Roger Waters -- once the chief songwriter in the band Pink Floyd and an erstwhile solo artist since 1984 -- has come out from behind a wall of his own making and is letting fans see him "In the Flesh" again.
Largely absent from the music scene since the early '90s, Waters took an active role last year in the assembling of Is There Anybody There: The Wall Live 1980-81, a document of the concerts Pink Floyd performed for its multi-platinum 1979 opus The Wall. More importantly, he assembled a band and has toured each of the past two summers, playing a selection of Pink Floyd favorites and material from his solo career.
The new album he's working on has not been completed yet, but these days Waters -- who has a reputation as a meticulous perfectionist and taskmaster -- is enjoying the simple act of playing music for an audience and re-creating his old songs with a band of luminaries, which includes the triple guitar arsenal of Doyle Bramhall III, onetime Pink Floyd sideman Snowy White, and Andy Fairweather-Low. His battles with his former bandmates seem to be well in the past now, and Waters comes off as fully engaged in his current endeavors.
Guitar.com: What inspired you to return to tour again?
Roger Waters: I did a show for Don Henley in '92, when I was in L.A. working on Amused to Death. It was a charity gig for his Walden Woods project, and we did it in the Universal Amphitheater, just four guys who got together and did a few songs each -- John Fogerty, Neil Young, me, and Don himself. And I did four or five songs using his band, and I just found I really, really enjoyed it, playing a few of the old songs. The audience was really, really receptive, really warm. At that point, I thought, "I want to do this again."
Guitar.com: It's interesting because the touring hasn't been tied to a particular album or other product.
Waters: I wanted to do a kind of small tour, nothing huge, just kind of drift around a few gigs in the States and put a little show together. Nothing too big, and keep it kind of reasonably relaxed and just do it. And that's what we did.
Guitar.com: Has performing the songs in that context given you any new insights?
Waters: Yes, some of them take on different connotations. I don't know if I can be specific about that, but some of the songs which might have been written in the first case about something specific now have kind of a universal connection to them. I guess a song like "Wish You Were Here" might be a good case in point; that can be about almost any absence, thought I guess even that song has pretty specific lyrics about 'exchanging walk-on parts for lead roles in cages.' But, nevertheless, it's kind of a song about loss.
Guitar.com: It's quite a band you've been working with, particularly the guitarists. How did you bring them all together?
Waters: Well, I've known Andy Fairweather-Low for a long time, and I?ve known Snowy for even longer. And I've always admired Snowy's playing. I didn't know Doyle; at one point, Patrick Leonard was going to go on the road with us, and he actually recommended Doyle Bramhall to me. And then Doyle made a demo of himself singing the choruses of "Comfortably Numb" and playing a solo over it, which he made at home and sent to me, and I thought it was pretty cool. And then we met and I liked him.
Guitar.com: You also have Jon Carin on keyboards, which is interesting because he also played with Pink Floyd on its last couple of tours. Did that present any sort of problem?
Waters: Not really. He does a specific job, and he does it particularly well. I don't have any worry about the fact that he's somebody who might be seen to have been in another camp at some point. That's not a problem. He's a big fan of the music and the songs, and he expressed that very clearly when we spoke on the telephone before we rehearsed together. I think he may have been [intimidated]; there's no question that I would have been bad-mouthed to some quite considerable extent, surely, in his presence because of the work he had done with those other guys. They would have built up a strange picture of me as this autocratic monster. I think people who have been in that environment are always surprised when they meet me and discover how warm and cuddly I am.
Guitar.com: Has some of the rancor subsided? I was impressed that in the booklet accompanying "Is There Anybody Out There," that none of you took gratuitous potshots at each other.
Waters: Yeah, well, I think there's been quite enough of that to last us all for the rest of our lives.
Guitar.com: Did you enjoy revisiting The Wall period for the live album?
Waters: Yeah, I did. The overriding memories are positive. It was an amazing thing to be part of. It was an extraordinarily ambitious project. I had a great team of people working with me. I think we made a pretty extraordinary show that was wonderful to do. It gripped the audience. The audience just sat there, open-mouthed, more or less through the whole thing, hardly able to believe what was going on in front of them and particularly at the end, when these 22-pound cardboard bricks were crashing almost into their laps. It was quite a stunning moment of rock theater, and I think it may well be that it was kind of a pinnacle of where rock theater went to.
Guitar.com: What's the status of your next album at the moment?
Waters: I've got five songs done. Four of them have got lyrics, and one of them I'm working on the lyrics at the moment. The one I'm working on seems to be developing into something that might be called "Love in Spite of Traffic," which is a strange kind of concept. I think for the whole thing I started off thinking it was going to be about "Each Small Candle," which is the one new song we played in the show, and a rap built around the chorus line, which was 'each small candle lights a corner of the dark.' The idea implicit is that we each have within us a flickering flame that's capable of lighting a little bit of darkness -- that remains to be lit in the more general sense of the way human beings organize themselves, and that we're all as important as one another and we all have a personal responsibility to maybe make one significant or beautiful mark on the big painting. I have a very strong sense that we're all in this together, somehow.
Guitar.com: Are you anticipating another thematic project, then?
Waters: I think so, yeah. I've always been obsessed with the idea of senseless death and destruction and pain and poverty and things that are actually avoidable and may well be becoming more avoidable as we learn to communicate with each other more directly -- even, dare I say, the possibilities that are opened up by the Internet and information technology. I guess you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.