Eno Part 2: Another false world
– how to make a modern record
Ian MacDonald • New Musical Express • 3 December 1977
That time was really confused. It was much harder working on "Heroes" than on Low. For a start, I was in on "Heroes" from the beginning, whereas for Low I arrived after the band had done their work and did it all with overdubs.
It was all overnight, so I was in a kind-of daze a lot of the time. Days drifting into one another, you know? And then there was David's way of working, which is quite a lot different to mine. In fact it's a mystery to me – I couldn't work that way.
Well, the whole thing – except Sons Of The Silent Age, which was written beforehand – was evolved on the spot in the studio. Not only that, everything on the album is a first take! I mean, we did second takes but they weren't nearly as good.
It was all done in a very casual kind of way. We'd sort of say 'Let's do this then' – and we'd do it, and then someone would say 'Stop' and that would be it, the length of the piece. It seemed completely arbitrary to me.
What about "Heroes" itself?
I was only involved in that track up to doing the backing-track. He wrote the lyrics and the melody after I'd left – as he did for all the other tracks.
And, when I left, I already had a feeling about that track – it sounded grand and heroic. In fact, I had that very word in mind.
And then David brought the finished album round to my place and that track came up and it said 'We can be heroes' and I was absolutely... It was such a strange feeling, you know. I just shivered with... When you shiver, it's a fear reaction, isn't it?
How did the rest of the finished album strike you?
I never really listen to lyrics. I just hear bits and pieces. Like in Joe The Lion where he says 'It's Monday'. That's a real stunner.
But I probably won't listen to the lyrics for a few months yet. You know that Joni Mitchell album Court And Spark? I've had that for two years now and I play it a lot – but I'm only just getting to the point where I'm bothering to work out what she's going on about in the lyrics.
Describe the activity in the studio.
Well, we had all these backing-tracks very suddenly – it seemed in about two days. And remember: this came after labouring for months and months on my record. And I thought 'Shit, it can't be this easy.' I was very inclined to distrust it at first. But gradually it began to hang together.
Fripp did everything he did in about six hours – and that was straight off the plane from New York too! He arrived at the studio at about 11 pm and walked in and we said 'Do you fancy doing anything?' and he said 'Might as well hear what you've been doing.'
And while we were setting up the tapes, he got out his guitar and said 'Might as well try a few things.' So I plugged him into the synthesiser for treatments and we just played virtually everything we'd done at him – and he'd just start up without even knowing the chord sequences.
It was a very extraordinary performance. By the next day, he'd finished, packed up, and gone home. All first takes again. Incredible.
Another person who deserves mention is Carlos Alomar. All of those little melody parts are his – and he thinks them out at lightning speed.
We'd all go out into the studio and David would say 'Okay, it's that, that, twice as long on that, and then that – and we do this a couple of times and then back to that again.'
And after that very brief instruction, we'd start playing – and, in that tiny space of time, Carlos would have worked out this lovely line. He's quite remarkable. He gives those pieces a lot of character.
What about Bowie?
He gets into a very peculiar state when he's working. He doesn't eat. It used to strike me as very paradoxical that two comparatively well-known people would be staggering home at six in the morning, and he'd break a raw egg into his mouth and that was his food for the day, virtually.
It was really slummy. We'd sit around the kitchen table at dawn feeling tired and a bit fed up – me with a bowl of some crummy German cereal and him with albumen from the egg running down his shirt.
Do you have much in common in terms of approach?
We used Oblique Strategies a lot – Sense Of Doubt was done almost entirely using the cards – and we did talk about work-methods, but no I don't think we have that much in common. But that's fine, so long as there's give and take.
How does his approach differ from yours?
Well, for example, we stayed late one evening and did that piece called Neuköln. I liked that very, very much. I was very impressed by that.
And I was trying to think what it was like in painting. There was a German school in Berlin at the beginning of the century called Die Brucke (The Bridge) – an expressionist school. Very rough, tough strokes – and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing.
And all of that – the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood – remind me of the way David works.
Another piece was the one called Moss Garden. David wanted to do a piece which was very descriptive, something I don't normally do, inasmuch as I usually start something and then say 'Oh that's what it is' and then follow that direction. But this was quite studied.
David told me about this place in Kyoto called the Moss Garden and then we just started to work. And, again, there was this very sloppy sort of technique – like, I was just playing around with this chord-sequence on the Yamaha synthesiser and I said 'Give us a shout when you think it's long enough', you know, and sort of carried on. And then David looked at the clock and said 'Yeah, that'll probably do', and we stopped.
And, on the record, that's exactly where the piece ends. I find this very, very curious. It's so random somehow.