Guitarist. Singer. Songwriter. Producer. David Gilmour has worn a lot of hats in his lengthy musical career, both as a member of Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. But he has never really donned the chapeau of a jazz crooner — until now. “The Girl in the Yellow Dress,” one of the standout tracks from Gilmour’s new solo album Rattle That Lock (out Friday), finds the 69-year-old rock legend very much in smooth jazz-vocalizing mode as he sings lyrics written his novelist-wife Polly Samson, accompanied by brush-drumming and a louche, track-ending sax solo. It is actually easy to imagine Gilmour and his band sporting tuxes to perform the number on his upcoming tour.
“Yes,” he chuckles. “It’s a funny thing making music, because things just come to you, and you don’t really know where they come from, or how they arrive. But that one just came to me one day. I recorded the basic backing track for it some time ago with a jazz trio and I’ve never really done anything as obviously jazz-tinged as this one is. We thought, Is it too different to everything else on this album? Then, I thought, No I love it, it’s got to go on. I suppose I think that if I’m singing on something, and playing a bit of the guitar on something, that is enough to make pretty much anything cohesive. Whatever sort of style I tend to do, it still comes out sounding a bit like me.”
Is that ever frustrating? “No, no, no,” he says. “That’s fine. I’m very happy to be distinctive, for better or worse.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The track “Today” is also a little bit of a departure: It has a late ’70s, Bowie-esque funk vibe.
DAVID GILMOUR: [Not convinced about this at all] Yes? Is that right? Okay. I get it. I don’t know how that comes about. But the combination of Polly’s rather good words for that one, and that basic sort of guitar riff thing that I came up with, turned it into something really quite great and powerful. [It has that] feeling of carpe diem, sieze the day, enjoy your time, make a difference. It’s a really really lovely song.
I know the album was partly inspired by Miton’s Paradise Lost. How is your Milton?
My Milton is not good. The Milton is mostly in “Rattle that Lock.” A lot of the imagery is straight out of Paradise Lost in that one. That’s a song which is more about standing up against the devils that are plaguing us in life these days in the form of governments, and restrictions on liberty, and criminalization of protest, and the things that are concerning us in that way in England these days.
“Rattle That Lock” is also the album’s single. Is writing a single something you ever think about when putting together an album?
No, it’s something I never think about when I’m making music, no. It’s part of an album. If a record company or someone views that it’s a suitable track to be a single then I’m very happy to go along with that. But I don’t really think in singles terms. I think both “Rattle That Lock” and “Today” have what some people might call single properties.
“Rattle That Lock” also features The Liberty Choir, who are associated with London’s Wandsworth Prison (where Gilmour’s son, Charlie, served time in 2011 for the offense of violent disorder as the result of his activities during a protest about college tuition fees). Why did you decide to showcase them in this fashion?
The Liberty Choir is a charity that Polly and I are involved with, that we like to support, and have done for a while. They have choir evenings in prisons where people from a choir — which operates outside prisons — go into the prison, and prisoners join in, and they learn to sing in the choir, and they get to know people that sing in that choir. This is for prisoners who are in the last months of their sentences, essentially. When they are released, there is a place once a week that they can go to, and take part in singing with this choir, and see people that they already know.
It’s a way of helping people back into society and giving them something positive to look forward to on the outside. I think it’s a brilliant thing, and, as we wanted a bunch of voices to sing on “Rattle that Lock,” I thought they would be the best people to use. So we recorded them in a church in south London and put them on thei track.
You’re embarking on a big tour…
A small-ish tour!
Okay, but what kind of set list have you been thinking about?
It will evolve as we go through the tour. At the moment we’re playing quite a few of the songs from the new album but we’re not playing them all together as an album, which is something I do usually like to do. There’s solo tracks from the last solo album, and from this solo album, and some Pink Floyd tracks.
“Theres No Way Out of Here” (from Gilmour’s eponymous, 1978 debut solo album) has always been a favorite of mine.
We’re not doing that one.
Have you decided that just because I suggested it?
[Laughs] Well, there is a lot of material and I get a lot of requests to play a lot of things. You’ve got to rehearse some of them and see what they come out like, see whether you’re gonna enjoy doing them.
You can see the video for “Rattle That Lock,” below.