IA: As a child, I was infatuated with the music of big band American jazz. And later, elements of Scottish throat music and black American blues and classical music. I just had this good feel about music. And I decided when I was in my mid-teens to become an artist, a painter. And I did a couple of years at art college before I thought, I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to give music a try after all. And that’s what I did.
AD: I know you’ve been asked this question before, but tell us about Jethro Toe.
IA: Jethro Toe? As in T-O-E? Well, that was a misnomer given to us by somebody called Derek Lawrence who was a producer for I think CBS. He had some demos that we had made for him and he decided to release a couple of them under the name Jethro Toe. We were never sure if it was just a typo or whether he was doing it somehow to avoid having to pay us (laughs). Because by that time, we’d become Jethro Tull. So we were never really sure. Derek Lawrence isn’t with us any longer, so he’s not around to ask. It was a record that was put out and sold matter of fact a couple of hundred copies or something. It’s quite the item today, so I’m told. I don’t personally have a copy. It’s part of the little politics that surround the beginnings of those formative years of bands who went on to something bigger and better.
AD: Where did the name Jethro Tull come from?
IA: Jethro Tull is the name of an eighteenth century agriculturist who invented the seed drill. Our first agents, who studied history in the university, gave us the name Jethro Tull when we didn’t really have a fixed name. It was one of I guess five or six names we had over a period of a few weeks when we were beginning. The time came when the owner of the Marquee Club in London, the famous Marquee Club which fostered the beginnings of all kinds of bands from Joe Cocker to the Rolling Stones and King Crimson and Yes, I mean, everybody started at the Marquee Club, the owner of the Marquee Club saw us play and said, “Yeah, I think we’ll give you a residency. We’ll have you in every Thursday to play.” So we had to stick with the name that we had that week, which just happened to be Jethro Tull. And I didn’t know that Jethro Tull was the name of a dead guy who invented the seed drill, I just thought our agent had made it up. And I was a little embarrassed a few weeks later when I realized this wasn’t an original name, but the name of a historical character. It’s a bit like being called Genghis Kahn or Robin Hood or Adolph Hitler or something. If there is one thing in my life, I would go back and change the name of Jethro Tull to something less historical.
AD: Did you have any influences that moved you to take hold and master the flute?
IA: Well, my main influence as a flute player is actually Eric Clapton. I began as a guitarist like so many people of my generation. The first time I heard Uncle Eric, this guy was way ahead of the rest of us and maybe being a third rate guitar player was not really the best career move to make, so I looked around for another instrument to play. Preferably one that Eric Clapton couldn’t play. And ideally one that
Jimi Hendrix couldn’t play either. So I stumbled upon the flute. So I became a flute player in rock music.
Strangely, after all these years, we don’t have another one. So it must be becoming very, very difficult to play or maybe people just don’t realize that you can make a ton of money and sell a lot of records playing flute. I don’t know which is the answer.
AD: What do you think of the reemergence of the classic rock bands?
IA: Well, classic rock as a musical genre is something that was almost inevitable. I mean, most record stations in America who played under the original sort of banner of AOR radio, album oriented rock or whatever the title is supposed to mean, flirted with talk radio, flirted with eighties kind of alternative music and most of them came back again to what is now called classic rock because it is a format that is enjoyed by a huge number, a generation and a half of Americans that grew up with everything from the Beatles and the Animals through to, I guess, U2. The music of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, that’s classic rock. It’s a pretty overwhelming and popular musical wallpaper to listen to if you are a part of those generations. It was never going to go away. It’s just now well understood as a musical genre and more importantly as a demographic. Advertising related to influence because that’s what commercial radio is about, about people buying ads with you to run your radio station. If you are going to sell Nike running shoes on the back of Bruce Springstein, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd or whoever, there are a lot of forty and fifty-something year old people out there who are a little flabby, feeling guilty and need to go buy some Nike running shoes. Therein lies the bottom line.
AD: Do you tire of playing or hearing your hits on the radio?
IA: I don’t listen too much to radio, so I don’t tire of that. I play a lot of the music live on stage and there are some songs I would tire of if I had to play them all the time, but I don’t. Every concert we switch a few songs. Every tour, we switch quite a lot of songs, so I don’t get tired of doing things that are inspirational to me and inspirational means that I have room for improvisation because that is a very important factor in Jethro Tull’s music is the improvisational aspect. That is the heart of, and very much on a strong peripheral basis it’s what makes Jethro Tull’s music work in a contemporary sense, is that we get to fool around with it a little every night when we go onstage. It’s like having a wife and a girlfriend on the side.
AD: On that note, we’ve heard you do interesting classical covers. Tell me about the route you take, for example, what you add to them.
IA: A good tune is a good tune, whether it’s performed by Frank Sinatra or Pink Floyd or Beethoven or Bach or Mozart. I mean, a good tune is a good tune. And I’m not sure that I’ve written that many good tunes, but I know that I am very flattered when I hear somebody do
a version of one of my songs and they make it sound completely different to the original. I’m not very impressed if I hear somebody do one of my songs and it sounds a bit like me. I’m much more interested when they make it their own and do something radically different. So it is my fond hope that Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig Van Beethoven might feel more flattered rather than less flattered when I do a piece of their music and I do it in a way they wouldn’t or even couldn’t have done. So it’s not sacrilegious, it’s not disrespectful; I think it’s actually about taking a good tune and putting it in a new context. I would fervently hope that the classical composers who’s work, and we’re talking only about three or four times in my life, but on those occasions where I’ve taken a classical theme and done something with it, I would fondly hope that the composer would state, “Well, you know, it’s not that great. I don’t really like it. But well done for trying. Seven out of ten.” That’s all I can expect.
AD: Can you explain what you meant by this phrase, “It’s easy to confuse patriotism with nationalism” and did everything smooth over?
IA: I grew up on the European continent where for many, many years, like several hundred, we have had the flags flying and we’ve had a lot of bad things happen, a lot of bullet holes in a lot of public buildings. A lot of bad stuff go on. And so, patriotism is good. Patriotism is when you support your country and the people and you fly the flag in your heart, which is where it really counts. But nationalism is when it gets a little scarier, when we start to talk about our country because we are betterthan other people. I misconstrued a couple of years ago the American people. I apologized for it. I misconstrued the waving of flags as being something that made me a little uncomfortable and frightened. I misconstrued that. I think the American people are for the most part patriotic rather than nationalistic, but to the eyes of some other people in the world it comes across not just as a simple, pure and laudable patriotism, but as something a little more aggressive and a little more nationalistic. I fell into the trap of seeing it that way. I’ve changed my mind about that. I think mostly the American people are not that way inclined. It is simple patriotism. In the wake of 9/11, I think many people in different parts of the world saw the American flag as something that wasn’t necessary to wave in our faces. I think I was wrong about that. I think it was simpler and purer than I imagined it to be. I pay my taxes in America. I’m a major contributor to the bombs and the tanks. I’m a little sensitive about these issues. I read a rather nice quote from someone who had survived the Spanish Civil War. They said during the time of Franco during the fascist years in Spain that they continued to fly the flag of Spain, but they flew it in their hearts, that’s where it really counted. I think that those words for me really resonate a lot. I think that patriotism is something that you feel in your heart. You don’t necessarily have to wave it in the face of your enemies or in the face of your critics. I think it’s something that comes from a much more personal space. I think I misjudged people in America when I made comments that reflected my fear that America was becoming too nationalistic as opposed to patriotic. But, hey, look up the dictionary definitions, that’s ultimately what its about. At the end of the day, we all say things that sometimes we regret and that sometimes we modify our opinions in the result of experience. I’m never afraid to say that I’m wrong and apologize. I wish everybody else could do the same thing.
AD: We certainly can respect that. This reminded us of how the media made such a big spectacle about when John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Christ. It was just blown out of perspective.
IA: Well, these things happen. We all make mistakes. I’m sure there are whole volumes that George Bush has uttered in the past few weeks that he now wishes he hadn’t said in public on television and radio and in the press. We do this all the time. We all f**k up in the sense that we can’t ever actually express ourselves as well as we want. George Bush isn’t a bad guy. I don’t agree with the politics in the current administration’s international policies, but I don’t hate George Bush. I don’t hate the people with him or what they stand for. By and large, I mostly go along with them, but I don’t necessarily agree with all the details. It’s impossible for me to believe that George Bush or Tony Blair or whoever it might be don’t wake up the next morning thinking, “Gosh, I wish I hadn’t said that.” It’s too late. You’re on the record. I think that the difference between me and the average politician is that I can say, hey, sorry. I can say, hey, I’ve changed my mind. But as a typical politician, you’re not really able to apologize or change your mind and that’s a sad reflection on the way that our political leaders perceive themselves to be. People are fallible. And we all should reserve the right to change our minds. I would rather vote for a leader who’s not afraid to say sorry and who’s not afraid to say “I think I’ve changed my mind about that issue.” I think I’d feel a little more secure feeling like that person is a little more like me, not infallible and not afraid to admit to making mistakes.
AD: What do you think about musicians getting actively involved and commenting on the state of politics?
IA: I think if it’s your country, it’s okay. For Bruce Springsteen to get up on stage and campaign for votes for John Kerry is okay. But it wouldn’t be okay for me to do it. I might be a US taxpayer, but I’m not an American citizen. So it’s not good for me to get up or have got up last year and said, vote for Kerry. What I did say at the time was a little simpler, just simply vote. And I think that’s an important distinction. I think it’s okay for me as a non-resident, non-US citizen to get up and encourage people to vote, use that democratic right. But it’s not okay for me to say vote for this person as opposed to that person. Whatever my personal beliefs might be, I wouldn’t go that far. We shouldn’t be too afraid to express ourselves when it’s our own country and we have that vested interest. It’s not for the likes of me to tell you who you should vote for. I don’t feel too embarrassed about going up and saying, hey, vote. For God’s sake! Being that forty percent of the demographic group just sits on their fat asses listening to classic rock. Democracy is what we are fighting for in this world. We’re fighting for the right to express ourselves in the political sense, but I’m never going to tell the American people who they should vote for. I probably wouldn’t even do that in my country. I think for me it’s probably just a little bit too manipulative because you have some fans who will probably go along with you because they like your music. And that’s no reason for voting for a politician or voting for the future of your state or your country or the planet. You shouldn’t be confusing your interest in somebody’s pop song or rock song with more important issues. My gut feeling is we’re there to help people exercise their rights, exercise their thoughts, exercise their minds, but we shouldn’t be telling them how they should vote in a political sense. I think it’s very brave of Bruce Springsteen to do that and he probably gets a ton more hate mail in one day than I get in a year. And he’s the All-American boy. He’s born in the USA and I wasn’t. So very brave of Bruce to go out there and give his thoughts to the wall that way. I’m not sure that’s what I should be doing. I’m more of a believer that music is there to unify people, not in any way divide them. So if I can go play to 5000 Muslims in Istanbul one day and jump on a plane and play to 5000 Jews in Tel Aviv the next day, then that makes me feel good. It makes me feel that something I’m doing is there for everybody. In that way the music is something that doesn’t divide. It actually for me is bringing people together of different cultures, religions, different emotions, different politics. I think music shouldn’t be divisive; it should be about bringing people together. It should be about positive things. It should be about trying to stress the things that we have in common. It should be about trying to bring people together on the basis of their common values. Those are the things that are going to save humanity, not the differences.
AD: So does that go along with what you wish to accomplish with your music?
IA: Well, that’s not why I play music. The reason I play music, I’m out there to make me happy, to have a good time. Primarily, I play music because on a good night it makes me feel good. It’s just something I do in a very, very selfish way. I’m not there to heal the world or to make audiences happy. I’m there for me to have a good time.
AD: Perhaps we should have said what do you still wish to accomplish with your music?
IA: To continue to make me happy! That’s the honest response. If I go out and I’m having a good time playing my music, there’s a much better chance that good time feel is going to spill out into an audience in a wide context. If I go out just to be a showbizzer, going out just to recreate the jukebox years, then I’m not doing me any favors. It’s like giving them a shot of Valium or horse tranquilizer or Viagra at best. I’m just there producing something to make people think they feel good. But that’s not why I do it. I go out there because I want to feel good and if I feel good about what I’m doing, then maybe a little of that spills over to people. They sense the more spiritual values of the performer, of the artist doing something that is exhilarating and optimistic and makes you feel good about people and maybe a little optimistic about the future in the face of all the bad things we see on CNN and Fox TV. So I’m not setting out to produce something or contrive something out of music, but it’s a byproduct of me having a good time. In music or in writing a book, when you’re making a movie, you’re painting a picture, you can do that. You do it in a very selfish way, but as a byproduct you may bring something very rewarding to other people. And yet in a similar kind of way, when you indulge in a little personal relationship, you don’t have to be looking to satisfy yourself. You can be more generous. I like to think that as a musician I can be very selfish and go out to make me happy. I’m very much the opposite character when it comes to personal, you know sexual relationships. I feel then my role is to actually make the other person happy before me. It’s quite a different thing. It’s an interesting thing that I go on stage, I’m looking to have my orgasm before everybody else. But you know you get me in bed and I just want you to have a good time. I’m not too worried about me. That’s something that I think that those of us who are in the creative arts can afford. If you work in a bank all day, you just want to jump on your wife when you get home. But maybe us folks who do the other thing, the more creative thing, we can be a little more generous in that part of our lives. We’re in dangerous territory here, so we better get off that subject (laughs).
AD: Tell us about the re-recording release of”Aqualung” and what “Aqualung” is about.
IA: Well, we recorded that back in 1970. There were three songs on the album that we never played after the one and only time we played them in the studio. So I was asked last year to play all of the “Aqualung” album for a radio station in Washington. I said okay, I’ll tell you what, you can do this but I want the copyrights of the recordings and we’ll give it away as a free CD on the next Jethro Tull tour and then later we’ll release the limited edition of the “Aqualung Live” album and give the proceeds to charities for homeless people, since that was the subject of the title track.
AD: Have you ever been to Austin?
IA: Have I been to Austin? Yeah, I’ve been to Austin loads of times. Austin is a wonderful music capital of the world and it’s become very famous for it’s creative musical scene. We’ve played quite a few times over the years. Only a couple of years ago we were in Austin, which I believe was at the Backyard, which we’ve played at least twice before. Austin, Texas is
kind of one of those places where you feel at home. One of the reasons I always feel at home in Texas has nothing to do with politics, not a lot to do with music, it has to do with the fact that a lot of good old Texans enjoy what I do, which is the red hot chili pepper. I don’t mean the band. I mean the peppers that
we put in our food because we like hot and spicy food. That’s probably the thing I share most with the Texan community is a love of hot and spicy food. When I think of chili peppers I think of Texas. *