The Making of Pink Floyd’s The Endless River
Nick Mason, David Gilmour and Andy Jackson discuss the band’s first new album in 20 years and hint about what’s still to come…
“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Nick Mason admitted when I told him that, having interviewed Pink Floyd’s drummer several times over the years during various reissue campaigns, I was surprised to be interviewing him about new Pink Floyd material. “But it’s very exciting to talk about something new. I feel that really strongly. It’s a big change.”
The Endless River, out November 10, is Pink Floyd’s first album of new material since 1994’s The Division Bell, 20 years ago.
Initially pieced together by longtime Floyd engineer Andy Jackson as The Big Spliff from those sessions, that compilation, infamous amongst fans of the band, was initially considered as a second, instrumental disc to be released alongside The Division Bell. But it was rough, and with a massive world tour looming, the band abandoned the idea.
“The original idea, around 1994, was for there to be one album of more traditional music, if you will, and another album of ambient music, along the lines of (1969s) Ummagumma. But that never came to pass,” Mason told me when we caught up recently.
Then, in 2012, Jackson and guitarist David Gilmour reviewed the compilation. In the wake of keyboardist Rick Wright’s death in 2008, and with him featuring prominently on the almost ambient song sketches, something sparked in Gilmour and a new Pink Floyd album was tentatively begun.
“Until we had the idea of doing this album it hadn’t ever been talked about,” Jackson confessed to me recently when we discussed those first steps towards The Endless River. “I assumed we’d never do anything new again.”
“I don’t think we had a new album in mind initially, actually,” Mason said, elaborating on the earliest stages. “And I’m surprised at what we’ve produced now. It was interesting at first, but it didn’t seem like something that could be a record. I thought it might end up a promotional tool of some sort, or something to stream maybe in conjunction with some other project. It’s been this very gradual process, started by Andy, continued by (co-producer) Phil (Manzanera, of Roxy Music fame), and then it progressed from there. A year and a half ago it still wasn’t an album. It took a lot of work to bring it to the point where we could seriously go, ‘Okay, this is much more than a soundtrack or leftover bits or anything like that. It actually stands on its own two feet.’”
“There was a period time when we were endeavoring to be purist about it and to keep it to what we had and not add to it,” Gilmour recalled about the genesis of the album in a recent promotional interview. “But we thought that if we were to continue with these pieces 20 years ago we would have added to them. So we changed our tack a little bit and we thought, ‘Let’s just make them sound great.’”
“David asked Phil to have a look at it,” Jackson explained. “So I went in with Phil, and he said, ‘I don’t even want to hear what you did.’ So we just started with all the tapes and a piece of paper and went through everything, making note of the things that stood out. It was his idea to think about how to put everything together. He was aping a classical symphony. That’s why it came about being four movements. Initially, each of the pieces were probably more unified in themselves than they now are, because we moved Louder Than Words – the song with vocals – to close the album, quite rightly I believe. But initially it was very much four instrumentals; just part one, part two, part three, and part four. It was David who started calling them ‘side one’ instead of ‘part one.’ And there was something magical about saying ‘side’ rather than ‘part’, hearkening back to vinyl.”
So what of The Big Spliff survived?
“I’m no longer clear about it,” Mason admitted. “I think that at this point there’s not a big connection anymore. Phil and Andy took a huge bunch of stuff and meted out what should be kept. To me, The Big Spliff was an early pass at this recording. Whatever is there now, the initial distillation was done from all those takes that were lurking around.”
“Actually, Phil just didn’t listen to it, he scrapped it,” Jackson explained. “What we did was we had a pile of source material that was all the original jams from the early Division Bell sessions. They’d taken place in different locations. I had made something out of a bunch of those, and Phil just acquainted himself with all of them by sitting down with the tapes and listening through everything. I was there to say things like, ‘Oh, I really like that piece,’ but then he’d say, “No, we can’t use that, it’s the middle eight from a song they’ve already released.” So he came up with a new map. Surprisingly, there’s a degree of him making the same choices that I did at times; we picked the same bits in many instances. The analogy I always use is from one of those stupid cooking programs. ‘Here in front of you is a pile of ingredients. Go make something.’ The contestants all have the same stuff in front of them, and then they go off and make different dishes. That’s what Phil and I did. We had the same stuff in front of us, and we both made different things, but they were all from the same source ingredients so there was a degree of overlap, too.”