Maintaining the Led Zeppelin theme from yesterday’s post, this was the second of three longish interviews I did with Robert during my time on Melody Maker. It took place in New York after the trip from Chicago to Greensboro via LA that I wrote about in another Zep post here. He was suffering from a cold but, as ever, he was talkative and welcoming.
With only two weeks of the current Led Zeppelin tour under his belt, Robert Plant is feeling the strain. One show has been cancelled because he caught the ‘flu and he’s still sniffing and talking like he’s wearing a nose-clip. Robert blames it partly on his particularly enjoyable Christmas festivities and the changes in climate involved in traversing the Atlantic. We’re talking in his suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York, the same suite just left by the Chairman of Sonesta Hotels, the chain that owns this famous hotel, the one where the Beatles stayed when they first arrived in NY in 1964.
Love’s Forever Changes album is playing on a tiny portable record player and Plant spreads out on a couch, bare chested as always, golden hair curling everywhere and sipping a fruit drink – he needs his Vitamin C – between assaults on a paper handkerchief. We begin by talking about the new album, Physical Graffiti, due to be released anytime. It’s Zep’s first double album.
“I suppose it was about a year ago when we started if I can cast my mind that far back,” he says. “It’s always a case of getting together and feeling out the moods of each of us when we meet with instruments for the first time in six months.
“We began as always, playing around and fooling about for two days, playing anything we wanted, like standards, our own material or anything that comes to us, and slowly but surely we develop a feel that takes us on to the new material. Some of the new stuff came directly from this approach, like ‘Trampled Under Foot’ which was just blowing out, and some comes from Jonesy or Pagey or myself – seldom myself – bringing along some structure which needs working on. Then the four of us inflict our own venom on it to develop the idea.
“We intended to record as much new stuff as we could before we started losing the fire, because we’ve always believed in not prolonging periods of recording or composition to such a degree where we know we are not up to our best. So we recorded as much fresh stuff as we could before looking back at some things we hadn’t recorded. Then we saw that there was a lot of stuff we’d put down and we thought ‘Why not put a double album out.’ There’s a lot of variation of material so it gives people a whole spectrum of style which is contained in one package and I think that’s very good.
“It goes from one extreme to the other but at the same time it’s very evident that it’s Zeppelin. You could play a track on the radio that you’d think would never ever be us, but then when you listened you’d hear little things that couldn’t be anyone else.”
Recording took about four months which was strung out over a much longer period. “It sounds a long time but the whole essence of the band is that we do what we want to do when we want to do it. It’s no race for us. We’ve got no deadlines to meet and when we finally do give something then it’s got to be just dead right. We have a stride, a gait, that, if it was adjusted, would be very detrimental to the way we are.”
Robert agrees that 1974 was a dead year for the group, but maintains that setting up their own label, SwanSong, took up much of their time. “After the last American tour I was so relieved to be home again because I’d missed a season and I really need each season as it comes. I like to feel spring and I got back in August after that tour and realised I’d missed spring going into summer that year. I don’t want to lose these perspectives in what I consider to be important for the lyrical content of what I write. I want to take stock of everything instead of going on the road until I don’t know where the fuck I am and end up like a poached egg three days old.
“But the time comes, as it does in recording and the record company and every move that we make, when we know it’s time to go out on the road again. We all met and thought, ‘What have we been doing?’ We all needed that time off but we cursed each other for having it and agreed at the same time that we’d been physically idle.”
The group hates rehearsing, says Robert, but they realise they have to limber up to approach playing in the way they want. “The first hour is usually great, but then we think how much better it would be if there was an audience there. A lot of the construction that we do on stage is fired by the atmosphere of the actual instant.
“Obviously we had to rehearse the stuff from the new album to get it into some viable shape. We played all the new songs at the rehearsal but some of them take such a direction that it would be difficult to employ them live after being off the road for 18 months.
“We do ‘Sick Again’ which is about ourselves and what we see in Los Angeles, but it’s a pity you can’t hear the lyrics properly live. The lyrics say: ‘From the window of a rented limousine, I saw your pretty blue eyes. One day soon, you’re gonna reach sixteen, painted lady in the city of lies.’ As much as it’s pretty, it’s sour really. That’s exactly what LA stands for. Joni Mitchell summed it up best when she called it ‘City of the Fallen Angels.’
“We do ‘In My Time Of Dying’ which is a really old, old standard thing. ‘Gallows Pole’ was an old traditional thing too, and ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is something I have on an old album by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1928. There are so many classics from way, way back which we can give a little of ourselves to take them through the years.”
It’s now over two years since Zeppelin have appeared in Britain. Well Robert? ”We shall definitely play England by hook or by crook before Midsummer Day this year. To say where and when at the moment is impossible as we haven’t found out anything. All being well we shall definitely be in England soon during the summer.”
Part 2 tomorrow