Ian Anderson Wanted to Bring Jethro Tull Back Sooner: Exclusive Interview
Ian Anderson has a rocky relationship with the Jethro Tull brand.
He retired the moniker in 2014, telling Billboard he preferred in his "twilight years" to use his own name. "It’s a body of work I rather think is now kind of historical, since the weight of it lies back in the '70s and '80s in terms of volume," he noted. "And I rather think it’s nice to kind of leave that as legacy.”
For a long time, Anderson seemed content with that decision: 2012's Thick as a Brick 2, 2014's Homo Erraticus and 2017's Jethro Tull — The String Quartets were all issued as Ian Anderson LPs.
Looking back, however, he says should have revived the famous name sooner – because Homo Erraticus was "very much a band project album," Anderson admits.
These days, it's mostly a concern of methodology: The Zealot Gene, the first LP issued by Jethro Tull in nearly two decades, was consciously designed with a live-in-the-room mentality. "It was rehearsed and arranged as it would be performed live onstage," Anderson says. "That’s my favorite way of working."
Listen to 'Enter the Uninvited' From Ian Anderson's 'Homo Erraticus'
You wanted The Zealot Gene to be a very band-oriented progressive-rock album. Obviously that's familiar territory for you, but were you craving a full-band sound for a particular reason this time?
On [reflection], I should have released the previous album, Homo Erraticus, as a Jethro Tull album because it was very much a band project album, written and recorded in the same general way as this one: It was rehearsed and arranged as it would be performed live onstage. That’s my favorite way of working. Seven of the tracks on The Zealot Gene were recorded in exactly that way: We had five days of rehearsal, four days of recording and seven tracks to show for it.
So it was quite quick. But the touring schedules and everything else that conspired, followed by the pandemic, meant that it only got finished this year when I gave up hope of working in the studio with the other guys in the band at the beginning of this year, and I decided I’d better just finish it off by myself. Hence there are five songs that are more acoustic and musically contrasting a little bit with the other songs. But that might be a good thing — it’s a bit like the way the Aqualung album evolved, where I recorded some things on my own in the studio and then the other guys added little bits and pieces, or a string quartet magically appeared. But it’s my preferred way of working.
And in essence, if we’re talking "progressive rock," that kind of defines most of what I’ve done over many years. Sometimes it might be progressive folk, or in some cases progressive pop. But my general approach sits in the broad definition of progressive rock. It’s developmental music. It has the ingredients, I suppose, of pop songs: verses, choruses, introductions. But it usually develops as other musical elements come into play that give it more detail and more stuff to get your ears around, rather than it just being purely vocal verses and choruses. Sometimes that’s OK, but I do like to stretch out a bit more musically.
It’s interesting to think about that split structure between the full-band, prog-rock stuff and the more solo, acoustic material. Looking back, are you happy it turned out that way?
I’m pragmatic about it. I look about it and think, “Well, that’s the way it worked out, and I’m happy with it.” I don’t think at this point I’d prefer to express a preference for doing the last five songs in the same way we did the first five. They might have taken on a denser musical context, and I’m pretty pleased with the way that it turned out – because I worked quickly and on my own. I recorded one every day.
I already had the music and lyrics back in 2017, but it was just a question of relearning to play it and recording the guitar parts and vocals and then thinking, “Oh, a bit of flute would work in there, or a harmonica or an Irish whistle, or percussion,” or whatever it might be. It’s whimsical, and I like whimsy — spur-of-the-moment decisions and then getting on with it.