] Well, it’s so dumb, obviously. He’s been confronted with it now, because obviously he’s not going to be able to build anything, because it’s too f—ing expensive, and the people won’t wear it. It’s a really stupid idea. Everybody who lives anywhere near the border knows it is. It’s clearly a ridiculous idea. And if you look at the demographics of the citizens of the United States, there’s going to be a Latino majority tomorrow, whatever you f—ing do. You can’t stop it by building a wall. You can’t build walls anywhere, it’s ridiculous. The whole concept is a complete non-starter, except as an exercise in control — not of the border, of your electorate. Keep people dumb, uneducated, whatever, so you can go on milking them.
You start a North American tour in Kansas City, Missouri on May 26. What can people expect to hear?
I’m playing four tracks off this album and, apart from that, I’m doing a bunch of old Pink Floyd tracks. Seventy percent’s old stuff, and four tracks off this album, and one of them is “Smell the Roses.”
Is This the Life We Really Want? is now available for pre-order.