Floyd drummer Nick Mason chats with EW's Michael Endelman about revisiting the ''Dark Side'' on separate tours with David Gilmour and Roger Waters, his last time with the late Syd Barrett, and setting a surprising ''Guinness'' world record
Sitting on a comfy couch in the offices of Columbia Records, Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason jokes that he’s in America ”doing a bit of drumming in between a lot of shopping.? That’s underselling it. Mason is currently on tour with fellow Floyd member Roger Waters for a handful of gigs where they re-create their legendary 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon, in its entirety. Just after playing two nights at Madison Square Garden in New York, Mason spoke with EW.com about the rift that broke up the British rock giants, the death of former Floyd member Syd Barrett earlier this year, and his world record baking trophy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to go on tour with Roger Waters?
NICK MASON: I found from playing the entire Dark Side of the Moon with David Gilmour on our Pulse tour [now on DVD] that playing it the whole way through is really satisfying — it really works best as an entire piece. I think Roger felt the same and thought it would be nice to do it together as a special thing.
Is there anything that surprised you about it playing it this time around?
It still has a surprising amount of space in it. That’s the thing that’s the hardest to re-create on stage. Faced with a few thousand screaming people, the temptation is to play a lot and fill up the space with extra drum fills. That’s the thing that needs the most attention.
From seeing you and Roger play it in concert, I was also struck by how slow most of Dark Side is.
That’s certainly the fault of the drummer, who can’t play any faster [laughs]. It’s in my contract that I won’t play any faster than 80 beats per minute.
You’ve played Dark Side both with David Gilmour and now with Roger Waters. What’s the difference?
Rather irritatingly, both of them get it kind of 80 percent right. It still lacks something, because the other guy isn’t there. It’s very hard to put my finger on it. The versions are very, very similar. The most noticeable difference is that David’s version is a bit freer. We have some more fun with it. Roger likes to really get it as it was played on the record. Given that there are so many tribute bands out there doing the same thing, at least I think that both Dave and Roger are a bit closer to the original! [laughs]
You all reunited for the Live 8 concert last year — what’s keeping you from getting together on a more regular basis?
I think there are still issues between David and Roger. What was great about Live 8 is that it showed that for the right reasons, those could be transcended?though if there was the opportunity to work together it would be a one-off, I don’t think we want to re-form the band and go back in the studio.
So the chances of Pink Floyd restarting a studio career are…
I think it would be extremely difficult. Live 8 wasn’t very difficult, we all agreed on how to do things. If we went back into the studio, all the old issues would arise, about songwriting, and whose was good and whose was bad, and who did what, and I think it would be unbearable pressure on David to have to fight it out with Roger again.
Pink Floyd have been in the news this year, because of founding member Syd Barrett’s death. When was the last time you saw him?
It was 30 years before, during the studio sessions for [1975’s] Wish You Were Here. I don’t think any of us had seen him in the intervening period. It was indicated pretty clearly to us by the family that Syd found it distressing to be reminded of the old days. So we stayed away.
In your memoir, Inside Out, you tell an anecdote about Syd, where in the middle of a concert he just started detuning his guitar. Were there other signs that he was mentally ill? Things he would do onstage?
He just stopped listening and was in another world. He was oblivious to what was going on onstage. To be honest, we didn’t really know what was going on. It might not have been that he was completely mad. He might have been just furious that he was in a world that he didn’t want to inhabit anymore.
How did the band change after Syd left?
As soon as Syd left, the band headed rapidly down a completely different path. Roger’s songwriting, for instance, became absolutely non-psychedelic. We were still seen as a weird psych band, but what Roger was writing about was very in-your-face, modern-day issues.
And Roger’s not a big fan of improvisation either?
That’s absolutely right. Roger likes it done proper. Tight ship, sir! [laughs]
There’s been some interesting Pink Floyd homages over the years. One I really like is called Dub Side of the Moon, which is a reggae version of the album. Have you heard it?
I love it. I’m not a fan of tribute bands — rock & roll is about expressing yourself, not slavishly copying other people. I’d rather hear some other interpretations, like the Scissor Sisters cover of ”Comfortably Numb.? I love that!
What about the urban myth about watching the Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side?
I’ve seen bits of it. There are some very good moments that fit. Rather flippantly, you should try Animals with Top Gun, or Wish You Were Here with Spartacus, and you’d definitely find some interesting moments.
One last thing: I’ve heard that you hold a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for baking the world’s largest crumpet. Is that right?
Yes, it is. [laughs] It was for a charity event? We decided the best thing to do would be to get in the Guinness book by doing something that wouldn’t take an awful lot of skill or too much time. We welded up an enormous pan, about four meters across. It was pretty daunting. We used hundreds of eggs and pounds and pounds of flour. We built a giant barbecue and cooked the damn thing; it took hours. There was probably enough crumpet to feed 5,000 people.
How did it taste?
It was a bit tough, actually.