In the late 1970s, nobody was cooler than Bryan Ferry. Maybe David Byrne would give him some competition, but most of the thinkers of the day not preoccupied with theorizing post-punk assumed that every bit of geeked-up sophistication Talking Heads employed was learned at the feet of Roxy Music. Nowadays, the whole thing seems upturned. Byrne is settling into post-world music collaborations with new-school icons like St. Vincent; Ferry has taken the deconstruction of show tunes and reconstructed it with big bands. He also apparently doesn’t like to do phone interviews. In anticipation of Ferry’s show at the Santa Barbara Bowl this weekend, his publicist organized an email exchange that she said would prove him uncontrollably articulate. Turns out, not so much.
How is the tour going? We’ve done three shows, starting with Vancouver and working our way down the coast. We’re about to do Coachella, then go on to Las Vegas and the rest of the California dates, before finishing in Santa Barbara.
Is it still fun or just hard work? It’s still fun … but also hard work.
I’m not clear from even the reviews I’ve read, but I’ve heard it’s a big show with over 20 songs in the set. Are you doing the rock ’n’ roll thing or a new big-band format? This is the smallest band I’ve worked with for a long time. A lot of the players are new, and it’s been very exciting to teach them the songs from so many different periods.
Are there new songs in the set alongside the hits and the covers? We have chosen what we think is an interesting selection from the many albums of my career, both in and out of Roxy. We like to think it’s a good balance of songs that are well-known and those that are more esoteric.
Is there a new band or songwriter that excites you today? Todd Terje, a Norwegian dance specialist whom I recently collaborated with, is a very talented young musician.
Are you keenly anticipating Coachella? It’s a big dose of very appreciative and very young concertgoers. It’s very exciting to play my music to a young audience who might not be overly familiar with it. Let’s hope it goes well!
I’m slightly confused about the direction your newer songs have taken. When Roxy Music and your solo work first appeared, it always seemed like an update of Cole Porter–style show tunes. Something like “Do the Strand” seems to almost border on loving parody. This feels a bit like a step backward in time, like a reconstruction of the jazz pop tune. I think it is sometimes useful to look back and learn from the past and to create something new from that. This is what “Do the Strand” was attempting to achieve.
Are there decided advantages of a big band over a rock band? Both formats are very interesting to work with. With a bigger band, you have more musical colors to work with — i.e., more variety of instrumentation. With a smaller band (as now), it can become more intense and focused.
If there was some time in the past where you could build a retreat, where would you go? Gometra. [It’s a Scottish island with four houses on it, and its inhabitants are dedicated to living off the grid, which, presumably, would mean no Internet. It might help. —Ed.]
Bryan Ferry plays the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Saturday, April 19, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com for tickets and info.