“My favorite scene is the one with me and the barman,” Roger Waters, tells me. He’s talking about a segment in a new film that follows his recent tour in which he played the Pink Floyd classic The Wall in its entirety. “Just before we began shooting I said, ‘Ok, you do not speak English, that’s all you have to remember.’ The guy playing the barman said, ‘Alright.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t speak English. ‘Oui, d’accord.’ ‘Ok, good. I don’t want to have to re shoot this crap.’ I was drinking tequila through the whole thing and I think I drank four or five shots.”
Not known for his sense of humor, Waters, 72, the creative driving force behind some of Pink Floyd’s most enduring work—from The Dark Side of the Moon to Wish You Were Here to The Wall— is disarmingly sharp when I meet him in the penthouse suite of a Manhattan high-rise to talk about his latest projects, including the film and live album versions of his recent The Wall tour, as well as his upcoming, as-yet-untitled solo album.
The movie—part concert film, part cathartic travelogue —is striking for the depth of emotion it conveys in both the onstage set pieces and the intimate scenes of Waters making his journey across Europe by car. One of the most evocative vignettes involves Waters driving to visit the graves of his father and grandfather, killed in action in World War II and World War I, respectively.
“We didn’t approach it like a concert movie,” director Sean Evans told me before I met up with Waters. “It needed to have an arc. So everything was deliberate, but also we let it unfold naturally. The ideas were put in an order, but it wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t acting. It was Roger being real.”
Esquire: For you, the story within The Wall has evolved into something completely different from what it started out as, hasn’t it?
Roger Waters: I guess it’s followed my internal journey, away from that narcissistic young man who conceived it, into taking a broader view of my attachments of the predicament we are all in in this world in general, and more specifically to the loss of my father and grandfather, because it’s about war. In the show and in the film, the theme of fallen loved ones is very important.
The images of those killed during wartime, which are projected above the stage during the concert, create a universality in the material that didn’t exist before.
Exactly. That came from the idea of incorporating fallen loved ones into the show. I said very early on, ‘Let’s get people to send in pictures of fallen loved ones, with stories we can use. How can we do that?’ And I was told we should have a website. I didn’t have a website, I’ve never had one or anything like that, but I said, ‘Alright, let’s make a website called ‘Roger Waters: The Wall‘, and we’ll use that as a way of getting people to help.’
At what point did you decide that you wanted to make a film of the tour?
We started to work on the live show in November 2009. The first thing Sean [The film’s director] and I did was put a blackboard up and wrote down the titles of the songs. Over the next nine months, we filled in how we envisioned the stage show. You can imagine what a long, complex, interesting and demanding process that was. At some point, when we were in Europe, we started talking about taking the show into stadiums. And we started to do experiments with technology to synch up the video on the screens with the music. We also filmed all the performances. And it became quite clear by about then, halfway through the second leg of the tour, that we were onto something. We looked at each other one day and went, ‘Obviously we’re going to make a film.’ So then we really started planning it.
And how did the “road trip” part of the film come about?
We didn’t decide to do the journey, the road movie, whatever you want to call it, until very near the end of editing the concert footage. It came out of us asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to start?’ I’d had this idea that I wanted to visit my father’s grave, and my grandfather’s memorial, in Europe. And I thought that probably should be in a car, because that would be visual. Also, I’ve sort of always wanted a Bentley Continental. So I bought one! [Laughter.] Once I’d explained the idea to Sean, he started drawing storyboards and went to Europe to find locations. But I knew I wanted to play trumpet in the graveyards. I knew that would be an arresting beginning. So then we had a car, and a trumpet, and a brown bag, and a journey. That was it.
Do you have failures that we don’t see?
I do admit I have worked for a long time on things that in retrospect I listen to and wish that I’d done something different, or not done at all. Hindsight.
Well, there were certain songs on (Pink Floyd’s 1982 album) The Final Cut, and there’s some stuff about the production of that album, that I think are a bit clunky and heavy-handed. I don’t love the drum sound and, if I could do it again, I would be much more naturalistic in terms of the way things are constructed. I would not try to make this thing that has these huge dynamics in it.
Tell me about your new solo album.
It’s based on a piece that I wrote a year ago. I’ve written lots of songs that all fit into it. Some of the songs are from 1999, and I did some more recordings in 2001, too. Since then I wrote some new songs, and I started writing this narrative; a radio play. The radio play may never happen, but it’s about this old Irishman, who came from me writing a song called ‘Hell No’. It’s a song about asking and answering questions about conflict in general, but specifically going to fight, in Afghanistan or Iraq if you’re an American.
Did find you were inspired by singing about war during The Wall tour?
I don’t know. Probably. I mean, it’s funny, people say, ‘Why do you write gloomy stuff?’ And I always go, ‘Next!’ [Laughter.] Or I go, ‘You don’t get to choose what you paint. If you have a vision you fucking paint it, and you just be very, very glad that you had a fucking thought that was cogent in some way.’