In July, Cleveland Scene turns 50, and before the occasion, we decided to dig through the archives every week to repost something that appeared in the newspaper on that date (or thereabouts) for Sceneof the first decade.
This interview with Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music by Cliff Michalski appeared in the March 13, 1975 issue. It featured the headline “Finding Roxy Through Commercial: Phil Manzanera Discusses His Role in Roxy Music”.
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When considering the progressive rock music that came out of England during this decade, one of its most popular figures, as well as its major influences, has been Roxy Music. When they first appeared on the scene in mid-1972, their image was quickly identified with the extreme glitz / glam of the time, but their music turned out to be something more unique than that. Crossing influences from 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 shape a band sound outside of any existing category. A year later, after Eno left, Roxy decided to move away from music dominated by experimentation and the play of ideas and into the realm of conventional songs and melodies. Their STRANDED and COUNTRY LIFE albums reflected this change, and both records managed to further increase their numbers here and abroad, particularly in the Cleveland area. Three recent Roxy sold-out concerts in this region confirm the presence of the following, and sales of their albums here are [strong].
Bryan Ferry, the lead singer and main influence of the group, has become a major player in the new generation of distant and style-conscious rock stars spawned by David Bowie. Ferry and the other members of Roxy, through solo albums and numerous appearances on other people’s records, also influenced 70s rock beyond the band’s only music. In an attempt to get a different take on Roxy, SCENE spoke to guitarist Phil Manzanera about his role in the group’s development and his own independent musical endeavors. After a 20 minute rave on the merits of the Old Spirit, the interview began.
SCENE – How did you join Roxy Music?
MANZANÈRE – Well, in 1971. I was in a band called Quiet Sun, and I started looking for a better gig. Roxy had just fired their first guitarist, David O’List (formerly of The Nice), and I responded to an ad in MELODY MAKER they were playing. Bryan (Ferry) and Andy (Mackay) played a few tapes of their music for me, which I liked, then they auditioned me and I joined.
SCENE – Did the group initially expect the popularity it achieved in England?
MANZANÈRE – No, it was totally surprising. I mean, it was like Christmas everyday for us. It seemed like a situation of being in the right place at the right time. The British rock press clung to our image and our costumes; we were very photographic. I’m sure it helped.
SCENE – How do you think the band has evolved during their recording career? What do you think Roxy is doing differently now?
MANZANÈRE – Roxy started out with all these people with very different musical tastes, there were really too many ideas to begin with, and not enough technical knowledge about music and recording. Our first album was an experiment with ideas and sounds, and the second developed some of those ideas a bit. With STRANDED we started to move away from playing sounds and more in song structures, and COUNTRY LIFE developed that further. Our next record will be [be] different.
SCENE – How democratic do you think Roxy is in its operation?
MANZANÈRE – I think it is democratic to a certain extent, but there are also times when a person’s decision is necessary. We all agree on the structure and form of the band material. Since STRANDED there has been more effort to include material from other band members [besides Ferry’s]. COUNTRY LIFE is sort of our first group album. Eddie Jobson contributed more to it, as well as Andy and I songs.
SCENE – How do you think the solo projects of the band members affect the band?
MANZANÈRE – I think that’s a healthy state of affairs. The restrictions placed on you as a group member can be removed, and types of music you like that might not match the style of the group can be recorded. Each also brings to Roxy the technical and musical knowledge acquired through solo work, thus improving the quality of group work.
SCENE – Have you planned a solo album?
MANZANÈRE – Yes, I just finished one. These are mostly songs that I wrote a few years ago. There are nine tracks on it, five with vocals. I used different singers on each. It’s electronic in some ways, but different from Eno’s style, or Roxy’s style. I am very happy with it.
SCENE – Who are the accompanying musicians on it?
MANZANÈRE – I used Andy, Eddie and Paul (Thompson) from the band, as well as Eno and John Wetton [ex- King Crimson — ed.]. It is expected to be released in the United States in April. I did another Lp around last Christmas; I was working like an idiot at the time. It contains instrumental, experimental stuff, music of the type that I played with my old band. It’s supposed to be released on a low-cost experimental label in England.
SCENE – How did you end up working with John Cale on his FEAR album?
MANZANÈRE – I received a phone call from an A&R man at his record company who had heard that I was interested in [becoming] executive producer of the album, helping to bring the backing musicians together and reserving rehearsal time for the band. I helped him achieve a rougher production style than on his previous records, a style that would suit his music better. I think John is starting to mature incredibly in his music; I think he’ll show a lot of people that Lou Reed wasn’t the only major musician in Velvet Underground.
SCENE – Coming back to Roxy Music, how is the band received on this tour?
MANZANÈRE – Fairly good for the most part. This is our first big headlining tour here; last year was quite short. We’re playing a number of cities for the first time, sticking to smaller venues.
SCENE – Is there another region of the United States comparable to this for the popularity of the group?
MANZANÈRE – No, I think Cleveland is our best neighborhood right now. Detroit and Philadelphia are also good. Some places, like San Francisco, are not quite ready for us yet. Our first record company [Warner Bros. — ed.] Made us look like a brilliant rock band, and we’re still trying to overcome that in some areas.
SCENE – It seems to me that the last two albums of Roxy were planned more in advance of the recording. Was it true?
MANZANÈRE – None of our Lps has really been planned. Everyone arrives a few days before the recording time and then starts working on the songs. The music is always composed first, then Bryan takes the tapes and writes the lyrics for them.
SCENE – How were Bryan Ferry’s solo concerts in England received?
MANZANÈRE – Very well. He was backed by an orchestra and all the material played was from his solo albums, the oldies but the goodies. i played guitar [on] them.
SCENE – There were reports here that if Ferry felt his solo shows were going well, he might quit Roxy Music. Would you like to comment on this?
MANZANÈRE – All I can say is that we have booked concerts and studio time until the end of the year. At first there were personality conflicts within the group, but now I think we have established a good working relationship.