4MMM FM Interview

Here is an almost complete transcript of an interview with Mark Knopfler by David White of 4MMM FM in Brisbane, Australia, broadcast on Sunday morning, 10th November 1991. (Authour's note : Some names or songs may be misspelled, excuse my ignorance.)
DW : ... question is - what do you think of Australia?

MK : Oh I love the place, and the people, I never met an Australian guy I didn't like.

DW : You've lived a sheltered life! (laughs)

MK : I am serious, I never did, I suppose I have... er.. a couple of drivers ... you know for instance, the Australian crew that we always pick up here and it joins on with our crew and it's always great, they're always great and they work just as ... they slot right in and they work very hard and they slot right in with our blokes, so it's always fun. In fact we've even got one of the guys who was part of the Australian crew last time we were here and he's actually with us full time. He's been with us from the beginning of this tour all through Europe and everything, so we're already stealing your guys as well.

DW : One of the most moving stories I ever saw was that young boy suffering from, correct me if I'm wrong, I think it was leukemia, who got a chance to play with you in London.

MK : Nathan!

DW : Nathan, yes, I mean it was a wonderful story. Will you be perchance er.. meeting him again.. you know...

MK : Yes! I'm going to see how he's getting on and see how his playing is coming along. I gave him a guitar that we used on Private Investigations, so ... he's got that and I'll just see how he's coming on with it.


DW : ...o the obvious question is : In your travels have you seen the man?

MK : Ah, no I never met... Oh yes I've seen him in a shopping mall in St. Lois or something... (they laugh)... I think when I was four years old, I went up to my dad and I said "Once you're dead, you're dead for life."... which he thought was pretty funny. And I still believe that really so I don't think Elvis is kicking around anywhere.

DW : No reincarnations?

MK : No.

DW : I guess my only complaint is that you omitted my favourite Elvis track in your rhyming lyrics. I like 'His Latest Flame' but it's pretty hard to rhyme so I guess it's pretty hard to ...

MK : I love 'His Latest Flame'. Do you play records on this radio station?

DW : Oh yes!

MK : Well I love that song, ...I love that song. In fact sometimes I play it... and sing it.

DW : Really?

MK : Yeah.

DW : Yeah, it's got a great back beat and beautiful guitar , I mean the sound technically still stands up.

MK : Isn't it a great sound? I mean don't you think that the sound on a lot of these records is... it's just like if you play something like 'Hello Mary Lou' , and just the sound of it? The warmth and the size and the... beautiful.

DW : In fact some people say that 'isn't it a pity that they didn't have the technical innovations of today ?', but then again, I say that would have spoiled it.

MK : Oh yeah, there's no question. I mean, that's the whole point. The sound of those old machines and the way that er... the way that they recorded it. They're proper recordings where everbody's just playing and that's it.


DW : "The fire works of liberty explode in the heat...", was this inspired against a background of Americas' bi-centennial celebrations in New York?

MK : I suppose pretty much, on that line, yeah it comes out from under the ground and up into the street , yeah it does.

DW : There's another line - "every victory has a taste that's bitter sweet". The victories are if you like, success changes from time to time, I mean, how different were the feelings comparing, say the elation you felt on the first albums' success to that of something like 'Brothers in Arms', I mean obviously different feelings.

MK : Yes, obviously, the older you get, the more life is laced with reality of course and the more you know about life and people and the way everything is organised. I mean you obviously start playing music because it's something you love and it's something you desperately want to do and it's still the same. Reality is one of the things that causes different kinds of headaches... (they laugh) that's all it is... I mean you know ,if I could give you an example : You get to play with somebody you've always really loved for instance, you might be in a far flung corner of the planet and there's nobody really to share it with.


DW : There's very little overdubbing on the album. It must be satisfying to know you can't improve on that first take.

MK : Yeah, but you can spend a lot of time trying. (they laugh) , in other words, somebody'd say "I can do that better" so you've got to let people try or I've got to... myself try. That's one of the reasons why if you have the time, then you use it. But something happens when we all play together, just like those records we're talking about... 'His Latest Flame' or something. It was just recorded; played, recorded and there you are. With some of that stuff, something happens to the air when you all play together, in other words if you're a musical player, if you'll excuse the term, if you can follow the term, because a lot of players aren't musical, but in my band they all are. So if you're all musical, that is, you're playing off what you're hear with other people play, then if you start to interfere with that recording afterwards and you try to add stuff that wasn't there, you can start chasing your tail because everybody played off what they hear.

DW : Spontaneity.

MK : To a certain extent. And the level that they're playing, where they're playing and what gap they decide to fill and what they lead. When a keyboard player says, "I can do that better", you've got to give them the chance to try, but then you realise of course what you're getting into... a can of worms.

DW : 'When it Comes to You', I can imagine someone like Gordon Lightfoot singing this song. It's got Nashville everywhere to me and obviously you've played there and you've soaked that in. I can hear people like Chet Atkins pick'n away on a thing like this as well, it's just one of those things...

MK : Well actually, 'When it Comes to You' has got a lick on it that I stole from Chet who showed me that lick. Musicians are just thieves and we trade licks to a certain extent. Interchange change of ideas... international interchange of ideas and that's all it is. It's a very straight forward thing. But that influence is there in some way where the blues meets country music.


DW : ... you've played with other artists, among them Eric Clapton. What did you do with him in that period?

MK : Oh just toured a lot with Eric 'cause I got itchy little legs and I just wanted to relax and have a good time and not worry about anything, not sing anything and not be bothered and just play some guitar. That's just fun, no pressure, just go and play, have a good time, go and play 'Laylor', it's great fun!


DW : You've played with Randy Newman on his 'Land of Dreams' album, boy what a performer he is!

MK : We spent a lot of time rolling around with tears in our eyes, laughing I mean that was just... we had an awful lot of laughs on that record. Had Guy Fletcher on that one. I would do it differently now , I'd probably feel the same about every record I've done. I would do it differently if I had the chance. It's still just lots of fond memories because I could make Randy laugh and he could make me laugh so we spent a lot of time laughing.

DW : Don't you love the way, I mean his songs are very poignant, but they're laced with such sardonic humour. He takes characters and makes monsters out of them, but they're from reality. But they really cut, I mean they really are so on the... point.

MK : Yeah, I think sometimes to the point where a lot of people miss the point. I think that can happen too, but that's just part of the deal. That shouldn't stop you doing what you want to do. It was interesting too because you get to see how other people work and it's always different from the way that you work. Randy has never had anybody interfere with, to use his phrase, "interfere with his music" before. He'd say "you can't do this". He's never had anybody suggest something else because he's always been so in charge and in a lot of ways he is, he's very much in charge of the top of the music but I'm interested in drums and bass in a way that Randy's never been interested in it before, so that was fun.


DW : We've already touched on Fade to Black and I've got to tell you , the first time I heard this song it reminded me of the same 3 AM in the bar, 'bartenders ear mood' that Sinatra perfected in 'Make it One for My Baby and One More for the Road'. That scene, immediately straight to mind.

MK : Yeah, that's right, well there it is. That's what it's getting at. That was just a one time take. In fact I changed the arrangement completely; It was like an R&B style of a thing with the same lyrics and I just wasn't into it, so I sat around for a few minutes and changed the arrangement and it just came out like that after two takes, it just came out that way.

DW : I could be wrong, but if I had to write a song like this, I'd have to be up at about 3 AM in the morning, the only light in the house burning and in the mood to get it across. Did that happen to be the way it came out or was it bits and pieces?

MK : It was late... it was late recording, you know you'd just record that and then you'd go. You wouldn't record anything else after that. You don't record that stuff at ten o'clock in the morning. You record it at ten o'clock at night. Yeah, that's right.

DW : It's got a wonderful feel. I can hear another version of it with someone like Kenny Borel and Carl Jaylor on vibes and Jimmy Smith maybe on the smokey keyboards and that sort of ah...

MK : Right! Yeah and get it done properly! (they laugh).

((((( SONG : FADE TO BLACK ))))

DW : .... on the piano, maybe doing a bit of a jazz...

MK : I don't have the technique. I don't have the knowledge to do that. I don't have the facility, I'm afraid. I was hoping to take some lessons on the tour. I've got some books. Chet sent me a couple of books over, some impossible stuff to play. I've got a couple of tapes and I've got a guitar in my room this time so I'll have to sit down and try and learn a few things. But that extent of musical knowledge isn't mine I'm afraid. I mean even er... I don't know, I can't believe that if I make an album with Chet Atkins, I can't believe that I'm actually doing it. Really, I'm serious. I just cannot... people sort of... some people sort of say "Oh come on, you know, it's false modesty" and all of that but I'm telling you essentially I'm a folk - blues orientated and not a jazz orientated. The jazz that I've come to know is only from sitting down and studying chords. So in other words, what I'm saying is that there are a lot of other guys playing piano in hotels and bars who know a lot more about music than I do.

DW : 'The Bug' from what I can work out, a little personal philosophy, when you're on a roll, don't try and analyse it, just enjoy it while it lasts.

MK : That's a... it's a... just a stupid idea. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

DW : I mean are you great believer in fate or you are master of your own destiny type stuff. I mean, you know, you're extrapolating a bit on from that simplistic view.

MK : Well I don't think you're supposed to know. I don't think you are supposed to know the answer to that question. I think what you're supposed to do is say "I don't know". More and more things happen to me that seem to be more of a coincidence, more and more things happen where you're tempted to think that things are mapped out and you're tempted to think that there's a connection between seemingly disparate events. You're not suppose to know because if you knew that for sure then you'd say er.. you'd say well then "I believe in God" or whatever.."I believe in" er...and I think if you knew that for sure then it would spoil something. I don't think that we ever will know. I don't think we ever will know the answer to that question no matter how far science goes. No matter how... whether you know how the universe...think you know how the universe came about. I don't think you'll ever know. I don't think you're supposed to know.

(((( SONG : THE BUG ))))

DW : ...and he says "anonymous and one back up band of top session players who can't wait to get home to their wives. Then he goes on to say...

MK : What, this record?

DW : Yes, yes and then he goes on to say "and Knopfler maybe one of rocks' finest guitarists, but as a front man he has all the charisma of a soggy lettuce".

MK : You can't let, you know these little o-level people, I mean er... even when the reviews are great and generally speaking on this, they have been ... you know somebody just asked me a few minutes ago whether I was surprised at the... how good the reviews for the album have been. And I've just been reading paeans of praise in Germany for the live show and this and that and the other and so even when they're good it's sort of silly. You know. "He's achieved complete purity of expression" bla bla... that's only 'cause I can't play anything else, or I can't play a lot of notes. So even when it's good it's sort of wrong. We musicians are in the studio and there's a magazine hanging around and somebody might say "hey listen to this!!" you know and it's something that they're talking about some record you know about of some artist that you know about and usually everybody laughs.

DW : Mmmm... 'Heavy Fuel', you called in a fellow called Bob Clearmountain to mix this one, now tell me what is it about this mans technique that makes him one of the most in demand producers/mixers there is?

MK : Well I think that Bobs' style is really suited to things like 'Heavy Fuel', he's very good on stuff that punches and he came up with a great mix on it I think. What I stuck into it is probably not that much good and it's probably not that much of a song so I think the mix is what makes it work... more than what I did.

DW : Mind you, lust, food, violence, sex and money and I mean they're all universal topics we can readily identify with although the central character of the song is , well I suppose a fairly unsavoury type; Is it one person you've met or is it a composite of people you've happened to have run into...

MK : It's a sort of composite of people...I got the main idea from a book, a Martin Amos book called 'Money' and there's a guy called John Self who's the main character in there. His gods are sex, money and violence.

DW : Sounds like Gordon Gecko.

MK : We got Randy Quaid to play in the video for the song to play a roadie in our band. It's just one of those...it's just a comedy thing really. Somebody told me the other day they were using it in macro-biotics' lectures. (they laugh), that and 'My Parties'.

(((( SONG : HEAVY FUEL ))))

DW : You've touched on socio-political issues, 'Brothers', 'Ride Across the River', 'Man's too Strong', can you elaborate on the battle between police and pickets that inspired this song?

MK : Oh I just came home one night and switched the T.V. on and there it was. I didn't take a right wing or a left wing or any position on it, you know it was just horrendous to see. It was like seeing something from 400 years ago... and the BBC saying, the commentator saying "the Queen is reported to have been shocked by todays' scenes". It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there was green, there were these galloping horses, and the foot soldiers who split down the middle and the horses galloping through. It was like a dream, the clarity of it and that's really what the song... and I thought of the similarities between that and ancient battles if you like and that we haven't actually... that this was not a way to resolve... in other words, I agreed with the queen if you like. This is not the way to... I think with the queen being shocked, that's her way of saying via the BBC to the government "this is not the way to go about solving problems", you know, you have to talk and so it's really shocking to me to see that because that's not the way that it seems to me that civilisations are going to advance.

DW : Mind you, look you've lived through Maggie Thatchers' economic rationalism. Have the policies that she's employed... and she's not alone in this, it's practices all around the world, have they sort of widened the gap between the wealthy and the working class or you know, what is actually happening? You're in a ringside seat, you're sitting up and you're watching Yugoslavia, you're watching Soviet Union, you're watching all these amazing changes sitting there in the U.K. It's the stuff that history books are made of.

MK : It's such a complicated question because there are so many influences being brought to bear, the common market, recessions, world trade, wars, you know, the collapse of communism and everything else, it's a very very complicated world. It's very easy I think to take somebody and blame them for mass movement, you know, we are only a few grains of sand on a very big beach and these big waves are crashing in all the time.

(((( SONG : IRON HAND ))))

DW : ...and of course the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jimmy Bakers of the world inspired this one?

MK : Yeah, I don't... I'm not criticising peoples faith. I think faith is a wonderful thing and I have every respect for peoples' faith. I can't respect someone who says "that's going to cost you so many dollars" and I know to quote Chet, "Jesus didn't wear a Rolex", I think a lot of this stuff is aimed at poorer people who might have trouble paying the rent and they give their last fifty dollars. They think that by doing that they are buying a ticket to heaven.


DW : ...songs of Randy Newmans' in this...

MK : No! it's actually not. It's not from any... The thing I was in, I was actually on a plane and I saw one of these catalogues, you know I was in America, a plane in America and one of these catalogues that just where... it's full of things that you can buy and you send away for them. And I saw... one of these things was this party card and it just looked funny and I just started laughing and I... well you know, "it's number one on my shopping list! It's what I really need", and then I just started looking more and there was sort of a hammock where you didn't need trees for, it was a portable hammock and then er... there were all sorts of things in there. I started making a list of all of these things and you could almost see them all flying through the air in clouds.(they laugh)... you know, and so it just became what it became, this sort of very happy guy who's really proud that he owns all this stuff. He thinks he's really cool. He thinks that he's just really windswept and interesting because he's got all this stuff.

(((( SONG : MY PARTIES ))))

DW : I've never been to New Orleans, but one listen to 'Planet of New Orleans' I'd love to drop in and soak up the atmosphere. Could you take us back to that first visit and what your first impressions were?

MK : The first time I went to New Orleans, I was hitch hiking around America, actually I was on a Greyhound bus going around by myself with shoulder bag, and that night I stayed a night at the Y.M.C.A. in New Orleans. That was my first time. I remember being in a little cafe and it said... there was a little sign saying "banks serve no soup, we cash no cheques" and I realised then that in New Orleans that it wasn't like America, that it was like a separate entity. Then when I went back with the band... the first tour I woke up...because the bus would pull up outside a hotel but they wouldn't wake us up if we'd been asleep all night. I woke up and looked out the window and it was on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine. I remember writing down at the time, then "I woke up on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine" and then you know, ten, twelve, thir... years later, it came out in 'Planet of New Orleans' as "standing on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine". I've been back, well it was... I actually went down there with Randy when we played... when we were promoting 'Land of Dreams' album, his album and we went 'round to a lot of radio stations and played with a couple of guitars and pianos and things and talked. It's just not like America, America's great, people are fantastic and I love it but New Orleans is just different, it's just that it's different, it's really oddball, it's a great place.

DW : Just to wrap it up, last question : we hear rumours there'll be an end of Australian tour benefit... can you confirm or deny...?

MK : I can't! (they laugh)

DW : Thankyou for a great interview, it was a pleasure to meet you.

MK : Pleasure to meet you too, I enjoyed it very much.


end of interview

Being shocked, that's her way of saying via the BBC to the government "this is not the way to go about solving problems", you know, you have to talk and so it's really shocking to me to see that because that's not the way that it seems to me that civilisations are going to advance.

DW : Mind you, look you've lived through Maggie Thatchers' economic rationalism. Have the policies that she's employed... and she's not alone in this, it's practices all around the world, have they sort of widened the gap between the wealthy and the working class or you know, what is actually happening?

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