Photo by Jack English
How often do you play, if you’re not preparing for an album or tour?

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.]