Details - Sat 1st May

01 May 1993

The master song stylist covers the waterfront with a new LP, "Taxi," and a new pair of shoes
How did you become yourself?
The first thing that I was interested in was art history, and it led me to art school, which was a great moment in my life. I was drawn in by pop art, because it brought together the things that I thought were cool, sexy, turned-on and fabulous with what also seemed worthwhile and intelligent. And I was able to discover people like myself -- a group to belong to -- for the first time in my life. I guess that's how I began to answer the question Who am I?, which is what everybody's trying to find out, desperately.
With Roxy Music, you changed who you were every year.
A lot of that came from a basic lack of self-confidence. I've always been a reluctant public performer, so it was easier to appear onstage in various disguises. And it suited the mood and collage-ish feel of the music to dramatise the presentation.
How did your singing voice arrive?
By accident. You hear things through the sensibility of all the people you ever liked who sang -- all the R&B singers you appreciated and the jazz singers before that. And then you just sing without thinking.
Was it ego battles that ended Roxy Music?
Largely. I was kind of jealous and proud that it was my baby. I like to be in charge, and because I was writing and singing the songs and designing the covers and playing the keyboards, I felt the others were just along for the ride, which was not how they felt. The first bit of dissension came when I was on the cover of the second album, "For Your Pleasure," and they weren't. And by that time I felt we'd exhausted the possibilities of the group and so Brian Eno left. That was the first big change, and in retrospect I think it came too soon. Brian didn't really play any instruments, but he was a great catalyst and wonderful stage presence. But at that point, it was like, "Oh, God, how often can we have that synthesizer squawking away?" I really wanted the group to get more musical, Now I think Brian and I could have done more interesting things together.
Do you miss Roxy Music?
Well, a lot of energy comes out of conflicts, and I miss that. I now tend to create the conflicts within myself, arguing against myself on every detail, which gets exhausting.
How has your music changed in twenty years?
It's gotten more fussy and convoluted in some ways. Perhaps also less joyful, which is rather sad. I think the singing is better, the rhythm section is much better. Overall, certain aspects have improved, some have been lost. Nothing I should be too worried about. Most people who've worked in pop music for twenty years have got progressively worse, so I'm happy to have developed in any way. My big regret is that I haven't done as much in the last ten years as I'd have liked. So in the next ten years I want to do a lot more recording. And I mean ten years. I think I have maybe ten years left before my voice goes.
Why does it take you so long to finish a record?
Nothing's ever good enough. I'm always looking for something different and finding it hard to achieve. Technology has something to do with it over the past ten years. Too many possibilities became available. When I write the songs, I write and rewrite. It can go on endlessly, which is maddening, but it's also quite interesting.
You were supposed to release an album called "Horoscope" last year...
True. As a whole, it wasn't quite complete, so I went into the studio to do some more songs to add to it and that became its own project, which is the new record, "Taxi." So there is an almost complete album waiting to come out in the near future.
What's the common thread of the songs on "Taxi"?
That they weren't written by me. The first time I did an album of other people's songs was "These Foolish Things," twenty years ago. I found it very exciting. It's like a treat, a special favour to suddenly find yourself working with material you don't feel responsible for. That's a great pleasure. I'd been stuck in a position on the last few records where I wanted to write masterpiece, and I wouldn't give in. I'm actually quite good at interpreting other people's songs. I'm a song stylist. Given the material, I can transform the songs into something different. It's nice to take a song's basic melody or lyric and use it as a starting-off point. There are so many ways to do a song. It doesn't matter if you're singing from the telephone directory: If you put yourself into it and do it the right way it can work, it can touch an audience.
What draws you to a song?
A sense of darkness, a sense of longing.
What do you consider the best songs you've written?
"In Every Dream Home a Heartache," "Mother of Pearl." "Do the Strand," at a pinch.
Are you a depressed person?
Some people think so. I'm certainly a very obsessed and driven person. Is it worth it? I don't know. Should a grown man be doing this rather than digging the garden? I don't know. I do know that the fantasy life of rock 'n' roll -- the girls, limos, planes -- can only maintain your interest for so long. It can be great fun, but to build a whole life out of it eventually becomes rather sad.
Are you a snob?
I'd hate to think I was a conventional snob. I have not forgotten my humble origins. But I would admit that Louis XIV is more up my alley than Karl Marx.
What tells you more about a man: his shoes or his handshake?
His shoes. Much more. They could be finely pointed, chiselled, brogued, woven, polished, scuffed, rubber- or leather-soled, high-heeled, casual, slipshod, or tight and to the point. These are the things that tell us what a man really is.
What are your shoes saying about you?
They're suggesting some sort of scoundrel. A cad. They were bought in Corsica. Would you trust a man who wore shoes like this? Absolutely not!
What more do they say about you?
They're slightly left-wing. Pretending to be distinguished but not really succeeding. Although they do have a perfect toe. I can see them pumping the accelerator of a somewhat seedy car, maybe an Alfa Romeo.
Do the shoes have a sense of humour about themselves?
They try, but that's often the hardest thing to gauge, whether one has a sense of humour about oneself. Let's say they have a devil-may-care attitude.
Would you ever wear shoes ironically?
I have. Many times. Especially wedge-heeled shoes, which I liked for the idea more than the shape.
Who was dominant in this relationship, you or the shoe?
It depended on the day. There was an ongoing struggle, like in any good relationship. But I preferred the nights when I felt in charge.
If you were a woman, what shoes would you wear?
The sluttiest available. At least a three-inch heel. I think the higher the heel, the better the leg shape. I think there's been an unfortunate trend against this teetering around in the last few years. It's caused me a lot of grief. As I walk down the streets of our major cities and see only chunky boots, I shake my head sadly and think about what the world has come to.
Do you have a foot fetish?
I'd be a fool and a liar to say that I wasn't interested in things that are concealed, and not apparent to the common eye.
What's sexiest: a woman fully dressed, dressed in lingerie or totally naked?
Somewhere between fully dressed and lingerie. But there is no science to it -- it's a variable, and that's how it should be. If we knew the answer, it wouldn't be sexy or interesting.
What's the biggest crime a musician can commit?
Being too earnest, probably. It inflicts a deep embarrassment upon the audience.
What can save the avant-garde?
Going to topless bars. Every night. At 7 P.M.
What's the most grunge thing about you?
I'm not really sure. I think I'm grunge-free.
How important is your hair?
Quite important, because I never really change it. I admire short crew cuts and shaved heads on other people, but I don't think that would work on me.
What do you do with it?
I only use Phytofix, which I buy in Paris. After spending years looking for a fixative, that's my favourite.
Are you comfortable with your looks?
I've seen too many horrible photographs of me to ever feel confident about my looks. From a couple of angles I can look OK
What's the most common misconception about you?
That I'm some sort of stuffed shirt, when really I'm a warm and loving person.
Do you want people to know that?

Written by
James Truman
for 'Details' May 1993

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