David Gilmour Discusses Guitars, Blues and 'The Division Bell' in 1994 Guitar World Interview
In this interview from the September 1994 issue of Guitar World, David Gilmour discusses his perspective -- personal, political and musical -- on Pink Floyd's great return.
I also hear some Bob Dylan in your music.
I actually saw his first-ever show in England, when I was about 15. Bob is about as good as it gets. People tend to think of him as just a lyricist, but he is actually a brilliant composer, as well, and a great singer --brilliant singer, yeah, fabulous!
Have you ever wanted to see what you could do with one of Dylan's songs?
I have, actually. I've had some fun mucking about in my home studio with things like a reggae version of "Like A Rolling Stone."
What can you tell me about The Division Bell's guitar instrumental, "Marooned."
It's amazing how far I can bend those notes, isn't it? [laughs]
I'll say. How did you achieve those wild, octave-wide, bends?
A Digitech Whammy Pedal. It's a great little unit, but I haven' t even begun to explore half the things it does. The fact that it allows you to bend a note a full octave is quite shocking. It's so odd.
You seem to use the effect very naturally -- I almost didn't notice it at first. Did you practice with it a lot before you recorded "Marooned"?
No. [laughs.] I think we basically wrote the first version of it the day I got the pedal. I still don't think I use it very effectively, but it's a good pedal.
How much of "Marooned" is improvised?
Pretty much all of it. I probably took three or four passes at it and took the best bits out of each.
Do you experiment much with your guitar in the studio?
Not really. My guitar tech, Phil Taylor, tries to make me experiment much more than I would if I were left to my own devices. If I've got an amp or a couple of amps, and a guitar that I like, I'll just do everything with those. I'm very low-tech when it comes to effects. I tend to still use pedals like a Big Muff. I'm not a fan of rack units -- they don't have any balls to them. I still like my grungey old pedals. Most of what I use can be found in any music store anywhere.
Are you using an E-bow on "Take It Back"?
Yeah! On a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar that is processed through a Zoom effects box, then directly injected into the board.
That' s a pretty bizarre configuration.
Well, I guess I experiment more than I think I do! I had a Zoom in my control room one day and I was mucking about with something. Suddenly, I thought I should stick the E-bow on the strings and see what would happen. It sounded great, so we started writing a little duet for the E-bowed acoustic guitar and a keyboard. We never finished the piece, but [keyboardist] Jon Carin decided to sample the E-bowed guitar part. We kept the sample and ended up using it as a loop on "Take It Back," and again on "Keep Talking."
How do you achieve that spacious Pink Floyd sound?
Of course we try to do everything as well as we possibly can. We have to get a reasonably good recording studio. And you need to get nice tape machines and pretty good mikes. You get the best engineer that you can lay your hands on. And, of course, you play it as well as you can. And that's it.
It seems kind of odd to me that we should have the reputation of being "high tech." I mean, I actually once got a little award from a stereo magazine for my production on the first Dream Academy album [The Dream Academy, Warner Bros., 1985]. What was amusing to me was that the album was actually made in small demo studios all over London. We just worked and mixed the hell out of it. I couldn't believe that we really got this award. I have to admit, it does sound very good. But, if you knew the way it was put together, you couldn't imagine that we would win an audiophile award.
What people might not realize is that your spacious sound has something to do with your arrangements.
I would agree. I have always had a 3-D sound in my head. I like to have some element of space and depth in everything we do. I can't seem to get away from that. And I listen to a lot of records and find them two-dimensional, just in the way they're mixed. And the sad part is that it's not hard to add dimension.
Can you give me a specific example of how you spice up a typical Pink Floyd production?
The E-bow loop in "Take It Back" is a good example. If you take that off, it becomes a totally different song. That relatively simple effect adds a whole extra dimension of space to the song.
How was this recording experience different from those of the past?
It was not that different. We used less sequencing this time than we did last time. We played more music in real time.
When you' re working with Nick and Rick on the initial ideas, is there a lot of verbal communication?
Not much. Initially, we spent about three weeks just jamming and throwing ideas around. Anything that started sounding remotely interesting, I recorded on a small stereo DAT machine. Then we went back to the studio, listened and logged everything in. In total there were about 65 little pieces of music, and that was the start for us. And it was a very good start.
These days I do less and less demoing for songs. I tend to just record ideas on a simple cassette recorder, using only an acoustic guitar -- something very, very rough. And then I don't record the idea again until I'm playing it well enough to commit it to a proper machine. The worst thing is to record a crummy demo that has that great atmosphere to it, and then spend months and months trying to recreate it. This is exactly what happened, in fact, on "High Hopes." I did a complete demo of that in a day at the studio. But for some reason, we couldn't use it because, I think, maybe the tempo wavered a little bit. It then took ages to capture a take that was anywhere near as good as the demo. It was the first song written for the album, and the last one finished.
I noticed that you're using a D,A,D,G,A,D tuning on "Poles Apart." That's a new tuning for you.
Yes, but the funny thing is that I didn't know it was such an established tuning -- I thought it was something new that I had invented. One day, I was on holiday in Greece and I had an acoustic guitar with me. I just decided to tune the bottom string down to D, and continued to experiment until I arrived at that tuning. Then I mucked around a bit and "Poles Apart" fell out of it a few minutes later.
Why do you use a lap steel on songs like "High Hopes" and "Great Gig In The Sky" instead of playing straight slide guitar on your Strat?
I always had a fondness for pedal steels and lap steels. I guess it's because I could never come to grips with standard bottleneck playing.
You have two Fender lap steels on tour with you. How are they tuned?
The one that I use on "High Hopes" is tuned to a first-position E minor chord. The other one, which I use on "Great Gig In The Sky," is tuned like a regular guitar except for the top two strings -- D,G,D,G,B,E. That allows me to form a minor chord on the top three strings and a major chord with all the other strings.
Do you feel like you're improving as a musician, as a guitarist?
I don't really know. I doubt if I'm improving very much as a guitar player. If I sound better these days, I think it has more to do with the wonders of modern recording techniques and with having my own studio. Having your own studio often means having the luxury to keep first takes, which are usually my best. And most of the guitar playing on this album is literally the first time I stuck a guitar on and played.
In the old days, I usually wasn't able to keep the first take. We either didn't have the tape machine on, or I gave my best shot in a rehearsal room somewhere. So to answer your question: no, I'm not getting better, but I think I'm better at capturing the good moments and hanging on to them.
It does seem to me that, guitar-wise, this is a very ambitious record. Sonically, almost every song has something a little different to offer.
I'm glad someone thinks so. [laughs] Lots of people think we're merely retreading old ground.
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