British singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel talks about his new album "New Blood," a continuation of his last project of solely orchestral covers of other artists' songs, which included music written by David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, among others. Peter shares his passion for human rights activism and talks about revisiting his old work in this new album.
Your WITNESS gala is this time of year. What about WITNESS means so much to you?
WITNESS was started years ago as a way to get video cameras out into the world to document human rights and I think the technology boom and things like cell phones with video have truly changed the world. You can now instantly see what’s happening in the world and recent current events show the reality of some of these human rights violations. But I think WITNESS also stands for a belief that people today can use technology to make the world a better place and make the world what they want it to be.
Why "New Blood" now?
Well, it fell out of the back of this other project I did called "Scratch My Back," which was a songwriter exchange idea where I did other artists' songs with an orchestra. When we took that project out on the road for a tour, I realized that I needed more material to create a longer show, so we started looking at some of my songs and I got really excited where that was going. So, we grabbed the orchestra and they were playing it really well since they had been playing it live on tour and we decided to record it for an album.
What kind of emotions got stirred up revisiting your own work through the lenses of age, experience and reflection?
It sounds like a very reflective process, but I’m not sure that it was. I think it was more stripping away some of the grooves on which the songs had been written, which meant that they could fly again in some ways as unformed material--and, I really loved the way they were evolving. I think by removing the crutches of the rock band--drum kit, electric bass and guitars--it gave a platform for this thing to fly and these newer forms of the songs evolved.
What was the most fun dimension of working with an orchestra? What surprised you most about the orchestra collaboration?
I think to stand up live and have fifty or so musicians, really good musicians, surrounding you is pretty exciting. It was a little scary at first, as well, but it gave me a sense of nakedness in one part because the songs and lyrics and melodies felt very exposed. But in another way, there was a sort of freedom for them to become something else, so I think it was that “liveness” of the whole experience. With a rock band, you usually play live but there’s some element that is pre-recorded with pro-tools. And in this case, everything that you hear on the album is being played at that moment by the orchestra.
What do you hope listeners will get from "New Blood"?
"New Blood" is available now.