Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson discusses post-9/11 travel, new music and the death of album art prior to Atlantic City gig at Caesars June 12.
Speaking with Jethro Tull’s frontman Ian Anderson, it’s certain that his longtime band isn’t “Living in the Past.” Since Anderson founded the folk-blues-rock-classical and global-minded band in 1967 Britain, with a string of successful albums and tours following its 1968 debut This Was, Jethro Tull — as well as Anderson and his solo projects — has continued to tour and even from time to time release outstanding material, including the 1988 Grammy winning Crest of a Knave and 2003’s heralded Christmas Album (2003). You can’t listen to a classic-rock radio station for very long without hearing at least one Tull song. And on Saturday night (June 12) at Caesars in Atlantic City you’ll be able to hear such radio staples as “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath” and “Skating Away” — plus many more. Anderson spoke by phone recently with AC Weekly.
When I was growing up in the ’80s, I used to go to used record stores and pick up all the Jethro Tull albums. One of the things that I always loved about your albums, aside from the music, was the amazing album art. Do you think it kind of stinks that today most music doesn’t have any visual component with it? I mean, today most music is just a vapor; it’s just downloaded.
Well, that’s right. It’s different. … Vinyl gave us something to work with. Clearly the space was there and you’d utilize it and you got involved and excited about doing it. It was a way of bringing together visual arts with the musical ones — [a sort of] natural thing to do. But these days, well, one mp3 file looks much like another.
Can you name any other bands that spent as much time thinking about their album art as Jethro Tull?
Well, I think many did, and there were those album-artwork artists. I forget the names, the guy who did … oh, Roger Dean, he did a lot album [covers], but is probably best known for his album artwork for the albums of Yes. They used Roger Dean’s work and Roger Dean did a kind of slightly sci-fi, slightly hippie thing that lent itself well to posters and reproductions and he was the “Yes” man. And then there were other guys like Storm Thorgerson who worked on albums by Pink Floyd and later became a video director and directed one of our videos at one point. So, yeah, there were these guys who were known as the wiz kids coming up with innovative album artwork, but in the case of the Jethro Tull stuff, it was a little bit more in house. It tended to be. I suppose most of them were my work, but notable exceptions were the Stand Up album, the Aqualung album and the Benefit album. Those were the three that our manager Terry Ellis kind of put together in conjunction with different artists. But then when we got to Thick As a Brick and onwards it tended to be [me]. … You know the work is one of the benefits of doing artwork; the irony is, of course, you’re working in an age where many people are no longer really buying physical product; they [aren’t seeing it]. People that are listening to Jethro Tull music for the first time now are almost certainly going to be downloading it rather than buying physical product, which is harder and harder to find and there are fewer and fewer record stores.
Yeah, around the world.
Yes, I mean all the great record chains have pretty much gone. In fact, most countries have probably only one operation left. Over here it’s HMV and in Germany for example it’s Saturn and in the U.S.A., Tower Records and Virgin Records – all these places, they’ve all disappeared. I guess, you know, you find a few things on the checkout of your supermarket, [but] that’s pretty much it. Even the bookstores that turned to record sales [are folding]. I don’t know if Barnes and Noble is still going in the U.K., but it folded here last year and, yeah, it’s a different world. People are more and more obtaining their stuff online. I’m one of those after some years. I just go to iTunes and 10 seconds later it’s mine and I paid for it and even when it comes to books I download a lot of most of what I read. I download them onto an electronic reader and carry that around with me and I have a vast [selection] of works to read and choose from when I’m on tour and that’s great having hundreds of books available.
Is it an iPad that you have?
No, it’s a Sony E-reader.
I was reading on your Web site that you were downloading both the Quran and the Bible and you were waiting to see which would win the race, as you put it, in terms of downloading.
I write [a lot of] things for the Web site. I must forget what articles I’ve written. … But one time, I remember passing by an American airport around the time of 9/11 with my wife. And she pointed out that in my carry-on luggage I had a copy of the Quran and Guns and Ammo and suggested that one or both of them I should perhaps not attempt to take through the security check [chuckling] together. It was potentially a recipe for disaster and it was a sad reflection on our times.
So what did you do?
Well, I probably ditched the Guns and Ammo. The Quran is a book as opposed to a magazine. The point being that today, if you look through the contents of my Sony E-reader you might also be suitably alarmed because you might find some literature that could be, you know, I mean I would have to be worried about somebody who carried around a copy of the Old Testament all the time on an electronic reader because that’s pretty scary stuff. One of the things that I’ve never really done is to read the Bible all the way through and so I carry a copy of the St. James original translation — English translation — of the Bible. I carry that around with me and dip into that because it’s just one of those things you know whether you like it, loathe it, find it unbelievably repetitious and boring, or inspirational, it’s something out there that has affected the lives of countless millions and affects people today, you know, in a very profound way. So I feel duty-bound to read it, although I have to say that it does get me a little hot under the collar sometimes.
Are you working on new material for the next Jethro Tull album?
We’re usually playing two or three new songs on stage every night, but that’s not necessarily a view to go into the studio and record them as a Jethro Tull album because I think I’m not particularly interested in the time and effort involved in doing that. I like writing music and I like playing it on stage [and touring]. And on our [current] tour there will be at least two new songs, which are songs we haven’t played in the U.S., so it’s nice to have those in there. But clearly people are coming for their summer jollies and an evening in the summer with a glass of chardonnay and some chicken wings. They’re not really in the mood to listen to a lot of new, strange material.
Unless they’re really big Jethro Tull fans that know that they’re new.
Yeah that’s right, for those people and for ourselves we’ll play a couple of new songs.
Video: Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull at Hyde Park in London, 1968:
You continue to write no matter album or not?
Yeah, because it’s about playing and learning and doing a new song that … I have lots of songs [chuckles] some of which we’ve recorded or made demos of, many of which we’ve played on stage during the last three or four years, but actually getting around to putting them on an album I’m not sure that I can cope with the effort and hassle for something that ultimately is going to sell a fraction of the records we would have sold in the ’70s or ’80s and so it’s an awful lot of work for very little in the way of return. You know, I’m sure there’ll be another album, but it’s not something that’s a priority right now. My priority is doing the next interview and then getting out in my warehouse to check out some equipment do some technical stuff that needs sorting out before I have a concert next week.
When: Saturday, June 12, 8pm
Where: Caesars Atlantic City
How Much: $75-$105
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on his upcoming Atlantic City show at Caesars, Oct. 6.
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