Peter talks about the making of the US album, which was released in September 1992. These quotes are taken from around the time of the album’s release.
“I started out with 23 different lyric ideas, on a range of subjects, but the personal stuff seemed to dominate the songwriting, as it had done in my life for the past five or six years. The whole look inside was central for me, and not to have written about it would have been a denial.
I don’t think the tone of the album is dark. It feels quite alive for the fact that it is letting stuff out, and relationships are more directly addressed than before… I feel that by looking in the darkness and by plunging into it, diving into it, that there is some light at the other end of it, which otherwise you bury, it gets suppressed. It feels quite hopeful to me, quite positive.
I always leave a positive escape route open in my songs; they are never completely destructive. In the final analysis, people pay money for my records, that’s something I have to keep in mind. That means that I have no right to wipe them out completely with my songs and leave them no prospect for hope.”￼
“I have never been more sincere in my life. Whether that’s sincere enough, I don’t know. But I do know that I have taken a lot of trouble to give the listener an unadulterated glimpse of my inner life. Therapy taught me that it’s always essential to be open about one’s feelings and emotions, in order to get a grip on them.
The work (on US) was an enormous help to me, because I have the music completely under control, unlike my life. This control function gave me security, and this security enabled me in turn to come to terms better with my problems.
On US, what is primarily involved is communication and relationships between human beings in all possible shades. And what is involved is how you, as an individual, are seen by other people. The idea, then, is of ‘us’ and ‘them’. As soon as a group of people are designated as ‘them’, a remoteness, a distancing, is created right from the outset.
Beside film, I love fine art. On the record we commissioned different artists to do pieces for each track… people like Rebecca Horn, Zadok Ben David, Jordan Baseman, Finbar Kelly, Andy Goldsworthy… there were some really interesting artists that we were able to get to work with. It was a lot of fun for me because I get to meet the artists sometimes, not always, and have some interaction with them. That’s a great by-product of this gig.”
Washing Of The Water
“The groove reminded me a bit of Holiday Inn cabaret music, with a quite dated feel, but I went with it anyway. It works particularly well with the sequencing of the record, the way it leads into Digging In The Dirt.
I find I make a lot of sequencing decisions listening to tapes in the car. A car environment is crucial, with the cheap systems and the harmonics that go along with that. Certain instruments and key elements stand out – things that’ll be smoothed over in a good system or in a studio setup will take on a whole other feel in a slightly dodgy system. The mark of a great record may be that you can listen to it with the window open, with all of the noise of life intersecting with it. If the window happens to be a car window, so much the better.”
Blood Of Eden
“I wanted to use the biblical image in Blood Of Eden because it was the time when man and woman were in one body, and in a sense maybe in a relationship. In making love, that sort of struggle is to get some form of merging of boundaries; it’s a really powerful union. And there are many obstacles to this.”
“Sinead O’Connor’s voice means that musically there is something to set it off – two emotional, needy voices, in a way. We actually had quite a lot of trouble with the song. Initially, Daniel Lanois wasn’t keen on this at all and it didn’t settle down. I couldn’t get the groove to work and it went through probably four or five different feels, and less became more in terms of the rhythm content because it verged on sounding trite. But there was also, in the central part of the song, musically and lyrically, a point of union, a breakthrough. So, emotionally, I feel close to this song.”
“It was a sort of relationship where the woman is very bright, sophisticated, cultured, knows everything about everything. And the man knows nothing about everything. What he does know about is her, and she doesn’t know a lot about herself.”
Come Talk To Me
“Come Talk To Me grew out of a Senegalese groove I’d recorded a long time back with Doudou N’Diaye Rose, the master drummer, and it was a groove that I liked a lot and chopped a little bit of it and added some other beats. I tried to introduce quite a lot of textures so it’s more of a journey than some of the other tracks and starting off with these bagpipes there’s something gutsy and primal about the sound of pipes.
In Come Talk To Me there’s a block in communicating and in fact there was initially with one of my daughters and that got me going with that lyric. I saw that she was angry and was unable to externalise her feelings, so it was a real cry from the heart.”
“One of the things that helped me in group therapy was that when I started out, I was either playing the role of an adult or a child, but by the time I left I was taking on the father role. I think I’m ready to do that now. I used to really like being the youngest guy in every situation. Now I’m among the oldest. I’ve stopped dying my hair – whether I will when I go completely grey, I don’t know. I guess I don’t mind so much being old, but I mind being fat and old.
He’s this mixture – on the one part, sort of rough-and-ready backwoods man, and then on the other, this sort of sensitive, feminine, poetic soul, and I think that struggle makes his work interesting. It’s also partly what makes him work very well with other artists. He’s very good at recognising the magic and pushing the writing.
It wasn’t like the album before where he actually locked me in a room at one point. I think each record I work with Dan, the relationship has changed a little bit. I didn’t listen to him much in terms of lyric until this, but hearing how well he had done his own record meant that I built up quite a bit more respect for him as a writer, too.
I think he’s very gifted. One of the things I like is that he encourages and supports the artists in what they are trying to do. The Nevilles, Dylan, U2, and my records don’t sound the same. There’s maybe some of Dan’s influence there and ways of doing things, but they’re very much the records of the artists being encouraged in their own directions.”
“I could only get these influences from musicians who had no commitment towards Western pop and that was how I got involved with the WOMAD activities and my own Real World label. We had artists from Africa and South America, and from other countries which have no obsessions with charts or pop songs or The Beatles, or whatever. I was obsessed with the idea that music had to breathe if even more intensity is to be inspired into it.
I may get it wrong, and I may not be a great musician in the sense that some people can just hear things and copy or repeat them, but I do try and digest them, really feel them. Even though the songs may ultimately wind up sounding European, that’s okay with me. At the heart, it is world music that I do. It’s all connections. Ultimately, we’re all connected.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I was able to start working on US again, and of course I let my experiences from the preceding three years flow into the numbers on the album. This also included the private matters I was talking about just now, which have always forced their way into my compositions.”
“I learned there isn’t a neutral gear in relationships. You’re either working on moving forwards or you’re slipping back. I used to think of people pretty much as independent individuals in control of their own destinies – sort of determining what happened to them largely by free will. And now, I see families as organisms and think much more in a vertical direction. Some behaviour, particularly in relationships, is stuff that you learn and that you inherit.”
“There’s a great Kenneth Tynan phrase I used in one song that didn’t make it onto the album: ‘We seek the teeth to match our wounds.’ If you’re born in a cage, you yearn for the cage. But you can grow past that. One image I like is that you’re on a boat drifting towards the rocks, and you can be in two positions. You can be downstairs bitching about the weather and the captain and the ship, or you can be at the helm, with the wheel in your hand. Once you accept the responsibility of having got yourself in that situation, that automatically gives you the power to get out of it, if you so choose.”
“The idea is that it must be possible for any talented musicians in the world, regardless of nationality or home, to reach an international public. It doesn’t matter what stylistic direction he may have prescribed for himself; the main thing is that he plays convincingly and with passion.
The more people learn about the cultures of other countries, the more their fear of foreigners will disappear. From this point of view, Real World can undoubtedly be seen as a bulwark against racism, but I still think there is a long way to go before a musician can be born in any country around the world and still have an equal opportunity.”
Digging In The Dirt
“I’m against capital punishment; it’s a subject I feel very strongly about. I started thinking that maybe the reason I’m interested in this is because of my own murderous feelings. I was looking at the way I’d been behaving – sort of passive-aggressive – looking at the bastard in me that I hadn’t really acknowledged, and as I was writing, I was inter-weaving bits of myself.
It’s very safe for people to put murderous stuff on others. It’s one of the illusions of capital punishment; you think that these monsters carry all the badness and if you wipe them out you can sleep easily at night. But actually, they’re made out of the same stuff that we’re made of. We’re not so far away from behaving the same ways. I think it’s quite dangerous, this projection trait. It’s healthier to own the shitty stuff. In some religions, all the positive sides are acknowledged and none of the negatives are owned. If we’re to move on properly, they need to be owned.”
“Digging In The Dirt was looking at the darker side of myself. I was also reading a book about murder and anger expressed in different ways. One was called, ‘Our Desire To Kill’, and I was trying to find the bastard in me, which I can feel and which I feel much more comfortable with. That was allowing me to get into different subject-matter. On the video of the song
It’s a difficult thing. We tried to present some hurt that might later affect adult behaviour. The violence to women was something that I didn’t want to be a part of and was very conscious of … When we were doing the video, we tried not to portray the violence towards the woman but still show that there was anger there. So, the innocent, unsuspecting wasp received most of the aggression.”
“I started on therapy because my marriage started to go wrong about five years ago, and because I wasn’t making much sense of my life in other respects either. After my marriage, the relationship with Rosanna Arquette which followed went wrong, too, and that threw me completely off the rails.
Only therapy could really help me to get through this phase. It’s a kind of therapy in which pairs and singles come together. During this period I discovered the most unbelievable phenomena within myself, characteristics which I value for myself, but also characteristics with which I would rather not be confronted, like unlimited rage, or merciless hatred. I didn’t know about these sides of myself at all, but they were undoubtedly there. And they’re still there today. The effect of the therapy was that I had to come to terms with this. The words and compositions which I wrote during that time, and which are now on the US album, are, logically enough, deeply involved with the process which I underwent from 1987 onwards. All these experiences have had an effect on US.
I think confronting your demons in your work is in some ways easier because you know you can control and edit your work as you like.”
Love To Be Loved
“It can mean: I love in order to be loved or, I really enjoy being loved. I think a lot of examination is put on the giving side of love, and less on the neediness. And I think you actually need to sort out your own neediness before you can give anything to anybody.”
“I don’t remember a whole lot of dreams now, but I think it’s based on being a visual musician. I do a lot of composition and writing in visual terms. I’ll sort of see pictures of the sound and when I’m arranging things I’ll describe them is visual terms. I know painters who paint thinking in sound terms – in rhythms and melodies. It’s the inverse of that.
Words are harder for me sometimes. Words are heavier, and so gravity pulls harder on words than on wordless singing. There’s more weight. Sometimes it feels like wordless singing is just free-flowing emotion and spirit; whereas words, when they work well, register in other parts of the brain, and the reverberations last longer. They’re equally valuable, but they’re doing different jobs.
Peter writes from the rhythm. It’s his constant need for stimulation. He finds a rhythm he believes in, then refers back to it when he wants to work on that ‘song’, so that ‘song’ becomes that beat. There’s a natural process of evolution. By jamming on top of this beat, certain musical or harmonic ideas will surface. Over most of the course of a few weeks, several jam sessions will be done on top of a given beat. Then it becomes a sifting process.
I use a technique called ‘spotting’. Because I’m not responsible for writing, I can stand at the sidelines and when I think I hear something go by that I think is special, I’ll make a note of it” – Daniel Lanois