Phil Manzanera's slightly offbeat guitar style has contributed greatly to Roxy's equally eccentric progress. The production of his solo album "Diamond Head" marks an interesting phase in his development as a guitarist and an all round musician. Our US correspondent Jon Tiven cornered Phil during the recent Roxy US tour and asked him about his development as a musician.
Which type of guitar are you using now?
I've got four different guitars. One's an original Firebird, a red one with gold plating which is rather strange; I haven't seen very many of them. There's a Rickenbacker 12-string, an old Fender Telecaster from 1951, and another guitar which is like a Firebird, it could be a Thunderbird, it's a very strange one, it's got strange pickups on it. Oh, and I've also got a Stratocaster.
Which do you prefer?
They're all good for different things. The Telecaster is the best rhythm guitar in the world, and the Firebird is really incredible for soloing. It's got a fantastic tremelo arm which I use for strange effects. They're all good for different reasons, so I'm gradually trying to build up a collection of good guitars, but I haven't found one yet that's the best for everything, especially for working with Roxy.
What kind of devices do you use?
Over the last three years I've been developing what loosely could be described as a guitar synthesiser, but it all blew up on me on the last European tour, I couldn't bring it to America — it's being fixed. Basically it's a very sophisticated envelope shaper and filter, which was built for me by the person who originally built the VCS3, Jerry Rogers. I had these special pedals built which control the knobs on the synthesiser, so instead of having to do it with your hands, you can do it with a pedal that goes up and down and sideways. I also use a Revox on stage which is controlled by a pedal which starts and stops it.
Is that for echo?
That's for echo and ADT, which is automatic double track, a very fast echo. It's got a thing called vari-pitch, which means you speed up and slow down the motor, which speeds up and slows down the echo. At the moment I'm just using an MXR phase shifter, which I use with the 12-string a lot. Also a fuzz-face, which is an English fuzz box which is really good, it does strange things. It's like a fuzz box, it produces all kinds of peculiar fuzz sounds; a bit like a synthesiser. As I can't use the Revox at the moment I get the soundman to put ADT on certain solos from the mixing desk.
Have you tried the Echoplex?
Yes, the Echoplexes are very good, Eddie (Jobson) uses one at the moment, but I was developing this system with the Revox. The whole difference is that I could control the speed of the motor on the Revox, you can't really do that with the Echoplex because it uses sliding tape heads. The Revox has certain things which you can't do on an Echoplex. But the Echoplexes are excellent, I use them in the studio now and again.
Which guitarists do you admire a lot?
I like lots of different guitarists for different reasons. There's not one person who I think is the be-all and end-all. There's so many different ones, I like Lowell George of Little Feat a lot, I like all of the 'usual' ones that everybody likes, like Hendrix and Clapton, and Harrison, I sort of acknowledge that they are all very good. But then I like people like Ry Cooder on that side of the spectrum, and I like the people in the old Velvet Underground with strange sorts of abstract guitar playing. But really I have sort of catholic tastes in music. I like the best of each style, the Keith Richard type of playing, the Roy Buchanan type of playing, and the stranger guitarists.
When you were learning to play guitar who would you listen to?
As I said, I used to listen to all the favourites, but at a certain point I decided I'd stop listening very closely to the guitarist and rather listen to as many different types of music as posible, to get an overall feel instead of concentrating on one or two guitarists' licks. So I'd listen to twentieth century classical music, rock, jazz, trumpet players, sax players, pianists and just let it all sink in. I'd decided not to listen too closely to too many guitarists of a certain age, so that I wouldn't be heavily influenced, and hopefully come up with something a bit different. I'm still working on it.
What groups do you listen to now?
There's two. German groups I like, Can and Kraftwerk. I like Little Feat. There's John Oates and Daryll Hall, I quite like some of their stuff. I like a few of Todd Rundgren's things. I don't like all of his stuff actually. I find that on his albums there's one or two numbers which are really incredible, but it just exhausts me to listen to too much of stereo trickery. I like Bob Fripp a lot he used to be in King Crimson. I like a lot of black music as well.
What did you do as executive producer of John Cale's album Fear?
What happened was that John had arrived in England about a week before he was to go into the studio, and he hadn't gotten any musicians together. I got a phone call from Richard Williams, the A & R man at Island. I'd expressed some desire before to work with John, and I just got together with John and I helped him get all the musicians and have rehearsals and work out his material; just someone to throw ideas off. I got Eno and a drummer and a bass player and we did some rehearsals and then we just went into the studio and generally helped out with ideas about production, and playing the guitars as well, and just trying to help John get along and get his album done, really.
Do you play any differently with Cale than you do with Roxy music?
Yes, I tried to make an effort to play slightly differently. The songs and the lyrics are already written and to that extent it was totally different that the way Roxy approached numbers, where we just record backing tracks, and we actually have a total backing track before Bryan even tries to write a melody line or lyrics, which is a rather unorthodox way of doing things. To a certain extent, with John, I had sort of total freedom to do what I wanted, I just tried to get different guitar sounds. There weren't a lot of double guitars and overdubs, as in Roxy Music, where you think you're hearing one rhythm guitar and there's actually four, things like that I don't do with John. I sort of stuck with the one guitar, it was really sort of an open sound, whereas Roxy tends to sound quite dense. I did one solo with John that I possibly wouldn't be able to do with Roxy on a track called "Gun", which I like doing and I haven't had a chance to do with Roxy.
What do you think of John Cale's music as compared to Roxy?
Well I think it's just as good, quite frankly, it's different, but it's very, very good, John is doing another album at the moment which is absolutely incredible. John is getting better and better every year, he just amazes me.
What can you tell me about your solo album?
I finished a solo album just the day before I came out to America. That is released in England on the 4th of April. It's called Diamond Head and it's got five vocal tracks and about four instrumentals on it. A lot of music was written before I joined Roxy, but I've gained lots in terms of studio experience in the last three or four years. I'm very, very pleased with it. The people who play on it are from Roxy, Paul Thompson on drums, John Wetton on bass, Eno plays on it and sings on two tracks, Eddie plays strings and Andy plays a bit of sax. There's a bit of everybody really.
Which area are you most interested in, solo artist, producer, or Roxy?
I like doing all of them, and I think most of us like doing all of them. We all do solo albums and come together to do the Roxy albums and the Roxy tours.
I think it's a very healthy state of affairs, because you're constantly dealing with other situations, and then we're all coming back to the central core and bringing in lots of new experiences and knowledge that we've gained by working with other people. I think that it's worked out very well this year. We all did our separate things and then we did Country Life. Hopefully, we can carry on like this. I haven't got any particular preference, I like working in all three spheres.
Are there any personality conflicts now in Roxy?
In fact, it's much better now than it's ever been before. It reached a peak with Eno leaving, and since then we've been getting things sorted out and everyone's been able to fulfil themselves in different ways. It seems to be getting very good.
How has the crowd reaction been so far on this tour?
Very good indeed. We're very pleased with it. This is our second tour because we did a short one last spring, and we really feel this time that we're making a breakthrough. People seem to know the numbers; they get quite ecstatic at the end of the concerts. In Philadelphia it's incredible, it's just like an English audience. It was like after a concert on our first English tour; we really felt we'd made some sort of breakthrough. It was really nice.
Do you feel that there are any big differences between an American audience and an English audience?
It's difficult to say. The Philadelphia audience was just like a great English audience. English audiences vary as well. The North is much more exuberant than the South. Whenever you get into the cities there are usually very cool audiences. The London audiences are very cool because obviously they've seen thousands of groups and they sit there and say "impress me", so to speak. We've had that here in a few of the similar dates we've played to one or two college audiences and it was a bit like that. On the whole they seem to be very good; they applaud in the right places and it seems to go down very well, I think at this stage it's possibly too early to make any generalizations about the differences between English and American audiences, for us, anyway.
Has the group started thinking about a new album yet?
I've certainly got some material which possibly could be used. I'm sure everybody has some material. What usually happens is we just get together about a week before we're going to do the album and just put in all the ideas and start working on them. It's quite spontaneous. I think that's one of the reasons it works. We don't brood on numbers, playing them to each other for months and months and by the time we come to record them we're fed up with them. We just do them there and then and try to get the spontaneity down.
Interview by Jon Tiven
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