Interview: Bryan Ferry


Bryan Ferry has been making fantastic music for over four decades. It all started with Roxy Music’s 70’s art/glam rock period (“Virginia Plain”, “Do The Strand”, “Love is the Drug”), which evolved into the lushness of 1982’s Avalon album (“More Than This”, “Avalon”). Yes, Roxy Music is truly “For Your Pleasure”.

Along the way he also has had sexy solo hits (“Slave To Love”, “The Right Stuff”) and plenty of cool covers (“The ‘In’ Crowd”, “Jealous Guy”, “Let’s Stick Together”). And throughout, Ferry has been the epitome of the suave, stylish, and sophisticated rock star.

This interview was for a preview article for for Ferry’s concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on 8/19/17. It was done by email, with answers received on 8/4/17. (Simon Emmett photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

Bryan Ferry: A mixed set of songs from my Roxy Music and solo albums. I have a nine piece band on the tour, featuring the guitarists Chris Spedding and Jacob Quistgaard, and sax player Jorja Chalmers.

JM: To my ears, the first Roxy Music album had a wonderful balance between playfulness and seriousness, and between “the past” and “the future”. Was such balance part of the band’s initial musical vision?

BF: Good to hear that. The album was made with a very good spirit of adventure, and we tried to temper the overall seriousness of the project with a sense of fun. And yes, I suppose we did hope to be all things to all men! We certainly were interested in exploring various musical genres, and of course influenced by many types of music. Having the oboe as a featured instrument, plus the many synthesiser treatments made for a unique sound.

This November we are releasing a new special edition box set of the first Roxy Music album, complete with the original demo recordings and loads of previously unpublished photographs.

JM: What are some of your memories from Roxy Music’s first tour of the US?

BF: When I look at the tour schedule from that time I’m amazed how full on it was. We played a puzzling series of gigs – some nights in small clubs and sometimes as an opening act in big arenas. It was humbling experience, having just come from a run of ecstatic audiences in Europe.

JM: In addition to introducing the world to Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music also introduced the world to Brian Eno. Are there any Brian Eno stories from the band’s early days that you’re willing to share?

BF: Eno was the only person we knew in those days who had a good tape recorder and after he came to record us he stayed on to join the band. As well as being incredibly inventive in the studio, he brought a great stage presence to the live shows.

JM: The album Country Life is my favorite amongst the Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry albums. What are your reflections on that particular album?

BF: I remember it being a very intense and passionate process. There is a lot of music in there, and we made it very fast, using two of the studios at Air. Eddie Jobson made a significant contribution, especially his strings on “The Thrill Of It All”. I think “Bitter-Sweet” is one of the strongest and most interesting tracks, and I have recently re-recorded it for a German television series called ‘Babylon Berlin’.

JM: How did the song “Love is the Drug” come together?

BF: Andy Mackay came to me with a slow-moving chord sequence which I thought was really promising. We sped it up and I went away and came up with the lyrics and the title. Chris Thomas and I had the idea of putting some sound effects on the introduction, which we recorded outside my house in London. The bass line was really strong and was played by the late great John Gustafson.

JM: A case could be made that the Avalon album represents one of the most successful transitions of a 1970’s band into a 1980’s band. What were you going for when you started working on that album?

BF: I wanted to make an atmospheric set of songs where mood and groove were equally important, and hopefully with a few good tunes thrown in. We worked in a number of locations including Compass Point in the Bahamas and the Power Station studio in New York. I started writing the songs when I was staying on the west coast of Ireland. The title track was the last song to be completed, and seemed to encompass the mood of the entire album. Two of the musicians in my current band, Neil Jason the bass player and Fonzi Thornton the singer were featured on Avalon.

JM: In addition to your original songs, you’ve done a number of cool covers – “The ‘In’ Crowd” is my favorite. What is the most important thing about a song that inspires you to cover it?

BF: It has to be a song that you have a strong feeling for, both the melody and the lyrics, and it’s always an interesting adventure to see where the song takes you. I think a good song can usually be interpreted in many different ways. Some of these covers have become an integral part of the repertoire of the live shows.

JM: Which is your favorite Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry album cover, and can you tell a bit of the backstory behind it?

BF: I guess the first Roxy Music album cover is still my favourite. There is a certain purity and simplicity there which makes it memorable. I thought at the time it would be a good idea to have an eye-catching ‘pin up’ kind of image on the cover, rather than a shot of me and the band. This of course relates to my Pop Art background, when I studied under Richard Hamilton at Newcastle University in the 1960’s. The fashion designer Antony Price, the photographer Karl Stoecker and the artist Nick de Ville all worked with me on this cover. There were numerous outtakes from this session which have featured in the new box set I mentioned.

JM: What did you learn from Richard Hamilton that had the most influence on your musical career?

BF: Richard taught by example and it was hugely inspiring to be working alongside him in the same building where he produced some of his best work. He was a disciplined perfectionist and his serious approach, coupled with a humorous sense of irony made a big impression on me.

JM: I find it intriguing that early on you tried out to be the vocalist for King Crimson. What do you remember about that audition?

BF: I really liked King Crimson’s first album and when I heard they were looking for a new singer I went along to meet them. When I got there it turned out they were looking for a singer who could play bass and so it didn’t work out. However, it proved to be a very fortuitous meeting, as I subsequently recorded with Robert Fripp, and Pete Sinfield became the producer of the first Roxy Music album.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

BF: Follow your instincts and work hard.

JM: Do you have anything in the works?

BF: I’ve been touring pretty intensely for the last couple of years so I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio this winter. So I’ll cross fingers and hope for the best!


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