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Bryan Ferry: A Classic Crooner Informed By The Art-Rock Movement

ARUN RATH, HOST:

OK, Bryan Ferry's recording career in 60 seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO THE STRAND")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) There's a new sensation.

RATH: It started in 1972 with the art-rock jolt of Roxy Music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO THE STRAND")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Do the Strand love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER OF PEARL")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) Oh, mother of pearl...

RATH: Their sound developed a glossier sheen as they rounded the corner into the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN THIS")

ROXY MUSIC: (Singing) More than this.

RATH: And that gave way to Ferry's solo career as more of a crooner perpetually sporting perfect hair and bespoke suits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISS AND TELL")

BRYAN FERRY: (Singing) Kiss and tell...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLAVE TO LOVE")

FERRY: (Singing) Slave to love...

RATH: And coming this week, his first collection of new music in four years - "AVONMORE."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOP DE LI")

FERRY: (Singing) You wake up. Where are you? What's on your mind? Confusion - can't face it. You close your eyes.

RATH: Bryan Ferry, welcome to the program.

FERRY: Thank you very much. Good to be here.

RATH: So when it comes to Bryan Ferry music, a lot of reviewers talk about how smooth it is, you know, suave, lush, sophisticated. But I hear funk in there, too. And "Avonmore" is, you know, it's a funky record - a lot of your records are.

FERRY: Well, that's good to hear.

RATH: Does that come from the musicians you work with or do you consider yourself kind of a funky songwriter?

FERRY: Well, I'd like to think I was. (Laughter) And yeah, I've listened to a lot of pretty funky music in my time. And I was just thinking earlier about a time I hitchhiked to - from Newcastle in the north of England down to London to see Otis Redding play with the Stax-Volt show. And that was one of the funkiest experiences I've ever had. And it was a kind of, you know, life-changing moment, really, seeing that band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT TRAIN")

FERRY: (Singing) Midnight train rolling down the track, taking all my dreams, never coming back.

RATH: You have your son Tara playing drums on this album with you.

FERRY: Yeah.

RATH: How old is he?

FERRY: He's 24 now. He really came of age on this record though. He's brought a lot of useful energy to the project actually, which is - which is great.

RATH: I'm very curious about what it's like playing with your son as both of you are adults. I mean, did you - do you get to know him in a different way?

FERRY: I suppose so, yes. Yeah, and I guess he stands up to me more than any other musicians do.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: The drummer has to.

FERRY: Yeah, that's right. And I tend to listen to him quite a lot, so that's rather good. Even though I am sort of set in my ways, I do listen to him. And it's good to have, I guess, a combination of experience and this youthful excitement about recording, which him and some of the other young players I've got around me have as well.

RATH: It looks like from your touring band you feature quite a few women among your musicians. And...

FERRY: Yeah.

RATH: You know, sometimes it feels like music business, at least when it comes to instrumentalists, I know, I could think of you and Prince and I can't think of a lot of others. Is this some - is it a conscious choice that you make or does it just happen, no big deal?

FERRY: Well, it's nice to have girls in the band, that's for sure. It makes for a much better atmosphere. Actually, I saw Prince playing in London in a small venue. He did a surprise show one night. And he's got an all-girl band.

RATH: 3rdEyeGirl - yeah.

FERRY: Yeah, that's right. They're great players. They're the only people who've worked in my studio apart from me, actually. The girls in my band, one or two of them, have been there for a while.

RATH: With your band, though, was this something - did you say I'm going to have more gender diversity in this group or were these just the best musicians?

FERRY: Uh, not really. Georgia came along and I think she auditioned together with the guys. And she won the job, and she was fantastic. And then similarly, the drummer we have on tour at the moment, Cherisse, she's a really good player. She got the job over a couple of other guys. Yeah, and we have a fair competition.

(MUSIC)

RATH: I'm speaking with BrYan Ferry about his new album. It's called "Avonmore." You're somebody who has taken great pleasure, it seems, in covering classics - I think pretty much as soon as you were on the scene.

FERRY: Yeah.

RATH: Still, I wasn't quite ready for your version of send in the clowns.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEND IN THE CLOWNS")

FERRY: (Singing) Isn't it rich, aren't we a pair?

Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air. Send in the clowns.

FERRY: I think it has a really haunting lyric and I've always liked that song. And I heard it years ago done by Sinatra. And yeah, it's good to take a song that's had a life in a musical. Some of the great pop songs were written for musicals, you know? (Unintelligible) used to write for musicals. And it's good to take a song from that world and put it into my world, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING IN THE CLOWNS")

FERRY: (Singing) Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns.

RATH: Bryan, I want to talk about your appearance.

FERRY: OK.

RATH: You always look - and this is something that people talk about like with your sound - like smooth. You always look quite dapper. I can't imagine you ever dressed down. Do you have that Miles Davis philosophy of you always have to look clean?

FERRY: Exactly. He was one of my great heroes - one of the idols I had growing up. Him and Charlie Parker both kind of very cool dressers, very sharp. In fact, all those bebop players were. All the jazz guys used to kind of - suits and ties. They always looked really cool, I thought. Got to try and live up to their standard.

RATH: And your background's kind of working-class, right? You didn't dress for dinner in your family, did you?

FERRY: Oh, no, we didn't. No, we fought for scraps.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRY: Yeah, and my parents were very keen that I should get on in the world, you know, and go to university and stuff, which I did. They always felt that there was a better world out there for us, which there turned out to be.

RATH: That Bryan Ferry. His new album comes out on Tuesday. It's called "Avonmore". Bryan Ferry, thank you very much.

FERRY: Oh, it's been a real pleasure talking with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.