This July, Cleveland Scene will turn 50 years old, and in advance of the occasion, we've decided to dig into the archives on a weekly basis to republish something that appeared in the paper on that date (or thereabouts) during Scene's first decade.
This interview with Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera by Cliff Michalski appeared in the issue that came out on March 13, 1975. It featured the headline, "Finding Roxy through an ad: Phil Manzanera discusses his role in Roxy Music."
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When the progressive rock music which has come out of England in this decade is considered, one of its most popular figures, as well as major influences, has been Roxy Music. When they first appeared on the scene in mid-1972, their image was quickly identified with the glitter/glam extremes of the period, but their music proved to be something more unique than that. Crossing influences from the 50s rhythm and blues and 60s bands such as the Doors and the Velvet Underground, they added some of the most sophisticated electronic devices available to mold a group sound outside of any existing category. A year later, after the departure of Eno, Roxy decided to move away from music dominated by experimentation and ideaplaying and into the realm of conventional songs and melodies. Their STRANDED and COUNTRY LIFE albums reflected this change, and both records succeeded in further increasing their followings both here and overseas, particularly in the Cleveland area. Three recent sold-out concerts by Roxy in this area confirm the presence of this following, and sales of their albums here are [strong].
Bryan Ferry, the band's lead vocalist and primary influence, has become prominent in the new breed of style-conscious, aloof rock stars spawned by David Bowie. Ferry and the other members of Roxy, through solo albums and numerous guest appearances on other people's records, are also influencing 70s rock in ways beyond the group's music alone. In an attempt to get a different look at Roxy, SCENE talked to guitarist Phil Manzanera about his role in the band's development and some independent musical projects of his own. After a 20-minute rave about the merits of the old Spirit, the interview began.
SCENE — How did you join Roxy Music?
MANZANERA — Well, in 1971. I was in a group called Quiet Sun, and I started to look around for a better-gig. Roxy had just sacked their first guitarist, David O'List (formerly of The Nice), and I answered an ad in MELODY MAKER they ran. Bryan (Ferry) and Andy (Mackay) played some tapes of their music for me, which I liked, and then they auditioned me and I joined.
SCENE — Was the band expecting the popularity they got in England at first?
MANZANERA — No, it was totally surprising. I mean, it was like Christmas every day for us. It seemed to have been a situation of being in the right place at the right time. The British rock press latched onto our image and costumes; we were very photographic. I'm sure that helped.
SCENE — How do you feel the band has evolved through their recording career; what do you think Roxy is doing differently now?
MANZANERA — Roxy began with all these people with very different tastes in music, there were really too many ideas at first, and not enough technical knowledge about music and recording. Our first record was an experiment with ideas and sound, and the second expanded on a few of those ideas a bit. With STRANDED, we started getting away from playing sounds and more into song structures, and COUNTRY LIFE further expanded on this. Our next record will [be] different.
SCENE — How democratic do you feel Roxy is in its operation?
MANZANERA — I think it's democratic to an extent, but there are also times when one person's decision is needed. We all basically agree on the structure and form of the band's material. Since STRANDED, there's been more of an effort to include material from the other group members [besides Ferry's]. COUNTRY LIFE is, in a sense, our first group album. Eddie Jobson made more of a contribution on it, as well as the songs by Andy and me.
SCENE — How do you feel the solo projects by group members affect the band?
MANZANERA — I think it's a healthy state of affairs. The restrictions imposed on you as a member of the band can be dispensed with, and types of music you enjoy which might not fit-into the group's style can be recorded. Everyone also brings the technical and musical knowledge they acquire through solo work back into Roxy, improving the quality of the group work.
SCENE — Do you have a solo album planned?
MANZANERA — Yes, I've just completed one. They're mostly songs I'd written a few years ago. There's nine tracks on it, five with vocals. I used different singers on each one. It's electronic in some respects, but different from the style of Eno, or Roxy's style. I'm very pleased with it.
SCENE — Who are the backing musicians on it?
MANZANERA — I used Andy, Eddie and Paul (Thompson) from the band, as well as Eno and John Wetton [ex- King Crimson — ed.]. It's due to be released in the States in April. I did another Lp around last Christmas; I was working like an idiot at the time. It contains instrumental, experimental things, music of the type I played with my old-time group. It's supposed to be released on a lower-priced, experimental label in England.
SCENE — How did you end up working with John Cale on his FEAR album?
MANZANERA — I got a phone call from an A&R man at his record company who had heard that I was interested in [becoming] the album's executive producer, helping get the backing musicians together and booking rehearsal time for the group. I helped him get a rougher style of production than he'd had on his previous records, a style which would better suit his music. I think John's beginning to mature incredibly in his music; I think he'll show a lot of people that Lou Reed wasn't the only significant musician from the Velvet Underground.
SCENE — Getting back to Roxy Music, how is the band being received on this tour?
MANZANERA — Quite well for the most part. This is our first major tour as a headline act over here; one last year was quite short. We're playing a number of cities for the first time, sticking to smaller halls.
SCENE — Does any other area in the U.S. compare with this one for the popularity of the band?
MANZANERA — No, I think Cleveland is our best area at the moment. Detroit and Philadelphia are also good. Some places, such as San Francisco, aren't really ready for us yet. Our first record company [Warner Bros. — ed.] gave us an image as a glitter rock group, and we're still trying to overcome this in some areas.
SCENE — It seems to me that Roxy's last two albums were planned out more in advance of the recording. Was this true?
MANZANERA — None of our Lps have been really planned out to any extent. Everyone comes in a few days before the recording time and begins to work on the songs then. The music is always put together first, then Bryan takes the tapes and writes lyrics for them.
SCENE — How were Bryan Ferry's solo concerts in England received?
MANZANERA — Very well. He had an orchestra backing him, and all of the material played came from his solo albums, the oldies but goodies. I played guitar [on] them.
SCENE — There were reports here to the effect that if Ferry felt his solo concerts went well, he might leave Roxy Music. Would you care to comment on this?
MANZANERA — All I can say is it's a fact that we have concerts and studio time booked until the end of the year. In the beginning, there were some personality clashes within the band, but I feel that we've achieved a good working relationship now.