Up close and personal with Mick Jagger
Rolling Stones leaders Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have one of the most productive and antagonistic partnerships in music history. Sparks flying from the creative friction between the "Glimmer Twins" helped forge some of rock's greatest moments.
Currently touring in support of "A Bigger Bang," an album widely hailed as the Stones' best in two decades, Richards and Jagger each took the time - separately, of course - to chat with The Salt Lake Tribune about their musical roots, the new album, past trips to Utah and playing pirate with Johnny Depp. Questions and answers were edited for length.
Salt Lake Tribune: The band has only played here three times since 1966.
Mick Jagger: All memorable times, of course. We played one time I remember outside [1994 at Rice-Eccles Stadium], and it was rather windy and Seal was on the bill. . . . And I remember him wearing a raincoat. That was a very good idea. I remember the gig, but I don't remember which tour it was.
SLT: I also know you've been here for the Sundance Film Festival. What are your memories of that experience?
MJ: It was pretty fun, you know. It was already kind of a big festival, and it gets bigger every year. And more important and more, hmm, against what it started out to be, I suppose. But it was great fun, we had a lot of laughs. Going to funny little restaurants and trying to make deals, going to coffee shops and doing million-dollar film deals. It's really funny.
SLT: With "A Bigger Bang," you've gotten a lot of critical kudos from people who'd sort of given you guys up for dead.
MJ: Yeah, we got some good reviews for that. A lot of times we put out a studio album for starters and people are like, "Forget about it." I think it's a pretty good record and people responded accordingly, you know. We like to think it works really good. When I listened to it in the end, I thought, "Yeah, that's pretty good."
SLT: And it's big. At 16 songs, it seems like you guys had a lot of ground you wanted to cover.
MJ: And we have a special edition coming out that has the two [songs] we didn't put on there. They're pretty good as well. We finished [recording] 18, and it was sort of difficult to leave them off. And we're playing a few [new] songs, and we vary the songs every night. We're not playing that many songs off it per night. We're playing four at the moment. As it goes on, maybe we'll do more.
SLT: I read that at the start of recording, it was just you and Keith because Charlie was recovering from cancer still.
MJ: We'd just started to work when we found out Charlie had cancer and we decided that we would carry on and do things. I'd already done a lot of demo work on my own. I like to do that at the beginning to see if I really like a song, because it's all right when I'm plucking away in the kitchen, but I like to get to the next step before I do anything. So I'd done a lot of that so I felt kind of confident, and I started playing them for Keith, and you know, we had a lot of fun because we were sort of playing around and cutting around things. I was, like, doing drum loops and things. I had a lot of fun doing that.
SLT: You've collaborated with so many people outside the band on your solo albums and things like the "Alfie" soundtrack. How does that stuff affect when you do go back and work with the Stones?
MJ: It always does affect it because I'd done, like, the "Alfie" thing with Dave Stewart [of Eurythmics], and Dave and I, what we did originally was, we took a suitcase full of computers to one of my houses down in the islands, and we did a lot of stuff there we actually ended up using. ...I started doing demos a similar way [for "A Bigger Bang"]. I laid down drum loops on the demos and certain grooves, and I ended up working with Charlie and working up those specific grooves, like on "Rain Fell Down." In the old days when you did demos, you couldn't really carry them over into recording. But now I just took certain elements, and I've kept elements, so it saves you time. And also you can get a certain kind of feel sometimes when you initially do it, too. I'm not saying every track was like that, but I did actually use a bit of that on "Rain Fell Down" and "Laugh, I Nearly Died."
SLT: And obviously "Sweet NeoCon" got a lot of attention when the album came out.
MJ: Before it actually came out.
SLT: Were you at all trepidatious about putting that song out?
MJ: Yeah, I was a little worried about that because, you know, the climate in America can be very narrow. When the Dixie Chicks made their remark, that was at the beginning of the war and I think things have changed a lot and people have got a much more different point of view. People are little more open-minded about people being critical, you know?
SLT: And a lot of people have changed their minds about the war since it started.
MJ: A lot have changed their minds, and when a war first starts, everyone says "Oh, you've got to be patriotic and support it," you know? All that sort of thing, which is almost a uniquely American thing. Because if you don't want the war, then lots of people say, "I don't agree with it. I'm not unpatriotic, I just don't agree with it." I think we've come to that point now.
SLT: Where is your home base when you're not on the road?
MJ: Ah, you know, I'm around. When I'm not on tour, I'm in London quite a lot. I'm in France as well. Mostly Europe.
SLT: And I imagine the environment over there is drastically different than in our country right now?
MJ: Well, yes. You're talking about politically? Just to give you an illustration, the foreign minister - the equivalent of a Colin Powell [when he was Secretary of State] - he resigned when Tony Blair [supported the war]. He said, "Well I don't agree with it." And if you don't agree with it, then you have to resign. And he resigned, so there was all these people within the government who made their views very clear about it. I'm not saying they're necessarily my views, but it's just a different political system. But everyone's got their own way of doing things.
SLT: Is the [political] environment globally something you can notice in audiences, or are the audiences so small out there that you can't tell? Or is it hard to interact with fans much?
MJ: I don't think audiences are interested in politics. They come to have a good time. My feeling is, they've obviously got to represent all kinds of different viewpoints, don't they? . . . It's a difficult mix, politics and rock 'n' roll. Obviously, you make your opinions felt in songs, but the people that come to see you have to have varying ideas.
SLT: Sure, and that's part of being a band that can reach across so many different types of people.
SLT: I'm curious about your childhood influences in terms of being a vocalist. Were there people out there who you thought, "Hmm, I like their style. I think I'll cop a little of that"?
MJ: When I was a very young teenager, I was influenced by people like Buddy Holly and Elvis and so on. Those two, Buddy Holly and Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis, they were very blues-influenced people. You don't really think of Buddy Holly as being blues-influenced, but he definitely was. He did blues. And so from there I just followed their influences, if you will. Looked back to where their influences came from. And then I got into this sort of country-blues music, and then I started getting more influenced by the urban blues of the '50s and so on.
SLT: Like doo-wop and such?
MJ: I never really liked doo-wop. It wasn't my favorite thing at all. Keith loved doo-wop. I bought the odd record, the Del Vikings and things like that. But I wasn't really, as a genre, that interested. I was into urban Chicago blues and soul music.
SLT: It's funny you mention Buddy Holly, because when Keith and I were talking, we were talking country music and he brought up Buddy Holly.
MJ: [Holly] was a real mixture of a lot of things. And I think geographically he came from sort of an odd place [Lubbock, Texas], and was influenced by Mexican music as well. He covered a lot of bases. And he was also a singer-songwriter of a sort of embryonic garage-band sort of thing. I've got a lot of [Holly] demos at home, he must have been in high school. So, he was a sort of singer-songwriter when most of the other people were not.
SLT: When you're in England as a young man, how were you exposed to these sorts of rootsy American acts?
MJ: In those days, the blues artists, some of blues artists were easy to get a hold of. But some of the urban, Chicago [blues], were a bit more rare. So then you get into that obsession of collecting things that are difficult to get. Which has its own thing, people who collect things just for its own sake. But they're very useful, those people, because you can take their records and borrow them.