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Pink Floyd drummer rejects labels

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 12:46 PM EDT, Tue September 27, 2011
Pink Floyd -- from left, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright -- at 2005's Live 8 concert. Wright died in 2008.
Pink Floyd -- from left, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright -- at 2005's Live 8 concert. Wright died in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pink Floyd's entire studio catalog has been remastered
  • Drummer Nick Mason says band isn't just "space rock"
  • Band is getting along fine these days, Mason says

(CNN) -- Pink Floyd are not who you think they are.

With effects-laden production, Hipgnosis-illustrated concept albums and expansive live shows, the band is famously associated with rock 'n' roll excess. It wasn't for nothing that the Sex Pistols' John Lydon scrawled "I HATE" on a Pink Floyd T-shirt (though he later admitted he loved the band).

But, almost 45 years on, a closer look at the band's catalog reveals as much hardcore pile-driving ("Run Like Hell") and wistful melodies ("Wish You Were Here") as the long-form "Interstellar Overdrive" space rock with which it's frequently classified.

Still, drummer Nick Mason says, it's hard to escape the pigeonholing.

"I think these labels are generally delivered by people who sometimes haven't listened to the music," he said in a phone interview.

Longtime fans and new listeners will have another chance to size up Mason's words. The band's entire studio catalog, including the Syd Barrett-led 1967 debut "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," the Roger Waters-dominated "The Wall" (1979) and the career-concluding "The Division Bell" (1994), has been remastered and is scheduled for release on Tuesday.

"The Dark Side of the Moon," the band's 1973 classic, which still holds the record for longest run on the Billboard album charts, will be issued in three versions: a single CD, a two-disc "Experience Edition" that includes a live album, and a six-disc "Immersion Edition" boxed set.

Mason talked to CNN about the band's evolution, the pitfalls of playing live and fantasies about being the Monkees. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: How often do you go back and listen to the old material?

Mason: The answer is, I would never willingly put on one of our old records at home for entertainment. But with this project, that all changed -- and I was forced at gunpoint to listen to everything, again and again. (laughs) Actually, it's really interesting. It's a bit like a diary -- looking at old photographs. What you get is not only the music but the memories that come with it of what you were doing, and how it was in the studio, and all the rest of it.

Pink Floyd, then led by Syd Barrett, front, put out its first album in 1967.
Pink Floyd, then led by Syd Barrett, front, put out its first album in 1967.

CNN: There's been the label placed on Floyd as "space rock." How did you guys take that label?

Mason: One tends to try and reject any labeling anyway, as a matter of principle. And I think the labels tend to reflect whatever you were doing before. So we were labeled psychedelic -- well, "Dark Side of the Moon" was the least psychedelic album you could hope to listen to. It's terribly specific and measured and not floaty-off anywhere.

I think these labels are generally delivered by people who sometimes haven't listened to the music -- sometimes by just looking at the photographs. If the band have got curly hair and flared trousers, then they're prog-rock or space rock, and if they're very, very grubby, with waistcoats and jeans, then they're an R&B band.

CNN: Also, it probably has something to do with what you were smoking or doing when you were listening to the album.

Mason: Yeah. Always be very careful if you're listening to country and western and doing drugs.

CNN: Let's talk about "Dark Side." Were you aware that you were creating something different?

Mason: I don't think so. My opinion was that we knew we'd done the best thing so far. But as I've told people, even if you think you've done the world's greatest record, that does not guarantee that the public will feel the same way.

What happened with "Dark Side" was we were out touring with it and it began to come up the American charts, but we were actually on tour, so there wasn't that time to reflect and bask in the glory of being No. 1. It was much more, "Where are we tomorrow? Dallas. OK." We were slightly disjointed from its success. What the success really bought for us was the thing of moving up a notch. You suddenly go from playing theaters to playing arenas. And in some cases, arenas into stadiums.

So that's the way things catch up with you. Sometimes they catch you out. If you're used to playing smaller venues, and you suddenly find yourself in a stadium, it's not necessarily the best place to be working.

CNN: After that, you guys did play a lot of stadiums. That led to a lot of discord. Was there a time when you thought, I wish I could go back to the clubs?

Mason: No. I don't think there was a wish to go back. But I think stadiums make quite a lot of bands feel a little uneasy. There is that sense that you're not really connecting with the audience as well as you would. I think arenas are fine -- I think arenas are really suited for rock concerts. But stadiums, it gets away from you a bit. There's too many people at the back not listening.

CNN: How did the band change for you over the years as leadership went from Syd to Roger to David Gilmour?

Mason: I've always been happy with the way it operates. I have no wish to be the fearless leader. And interestingly, I think even David found it pretty wearing when he was sort of in command on the last couple of tours. It's not always easy being the chief. I've always felt that I have my say and I am a partner in it, rather than an employee.

CNN: What do you think are some of the underrated aspects of the band?

Mason: To be honest, after this long and this many releases, there's not much that's been overlooked. I was telling someone yesterday, I feel like a stately home with people taking tours around me.

CNN: How are you guys getting along nowadays?

Mason: Fine, I think. We haven't had any fights recently. David and I pitched up for Roger's show in London. And it was really nice -- we had dinner together. There's a lot of shared stuff as well as plenty of aggro.

The fact of the matter is you grow up together. The problem is when you start in a band you think it's all going to be like the Monkees -- four lovable moptops running around at double speed. But then you get married and have children, and being rock and roll often the marriages break up. People change as they grow.

CNN: And here you are still with people you knew at 18.

Mason: Yes, it's very unsatisfactory. (chuckles)

CNN: Do you feel like sitting in with an R&B band some night?

Mason: Yeah. I still really like playing music, and playing with other people is terrific. I was talking with someone about a charity record we did a year or so ago, and the rhythm track was Bill Wyman playing bass and me playing drums. I've known Bill for 35 years or something, and it was great to finally end up playing together. It's always a little bit nerve-wracking -- you're always alarmed at the prospect of f***ing up -- and if you get through it, and someone says, "It's good," it's a very warming feeling.

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