Ottawa XPress - 1st April 2004

Sound and Vision

By Christine Fortier

David Bowie's tour coincides with his 25th album and a renewed interest in the experimental.

The last time David Bowie was around the great north, he didn't make it into town but kicked off A Reality Tour in Montreal in December. Flight schedules have brought him back to play the Corel Centre on Friday. To open his show, Bowie picked The Polyphonic Spree, joyful rock 'n' rollers who infuse their live show with plenty of theatrics (remind you of anyone?).

His set list reportedly changes nightly as Bowie and band have some 50 songs to choose from during rehearsals. The band is part of recent history, playing on the mini-tour for the album Heathen and on September's Reality album. Before that, Bowie's last major tour was Outside World in 1995.

Bowie's also listening to TV on the Radio and Supercar these days. He starts his day checking out the Internet every morning and models his fashion on motorcycle gang wear. He spoke to X Press one morning from New York, in high spirits. He says he's hitting another experimental phase, something he'll explore once the tour wraps up.

XP: I read that you didn't like to be on stage, what's changed?

Bowie: "Well, I think, over the years, I've just gotten a lot more comfortable with it. I never used to like being on stage, that was probably many years ago. I guess my mind was still settled on writing and recording things; the performance side of things always seemed secondary to me.

"I'm really enjoying the performance [on this tour]. We're not trying to make it theatrical in any way, it's just the straight performers themselves, which makes it fairly easy to do because you don't have the responsibility of huge sets."


XP: You seem to attract both younger and older fans. How do you explain the fact that younger people really like your music and enjoy what you did way back before?

Bowie: "That's been the phenomenon throughout the whole tour. It's been incredible everywhere we've gone. I've enjoyed that tremendously. It's very fulfilling to see so many young people enjoying the music as much as the older people."

XP: Can you explain it?

Bowie: "The only thing that I can think of that's probably kept my name in front of the younger crowd is that maybe some of the younger bands have been influenced by what I've done in the past and have often talked about me in their interviews, with who their favourite musicians are, something like that. And I think it encourages their own fans to go out and buy the albums. I know that's happened with a number of artists and I think that has something to do with it."

XP: It shows that your music has aged well also.

Bowie: "It sounds OK, doesn't it?"

XP: Do you like to play songs from the '70s?

Bowie: "I really do. On this tour, we particularly made sure we enjoyed all the songs that we were playing, which is why we left out some that people were really surprised about. We don't do Space Oddity, Golden Years, Young Americans ... there are so many songs we haven't done for this tour. We gravitated firstly toward the ones we needed and liked. Fame ... personally I like China Girl very much. We still manage to get four or five songs in from Reality and Heathen."

XP: You're coming to Ottawa. Can the fans expect the same concert as previous stops?

Bowie: "I'm looking forward to it very much. Because it's the same tour, there will be some strong similarities, but I will definitely change a few numbers in there for sure. It's pretty much a different show, there will be standards though that people want I think. I really collect all my set lists so I can be pretty sure of what we did last time and change it accordingly. We've done such a lot. We just got back from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Japan, so we've worked really hard since we last came to Canada."

XP: Reality is your 25th album...

Bowie: "Apparently so, yes."

XP: How do you keep reinventing yourself musically?

Bowie: "Well, it's my job, it's what I do. I have no other real reason other than I chose to be a writer because I enjoy it so much. It's not a problem writing songs, it's what I want to do more than anything else. It really for me will always be a full-time activity until the day comes when I just can't write anymore. I think most writers write until the day they die."

XP: After all those years, would you say that the inspiration comes from the same place?

Bowie: "Yes, I think it probably does overall. There's in a sense an isolation feel about my songs. I don't think they've changed much since the beginning and I think they probably come from the same place all the time, yes."

XP: When you say that you're going through another experimental phase, what does that mean?

Bowie: "It means that I won't be looking so much for compact songs in the traditional framework. Maybe it'll be based a little on improvisation in the studio rather than kind of a traditional, straightforward writing style. It usually comes from putting strange ideas together and seeing how they move. I'm really hoping to get straight to work on it after this tour."


XP: You've done an ad campaign for Tommy Hilfiger, his new line, called H. Why did you accept to do that?

Bowie: "They asked my wife [Iman] and my wife talked me into doing it. I'm pretty happy with it. It's an interesting thing because every time you do like a magazine article, when they ask you do the photo shoot they bring all these clothes along by all these designers and you have to kind of wear them for their photographs for their magazine article, yeah?

"You know the kind of thing I mean. If you look in Rolling Stone this week, it's all full of rock artists wearing designer clothes. It's like a big ad though. And I've done this for so many years now that every time I do a magazine article, I have to wear somebody's clothes and I thought this time, you know what, I think I'll do this and get paid for it. And I got paid big time for it. It's the same thing as if I'd done a magazine article. It's what, two hours in front of a camera?"

XP: Do you wear designer clothes every day now?

Bowie: The clothes I wear a lot are by a place called Deth Killers of Bushwick, they're kind of a New York-based outfit and they're great. It's based on motorcycle gang clothing and that's what I've been wearing on stage a lot. They also make straighter things like just more T-shirts and jeans, stuff like that. I've got a pair of Hilfiger jeans somewhere....

XP: What's the most precious thing money gave you?

Bowie: "Not an awful lot actually. Nothing would matter if I couldn't write or record. Any amount of money in the world wouldn't take the place of that. If I had to swap one thing for the other, if I was pushed into a position where I had to give up one thing, I would give up the money, because I would want to retain the ability to write and record. I would never throw that away. My choice would always be to be able to sing and write and record - to have the ability, that's the biggest gift."

XP: What are you listening to now?

Bowie: "Right now, actually this morning, a really great band from New York I think called TV on the Radio. I've really been into them for about the last year, and they've just put out their new album. It's called Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. And they're really quite extraordinary. I suggest everybody listen to them, they're one of the best New York bands at the moment.

"What else? There's a really good Japanese band once when I was out there that I started listening to called Supercar; they're good, today anyway. I tell you what I love at the moment is the soundtrack to Lost in Translation [featuring Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine among others], I think that's a great album and a lovely movie, absolutely superb."

XP: What do you think about today's music industry?

Bowie: "Uh, pretty messed up, huh? Pretty messed up because I think it can't help the pure, huge amount of albums that are released weekly. There's such an abundance of music and I think the industry was created to handle far fewer projects, there's just too many projects out there. Not all of them are very good, a lot of them are absolute rubbish, but a greater percentage is not good. I don't know, I just don't care. I just get on with my life."

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