Gabriel Talks About New Covers Album

Peter Gabriel has always been an experimental artist. He pioneered the progressive rock movement in the 1960s with his band Genesis, explored African rhythms with his solo work, and branched into world music later in his career.

Now the 60-year musician just released a covers album, Scratch My Back. And sometime next year, those artists that he covers will collectively return the favor by recording an album of Gabriel’s music.

Photo: AP Photo
Posing for a portrait in New York.

The CD is not the only milestone for Gabriel this month; on March 15, he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Genesis.

Recently, Gabriel discussed the making of Scratch My Back.

The Associated Press: Talk about your new album.

Gabriel: I began as a songwriter a long, long time ago, it seems, and I’ve always wanted to do an album of other people’s songs, but I thought that a regular covers album might be a bit boring. It might be a lot more fun to do a song swap, so you do one of my songs, and I do one of yours.

AP: What are some of the songs that stand out that you’ve heard other people do of yours?

Gabriel: Paul Simon did “Biko” in a very beautiful way with acoustic guitar and cello. Lou Reed did a very interesting take on “Solsbury Hill” with electric guitar and fuzz pedal in very typical Lou style. Stephin Merritt, from Magnetic Fields, did a fantastic version of “Not One of Us” which was quite a big surprise for me.

AP: What made you decide to forgo drums and guitar on “Scratch My Back”?

Gabriel: I thought if you’re going to try something different, then go all the way. I’ve always worked better when you make rules. The worst thing you can say to an artist is you have freedom to do anything, or you say it to yourself.

AP: What types of songs were you looking for on this album?

Gabriel: Songs that I could fit into and felt meaningful to me. Sadly, David Bowie is the only artist that said he clearly didn’t want to play with the song swap. I don’t think he’s doing much music at the moment. But Brian Eno was a co-writer on that (“Heroes”) so it gets around that problem and he’s going to do a version of this song, “Don’t Break This Rhythm.” But “Heroes” is one of those classic songs … it’s one of my favorite Bowie songs and I was a Bowie fan right from the beginning.

AP: Of all the artists covered on this record, do you agree Radiohead seems to be the one that shares your kindred spirit?Gabriel: I love Radiohead, from the onset, pretty much. And, you know, “The Bends” was done up the road from us in the west country. And so I had a conversation with Thom Yorke who said he was interested in doing (the) “Wallflower” song, so I was really excited to hear that. Besides writing great songs with wonderful sounds, they are always unafraid to push themselves as arrangers and musicians and writers and I love that about them.

AP: Do you feel they were inspired by you?

Gabriel: I don’t know … I think some of what I tried to do, I think they do extremely well so I’m a big fan.