Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
|Phil Manzanera in his studio in London|
month at the Fuji Rock Festival, it will be in front of an adoring audience.
"I think lots of Japanese musicians are big Roxy fans who've been influenced by what we've done over the years," Andy Mackay, the British band's oboist and saxophone player said over the phone from his home in southwest England recently.
"We have influenced a whole load of people," guitarist Phil Manzanera recently said in an interview for The Daily Yomiuri at his studio in West London during a break from rehearsals for the band's comeback tour.
But Roxy Music's set at Fuji Rock is not going to be a procession of hits, Manzanera explained.
"We are rehearsing a whole bunch of stuff that we've never played before. Obviously, there'll be people expecting to hear some of the well-known songs, but we have to also play some substantial musical stuff to try and win new people over," he said.
The 63-year-old Mackay reiterated this with his assertion that Roxy Music are as relevant as they have ever been.
"What we're doing is still a lot weirder than a lot of contemporary bands. There's still a sort of strangeness about the way Bryan [Ferry] sings and about the way Phil and I play, which would sound quite odd if it was a new band now," he said.
Formed in 1970 by Ferry, Brian Eno, Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson, the band was joined by by Manzanera almost a year later. The group's eponymous debut album hit the shelves in June 1972, bringing with it a revolutionary mix of rock 'n' roll and the burgeoning electronic sound, sparked by the wider availability of synthesizers that created something otherworldly. For Manzanera, this concept was not such a far-fetched notion.
"There's a Roxy world. You look at the [album] cover, you hear the music and it's got a 3-D aspect to it. I think we always concentrated on making the musical context that we put our songs in interesting," he said.
Eno left Roxy Music in 1973, shortly after the band's second album, For Your Pleasure, came out. But his departure didn't have a detrimental effect on the group, as the three studio albums that followed all dented the Top 5 in the British charts. A three-year hiatus followed, with 1979 seeing the release of Manifesto, Flesh and Blood and Avalon, a trio of albums that marked a move from art rock to mainstream pop.
"There was a conflict between what Bryan wanted to do--in that he wanted to be a big star and a solo artist and also an artist with a capital 'A'--and combining that with success around the world. When Eno left, the chances of Roxy continuing as a very strange and perhaps not particularly commercially successful band maybe changed. I don't know--that's one of those big ifs," Mackay speculated.
The late '70s-early '80s Roxy Music was certainly a much mellower version than its early-'70s version, with its glittery suits and electronic wizardry. The U.S. market beckoned, as Mackay recalled.
"We focused on trying to break America, that was the idea. We recorded in New York and Nassau, in the Bahamas. We were trying to get a different focus, it never quite worked in that we were still seen as pretty weird in the United States, and only Avalon ever broke through into any sort of serious sales figures," he said.
Yet the lack of Roxy Music releases since Avalon 28 years ago has not been for the want of trying, as both Mackay and Manzanera recalled.
"Well, it's disappointing. We were right on the point of doing a new album about three years ago. We'd got into the studio and got quite far, but it just didn't really come together--[it's] difficult to know why; I think Bryan was finding it difficult to write, to focus on finishing songs and doing lyrics. I think we were all being pulled by other things we wanted to do and it got so far and then didn't really go any further," Mackay said.
Mused Manzanera: "We went into the studio after the last time we played live and we recorded 18 tracks. Some were done here, some were done 'round the corner, and Eno came along. And then, what happened was that we lost the momentum somehow. Maybe we weren't excited enough to finish them off, so maybe now going out and playing again live, we'll revitalize ourselves into working together again. What's most important is that you do a good body of work. It's more important to have something beautiful that you're proud of...We don't have a manager, there's no career path, we're just on our musical journeys. Whatever happens, happens."
The Fuji Rock Festival, featuring Roxy Music, Muse, Massive Attack, MGMT, Belle and Sebastian and more, will take place at Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawamachi, Niigata Prefecture, on July 30-Aug. 1. For more information, visit www.fujirockfestival.com.
(Jul. 16, 2010)