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Sylvie Simmons...Interview with Jack Nitzsche, June 1981

(Page 1) Knocking on heavens door...St. Giles Cripplegate.

Your new album St. Giles Cripplegate is in fact an old album, isn't it - originally released in 1973?
They didn't press enough copies to release it in California I think. I heard they pressed 1300.

Why have you re-released it?
Karel Beer, Initial Records, heard it and was interested in it. First of all someone at EMI was going to re-release it for a new series they were starting, then that fell through and Karel picked it up. Not very interesting stuff is it? (He says this as if bored with the whole thing)

Jack Nitzsche
(Photograph Chris Walter 2006)

That surprises me. I thought this must be a project very dear to your heart, and yet you sound incredulous that someone wants to put it out again, that if it sells, it sells?
Sure. It's 10 yrs old! I'm glad that it's out again, but if I were to do something like that now it would be much different

In what way?
It's pretty derivative music on St Giles, it was my first opportunity to use a symphony orchestra, and so it was like an exercise for me to write other composers' styles, and I think now, 10 years later, I'd write something that would be more original.

You sound a bit embarrassed about it.
It's been a long time. I'm not embarrassed about it - I think it was done well. I would just do things differently now.

And are you doing anything now?
It doesn't seem that the record business now makes much room for new music. It's all formula, it's all homogenized music, so if some new interest springs up from this European release of course I'd love to do that.

Can we talk a bit about the genesis of St Giles?
I'm not very good at this! I'd been writing things on my own for a long time, not for any particular project, just writing for myself, and I'd done a lot of work with Neil Young - his managers were Elliot Roberts and David Geffen - and since I was working a lot with Neil they took me on as a client, and I had a long history of recording with Warner Brothers, so they signed me once again as an artist to do whatever I wanted to do pretty much. So Elliot Roberts set this up to go to London and record these pieces. Mo Ostin didn't have any idea what we were going to do. So I came back and played him a classical album - well you can imagine the reaction. They didn't have a department that handled classical music, they didn't know what to do with it, what it was. The album was recorded, released and two weeks later it was history. So then I had a meeting with Mo Ostin and Joe Smith, and Joe Smith asked me what I was trying to do, and I said 'Just trying to change things, musically, a little bit'. He said 'We're not interested in music here; we're interested in numbers That was my first hint that that was where the record business was going I knew it was coming to that anyway, but it didn't feel good. I realised that the record business had finally come into its own, and everybody had learned how to make records, learned the formulas, and that was all they were interested in.

So before that you were more idealistic, then - you hadn't learnt the rules yet?
I guess I was nave. I thought there was a chance for new things to happen. Once again it feels like music could grow.

If you were that idealistic, why let the album die - why not go out and flog it yourself on street corners?
I don't know that that album was so much of a change - it was just a beginning for me to do something besides rock and roll. I didn't feel like staying with that project and going into Hollywood and trying to sell it on Hollywood and Cahuenga -- I wanted to go on to other things. So what occurred then was that the only outlet for anything creative in music would have to be film and not records anymore, so that's what the album did for me more than anything - it got people in film to realise I could make different kinds of music other than the Ronettes.

But back to how you came to make the album...
It just seems like something from the past has resurfaced here - I don't know why...Karel Beer at Initial Records said that it's truthful and any music that is truthful should be available. Nice. I wish there was more of that. I heard that the church was about to go out of business. I asked the engineer I was working with to find a place in London where there would be a natural echo delay of at least six seconds, and an engineer who works with the London Symphony Orchestra a lot went around and came up with this church, which was beautiful, and since then I hear they're booked quite solid. They do a lot of recording in the church now.

You started something then?
I hope they give me some good marks and I get into heaven.

Do you think that's the only way you'll get in?
Possibly.

Have you played it since its re-release?
I played the new pressing.

How would you describe it?
I can't think of anything clever to describe the album. Except that it's a gamble for the guy who's putting it out. You have to come up with the adjectives.

You said earlier that it was derivative - of whom? Who were you listening to then?
Several influences. You listen to the album and there's nothing startlingly new in there, is there? When it came out on paper it sounded like a lot of other people - it did to me! I was proud of myself that I was able to write various styles - I never knew how it would turn out when it was on paper, I could just hear it in my head to a certain degree. Neil Young did a record called A Man Needs A Maid and he wanted it to with a symphony orchestra, so I said why don't you use the LSO - I thought it was a joke -he said okay, we all went to London, I did two arrangements for the Harvest album using part of the LSO, and there was time left over with the orchestra so I brought along a piece I had written for a symphony orchestra, and he said 'Go ahead and try it', so I recorded it and I realised it was pretty good - the one called #1 on the album - and that's how it started. Elliot Roberts, because the power of having Neil and Joni Mitchell on Reprise was able to have Mo Ostin say, 'Do what ever you want'. I didn't have to bring in demos. It would have been difficult anyway to bring in demos.

Was there any great significance to just giving the pieces numbers?
I didn't want to title them. It's the same thing, I can't be specific about anything. If I put a title on a piece of music it's saying what the piece of music is, what it's supposed to mean, so I just put the numbers on them in the order in which they were composed. I wasn't trying to be clever. It turns out that it really seems like a pretentious thing to do, but it wasn't anything other than the order in which they were composed.

So it's not numerology, spelling out the name of a guru (laughs)
No I wish it would, nothing as deep as that.

You're not into anything weird at all - at least not that pertains to music?
Yes. Well. The one called #1 - I took a lot of peyote once, in the 60s, and I heard incredible music and there's a section there that comes as close as I could come to making the sounds that I heard while under the influence of peyote.

Sylvie Simmons 2006



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