Title: BBC Interview With Tom Waits
Source: BBC Radio 4 (UK). October 4, 2004. By Mark Coles. Transcription from tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library. Thanks to Jarlath Golding for help with transcript. ´┐ŻBritish Broadcasting Corporation 2004
Date: aired October 4, 2004
Keywords: Real Gone, politics

Picture: Marc Coles, 2004


BBC Interview With Tom Waits


Announcer: Twenty Three minutes past eight. When the American singer Tom Waits announced a one-off concert in London recently, it sold out in just 29 minutes. 150.000 people tried to buy tickets in the space of an hour. But then, he has not performed in this country for 17 years. His new album, released today, is highly political. And in his only UK broadcast interview, he told Mark Coles why...

(Audio excerpt from: "Step Right Up")

MC: An interview with Tom Waits. A rare occurance. Bit of a recluse, he's a man who prefers to let the records speak for themselves. But here it goes..

(Audio excerpt from initial phone call)

NN: (unidentified phone operator answering the call)
MC: Can I have Tom Waits' room please?
TW: Hello?
MC: Hi Tom, it's Mark from the BBC...
TW: Ooooh, you again! (off the phone). Eh, it's that guy.. it's Mark who is bothering us...
MC: Wanted to chat about the new album Tom.
TW: (reluctantly) Okay...

(Audio exerpt from "Tom Traubert's Blues")

MC: Tom Waits doesn't like interviews. In fact he'll do anything to avoid a straight answer. Wordplay, storytelling, tricks to trip you up. Take this exchange about songwriting for example...

MC: Where do the songs come from?
TW: Where, what?
MC: Where do the songs come from?
TW: I get them for free and I sell 'em to you. (laughs)

(Audio excerpt from: "Tom Traubert's Blues")

MC: Why music playing Tom? What was the start?
TW: Oh, I don't know. It's the easier softer way. I know a bit of plumbing, and I know a bit of electrical. I don't know... I can't even do long divisions! I have forgotten all my fractions and my decimals. Like a lot of people, I went into music. (laughs)

(Audio excerpt from "Blue Valentines")

MC: If Dylan was spokesman for generations in the 70's, with his gravel voice and sad piano playing Tom Waits became the poet laureate of the lonely and broken hearted. His albums condering up 2 am. worlds of down on their luck waitresses, bartenders and sailors. All staring at life through the bottom of an empty glass.

(Audio excerpt from: "16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six")

MC: But with his classic Swordfishtrombones album in 1983, something changed. A new experimentalism arrived. A-tonal and using all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments. It's stuck with him for the last 20 years.

(Audio excerpt from: "Don't Go Into That Barn")

MC: But his new album 'Real Gone' is probably his most extreme ever. He mixes blues hollers, country, Cuban, and what at times sounds like distorded Deff Metal lyrics. There's a real surprise on this new record, for the first time in 30 years, there's no piano...

TW: Anybody who plays the piano, would like someday to see it thrown off a building. That's all. No piano!

(Audio excerpt from: "Trampled Rose")

MC: It seems much looser and sorta very back to basics on this record.
TW: That was the idea. To do something rudimentary and not glue macaroni all over the songs. Just the ol' rugged cross.

(Audio excerpt from: "Clang Boom Steam")

MC: I read somewhere that a lot of the vocal parts to the record were done in your bathroom?
TW: Yeah, we just had a really good time and we couldn't really get the sound in the studio as good as it sounded when I was doing it at home.
MC: What sort of different sound does the bathroom give?
TW: Oh, I don't know. It was just kind of a mystical place. (laughs)

(Audio excerpt from: "Chickaboom")

MC: But it's likelier that the political nature of the album(1), rather than any sonic experimentation, that will raise eyebrows.

(Audio excerpt from: "Sins Of The Father")

MC: Several of the songs are about war, religion and what's happening in America now.

TW: Maybe we're rotting from the inside out. I don't know what's going on right now. Politically it seems a crisis here: Bush in bed with Blair. You know? The world is a very strange place right now.

(Audio excerpt from: "Sins Of The Father")

MC: You say "rotting from the inside", that sounds very pessimistic.
TW: Yeah, I am (laughs)... Don't get me started, this is really not my area. You know? I make eh... tunes, you know?
MC: Tunes with lyrics though about the last elections.

(Audio excerpt from: "Sins Of The Father"... Everybody knows that the game was rigged)

MC: "Everybody knows that the game was rigged"(2), you seem very concerned with what's going on. Talking about a United States that's gone awry.
TW: I guess maybe it's no different than it's always been, you know? America really has no friends, we only have interests... We kinda run the neighborhood.

(Audio excerpt from: "Hoist That Rag")

MC: But aren't you in a minority? I mean, looking at the opinion pollls, most Americans just don't agree with you. Bush is in the lead and it looks like he probably will be president again.
TW: Oh Jesus, don't say that! You know, I think between the the Democrats and the Republicans, I think the whole way they look at it, is that... Republicans say: "You take the high road, and we'll take the presidency."
MC: Are Kerry and the Democrats any better in your view?
TW: I don't know. People say it's one part of a two headed animal. I really don't know what's gonna happen... It's just observations of the world in my point of view.

(Audio excerpt from:" Day After Tomorrow")

MC: The album closes with Tom Waits alone with a guitar. Probably his most direct song ever. The war in Iraq told from a soldier's perspective.

TW: If you write tunes or whatever. I guess that's all you really can do is put a human face on the war. These are MY feelings. You know I just tried to imagine a soldier writing home from ANYWHERE. This is your war you have lost, both sides have lost.

(Audio excerpt from: "Day After Tomorrow")

TW: I don't know where they come from. Some of them you make up, some of them you build like contraptions and some of them, you know, just find YOU. Sometimes songs want YOU, they wanna come to you.

(Audio excerpt from: "Day After Tomorrow")

TW: We're killing off our children, they're sending our children to war. They're sending THEIR children to war. It's a mess man. Anybody knows that.

Announcer: Tom Waits talking...


(1) Political nature of the album: it might be slightly exaggerated to call this a political album, but it's highly remarkable that Waits openly discusses politics or gives political meaning to his songs. Waits is known to avoid any political complication what so ever. This is one of the few times he speaks out.

(2) Everybody knows that the game was rigged: could be hinting at accusations against G.W. Bush not actually having had enough votes for being elected as president, or for the USA not having legitimate reasons to invade Afghanistan/ Iraq.