Tales From the Studio
Van Morrison defends most of his work
with a poet's pride, but can he revive his 1968 album Astral Weeks
in a live setting 40 years after its release? In November, Morrison
reunited with the surviving members of his studio band for the live
re-release of the entire album, which drops on Feb. 24 via his new label,
Listen to the Lion.
Tales From the Studio
Lester Bangs wrote the seminal
review of Astral Weeks in 1979, calling it the rock record
with the most significance in his life. “It was proof that there
was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and
destruction.” Martin Scorsese had said that the first half of Taxi
Driver was based on Astral Weeks. But when the album was
released, it was a commercial failure. It didn’t receive praise,
nor did it sell until 10 years later. Now, it is considered one of
his best—regularly hailed as one of the top albums of all time.
Everyone from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and U2 owe a
debt to Morrison and have credited Astral Weeks in reference
to their own work.
Paste caught up with Morrison to look back on the original album and talk about its new live incarnation.
Paste: What inspired you
to re-release Astral Weeks? You had said that you wanted to
play the record live and fully orchestrated
Morrison: I wanted to do this
material the way I had always heard it in my head—orchestrated with
a full sound. It was time. These were written prior to ’68 over a
period of five years. It took a lot of hard work. I wanted these
songs to have a large string section for the original, but I could
not afford it at the time.
Paste: But you never
perform the songs live the same as on the album, or indeed the
same way every time. The rumor is that
none of the players heard what the previous band member had tracked,
just the drums and guitar. Is this true?
Morrison: I play in a free-form,
inspired style; I have no choice but to change it up according to the
vibe. The new record was recorded live; what [you hear] is what was
played in its raw form. There was no mixing, no tweaking, no
post-production at all, and I like that raw and edgy sound in real
time. It’s got a lot of boom to it! I really like listening to live
records, it’s my new thing. Real and alive, the life is not taken
out of it like a studio produced record can and very too often, does.
My motto right now is post mixing kills.
Paste: Tell me about the
songwriting for Astral Weeks. Every track has such
spontaneous quality, blending jazz, folk, rock and soul.
Morrison: Each song is a
factious story. I wrote them on the astral level from the
collective... The songs require listeners to follow along and see
what happens next. I can’t compromise my music. I have fought all
my life with people trying to sell me a bridge to compromise my music
and I can’t do it, musically.
Paste: Do you still enjoy
playing live shows and is there a song you refuse to perform live?
Morrison: Live is what I love
the best and another reason I made the new Astral Weeks live:
it’s real and I dig that. There are many I don’t play—I have
over four hundred songs and each person has a favorite. It’s a
Paste: What was your
experience like during the production process? Were Richard Davis and
Jay Berliner involved?
Morrison: For the original 1968
Astral Weeks recording sessions, it was like an old time jazz
session, which is hard to come by these days. There is nothing
Paste: Did you oversee the
mixing or production? And as far as the equipment, do you prefer
Morrison: To the present day I
have always been my own producer, so everything has always been in my
hands. I have always had the say. It would have been someone else’s
and I do not play that. My music has a life of its own that does not
take well to other people’s ideas or lack thereof.
I prefer to keep it as simple as
possible. Modern day gadgets are the things as a producer that I
hate, because then it’s contrived and manufactured, tweaked, the
antithesis of what I am about personally and musically.
Paste: Do you have any
new albums in the works? Are there musicians you would work with? Or
how about playing Astral Weeks with new artists?
Morrison: Of course I do. I am a
writer, therefore I write
I would not do Astral Weeks with
other musicians because I am only doing this for a limited time. I
may switch around musicians, as my music requires keeping the sound
where it needs to be.