Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason Talks About ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’
Ticking away the drum beats that make up the world's greatest prog band. That's how Nick Mason spent 30 years. Now the legendary drummer is spending time pushing some excellent Pink Floyd re-issues.
In 2011, Pink Floyd gave diehards a thrill (while indoctrinating the next generation) with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon immersion box. The package is a stunning six discs devoted to a single album including a new remaster, a live version, an outtakes disc, DVDs with surround-sound mixes and live shows.
Overkill? Let's remember Dark Side spent 741 weeks on the Billboard album chart and is closing in on 50 million copies sold worldwide. The day after Mason watched the Shins do a killer version of "Breathe" on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, he phoned us to talk about Floyd's past and possible future.
Coming after Meddle, Dark Side was a real turning point. It spawned radio staples and turned you into arguably the biggest band in the world, but there's no loss of weirdness on the album.
I’m not sure about what you call the “weirdness,” but we’ve always like to switch things up on each release. In many ways Meddle was overextended, and there’s quite a lot of repetition in the music. It works, but it’s drawn out rather than compressed. Dark Side was the antidote to that. Everything was paired down. Then when you come to Wish You Were Here it stretches out again.
You did that a lot, stretched and compressed, stretched and compressed.
(Laughs) Yes, it was rather like being in a gym.
Do you see how big of influence you were when listening to Radiohead or the Flaming Lips?
It’s very gratifying to hear bands say they’re influenced by us but when I listen to a band like Radiohead I don’t hear Pink Floyd in it. I just hear Radiohead. The reality is that we all borrow and learn from other bands. I don’t think there’s any original music that truly ever gets made.
I think it would surprise many Pink Floyd fans to hear your say that. Listening to Dark Side or earlier stuff like "Astronomy Domine" or "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," Floyd sounds shockingly original. Even compared to today's music you sound original.
Hopefully there’s some original thinking in that early music, and if that’s the fact than that’s terrific. But you know, in a way rock has done a disservice to music generally because it’s marginalized things like jazz and classical. So the more that rock can stretch out and have a fusion element with these things the more it will expand people's musical experiences. That is a good thing whenever it can happen.
I doubt Dark Side would sell a million copies if it was released now. In many ways, rock and pop ears are smaller today then they were 30 or 40 years ago.
There are a number of issues there. First, music has been horribly devalued. That makes it tougher for younger bands. Funny enough, older more established bands can survive. But also, if you go into a supermarket now, it used to be muzak, that awful stuff. But in someways that was perhaps better than going into the supermarket and hearing Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Rock 'n' roll has become shopping music. When we had vinyl, for instance, we all took it really seriously from the unwrapping of the vinyl to the playing of the record. It was a ceremony in its own right. There was more of a sense the importance of the art. Music is a bit devalued now.
Well, you used to have to save up your pennies to get something you really wanted. Now you can just steal it.
Generally, we value things that we pay for. Giveaways get chucked in the trash early on.
Is there anything today, any new rock or jazz or classical music that you adore?
There’s so much good music these days because so many kids are so capable. Growing up, if I had gone to my music master at school and asked to play the drums or electric guitar, he would have fainted. That was unheard of. Now any kid can play electric guitar in school and they will be adjudicated on a Jimi Hendrix song. That’s fantastic. I was involved in a drumming panel for a young player and this 13-year-old was amazing, fantastic, far better than I will ever be.
Will we be getting more of these immersion boxes?
The last thing we want is to over exploit the work. But so far the reaction to the immersion Dark Side has been terrific. So we do plan on a Wish You Were Here version later this fall and a Wall version in 2012. If there’s enough time I would love to do an immersion version of the very early stuff. We’ve got some demos that we made before we had a record contract and we could combine them with stuff from the first couple albums and do something really interesting with that.
It's been 20 years since a Pink Floyd album, is the band over for you or is there any hope for a reunion?
It may well be over. It was extraordinary that we ended up at Live 8 (in 2005). It would be a real mistake to think, “Oh, they did Live 8, a tour is a real possibility.” We don’t think like that. But if the reason is strong enough, it wouldn't be money, but for a good cause, then I think it could happen. But you might well get a very different response from David [Gilmour] or Roger [Waters] if you asked them.