TOFM Contributing Editor Nick Mason meets musical pioneer and global activist Peter Gabriel
Although known initially as lead singer and songwriter in the hugely successful and innovative band Genesis, Peter Gabriel left on the cusp of superstardom to pursue a solo career that is often quixotic and experimental, but always fascinating. But there’s so much more than the music. Gabriel’s work as a humanitarian activist has encompassed many charities.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is his relationship with The Elders. This organisation, which was dreamt up by Gabriel and Richard Branson and initially brought together by Nelson Mandela, consists of independent global leaders who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote shared interests of humanity.
The Official Ferrari Magazine: Mike Rutherford, your old colleague in Genesis, thinks you’re a frustrated drummer…
Nick Mason: Yes, I’ve heard this from Mike. Which prompts the question, are you? And why?
Peter Gabriel: [Smiles] You can hit the drums. And when you hit them hard, they’re loud…
NM: Do you have anger management issues? Actually, from a sociological point of view, the drummer is the one person who cannot operate alone, they can only operate as part of a team.
PG: [laughs] I always tell kids, you should start learning the drums before anything else. Because if you understand the “feel”, there’s something physical that brings you into the music – you can add all the other stuff on top. It was always the drummer I was obsessed with: the Sandy Nelson track Let There Be Drums [from 1961] and Keith Moon. He was the Hendrix of drums. I started as a drummer, but I was crap…
NM: It never held me back. When did you start writing?
PG: Actually I always liked writing. My mum had lots of plans for me, and still is a passionate classical music person. I started trying to write at 12 or 13 and would sneak away at school to the music room to do stuff.
TOFM: Is there some sort of innate rhythmic fascination for you? Is that what took you in the direction of world music and the WOMAD festivals?
PG: My love of drums and voices was what got me in there. I was looking for more interesting grooves than I was hearing on the radio at the time. I remember being on a train when I had the thought of getting these artists from all over the world together in one place, to persuade a few rock bands to play with them and pull in a huge audience. Of course, we got a tiny audience, but it was an amazing event. We were being naïve and obstinate. You know that saying, “If you build it, they will come”? Well, they didn’t really come.
TOFM: Would you want to start out now?
PG: I think it’s difficult to get live work. But if you’re smart and good with visuals and videos, you can probably get yourself noticed on YouTube in front of a global audience in a way that you couldn’t when you were playing in a pub down the road. It’s tougher but there are greater opportunities.
NM: For me, playing live is still the best part of the whole process.
PG: The test for me is if I’m travelling, it’s not the stage I find myself pining for, it’s a piano. It’s much easier for me to generate musical ideas than it is to come up with lyric ideas. And as you get older you get more self-critical.
TOFM: Is there more new material coming?
PG: Yes, I’m working on lots of stuff, and I’m enjoying the process. Lots of collaborations offer themselves up, and these days I’m more inclined to say yes. I’ve just been working on Richard Russell’s album [boss of XL, home of Radiohead, Jack White and The Prodigy], almost as a session player. He’s a smart guy. Skrillex wants me to do something. I’ve recorded a track with OneRepublic called A.I. I’m trying to say yes more often and to have fun.