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Roger Waters Rails Against the Powers That Be and Asks, 'Is This the Life We Really Want?'

Roger Waters Rails Against the Powers That Be and Asks, 'Is This the Life We Really Want?'

In 1979, the British songwriter wrote The Wall, a nightmarish rock opera he recorded with his former band, Pink Floyd. For over 40 years the album’s themes of isolation, tyranny and alienation have connected with audiences worldwide, selling an estimated 30 million copies.

It’s still selling and is perhaps more relevant than ever, as Trump seems determined to bring the dark metaphor to life, brick by brick.

In fact, with all his bluster about “the wall,” it almost felt like the president was taunting Waters and his magnum opus. If that’s even remotely true, he fucked with the wrong rock star.

On his fourth, and best, solo album, Is This the Life We Really Want? produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney), Waters is certainly responding like someone who’s been personally maligned. Never one to suffer fools, the concept album is loaded with disparaging references to the U.S. commander-in-chief, calling him a “nincompoop” and “a leader with no fucking brains.”

And if that wasn’t enough, he devotes even more time lambasting Trump on his arena-sized Us + Them tour. During the Pink Floyd classic “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” grotesque images of the president flicker on giant screens, while a flying pig buzzes around the arena with Orwellian menace. The fact that the huge pink swine is powered by a weapons-grade drone furthers the political implications.

Given the bold and uncompromising nature of his work, one might assume that the real Roger Waters might be an aggressive interview, but the person I meet is nothing of the sort. Soft spoken, thoughtful and not afraid to laugh at his own foibles, he is a smart and considerate conversationalist. At the same time, he’s not afraid to explicitly express his opinion.

“Because of the nincompoop and the current broken political system, it is demanded of every citizen of the United States to decide whether they are going to resist this or go along with it,” he says quietly, yet firmly. “Trump is entirely clear that he is out to fuck everybody except Trump. He doesn’t give a shit about anybody and makes it quite clear.

“It has to be difficult for anybody who voted for him to swallow that he is trying to reduce corporate taxes to 15 percent. What does that have to do with their life? He doesn’t care about their life! He just wants his taxes down to 15 percent.”

He is pissed, yes, but he’s far from one dimensional. Waters runs deep, and as our conversation unfolds, he speaks often about the “transcendental nature of love” and even refers to himself as “an optimist.” On his new album, he may sing that “fear drives the mills of modern man,” but three uplifting songs that finish Is This the Life We Really Want? hold out hope that love and compassion can ultimately save the day.

What motivated you to record your new album? It’s your first album of original rock-oriented material in almost two decades.
I had written a narrative and quite few songs for something I envisioned as a play for radio. It was a long complex story about an old Irish bloke whose grandchild has a nightmare about children being killed “over there.” [Waters recently wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post about the slaughter of youngsters in Syria, Nigeria and Gaza.] The grandfather promises the child that they will go on a quest to find out who and why they are killing children.

I eventually recorded a demo of much of the material and played it for lots of people, including Nigel Godrich who mixed my last project, Roger Waters: The Wall [a documentary of Waters’ 2010–13 tour re-imagining Pink Floyd’s The Wall]. He was really interested in it, but persuaded me that the concept was not a record, and asked whether I would consider approaching it another way. He was, “Well, I like these two bits!” [laughs] Those bits eventually became two of the tracks on the album, “Déjà Vu” and “Broken Bones.” In the end, we completely jettisoned the original plot and edited the music down to something more manageable.

Did he feel the original idea was not universal enough?
Yeah, partly. I think that’s fair to say. All throughout the project he was always steering me away from being too politically specific.

What made Nigel a good partner for you to work with?
He works hard, is very focused and is good at what he does. He’s also stubborn, which can be a good thing. So, we negotiated through this project, mostly with me rolling over. [laughs]

He’s also a fan. He grew up on Dark Side of the Moon, and loved all those voices and sound effects, and how those things moved and worked. That’s a magical kingdom for him, and something he urged me to do again. Part of the album is an homage to that and the history of where I come from.

I wondered whether those “found sounds” were part of your personal aesthetic, or something for listeners who might desire that kind of continuity from your earlier work.
It’s what I do! When we recorded Dark Side, I had the idea to add those voices as commentary, and I really liked the impact it made on the music and I still do. I’ve done it on all the records I’ve made. I wouldn’t dream of not doing it.

Your new album has explicit political overtones. At one point you refer to the president as a “nincompoop,” but what does that say about the people who elected him?
It could say two things. It shows Donald Trump duped a certain section of the working class by pretending he cared about them, when it’s obvious he doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Or, it shows that—as in any society—there are people who’re so damaged, they think they are better than other people. In the United States, they’re called “white supremacists,” in other countries they might be called “extremists” of one kind or another. These are people whose inferiority complex is so deeply ingrained that it can manifest in anger and violence. But, more often, it comes out as a trumpeting of their extreme worth, and their belief that they are a master race.

That idea will always strike a chord with some people in society, unless at some point in some Utopian future, we can raise our children in a way they don’t turn into those assholes, which is quite possible. We all know lovely people who aren’t like that, and we all know people who are like that. But I feel sorry for those kinds of extremists, because they must be damaged in some way, and it must be miserable to live with those beliefs.

It’s certainly easy to fall prey to people who tell you that you are special and encourage you to kick the shit out of someone else. That’s one of Trump’s tactics.

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