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Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera on the band's 50th anniversary and upcoming world tour

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Roxy Music is back. Fifty years after their first recording, one of the most influential music groups of all time is back on tour and reissuing all eight of its studio albums on vinyl.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS THE DRUG")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Oh, catch that buzz. Love is the drug I'm thinking of. Oh...

SIMON: The band has just one Top-40 hit, "Love Is The Drug," but its music is considered essential in the history of rock connoisseurs - witty, lyrical, innovative and remarkably danceable. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, and we are joined now by its lead guitarist, Phil Manzanera.

Thank you so much for being with us.

PHIL MANZANERA: Well, it's a great pleasure.

SIMON: Why did you all decided to come back together?

MANZANERA: Well, I was sitting having a cup of tea, as you do in the U.K., with Bryan Ferry, the singer, at Christmas. He said to me, do you fancy doing some gigs 'cause it's our 50th, and how else are we going to celebrate? And I said, well, if you want to do it, I'll do it. I'll ring up Andy. I'll ring up Paul. And it's as simple as that. It's a privilege to be able to go out and play, you know, 50 years later. I can hardly even believe that I'm saying those words - 50 years.

SIMON: I've heard a story that you didn't know you were auditioning for the band.

MANZANERA: Well, no, that was the second time. The first time, I did answer an ad in the Melody Maker for a guitarist, but that didn't work out. And then, yeah, I got a call from Bryan, saying, would you come and mix the sound? And I said, well, I don't know anything about mixing the sound. And he said, don't worry. Brian Eno will teach you. So anyway, I went along, when I turned up at this derelict house, actually, which had electricity, however. They said, well, there's a guitar there. Do you want to have a go? And so I said, show me how to play it. And they said, OK, well, it goes like this. I said, fine. Let's play.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROXY MUSIC SONG, "LADYTRON")

MANZANERA: Obviously thought that I was damn good, so they said, would you like to join? Three weeks later, we're in the studio recording the first album. Hey, it's just about being in the right place at the right time.

SIMON: Roxy Music was known for being ahead of its time. Your great cut "Editions Of You" has been called proto-punk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDITIONS OF YOU")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) And as I was drifting past the Lorelei, I heard those slinky sirens wail - whooo. So look out...

SIMON: What are we hearing there?

MANZANERA: I mean, the thing about Roxy was that we called ourselves inspired amateurs. You know, we wanted to play interesting music presented in a visually attractive manner. But, you know, we loved the Velvet Underground. And, you know, they had very few chords in their songs. And it was about simplicity, but it was about the words that had a different subject matter than just boy meets girl. In the lyrics that Bryan was writing, there's lots of metaphors to do with art.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDITIONS OF YOU")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Don't play yourself for a fool - too much cheesecake too soon. Old money's...

SIMON: How do you think of the term that's often hung on you - glam rock?

MANZANERA: I used to discuss this, actually, with David Bowie. And he used to say to me, Phil, the thing is, there was high glam and low glam. We were high glam (laughter). But as soon as everybody jumped on the bandwagon, we changed. By the third album, and, you know, that's after, like, 18 months, that was all gone. We were in suits. The audience was still wearing glam clothes, and they were just totally confused.

SIMON: Well, I mean, Roxy Music - known to have, you know, satin pants, tiger-print jackets.

MANZANERA: You got it.

SIMON: How are you dressing for this tour?

MANZANERA: I have my original stage outfits. I can't even get my arm into the leg part of it. I was so thin back - you know, when you're 21.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN THIS")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) I could feel at the time there was no way of knowing. Fallen leaves in the night...

SIMON: 1982, "More Than This" - what do you think your music was able to put into rock that wasn't there before?

MANZANERA: There's a lot more to Roxy over the 10 years that we made albums. So the different phases of stages of Roxy provided different aspects - rock music, or innovative kinds of rock music. By the time you get to "More Than This," it's all distilled almost into ambient music. "Avalon" has a very strong mood. That particular track, "More Than This," really distills everything that we started out doing into almost like a haiku poem, a very simple statement, which seems to have a lot of resonance with people, you know? More than this, there's nothing. It's quite prophetic, really, because after that there was nothing. There was no more albums recorded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN THIS")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) More than this, nothing. More than this.

SIMON: That brings me to another piece of music that you co-wrote. Let's listen to "Take A Chance With Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE A CHANCE WITH ME")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) I was blind, can't you see, through the long, lonely night.

SIMON: Why, after such a beautiful and successful album, did you break up?

MANZANERA: When we got together, yeah; it was like a band, but it was a bunch of people who had certain musical interests in common, but lots of very different musical ideas. And right from the beginning, almost after the second album, we all started doing solo projects. We loved playing together and created something unique. We still wanted to work with other musicians. And, really, that is the whole story of Roxy. And we all went off and did hundreds of different musical projects and things. The big picture is that you're in it for the whole of your life, and so spread it out. Enjoy.

(SOUNDITE OF ROXY MUSIC SONG, "TAKE A CHANCE WITH ME")

SIMON: And what do you think people will take home with them?

MANZANERA: Well, hopefully a souvenir.

SIMON: Yeah. That's right. They'll buy a little swag while they're at the concert. Yeah.

MANZANERA: They'll take back - yeah - their memories. You know, any resonance that it has for them, they'll be drifting back and just reflect. It depends what entry level you came to like Roxy. And presumably you're there at the concert because you like Roxy, and you paid money, good money, to come and see it. And so it will have memories for you. And I'm sure people will talk about it as they're going home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIRGINIA PLAIN")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Make me a deal, and make it straight.

SIMON: Phil Manzanera is lead guitarist for Roxy Music - 50th anniversary tour this fall. Thank you so much for being with us, and congratulations on being back.

MANZANERA: Thanks so much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIRGINIA PLAIN")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Tryin' to make the big time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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