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Greg Lake in the Talk-In - Interview by Penny Valentine
ELP - recently returned from yet another successful American tour - go out on the road in Britain this November. In Kensington last week Greg Lake had one of his rare moments of non-activity, partially brought on by a cold not aided by late nights rehearsing with the band. He sat dosing himself up with vitamin C, and complaining about his aching shoulders. The house was in a kind of subdued chaos with his girlfriend, a guy from Japanese TV, a man who came to check the windows and the inevitable energetic red setters - Oliver and Cromwell - not the least tired by a hectic run in the park.
Like the rest of the band, Lake appears to eat, sleep and breathe ELP to such an extent that his own personality gets gobbled up on stage in the ELP machinery. So it was no surprise that he seemed more at ease talking about the band than he did about his own personal outlook, both on his life and attitudes.
Carl was saying that he felt ELP had a lot in them individually that wasnt coming out in the band - do you feel you have more in you as both a bass player and singer than youre having the chance to expose with the band?
I must say you do tend to get thought of as part of a band very easily. What is very difficult to do is to do an album on your own and for it not to be representative of one third of the total band, and I suppose thats part of the challenge in doing it. Theres certainly things that I suppose each one of us would like to do and yet probably wouldnt find easy. From the point of view of playing live its hard to do separate things. So weve devised a sort of plan I think where well play a two-and-a-half hour set - the first half being us individually and well probably carry an orchestra and a band. Its kind of a weird thing about how much youve got the chance for more exposure - its not a realisation that youve got a kind of quantity. If I decide to make a solo album Id set about the task - sit and create specifically for that.
Taking your singing for instance - as a singer your voice in ELP really becomes another instrument in a sense.
I'm not so much a singer in ELP as I would see myself. I dont really sing songs, which is something Id like to do and I think Id do very very well and thats probably what I'd do if I cut my own album. When theres a simple song as such a musician backing a singer has to sit there going G and then C while a singers going through a whole thing. Thats kind of alien and I cant expect him to go through that - exactly as he cant expect me to stand there and wait for him to go through a half hour piano solo.
Do you think theres a more personal artist in you - writing and singing songs that were very much reflective of you as a person?
Im probably the most personal artist - Id probably have the most personal contact and communication as an artist out of the three of us. Because my art is largely expressed in words and really doesnt depend on any technical ability. So all I have to think about is feeling, if I were singing thats all Id feel - just feeling and words. I wouldnt have to think of whether I was playing the right or wrong note, one doesnt. Its a very complex thing really, youve opened a very complex point there and it would take hours really to explain.
I really feel that when you're writing for a band like ELP - which tends not to have much of a common touch, tends to verge on the surrealistic with its lyrics - not much is coming out of your personal thing.
I tell you what it is - if you imagine a triangle and the three people at each corner are writing, everything that falls inside that triangle is a common ground thing. All the stuff outside, that's when you have to express it in another way - and for me what falls outside that triangle is a more personal and emotional thing. I really don't think audiences pick up on the songs in ELP. They pick up on an overall sound and sense. If they picked up on a song of mine in the way I'd design it, I wouldn't sell a million. I'd sell ten or fifteen million. Because the songs within Emerson Lake and Palmer aren't the sort of things that everyone's got in their house - and really they're the sort of songs I'd like to do, sometimes. "Lucky Man" was something I just did in the studio which was very very simple, and there's one off the new album, From The Beginning" which is very simple. Its not quite what Id get into because theres no orchestration or anything, and Id like to orchestrate. If I was out on my own I dont think Id be into a big soul baring thing, Id never expose myself because I think theres better things to expose - things that would reach people far more dynamically. I suppose it depends what you mean by expose.
I really meant an emotional exposure - a very intimate and personal thing, rather like James Taylor, artists of that kind.
No I dont think Id ever do that. I think its because however much I appear not to be I suppose Im sensitive and you dont open up a wound, you really dont. Im sure everyone's got very personal things in their lives they wouldnt want misconstrued. If you were to expose them and somebody did misconstrue them and got vicious, it wouldnt just be hitting the front of you, it would be hitting your very insides. Now I dont see why I should place my insides on the floor and say attack me. I work hard and I create something but Im not going to let them attack me. If they attack my art, thats something else. I can defend that. People usually think Im a very aggressive and arrogant person, and I suppose I am, but Im also very sensitive - a part of me that people rarely see.
Does it ever worry you that people see you like that?
Aggression isnt necessarily objectionable and even arrogance isnt particularly. Id say that Hendrix was a very arrogant and aggressive person on stage - his whole thing appeared to be, even though I know he wasnt personally. I dont know if I come off like that on stage and I dont know how Id come off if I was doing something on my own. Ive got to go through a whole new trip - do you know what it means to put down a guitar after ten years and just stand there? Itll be worth seeing the first concert I ever do like that - just to see one really terrified man.
How much has ELP made you feel more confident in yourself?
I was always very confident - I was very confident when I was ten years old. But then not confident to the point where I was totally secure. I realised things happen to people and then all of a sudden theres nothing. But its not going to happen to me. I suppose if you get success its a confidence builder, but also you realise youve got more to lose. I suppose outwardly you gain confidence from the success of the band - to other people you appear that way because youre somebody that you know. But to yourself you dont really change that much. My life style hasnt really changed that much really and truly since the first days of ELP. Ive got more money but really my friends have stayed the same and the way Ive treated people I know and theyve treated me has stayed the same.
Has it ever worried you that people think youre very money minded - to the extent where they really feel you run the band in a financial sense?
It doesnt worry me because I actually know what took place. All it was, was that the band was in bad shape from a business point of view - we were wide open and we never got ourselves properly organised. In the end it would have meant we were clobbered with tax. Im not a skilled accountant or a skilled business man but I was aware enough that somebody had to do it. All I did was make sure that somebody dealt with it all, thats all I did. I certainly dont run the band. I was more aware of what was happening but it didnt put me in the position of controlling the band, because I dont.
Are you very ambitious?
Yes - very ambitious I suppose, for a cat. Not in the monetary sense though. To tell you the truth once you reach a certain level . . . I mean I cant sit in more than one chair at a time and I realise it. But when you come from where I did, from where most musicians come from, then you want to have money so youll never return there. I didnt come from a very poor background, I never starved, but I knew what it was not to have anything. Its not just related to money, I remember how my father was governed by other people at his job. They underpaid him and he couldnt do anything about it - that was terrible. Now he doesnt have to do that, doesnt have to worry. Im not just after money to become more wealthy all the time. I just want to reach a standard of living that guarantees me a reasonable freedom, thats all. Once youve made money you can return back to the roots if you like, of what you can do artistically. All the energy that was going out to protect yourself can be used to create. And I suppose thats where we all are right now, the three of us.
Do you have a need to be recognised - to have that constant contact with an audience who like you?
Yes you do, I do. You want to be liked or loved by those people. You walk out on stage and 20,000 people really are glad to see you, it makes you feel good. But 30,000 make you feel better than that, and so you go on. lt's very important therefore to establish yourself individually so that if the band was to stop which it wont for some time then you have a personal thing going. A kind of security if you like. And all this has an effect on you of when you make a solo album. I dont ever want to get into this thing where bands make solo albums and theres a whole mucky scene going on. The band is more important than any of our solo albums, much much more important. And we all know that.
What does ELP really mean to you then?
Oh its like a family. Its not run on a kind of company/employee level. Like the roadies will come in here and sit down at night if one of them gets in trouble you have [to] get them out. Its more so not only than any other band Ive ever been with, but any other band Ive ever known. Ive had it proved that theres a tremendous personal tightness with us that you wouldnt find anywhere else but in a family. Its grown and developed over the time weve been together and I think it has reflected in the music. I think the musics become less tense, less mechanic, a little warmer if you like. The thing about our music is - inside the band theres three people with tremendous warmth and affection. Weve never ever had a cross word, so I think our aggression does come out through the music. People give you that bullshit answer in the interviews - oh man I take my aggression out in my music, dont you believe it. But unconsciously thats what takes place in this band. Like tonight were all going out together, youd never see most bands do that, ever.
ELP seems to work out on the road an incredible amount - do you think youre a band that needs that kind of constant pressure?
We do work like hell. We do need that pressure. I think its energy. I go crazy if I sit down too long. Carls even worse than I am. If you see him on a night when hes not doing anything his hands shake. It would affect the music if we had more time off and I dont think it would be a good effect. I think all these musicians who go off to the country and smoke a lot of dope and lay out there, never seem to get it to come off. You never feel the benefit in the music of all the beautiful trees and pretty streams. All you get is a sort of lethargic 'I threw this album together in my studio in the stable out the back kind of thing. The cats who really make funky albums are either the ones who are out there on the road doing it or the ones who are really having a rough time. We went through an insane period recently - in the middle of the tour where we did Europe, one date in the States, back to England, down to Japan and then to America. 50,000 miles and we decided to have a rest and do less gigs. We were back here three days and we were so bored we decided to book the Oval.
It just goes on and on - this band hasnt peaked yet. Weve got some to go and I think well freak people. I sincerely believe theres a lot further to go. Weve been held back a lot of the time - we had to do so much for ourselves outside of the music for so long, not the full amount was going into the band. Now we can give all our time. Were three people with a lot of energy to give.
I dont think weve become greater through something else becoming less great. If weve become more popular I hope its because weve worked for it and people have liked us, I think why weve always been able to stay around is because weve always had the energy to give. An audience kind of challenge you. Every gig is a challenge. If wed sucked at the Oval you know... But I cant think of anywhere where I could say I was embarrassed because we were so bad. I mean you think about bands like the Who and the Moodies - they really dont come out and play bad. There may be some nights when were not as really great as others, but I dont think were ever bad.
Would that be your ideal - to be in a band for that length of time?
I think those two bands in my opinion really havent kept the pace up for long enough or hard enough - havent changed for that amount of years. It's not something to aim for, that longevity, its something we've attained already. Musicians normally aim for that because a band comes on the scene, people support it and buy their albums and the next thing is that the bass players hit the drummer and the band splits up. Its happened so many times that audiences become kind of tired of being played around with, of having to become enthusiastic with a new entity and it just crumbling in front of their eyes. So anybody that doesnt crumble - that stands there - you get a kind of allegiance from the people which is very weird simply because youve been going a long time, because youve stuck it. They have a kind of devotion to you simply because youve been there and stayed there.
Of course thats something wed like. It's something we got from the beginning because we were knocked. It was the greatest thing that happened. If all the critics had raved over us audiences would have gone wuurh. See providing theres always activity I could stay in a band for eight or nine years - and theres temendous activity in ELP.
Next year were planning a production with the kind of energy that will keep me interested for the next year, I must admit we all three need constant change. I think everyone does - you couldn't lay in bed all day, nobody can really. So think of cats that have an abnormal level of energy, which is what we are. Thats what this band is all about. If Im not feeling particularly energetic and I just stand in the middle of whats going on - a rehearsal or a sound check - see maniacs charging around, going like hell, intense. And I know where it comes from. I know what the people come to see. They feel that amount of charge.
When three people can stimulate 20,000...you cant just stand there and do it. You just go out and stand there, it wont be very long before they throw something at you! Youve got to be giving them something. And the more people there are the more youve got to be giving them too. Youre not playing to one person - audiences are aware of their mass and thats the interesting thing.