On Every Street
- An interview with Mark Knopfler -

Conducted prior to the release of OES for BBC Radio 1FM

RS= Richard Skinner
MK= Mark Knopfler


--- CALLING ELVIS ---

RS: So there it is, the first single to come from the album, On Every Street, from Dire Straits; that was Calling Elvis. And on the programme now we've gotta welcome Mark Knopfler - Mark, thanks for coming in, thanks for talking to us today.

MK: Mmm, it's nice to be here.

RS: What was the inspiration for Calling Elvis? Was there any one thing that sparked it off that you remember?

MK: Oh yes, there was, yeah. My brother-in-law happened to say one day that trying to call your sister was like trying to call Elvis. And that was it. That's all it was.

RS: It's funny how a song can just grow from one line like that, and then..everything else just happens.

MK: That's right, well, I mean, all songs are different, they come for different reasons, and...there are no laws about songs. It can just be from a phrase or a situation or whatever. Mmm.

RS: Six years since the last Dire Straits studio album, Brothers In Arms...

MK: ..So they tell me...

RS: Err, well it is, Ive looked it up, it's true. And, y'know, there was a time when I know you were quoted as saying in many ways you thought that Brothers In Arms capped it, that that was gonna be the final Straits album.

MK: I thought, yes, towards the end of the last outing I was thinking I... there were a lot of other things I wanted to do, and I went off and did them, and er.. I turned around and it was five years later.

RS: [laughs] Time flies. What was it that discouraged you then, or at least made you feel, 'Oh God, I've gotta get away from this for a while'?

MK: It was the...scale of it, the scope of it, and alot of the hype that was surrounding it. Erm, I mean we finished off down in Australia - it's just a little bit like the Beatles down there or something. People were talking about 'biggest this' and 'best that' or... and I felt that I was getting away from being involved in music, that's really it, and I just wanted to do so much more. In fact, me being the... awkward... so-and-so that i am, I mean I was actually thinking right now that I was just about ready for, erm, to get studying guitar and, y'know, take some... just right when the tour started I'm thinking 'I'd really like to do a bit of writing and I'd like to get some, er, some books or something, and learn a little bit more about the guitar'.

RS: Is there a kind of perverse side to your nature, Mark? Is this what it is?

MK: Well, actually a tour is a good time to do something; I mean, y'know, some of the fellas'll be taking up stamp-collecting and, er, learning Italian, and I'm hoping to do a few things, maybe learn the pedal-steel guitar, and maybe a language course, 'cos I'm just an ignorant little islander. A few things like that, y'know.

RS: You'll find that macrame's very relaxing.

MK: No, there are lots of.. you get a lot of time and.. one of the other things I was hoping to do was to write some songs on this tour - normally when you're on tour you don't write that much.

RS: You'll have plenty of time, too, 'cos this tour looks as though it's going to be a two year job.

MK: Well, er, we don't really know how long it's going to be because, er, of politics, I suppose. World politics or whatever.

RS: Things can change..

MK: Obviously if you're gonna go rattling into Eastern Europe or different places like that you gotta be pretty careful at the moment, so a lot will depend on that kind of thing.

RS: Right. Let's talk about another track on the album. Now this actually, the next one we're gonna play is the title track, On Every Street, which is a song that's taken me a long time to get into, lyrically; it's a very complex song.

MK: Took me a long time to get into it too.

RS: You wrote it!

MK: Well...perhaps you can explain it to me.

RS: I was hoping you could do that! [laughs]

MK: I was hoping you could. Err... well it's about a few things really, but er, one of them is just trying to keep your sense of humour, and don't become a cynic - part of becoming an adult really, in some ways, er, but managing to hold on to the dreams that make life important at the same time - I suppose partly that. Some people would say that it's about different things, and I don't really like to get too specific about explanations because I like the idea of songs being alive for different people in different ways. I like it when I read different interpretations of songs, and sometimes you deliberately try to make it work along a wider set of streets than the little alley that you might have been thinking about when you wrote the thing.

RS: This is the song then, this is On Every Street, Dire Straits.

--- ON EVERY STREET ---

RS: Dire Straits, and that is the title track of the brand new album from them, it's called On Every Street, and we're talking with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Let's go back and talk a bit about the period between this album and Brothers In Arms, a period during which you worked a lot with other artists.

MK: Yeah, I think it's important to work with other people, if you can. It's very good for you, it extends your musical vocabulary; you find out what to do with more instruments and so on and so forth, and you learn the way other people work and it's good for you as well because... you help to dream other people's dreams. When you're busy pleasing yourself most of the time it's a good thing to remind yourself to get into that, and then it's always a pleasure to get back to your own dream, as it were; you gotta have your own dream, basically, but - I mean I'm a slow learner, I go through, like, piles of brain damage, y'know, doin' films and stuff like that, and actually I don't intend to do that much outside - in the future - where you're doin' things like incidental music film music, people falling off cliffs and whatever, because it's not really 'music' to me, it's just a psycho-acoustic thing. I dunno if I'm that good at it actually.

RS: But you wanna work with other musicians still, like you did with Chet Atkins and things like that, that would be part of your future plans?

MK: Oh yeah, that kind of stuff. I mean, every time I play with Chet I just come back with a couple extra licks, and I can steal 'em and use 'em. If you haven't been versed in music in a formal way - if you're one of the 'pick-it-up' brigade, as I am - I mean, I don't read or write the stuff - then that's the way you extend your vocabulary.

RS: Why do you think Brothers In Arms was so successful? Why do you think it became such an enormous album on a global scale?

MK: I'm not sure, it was probably to do with the fact that it had a bunch of singles taken off it that became big hits. I think if you have big singles hits then you tend to sell a lot of albums; I'm not really.... that seemed to me to be the obvious explanation. Erm, how does it seem to you?

RS: Yeah, I think you're obviously right, but the strange thing is you're obviously not the sort of person who sits down and decides to write a hit single.

MK: No, I've never done that, I've never actually thought about doing that. I'm not sure whether I could. In fact the only time I've ever written a song with somebody in mind was, after Tina did 'Private Dancer', I got asked to do another one for her next record, and I wrote a song called 'Overnight Sensation', which I was... thinking about her, and I don't think it worked that well. I think it's much better to just write a song - I didn't write Private Dancer for Tina, I just wrote it, so... and it happened to work, so I think that's probably a better way around it.

RS: When you came to recording the album, On Every Street, was there any sense of... pressure, of having to compete with the success of the last album?

MK: No, absolutely not, I've never felt any pressure at all. First of all, commercial success isn't an indication of the quality of the work you are doing anyway, particularly. I like it - I love it! I mean, I recommend it to anybody, but, I'd written a lot of tunes, and I wanted to record 'em, and it was as simple as that, and we had such a good time doing it.

RS: Here's another track off the album, this is a nice 'bluesy' number, called Fade To Black - Dire Straits.

--- FADE TO BLACK ---

RS: Fade to Black, new track from the album On Every Street by Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler is our guest today on the programme. Do you think you've changed over the six years, as a musician, between Brothers In Arms and the new album?

MK: Yeah. I think you do just because of your exposure to it and time spent doing it, time spent in studios and so on and so forth, and working with different people. And it teaches you stuff, it teaches you stuff. If you're gonna be the best, if you're gonna be 'good' or get to a stage where you can do work that your peers consider to be good work, then you have to be in a frame of mind where you're prepared to learn.

RS: How hard do you work to get a better guitar technique? Do you practice a lot?

MK: Not as much as I should, that's what I was saying, I mean, this tour could be the time, bring a teacher along, show me some of those licks. I used to practice a lot more than I do now. But I think the exposure, playing with Chet, different people, it brings you up a lot.

RS: It's a nine piece band now, isn't it, Dire Straits touring the world at the moment?

MK: Yes. It seems to get bigger all the time. Probably be sixteen next time.

RS: A big band. And you brought in pedal-steel. And that's transformed quite a few of the numbers, hasn't it, to be able to have that facility, to have the pedal-steel in there as well?

MK: Yeah, I've wanted to do it for a long time, and I got Paul Franklyn on the Hillbillies record, and we just hit it off so well. He is probably the finest exponent of the art at the moment, and we've sort of robbed Nashville of his services for a while.

RS: Is Dire Straits nowadays, let's be realistic about this, is it really a vehicle for Mark Knopfler, or is it still a coherent band?

MK: Oh yeah, I mean, I wouldn't write... if I'd written all those tunes and wanted to record 'em another way I would have done it, I mean no sweat at all, I would have just done it. But I find, I think, with all the other work that I do, hanging around with the Hillbilly thing, with Brendan, people like that, I get plenty of outlets, more than enough for a healthy boy. I'm not looking for anything else at the moment; I mean, certainly I wouldn't be *that* interested in doing solo records - it's more fun in a band anyway. You get all the best jokes. If you're on your own... I just wouldn't like to ride around the world, when it was time to play, with a bunch of hired guns.

RS: Let's have an example of a fun track, from the album; this is not the deepest bit of writing from Mark Knopfler, but it's certainly damn catchy...

MK: ...It's deliberately non-deep...

RS: Here we go, this is The Bug.

--- THE BUG ---

RS: The Bug, and that's Dire Straits, from the album On Every Street. You're gonna have a bit of a problem with some of these songs, I think, with some of the people who listen to 'em for the first time, because like a friend of yours, Randy Newman, you write songs in character...on this album.

MK: ...Oh, some songs, yeah...

RS: Not all the time, but these are 'I' songs, but they're not 'you' songs...

MK: Oh, dear...

RS: You know what I mean?

MK: Yeah.

RS: Erm, it's funny, 'cos there's a song called Heavy Fuel, about a charming fella, we'll discuss him in a minute....

MK: ...Lovely man, yeah...

RS: [laughs] I know people who've heard it, and they said "I *knew* that Mark Knopfler was like that really! Pretty hard livin' devil..." Does it worry you that people might get the wrong impression, that you're actually singing about yourself in these things?

MK: Yeeaah, it does...but I would think if people thought that it was me singing Money for Nothing, you'd have to be a bit dim, really, if you really thought that; and I'm hoping that the video of Heavy Fuel anyway, it'll be reasonably obvious and most people.... who are into rock 'n roll will see the video, and they'll see a fat, ugly person doing it. I may be ugly, but I'm not fat. I'm not as disgusting as the person in the song.

RS: This is Heavy Fuel.

--- HEAVY FUEL ---

RS: Heavy Fuel, Dire Straits, a track from the album On Every Street, and we're in conversation with Mark Knopfler, a man who has a two year..well, maybe two years...something like two years of world touring ahead of him with the rest of Dire Straits. How can you cope with the notion of such a long-running tour ahead of you?

MK: I can't. I mean, I don't know *what* I'm gonna do.

RS: It must be daunting actually.

MK: That was a joke.

RS: [laughs]

MK: I suppose that... it's what you do, you realise it's what you do. You've got a kind of job that you've invented for yourself, and accepted that that's what you want more than anything to do. And if I was to quit doing that and go and do the sensible thing, which would be watching a river going by, then I think that after a couple of weeks I'd wanna get out to, y'know, where the boys are - let's get the boys together.

RS: What you've got to do here is an intense discipline to maintain the right level of performance over that long period of time, 'cos every night, which may be your two-hundredth night, it's somebody's first night seeing Dire Straits.

MK: That's it, that's exactly it. Then you just get into turning out as good a performance as you can. We've probably got about four or five hours of music that we can play, so it's not gonna be a question of doing the same thing all the time; and I'm hoping to write more stuff on tour aswell so that we can chuck other things in - annoy the lighting guy and annoy the sound guy, and just give 'em new things to do. I think everybody needs that, and I think the band welcomes it when I throw a left hook at them.

RS: You suddenly take a song down a road they didn't expect? Change the solos?

MK: Well, you don't... yeah, of course you do, 'course you change the solos; what I do is I never know what I'm gonna play at the start of a solo, or right the way through the middle of it, and then towards the end if I know that something's coming up - there's a corner gotta be turned - I might play a phrase or a few bars that everybody knows so that they know where the next bit's coming from. I like to find myself somewhere... sometimes you find yourself in a place pretty difficult to get out of.

RS: The band is sitting and looking at you... "Get out of that one, mate!"

MK: "What *is* he doing?!"

RS: OK, there's a song called Iron Hand on this album, Mark, which... let me put it this way; my theory was that it was about poll-tax riots or something like that.

MK: Well, that's just 'cos they're the last riots that we've had, really, aren't they?

RS: Yeah.

MK: But it was a kind of riot, I suppose, that was a few years ago, during the miners' strike. I just happened to come home one night, and saw it on television; and I just got, er... I was shocked. And the BBC said that night that the Queen was said to be 'shocked by today's scenes', and I thought 'well I'm shocked as well'. And the cavalry...it was the cavalry, it just seemed like an old-fashioned, an ancient battle scene. And it just seemed to me that that's not the way to resolve confrontations or disputes that, er... in Britain we have a tradition of resolving those kind of things in another way. And I hope that we haven't had five hundred years of democracy for nothing. And it seemed to me to be a terrible shame to see men being damaged that way in such an ancient fashion - I mean it was medaeval. I'm not taking a left or a right view on it at all. Maybe there were some people there who wanted to 'overturn democracy', but there would have been no chance of doing that. But most of those men were miners, just ordinary coal-miners, and miners have got one of the best industrial records going - they've only been on strike two or three times in their entire history. I'm not blaming individual policemen, because if you're a policeman you do what you're told - but it just seemed to me to be a shameful situation, to charge a bunch of coal-miners like that with horses; and it was such a military, militaristic operation, these foot-soldiers with shields, and parting in the middle and these horses just coming right through the gap. There's really got to be no place in our society, it seems to me, for anything like that - end of speech.

RS: The song is called Iron Hand.

--- IRON HAND ---

RS: Iron Hand, a powerful song from Dire Straits on the new album, On Every Street. We're chatting with Mark Knopfler. Shall we divert a little from the new album for a second, and look back to the Notting Hillbillies? The experiment... or whatever we call it, the 'diversion' of the Notting Hillbillies. Did it achieve everything you'd wished?

MK: Oh yeah. It was just it got a bit too popular.

RS: What?!

MK: I would have liked it if it had been... 'cos, when we play little clubs then we can behave a bit as though we're in a living-room; er, but it got sort of town-hall kind of size, but it was good fun to do, and I was very happy it sold a lot of records, I was very happy for Steve and Brendan in that sense aswell, and Guy. So I'm sure.... I'm *hoping* we'll be able to do another one sometime; in about ten or fifteen years we'll get something together.

RS: I've heard some great stories about the laughs you all had on the tour though, 'cos I mean, wasn't there like a smokers' bus and a non-smokers' bus?

MK: It was the 'Iron Lung' was the name of one of them, 'Greenpeace' was the other, I can't remember what... Yeah, we had a lot of fun.

RS: You know, it seems to me listening to the new album that some of the spirit of the Hillbillies has come through, hasn't it, to the new Dire Straits?

MK: Well I mean even before the Hillbillies I'd been gettin' back, personally, to just, proper songs; so maybe that's got something to do with it.

RS: What's a proper song?

MK: What's a proper song?.... let's see.... [sings] "You are my sunshine...." *That's* a proper song. But I'm not smart enough to write You Are My Sunshine.

RS: You wrote this, and this is a song that doesn't need any explanation if you listen to the lyrics on this one; it's called Ticket To Heaven.


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