John Cale: “Everybody knew the excitement of The Velvet Underground & Nico wouldn’t last”

Cale answers your queries on Lou Reed, his favourite music and making Nico cry

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Out of all the instruments you play, do you have a favourite?
Anthony Rowland, Staffordshire
No, I don’t. I play a lot of them, and I usually torture them once I play them. It’s really about altering the sound of whatever I’m playing at the time, and so one instrument becomes several others in the course of the day. It’s more about sounds, and how you get different ones from different instruments. You don’t just put the guitar in the amp and play it; you put it through several other things first and play it, and then when it comes out the other end you do some more to it. Is the viola suited to experimental music? No, it’s just the use of the drones; it gives you a sense of space. But if you want to play three-string drones on the viola, you gotta modify the bridge, but you can’t do very much with it after that. But it’s a great noise.

You’ve played the Bataclan in Paris a few times. Were you personally touched by the recent attacks?
Jerry Fontes, New Jersey

Yes, it’s just horrific… I’ve been aware of a lot of people that dislike music as a cultural force – not just a mild dislike, either – but people who have no place for it in their lives, and I feel sorry for them.

Would you be interested in working with David Bowie? I understand you had a jamming session in New York in the ’80s…
Alex Heslop, via email
Bowie picked me up to go to the Mudd Club and I was in the studio, and we started working, throwing things around. But anyway, the answer’s yes. I’ve worked a lot with Brian Eno, and Eno and I, it’s a dynamic that works. We’re very different, but he’s breaking equipment just like I do.


Do you still like watching Channel 4 News? And are you still eating your oranges?
Shaun Ryder, Happy Mondays
Yes! Channel 4 News at 7pm with Jon Snow was always a favourite. I mean, there’s a lot of other things nowadays, it’s not exclusively Channel 4. I’m surprised he remembered that [laughs]. As for the oranges, I live in California so the urgency is not so great any more. And they were tangerines, actually. I used to go out in Liverpool when I was recording the Mondays [Cale produced their 1987 debut, Squirrel And G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)] and buy them like everybody else. I bought a box of them. At that time, I’d stopped doing all the bad things I was doing and I was really focused on making my body a lot healthier, playing squash and all that. There were a few moments during the recording where the Mondays were shaky, but it was fun – it was the characters that made up the band that really made it fun.

What do you remember of recording Nico’s The Marble Index?
Audrey West, via email
It was all done in five days. When [Elektra’s] Jac Holzman heard it and said, “I really like your record,” I couldn’t believe it. To have a record company president say that he liked The Marble Index… But Jac was that kind of guy. We were doing some interesting stuff – on “Evening Of Light”, I was playing an eight-string bass, a Hagstrom. I thought of it as a tuba part, and played it as one. It was mostly instinct. Nico was confused, and put out by the fact she didn’t quite understand what was going on when we were recording. Which is understandable. But at the end, she was crying, and everybody went, “Oh no, what’s wrong now?” And she said, “It’s so beautiful.”


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