Peter Gabriel on working with Arcade Fire and making touring greener

The former Genesis singer and solo icon also shares details of new and unheard music

Before picking up the Academy Fellowship award at the Ivor Novellos yesterday (Thursday May 19), Peter Gabriel spoke to NME about working with Arcade Fire, new music in the works, and how he hopes to make touring more environmentally friendly.

Collecting the final prize of the night, the former Genesis frontman turned solo icon told us how his award was simply “for staying alive”, but paid tribute to the celebration of songwriting on display at London’s Grosvenor House.

“Songwriting is what got me into this, so I feel at home here,” he told NME. “I do it because I love it – even if I couldn’t get any income from it. I’m looking for a piano and mucking around with ideas.”

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Quizzed for advice for younger songwriters, he replied: “Be bold, have fun, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from anyone that interests you.”

Peter Gabriel - womad
Peter Gabriel. CREDIT: Harold Cunningham/Getty Images for Kaspersky

Gabriel also recently contributed to Arcade Fire’s latest acclaimed album ‘WE, lending vocals to the song ‘Unconditional II (Race and Religion).

“I thought that they were a great band and they asked me,” Gabriel told NME about how the collaboration came about. “That’s the simple truth about it. Regine [Chassagne, keys] grew up in Montreal so was exposed to a lot of my music. They’re great writers and it was really fun and interesting to see how other people worked.”

The music pioneer has made headlines recently for his ongoing environmental work, including his donation of a track to Brian Eno’s Earth Day album alongside the likes of Coldplay, Michael Stipe, Anna Calvi, Jarvis Cocker‘s JARV IS… and many more.

Asked about the music industry’s ability to tackle the climate change crisis, Gabriel described it as “a work in progress”.

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“Touring in itself isn’t energy efficient,” he said. “I know that bands like Massive Attack have tried very hard to deal with that. There are no perfect solutions.

“They’re talking about upping the quality of lighting and PA in venues, which is how it used to be in the very old days. Not that they were good, but it meant that bands didn’t take tonnes of gear. That might help. There’s a venue in Vegas and they’re trying to get one in London too, which was a massive visual and audio sphere. That may take off and would get cheaper to reproduce, and people could arrive and cut down on what they bring.”

Speaking of an idea that he’s “been trying to sell for 20 years” that would “be a great energy idea if we can get it to work”, Gabriel talked of a revolutionary way of whole productions travelling by train.

“Many years ago, I was trying to do a train tour where we would travel by train,” he recalled. “Part of the problem is that the tracks are not all the same size.

“We found about a dozen venues where trains could pull in. The artists never had to pack and unpack because it was in the same carriage. The train unfolds to become a stage with lighting and sound systems in carriages either side. Then at the end of the show it folds up.”

Meanwhile, it was recently announced that a previously unreleased Gabriel soundtrack is to be released as part of a new box set celebrating the work of artist Graham Dean – who also worked with the musician on promo videos for ‘Solsbury Hill’ and ‘In Your Eyes’.

“This is something I did as a young man for a friend of mine who is a painter,” he told NME. “It’s fun but it wasn’t a work on which I’d spent a lot of time and energy – I was just trying to create some sounds to go with his paintings!”

Beyond that, fans can expect some original new music from Gabriel in the coming months.

“I’ve got a lot of songs I’m trying to get finished,” he added. “I’m hoping to have something out by the end of the year.”

Gabriel made another public appearance in London back in March when he stopped by The O2 to watch his former band Genesis’ final show.

Graham Dean’s ‘Strange Beauty’ box set will be released on June 30. 

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