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January 15
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Interview: Earl Slick on David Bowie's "Next Day" Sounds

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Interview: Earl Slick on David Bowie's "Next Day" Sounds


Photo courtesy KL Management.

A new David Bowie album is always a big deal, but especially when it comes 10 years after the last one. On January 8, 2013, Bowie announced he'd recorded a whole new album, in secret, for release in March. A couple of months earlier, UK paper The Telegraph ran an article which speculated—but really just flat out stated—that Bowie had retired from music altogether. At that point The Next Day was all but finished. It's an album of classic Bowie in the Scary Monsters/"Heroes" mold, with occasional flashes of Let's Dance, Heathen, Reality and even Tin Machine and Outside. Yet like all Bowie productions, after a few listens it begins to distance itself from comparisons and to truly become, simply, the new Bowie album.

Earl Slick—who's played on no fewer than 10 Bowie albums—is one of several guitarists to appear on The Next Day, popping up on various tracks to lend his Keith Richards-esque melodic rock edge to some of the harder material, while Gerry Leonard and David Torn handle some of the more atmospheric songs. But with rumors of Bowie's retirement swirling, did Slick ever think he'd see the day when he'd record another Bowie album? "The situation is kind of funny," Slick says. "I've known David almost my entire adult life and there isn't anything he's ever done that has surprised me. My thought was, 'I'm just gonna go about my business, because he may or many not do something again.' I had no idea, 'cause I'd never seen him go this long. Ever. I couldn't gear what I was doing towards whether he was going to do this again, because I knew he may do it or he may not do it. So I wouldn't have been surprised if he never did it again, and I wasn't surprised when he did do it!"

The album's widely circulated first single, "Where Are We Now?," is not a representation of the work as a whole, Slick says. "[The album is] eclectic. There are definitely some rockers on there, and there are some songs on there that are really reminiscent of different periods of time." But as Slick points out, that's always been Bowie's style. "If you take any Bowie record, you can look at elements that might have come from previous recordings. That also comes from the fact that he is a writer that writes a certain way, even though the material can vary widely. You can listen to Heathen—it's very different to a lot of his other work, but then again, you can hear the influences in there."

"It's like a Stones album," Slick continues, drawing a comparison to one of his guitar touchstones. "If you go back to the very beginning, they were doing covers, and when you come to the present day, those elements are still there. It's the same thing with the Bowie record. There are some really good rockers, there are a few more ethereal-sounding things on there … it's a Bowie record!" Slick likens it to Station To Station saying that the title track was, "fucking insane, with two crazy people doing all this feedback stuff going into a heavy, slow, ominous song, yet on the same album you've got 'Wild Is the Wind.'"

During Bowie's A Reality Tour in 2003-04, Slick was paired up with Gerry Leonard, who served as musical director for the tour and was responsible for reinterpreting much of the Robert Fripp/Reeves Gabrels-era material for live performance. It's a style that Leonard conjures several times during The Next Day. "We weren't in the studio at the same time," Slick says, "so I only know what he'd already done on the tracks I'd recorded! It works really well in the studio and live. But what Gerry can do, though, is if we're doing a track like "Diamond Dogs," for instance, he can do the weaving on the other end. There's a great clip of that [song] in 2004 in Long Island. It's a very Stones-y kind of song anyway, but Gerry can do that as well. He's a very versatile guitar player."

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