Keith Richards Discusses The Rolling Stones' Latest Album in 1994 Guitar World Interview
What accounts for the spirit of experimentation on Voodoo Lounge?
I think the Stones found their feet making this record. Not that they've totally ever lost their footing, but they were standing on one leg a bit, I think. I can only say that at the beginning of last year, when we were starting to get songs together and make this album... well, I can't say it was planned or anything. I just feel the kind of record that came out was the one I was looking for. I can't say I had much to do with it; whatever comes out tends just to come out with the Stones.
But when I listen to it now that it 's finished and realize a year has gone by, it's about as close as I've gotten to the target in a while.
In the past, when the Stones came up with some different kinds of songs or arrangements, did you ever hold back because it didn't have that "Stones" sound?
That's probably true. I think a lot has to do with the fact if that if you're just writing songs for the Rolling Stones, you kind of fall into your own little list of taboos: "We're not going to repeat this. We're not going to do that again."
But now we do work when we're not in the Stones. I think that was one of the biggest stumbling blocks we hit on the head. How long can you do this in a total vacuum without ever trying other things or getting feedback from other people? A lot of what came out on this album came from what we did in the time between the Stones stuff. When you're working with other people, you stroke a lot of other areas you were unsure of going down before. You just kind of grow, you know? It 's better than doing nothing, which was our big problem.
It's really made that much of a difference?
It has. Up until the mid-Eighties, I wasn't at all happy with the idea of the Stones splitting up. I thought one of the most important things about the Stones was that they stuck together and did their thing, and that's it. But we reached the point where you realized you can't stay inside there all the time. I wasn't going to be the first one, though; for me, I think the horror was the idea of putting myself in a conflict of interest-that if l wrote a song, should I keep it for myself or give it to the Stones? My attitude at that time was: ''This is what I worked for, so why should I put myself in that position?"
But at the same time, Mick and I couldn't just be in the Rolling Stones and do good work all the time. After two years off, we always had to wind up the giant machine. The Stones really got too big for their own good as a band; the idea of going back in and knowing we'd spend six months putting this band back on the rails again. No matter how good you are, you just don't get together after two years off and get a great rock and roll band. What you get is a load of crap.
The way things are now, I can look forward to going back there. I know everyone's been playing. It gives the Stones a chance to forge ahead instead of catching up to our past. Steel Wheels that proved it to us: in order to keep the Stones together at this stage, we do need to work outside the band as well. It's something you have to accept.
Are you conscious of the way the Stones are "supposed" to sound?
I suppose so. For a time you're aware of that. You're also aware that you're making a record once every three years, so you've got to do what you want in 11 or 12 songs, which doesn't give you a lot of room to maneuver. So you feel obliged to come up with a certain material that is "Stones" material.
I think we've been freed up a little bit from that in a way that we were freer in the earlier years. Back then we didn't care where a piece of music came from; if we liked it, we'd do it. Now we feel we can pull some more styles together. Mick and I don't feel like we have to follow our own self-imposed rules; if anything, the rule is to not follow the rules. [laughs]
When did you start putting Voodoo Lounge together?
I sat down with Mick in New York in February of '93 and said, "What are we gonna do?" We sort of had a glass of wine in his kitchen, and the only word -- and the word that counted -- was focused. We said, "If we can look down the same telescope, I think we've got a good one here." That was the real word, to get everybody focused on the same thing.
So you came up with this incredibly broad album.
True. [laughs] You say one thing and it's always another. But maybe that was the focus -- maybe the lens was broad enough that everyone can see it. To me, the important thing was -- as usual --that when I first sit down with Charlie Watts, I'll know within 12 bars. We don't have to work on the playing now or "Oh my, we're a bit rusty here," which was the case in the Eighties. When Charlie came in, the band was flying and we knew this would be easy. There's nothing like confidence.
Did the others fall in line with that way of thinking?
Oh, yes. Definitely. The sessions lent themselves to trying something different, to experimenting. When you're with a band and you're in a studio, half the time you're guessing their temper and their mettle at that time. What I found interesting about these sessions were that Charlie Watts wanted to experiment. That was a great sign; he doesn't do that very often, but suddenly he said, "Let's set my drums up in the stairwell." And I said, "Well, things are looking up!" [laughs]
Yeah, on "The Moon Is Up." We were working on it and decided "Let's change the sound of everything slightly." Charlie ended up playing a garbage can with brushes, in the stairwell. I put an acoustic guitar through a Leslie amp and then miked it. Mick sings through a harmonica mike. It's a deliberate thing; "Let's make this swirl rather than just play it."
We did that on "Through And Through," too. I said to Charlie, "It's missing something, but I don't know what to do with it." He said, "I'll take my drums into the stairs," and he came up with this incredible drum sound, and we were off.
That's what you're looking for: Don't just put the formula on it, but take it out a little further and see what you can do. It's bound to change if you keep on doing things. The image changes as you change. There's not much you can do about growing up, especially at this stage of the game. I've never rushed for it, but I'll accept it gratefully now that it's got me. [laughs]