Suave, seductive, and a little surreal — that’s Bryan Ferry for you. Even in his later years, the former Roxy Music frontman commands attention with his heart-melting voice and impeccable style. Both as singer for the ’70s-’80s art-rock group that penned “More Than This” and as a solo artist, Ferry has stood as one of rock’s most assuredly self-styled innovators. When he plays the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, August 19 — a gig he’s “really looking forward to” — Ferry’s set will mix old hits with new works. I spoke with Ferry on the phone about his ongoing life in music, his sense of fashion, his childhood, and his sexiness.
How does it feel to continue to play music you wrote in the ’70s and ’80s? It’s fascinating and very gratifying to see audiences being really enthusiastic about the work. We’re doing a show that draws from really different periods. A good half of the show is Roxy Music — we do stuff from the first album, and a few songs from Avalon — and my solo albums.
It’s nice to have all the musical colors that I’ve got in the band, and [to] exploit those; I have a classically trained saxophonist from Australia, a new girl in the band who plays viola, and a new guitar player from Denmark who plays the parts beautifully. It’s great to be able to explore the repertoire of the catalog as well as the popular songs. Some of the lesser-known tracks have gotten stronger through the years.
Roxy Music’s aesthetic was based in fine art; now, the speed of images and media is much faster. How has that affected the performances? It’s changed drastically. In the early days, we did everything ourselves, and it was all very make-it-up-as-you-go-along. Now, there’s so much technology and so many specialists involved, and the visual side of people’s career — I guess we really concentrate on the music; there’s not much we do visually apart from a great lighting guy who makes the most of the material.
Was glam rock good for human evolution? It was always a term that we found quite embarrassing. We liked to think of ourselves as pretty unique and not kind of categorized with anyone. A whole subculture of bands wearing sparkly eye makeup developed, and we didn’t feel we really belonged in there, even though in our first two years of touring, we were quite outrageously dressed. The streets of London at the time were quite exciting. London was quite exotic … and we have lots of friends who were involved in that fashion scene. We sort of thought of it as doing anything that would get our music recognized and grab some attention, but then we did some severe backpedaling when it started becoming too much.
Who were the band’s style icons? The music was always the main thing for us, and if all the time you’re being photographed for interviews, then you have to grin and bear it. I’ve always liked wearing suits. I like the way people used to dress in the ’30s; the landscape of old movies is something I like very much. That was actually how I liked to dress before Roxy. There are photographs of me when I was in college looking pretty much as I do now.
What do you consider sexy? I guess it’s not something I think about … I don’t know, you’ve got me stumped.
Do you consider yourself a sex symbol? Not at my age.
If you could hire a famous painter to do your self-portrait, who would you pick? I won’t go the Michelangelo route. I’d say maybe Velázquez or Titian, two great painters. On our days off, we like to go to art museums.
What were you like as a child? I was the apple of my mother’s eye, I remember, which was important, and I was very, very curious. I’d get really fascinated and obsessed with things; whether it was music or sport, I liked to really go for it — and the music thing seems to have lasted.
Bryan Ferry plays the S.B. Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) with opener Judith Owen on Saturday, August 19, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.