How often do you play, if you’re not preparing
for an album or tour?
Photo by Jack English
Not often enough. I have guitars sitting
around—I’ve got them all in my room now,
for instance. I might pick it up in passing and
just play a little lick and walk on, because
I’m always so busy
. I get in these modes. I’ll
get in an art mode, and then I have to keep
painting. And then I get in a musical mode,
and that’s when I keep playing. Luckily, these
moods and these shifts of inspiration come
at the right time to keep me off the street.
Y’know, to keep me satisfied. [Laughs.
Before the interview, we tweeted our
readers and viewers inquiring what they
wanted us to ask you, and some wanted
to know how your painting informs your
guitar playing—or vice versa.
Well, sometimes I play to a painting and
sometimes I paint to music. They’re so
closely related, because when you’re doing
a painting, it’s like overdubbing. You know,
you put the backing track there, and then
you come through with the guitars, and the
final vocal, and stuff. It’s just like the layers
of tracks in the studio.
Do you get into a rhythm that affects your
brushstrokes when you’re painting to music?
Yeah, I get into a rhythm when I’m painting.
This is pure expressionism.
Which musicians or artists are inspiring
you right now?
Very few, actually. There’s this girl singer,
Russian girl, called Regina Spektor. She’s
very simple, but very classical. She’s coming
to London in October, actually, and I got in
touch with her record company and I said,
“Can I do something with her,” something
musically. I’ve never actually met the girl and
I don’t really know what she looks like or
anything, but I just like the way she sings.
Is that in the works?
No, but I’m going to hijack her when she
comes to England.
You’re going to harass her until she says yes.
Yeah, I’m going to say, “Come on, let’s do
something together.” She might say, “Sod
off.” I don’t know. But that’s the way I always
work. I approach the unapproachable. I go up
to Bob Dylan and say, “Come on, let’s play.”
Everybody. I’ve done that with Bob Marley.
With Zeppelin. I just go and play with them.
You never get anywhere unless you try, right?
Exactly, and most of the time all of these
unapproachable things or people turn out to
be really down to earth. Like Prince. His band
members are the nicest bunch of guys in the
world. He’s hard to get through to, but when
you’re actually playing with him, he’s like a
humorous, really down-to-earth, clever guy.
Robert Plant was recently interviewed
on NPR, and he was talking about being
a kid and listening to James Brown and
Smokey Robinson on American radio stations,
and then saving up money from his
newspaper delivery job to buy albums
from King Records in Cincinnati. Do you
have a similar memory of when you were
first hooked on music?
Yeah, I remember when I was a kid in short
pants or I had just gotten out of short trousers.
I had a little record player in my room
and I was playing Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee
Lewis, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters, and
Howlin’ Wolf —all that kind of thing—and I
was thinking, “I’m going to meet these guys
one day. I’m going to play with them.” And
I did. Every one of them. Bo Diddley turned
out to be one of my greatest pals.
How old were you at that point?
I was 14 or something. Before then, I was listening
to Big Bill Broonzy at about the age of
7 or 9, and playing guitar shuffles and stuff.
At what point did you think, “I’m going to
do this for the rest of my life”?
Oh, ever since I picked up a guitar. And ever
since I picked up a brush. I knew I was going
to do it. Right from an early age. From 4—
my earliest memories.
If there were one bit of wisdom you could
distill for the average guitar player to take
to heart, what would it be?
Well, I always go in the deep end. I always
try the impossible. Never think that something
is too much of a challenge. Never
think, “Oh, I’m not going to do that—I
wouldn’t be right for it.” Always think,
“Yeah, I can do that.” Nine times out of 10
it works. I have done that all my life. When
I was at school, I knew I was going to be in
the Stones. I knew I was going to be in that
band, no two ways about it. So, here I am 35
years later, and still the new boy. [Laughs.]