Flautist, guitarist, songwriter and singer Ian Anderson formed Jethro Tull in 1967. With its signature mix of hard and progressive rock, folk and other styles, the band has enjoyed sustained critical and commercial success. While the personnel has changed often over the years, the group has always been a vehicle for the artistic vision of leader and mainstay Anderson. Tull is currently on tour in support of its 23rd studio album, RökFlöte. Between dates, Anderson spoke with me, sharing his thoughts on everything from getting older to the usefulness of today’s beyond-stereo audio formats.
You celebrated your 76th birthday in August. To what degree has getting into late middle age led you toward the bigger universal themes addressed on both 2022’s The Zealot Gene and this new record, RökFlöte?
Ian Anderson: Well, I’m sure that [aging] impacts upon many people in their lives. They start to ponder their own mortality and those of people around them who are either dropping like flies or at least not feeling terribly well. Recently I had to attend the funeral of my next door neighbor who died. So it happens all the time.
But those sort of themes have probably been with me to some degree since the very early 1970s; it’s not something new. Yet perhaps there is some resolve as you get older to try and deal with subjects that have a degree of seriousness and importance rather than frivolous pop songs. I think that’s the way it is maybe for other people; I have really no idea: I don’t listen to other people’s music, so I have no foggy idea what other people are up to. But I think that [among] people I know who are not musicians or involved in the music industry, it’s quite common that you start to ponder things when you get into a period of your life where you know that the end is, if not in sight, somewhere around a dark corner.
The RökFlöte deluxe package includes demos. When you were devising the work, how much thought did you put into the eventual live performance of these songs?
For most of my life, the songs [have been] written with the idea that these are performance pieces. Of course, most of them don’t get to be performed on stage; nonetheless, I tend to think of them as performance pieces. So as we go along, I’m trying to envision the way the band will play them live, the way that I will sing them and perform them. And in the case of many of the albums, they’d been rehearsed in the way that we would actually do them as live songs. We’re together in a room playing the music.
And so, with RökFlöte, it was very much done that way. The demos were made to send to the band to give them a useful starting point in coming up with live performance variations on the themes in order to play that in rehearsal, then in the studio to record them, and finally to play them live on stage.
So I really do think about [it]. Particularly on the last few albums, and then going back to other albums like Thick as a Brick (1972), I very much thought in terms of the music being performed live on stage. And they were rehearsed and recorded in a tight frame of a very few weeks.
To be continued…