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Interviews & articles
 The Artist Shop IRC Chat with Robert Wyatt on Sunday, March 21, 1999

WotanCCC: Welcome to today's Artist Shop - An afternoon with Robert Wyatt..

Robert Wyatt is a true giant in progressive music. He was a founding member of the legendary Soft Machine (not to mention Matching Mole and other bands) and one of the main pillars of the entire Canterbury movment.

Robert has recently joined the Thirsty Ear label and has released a new CD called Shleep. Robert, thank you for joining us today.

GaryArtistShop: Hello, Robert. So glad to have you here.

Robert Wyatt: Thank you very much for having me. It's an honor.

Theuglyjanitor says: Where did the title "Shleep" come from? And what does it mean?

Robert Wyatt: Shleep, I couldn't think of whether to call it something from sheep or what. It's a kind of Yiddish thing. You do it in America as well - money, shmoney - the 'sh in front of it kind of negates it. It's kind of a joke thing.

I suppose it means 'sleep not'. It means sleep - chance would be a fine thing! It just means I wish I could sleep. That's what it meant. But it's not a complaint, really. Just a joke. I just remembered a saying which might be appropriate which is 'no sleep for the wicked'

Tandomtask says: What contemporary music interests you? Are there any artists out there doing work you really respect?

Robert Wyatt: Yes, there certainly are. I'm thinking of some americans I've heard recently. There's Karen Mantler, daughter of Mike Mantler and Carla Bley.
With parents like that she should be good and she is! Other great daughters include Emily Haines, daughter of Paul Haines, the Canadian poet who does really good songs. And to round up my trio of daughters theres Anja Gabarek, daughter of Jan Gabarek... There's a pianist I've been listening to...improvised music...since working with Evan Parker.

Most recently I've been listening to a pianist named Matthew Shipp, a fellow Thirsty Ear artist. He has a couple of CD's with a violinist named Matt Manieri which are very good. And then there's a keyboard player named John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood. I really like that band and many other bands I hear on CD from the Knitting Factory in New York.

As for rock'n'roll, Paul Weller, his Heavy Soul album.

WotanCCC: Speaking of Paul Weller, were you a Jam fan?

Robert Wyatt: I always liked Jam, yeah!

WotanCCC: Great band, I wish they had been more accepted here in the states.

Robert Wyatt: He reminds me of a very English phenomenon a decade or two ago which was the Mod. The meaning changed when it left England. And I haven't time to go through the sociology of the word, but it's a kind of style, a kind of attitude that I've always found admirable.
In America the word 'mod' I think lost the political edge it had in England. It's not just about style.

WotanCCC: Very artistic connotations.

Regneag says: Robert, Alfie does the brilliant illustrations for your recordings - does she exhibit anywhere?

Robert Wyatt: Well, Alfie has exhibited in the past, but her life is so full, perhaps,
that she has too many talents and too many commitments to accumulate enough material for many exhibitions. But her artwork is crucial to my records and in particular these re-releases.

Doktor_j says: just before your accident, there was supposed to be a reformation of Matching Mole - rumour has it that some of the material planned for the MM record was re-worked and became "Rock Bottom" (one of my all-time favourite albums, by the way!) - is there any archival material that might someday still be released?

Robert Wyatt: Well, thank you for the kind words about Rock Bottom!
No, most of my practicing and rehearsals were done on a tiny cassette player and I would be embarrassed to let anybody hear them because until I get things right, I really do get them very wrong (LOL)!

Regneag says: Robert, Are you aware of any CD releases of "Loves Makes Sweet Music?"

Robert Wyatt: The record company that owns "Love makes Sweet Music" won't let anyone release it and won't release it themselves. I think it was Polygram or Polydor. I've heard of copies of the original single still in existance. But I haven't got one. Maybe Kevin Ayres who wrote the song has a copy, I don't know. I myself haven't heard it for thirty years. I think I preferred the b-side (LOL)! Kevin wrote that, too, BTW. It was called Feeling, Realing and Stealing. A much better title we would all agree. I don't mind talking about thirty years ago, but it's sometimes hard to remember since I was probably drunk at the time (LOL)

Aboxofrogs says: Being an artist thats been working a long time, do you have any thoughts about the music industry and how it works you can share with us?

Robert Wyatt: Well, it might sound, from what I've just been saying as if I think they're all scoundrels, but I'm happy to be able to say now that I've found some really helpful and friendly record people to work with. It's just a question of mutual trust, mutual confidence, and nobody thinking that they own anybody else.
In the case of Thirsty Ear in the US and Hannibal/Ryko in England and the rest of the world, I couldn't ask for friendlier or more consciencious people. So my advice to anybody starting out in the business would simply be to look before you leap.
It's not all bad. Some of it's very good, even for musicians.

Doktor_j says: i read on Phil Manzanera's web-site that you will be on his new album - can you tell us more about it?

Robert Wyatt: Well, only a few weeks ago Phil and one of his engineers, Jamie Johnson, visited me in my own music room at home where I added a few bits 'girly' choruses to his husky vocals and the occasional note on my new toy which is a cornet. I really like his material, that he's doing now. Up till now the Manzanera that became well know was the Manzanera that's the son of an Englishman. Now the fact that he's also the son of a Columbian woman is taking it's place in his repertoire. And I can hear a romantic side to his nature that I think other people will really warm to.

Strongcomet says: Hi Robert: you probably know that you have gathered a lot of followers and fans throughout the years. Do you feel a need to know who they are, communicate with them (besides this chat), or do you just take it as a side effect of your work ?

Robert Wyatt: Well, first of all, hello and it's nice to here from you (strong comet has put up a Wyatt website for which I'm grateful). I tend to agree with an actor I heard on the radio recently who said, 'Strictly speaking, what other people think of me is none of my business.'

In other words, I try not to be effected to much by either praise or insult. I don't do live gigs so I don't meet many of the people who listen to my music. But I'm very grateful they're out there somewhere and all I can really say is, 'Thank you.

'The communication on the whole has to be on my side anyway, but through the music. And through Alfie's paintings. Because as you probably immediately understand, I'm slow thinker in real life conversation. Also I don't want to embarrass people by expanding on opinions they may not share.

I don't expect people to think what I think out of politeness as I know that many musicians that I enjoy have inspirations and ideas that simply baffle me. I'll leave it at that.respisces says: Your earlier records were often markedly political - but Shleep seems to downplay this element.

Respisces says: Your earlier records were often markedly political - but Shleep seems to downplay this element. Has your political outlook changed over the years?

Robert Wyatt: I love these names! Ivor Cutler once asked me, 'You still a communist?' And I replied, 'Are you still Jewish?' You are what you are, you know, after a while.
The most important thing to me was dealing with the nightmare of Apartheid. Not just because I have South African friends, but because the very idea that you can have an officially racist government seemed to me a betrayal of what my father fought for in WW II. And if Apartheid still existed, I would be on the barricades.
And I haven't gone to sleep on that yet.

Because there are still governments which see foreigners and even different cultures in their midst as aliens and inferiors.

Darbyccc says: what do you think of the whole mod scene overall musically?

RobertWyatt: In England mod is a contraction of the adjective, Modernist and originally it simply meant that a whole bunch of mainly working class English kids took their inspiration from Black American music, particularly modern jazz and soul music. It's inspired, I suppose, what became known as blue eyed-soul in the end, a universal phenomenon.

But there's something very specific about the way, for example, Paul Weller found a way to expand his music by listening to an awful lot of Marvin Gaye records. In England, Mod also implied a certain 'cool' to use a word that's been much overused in the last 10 years. And discretion, in matters of dress for example, which may surprise people who think that 'mod' meant flamboyant and colorful. In fact, mods were in great contrast to the more ostentatious arm waving rockers, etc. and teddy boys who did not appreciate the world of secret codes that Mod came out of.

But that doesn't answer the question.
If Mod music means The Jam and all the two-tone bands such as the Specials and Madness, then, yes, I love it!

Doktor_j says: there was an article in the March "MOJO" that said you were picking out words from an Esperanto dictionary to use as titles for your next album - how close are we to having more new music from you?

Robert Wyatt: Alas, I've only got as far as the Esperanto dictionary (LOL!). I'll explain the process with analogy.

Think of a cactus in the desert just sitting there being prickly for years and suddenly blooming with pretty little flowers for a very short time before returning back to the apparent inertia of it's prickly state.
That's how I function. Blame it on the desert I live in (LOL)!

But I have recorded a couple things since Shleep, just individual songs including my first ever song in Italian for a CD released only in Italy on Sonica Records.
It was for a compilation of songs I have sung or have written.
The rest of the songs were sung and played by some lovely Italian rock bands who made a CD called Robert Wyatt e Noi. They invited me to contribute a track to their record of my songs. So I did a song by one of these groups called CSI. I have also recorded recently for a Spanish CD dedicated to Lorca who's centenary it was last year.

Regneag says: Is there any plans to re- release the "Obscure" album that you did with Brian Eno and Carla Bley?

Robert Wyatt: Ah, what a good idea! I would love to see that on a CD! That would be up to Brian, I suppose. I have one very happy memory in particular of that recording which is of Carla Bley teaching me the songs that I sang. A couple of John Cage tunes. I had difficulty with it as simple as it is. Carla was very patient with me and I'm grateful for that.

Kentsmith says: What projects (music or otherwise) are you looking forward to next?

Robert Wyatt: Well, at the moment, what I'm doing (and I don't know what it'll lead to), I'm practicing playing cornet, but it's really just cornet karaoke with me favorite records ;-) But owing to my limited technique, it's the slow versions of songs that I can play with. Most recently I've been duetting with John Coltrane on his 'Ballads' LP. Who knows where this will lead?

I do write, of course, songs and words. But slowly. So many things seem to come in the way in real life and I love listening to music and watching videos and sitting around with Alfie so much that I probably don't do as much work as I should on my next project.

Thetrip says: What would it take to get you to come here to the States for some performances -- not, God forbid -- a dreaded tour, of course!

Robert Wyatt: LOL! Thanks for the idea, but I just don't do live gigs. I tried a few in the wheelchair, but I found the logistics of organizing events around the chair too difficult to be worth the effort and the money I would need. But thanks very much for the idea. Recently a few other people have been playing my songs live. I know that Karen Mantler among other people sang a couple of my songs at the Knitting Factory a short while ago. And there is a concert being organized for October in England of a band put together by trombonist Annie Whitehead playing some of my stuff. I like the idea in particular of women singing my songs. Since my voice seems to be suggesting that direction in the first place. I may be a biological male, by I'm a musical hermaphrodite.

Phasedin says: Robert, with Midi nowadays, are you tempted to do an all-solo recording perhaps of keyboards and hand percussion? I'd love to hear it!

Robert Wyatt: Well, even without the use of anything particularly modern, I certainly enjoyed making Dondestan and trying to sound like a whole band all on my own. But I do get lonely in the studio even with a friendly engineer like Jamie. So I think I will most often be inviting friends to help me out. But I don't know. Maybe they won't come. Then I'll have to do a solo record again (LOL!).

WotanCCC: Is there anything else you would like to mention before we conclude today?

Robert Wyatt: I would just like to say thank you very much for setting this up. And I can now answer and earlier question (I told you I think slowly) by saying, I now realize it feels great to hear people who are interested in what I do!

WotanCCC: Its been our pleasure Robert. And I think your fans are very cool. (not to overuse the word..) B-{)}

Robert Wyatt: LOL! Well, it's a good word, let's face it!

WotanCCC: Looks like our time is up. I'd like to thank everyone for joining us tonight. Robert, we appreciate your taking the time to come and chat with us tonight, and hope you'll come back to Talk City again soon!

Robert Wyatt: Thank you everybody. Have a nice spring!

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