US, which was released six years after the phenomenally successful So, was, at that time, arguably Peter’s mot personal record yet as he stepped into the confessional to explore and dissect many of the relationship issues he was then experiencing. But US is far from just being bleakly introspective featuring several songs that have gone on to be amongst the most cherished in the Gabriel songbook.
The album also continued the now well-established Gabriel motif of mixing high technology with decidedly analogue contributions from musicians from West Africa, Egypt and Armenia. Reunited with Daniel Lanois as co-producer, Peter extends the hand of collaboration to Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Brian Eno, Peter Hammill and Sinead O’Connor.
“Although US was not nearly as big a seller as So, I’m pleased that it is now getting better regarded, with hindsight, and I think it has some of my best songs on it.
Part of the idea of using US, other than the fact that it was another two-letter title which doesn’t give me huge room for variation, was the sense that there is a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The further back you can push the dividing line, the less problems the world is going to have. The more people you feel compassion, sympathy and understanding for the better. It’s very easy to fall into a state of mind where you just put blame and responsibility on other people and you don’t connect with them. I know that my life works much better when I don’t do that.
In a sense this album was about relationships; on a personal level and on a more social, global level I think the same principles apply. It was a time when, after my marriage had broken up, I was doing a lot of therapy and really trying to learn a lot about what had gone wrong and I think it was a very important period for me. It [the album] was quite heavy for a lot of people in terms of content and also sound. Most records, particularly in America, everyone brightens up the top and makes everything bright, jangly and awake, and I was trying with this record to take a different approach, and make things duller. What seemed interesting to me, I think, to some other people’s ears just seemed bad. There was that issue.
I had a chance to work with Sinead O’Connor who is a fantastic, emotional singer. She sings from the gut and that was a powerful thing for me on the Come Talk To Me track, which I’d written for my younger daughter. I think what happens there was strong and it was also strong performing it live.
I can’t remember the name of the book, but I think it’s something like ‘Why We Kill People’ but it was a sort of psychological study of murderers and Digging in the Dirt was the result of that. It was partly that, but also what is it that gets us to that place?
The artwork I did with the photographer David Scheinmann and there was this sense of again playing with distortions from movement. Because the other theme of the album was relationships, you see me with arms open and this female form that’s pale, and lost, and not able to bring this presence into a fully real place.
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.
For the tour we did around the US album I had a chance to work with Robert Lepage who’s a wonderful visionary, theatre director and designer from Quebec and he knew my music very well and we had a chance to talk it through and I found a sort of ‘blood brother’ in terms of thinking and ideas, so that was great for me. We had two stages: we were exploring contrast so there was a technology stage and a nature stage, male/female, different relationships so you had this more traditional square or rectangular stage and this central round stage and they were linked by a moving walkway. The machinery and technology was on the one, and a tree on the other. We were exploring some of the symbolism of the songs. And that was a lot of fun to work on that too and an education.”