Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson On Thick As A Brick 2, The Grammys And More

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Videos by American Songwriter

This album is not an official Jethro Tull release. Is that correct?

Well, you can call it what you want really. I don’t mind. I’m happily not in the position where I have to label things too carefully. It is what it is, what it says. It’s my album and that’s indeed the original Thick As A Brick, something I wrote – nobody else did, it was only me. So I guess I’m just having a slightly Roger Waters selfish moment and making people realize I am the author of this, not the members of the band that were there in 1972. Three of them don’t play music anymore. It was never an option to rekindle the musical flames of having the actual musicians that played on it 40 years ago play on this. That was never going to be an option. So I felt this was something that probably deserved to feature my own name rather more prominently, and so it does.

Did the idea of ever doing a sequel to Aqualung occur to you? That almost seems like an easier choice.

Well Aqualung is a collection of songs, and I work in that genre all the time. Indeed, we’ll be working on some more individual songs this year. So Aqualung is just a collection of stuff. It’s some good songs, many of which we continue to play today.  That’s a different sort an album. But if you’re talking about a single, more conceptual piece that offers a much bigger, more tangible challenge that I avoided like the plague for a long time and finally succumbed to the challenge of it during the last year. Aqualung is a different kettle of fish all together.

In a sense, you’re messing with your own legacy by creating a sequel to a beloved album. Do you feel any trepidation about how it will be received?

I’m pretty realistic about it. I think it’s going to result in a deafening response of silent disapproval from the majority of people, who just frankly couldn’t care less. That’s my expectation. I’d be very happy if it meets with approval, not only of hardcore Jethro Tull friends, but a broader audience. I’d be delighted, but I’m not expecting it. This is 2012 and as far as we’re aware, concept progressive rock albums are not the flavor of this decade.

But having said that, I have felt in the last couple years when I’ve been out and about in different parts of the world that there is a new audience for so called prog-rock. It’s an audience that’s basically in their teens and early twenties. Many of them seem to be in the Latin countries – in South and Central America, and Spain, and Italy – not the places I imagined. I would have imagined in prog-rock was still alive and well, it would be in the USA or UK or Germany. But I would have to say; in USA, UK, and Germany I think it’s less appreciated than it is in many other countries of the world. Perhaps in the three major territories record sales wise, I think it’ll be a hard slog for us. But this will probably sell a lot of copies in Brazil. Well, it won’t actually sell because people will just rip it off the Internet and not pay me a dime. So I’m gonna lose money on it, but there you go.

I’m excited to hear it.

Well, it really does sound good. I’m very pleased with it. I think it’s one of those things that when you elect to do something, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard, as one of your presidents famously suggested, there is a huge sense of achievement when you think you’ve actually pulled it off. So for me and the other musicians, there is a definite feeling of “we did it.”

But it would be wrong of me to assume that the rest of the world is gonna love it. I’m sure lots of people are gonna think it’s terrific, but it’s not the easiest ride and I think if anybody was gonna try and make a concept prog-rock album come alive in 2012 in a conspicuous way, then I’d be one of the people who could possibly step up to the plate and deliver. I like to think that I have, but I’ll let you and everybody else be the judge of that.

Your singing style is very distinctive in the way that you chain notes together. Where does that come from?

I have no idea. What I do know, from the occasion that I work with other people who have sung some of my songs, is that people do find it quite hard to get the phrasing and even to get some of the melodies I use. They’re not so typical of the genre pop and rock music. So it’s not easy stuff. As a guitar player – and I’m not a great guitar player – but what I play apparently seems to be quite difficult for a lot of other musicians to copy.

I mean, “Thick As A Brick” being a case in point. It’s actually quite hard to play that line. A lot of people give it a go, but they don’t really quite manage to make it work. I remember the guitar player of Red Hot Chili Peppers telling me how long he’d had to struggle to play the intro to “Thick As A Brick” and how he was so impressed with Martin Barre’s guitar playing skills. He was determined he would master it. I told him it wasn’t Martin Barre playing it. It was me.

These things that you can do – there are probably some things you can do that I would think, “wow, how does he do that?” I could never get close to it. We all have our little talents and skills and quirks and things that we somehow manage to master. Most of us, at some level, manage to do that and we confound other people because they can’t figure it out. But it doesn’t make us better or worse than them. We just have our little idiosyncratic specialties. Yours might be washing up. You might be a whiz in the kitchen at washing up and putting the dishes away after a meal. I’m sure you’d be much better than I am. The chances are you’re probably better at football or tennis or swimming.

This year’s Grammy Awards are coming up. Will you be watching?

I never quite followed what the Grammys are. I know what it’s supposed to be about. It’s another one of those award ceremonies that I’m afraid I pay little attention to.

Jethro Tull is famous for winning in the hard rock category.

We were nominated in the category of best hard rock/metal performance. Nobody paid a blind bit of notice, because basically they thought, “Well, there’s no way they’re gonna win. It’s gonna be Metallica.” So no one actually paid any attention when we were nominated. I scarcely did myself because I was told by the record company, “you’re never gonna win it, because Metallica is the super new hot band and they are heavy metal.” So we didn’t give it too much thought. It was only when we actually won it that I thought, “wait a minute. We aren’t heavy metal at all.”

We got given the Grammy for being a bunch of nice guys who had never won a Grammy before and the 6,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Artists and sciences decided on their infinite wisdom that they should give us a little nod and a wink for being not eligible in the best male vocalist category or the sexy female with the longest legs category. Since they didn’t have a category for the best one-legged flute player, we kind of just got voted into something, however improbable, and that was the end of it.

Well, that wasn’t the end of it. Poor old Alice Cooper had to go on stage and collect it on our behalf. He got booed off the stage, I think, by fans of Metallica and members of the media, who possibly quite rightly thought we shouldn’t have been there.

Maybe they’ll create a category for Thick As A Brick 2 next year, like best sequel record.

[Laughs] Yeah, I think they’ll have to invent a new category for it. I’m not quite sure what the categories for the Grammys are these days, but I doubt that Thick As A Brick would qualify for any.


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