Paul Simon on “The Sound Of Silence”, Art Garfunkel and Graceland: “The music keeps growing”

An interview from the Uncut archive

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How do you feel when you’ve finished an album? Are you happy to let it go, or do you struggle to stop tinkering?
I’m a let it go guy. I’ve been listening constantly for years and years. I don’t see any point now in going back and listening again more intensely. I’m more likely to make a mistake if I make any changes now. I’ve had plenty of time to correct my errors. In five years, I’ll listen to this and say, “Oh, I should have sung it that way. I should have done this, I should have done that.” But that’s what you do on live tours. Even though you’re repeating the same songs, they get better. If you’re paying attention. If you want them to get better.

How do you write these days?
I have a little cottage, that’s my studio. I often write in my car, when I’m driving along listening. Just a word of advice for anybody who’s driving near me: you’re making a big mistake. When I’m in writing mode, I’m writing all day long. It’s what I’m thinking about before I fall asleep. It’s not like something else doesn’t take my attention, like I have to go and pick up my youngest, or you have to go shopping, or whatever. But for the rest of the time, I’m thinking, “This line, that line, maybe it would be better that way, maybe this would be funny…” It’s pretty intense and it goes on for usually about three years. By the time I’m finished, I’m finished.


You’ve always been open to different sounds, and you used the Harry Partch instruments on this album. Do you have a favourite?
Oh, they’re fabulous. It depends on what you’re using them for. Maybe the Cloud Bowls. They’re so magical. You can play them and hear what it is. The Chromelodeon, it doesn’t play what you think it’s going to play. But the Cloud Bowls are so beautiful, the overtones and how they ring against each other. They are also physically beautiful to look at.

You collect unusual percussive instruments, right?
I divide the rhythm instruments into skin, wood and metal. If I hear a shaker that’s really nice, I’ll get it. So I have a lot of different shakers. The same with the metal. I particularly like West African instruments. They have a nice rawness. When you hear a sound that you like, it it’s for sale, I’ll buy it. I don’t know where to put it, but I’ll buy it.

Is the cottage full up, then?
With racks and racks of guitars, yeah. The space is big enough and they’re put in their shelves and there’s a big iron gate that comes down and the room is humidified and locked and fire proofed, and all of that stuff. I even have the guitar that I wrote all the Simon & Garfunkel songs on. There are two of them. One of them is in the Rock’n Roll Hall Of Fame and the other one I turned into a high string guitar. It’s beautiful. I still use it sometimes, yes.


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