Interview with Jon Lord in "Kindred Spirit" - Summer 2000

Mention Jon Lord and Deep Purple and people automatically think 'heavy rock'. But there's an altogether quiter musician behind the persona; one who writes orchestral and sacred music, as Richard Beaumont discovered.

Kindred Spirit: Could you say something about two very different aspects of yourself, the one that is a member of Deep Purple and the one that has just produced the delicate and sensitive Pictured Within album?


Jon Lord: Becoming part of a rock band surprised me more than anything. I went to college to become an actor - I spent three years at drama school which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I grew up very fast. It was London right at the beginning of the 60s - I can't think of a better time to have been there. But when I got out of drama school, I was one of 50,000 actors looking for 500 jobs. I started playing the piano in pubs and bars just to pay the rent and keep body and soul together. But even though I'd ended up as a working musician I still didn't have an agenda in which rock and roll played a part. I play music. That's what I do. I write it, I listen to it, I bathe in it, eat it, sleep it and dream it. I've never been one for labels, so if anyone says to me: 'How can a rock and roll musician write spiritual music?'. I can't answer that. To me the question doesn't arise. I write what's inside me. I don't find any dichothomy between trashing a Hammond organ for Deep Purple and then sitting at the piano and playing something sublime.

What can you say to us about fame and fortune? One thing, especially in a popular medium, is that if you're not careful, it can diminish you rather than expand you, spiritually. There's that old show business phrase: 'Whatever you do, don't believe your own publicity.' I've seen exactly that happen to so many. The lowest common denominator is the one that most people seem happy with. If you're not careful, in the music business it's very easy to say: 'Oh yeah, that's cool. That'll do me.'

 

For quite a few years in the middle of my career, I was quite happy to just shuffle along, enjoying the success - going on holiday here, there and everywhere and living in a nice house, going to parties, getting drunk, staying up late and doing those kind of 'material' things. And that's on everyone's journey.

There are bound to be periods when it's easy to be blinkered by success and to just think: 'I'll worry about my spiritual self later.' I got a very salutary lesson during the recession of the late eighties and early nineties. We hit a very low period artistically in the band - we were doing it for the money, and that is the worst reason on God's earth to go out in front of the public and play for them. People just stopped buying records, stopped going to concerts, plus I'd had a few investments that went wrong.
But we came out of that period, and musically, we got better. I started writing my own music much more strongly.

You came back into your musical creativity in a big way?
Very much so. It was like having something pulled out from under my feet. There I was sauntering down the primrose path, clicking my fingers and thinking everything was cool, then suddenly it wasn't quite as cool. I'd almost turned 50 and things weren't looking so great. Then things turned around; I started to find my voice as a writer again. I started to write furiously in fact. The real catalyst was my parents' illness and then their deaths. It affected me very, very deeply of course. Especially as my father had become my hero. I always looked up to him and loved him. My parents came down here in the late eighties. They had still been living in the same house that I'd been born in, that they had bought in 1935!

But their old neighbours had all moved away, and suddenly they didn't know anybody. So I invited them to come and live with us. It was my wife, Vicky, who suggested it. My mum said they'd talked about it and she'd love to, but she said: 'You know what it means dear, don't you?'. 'What?' I asked. 'Well,' she said, 'it means we'll die there.' I thought, 'Wow'. I didn't want to think about that. But having such an amazingly spiritual wife, she helped me to look at that. I found myself being tugged into a spiritual path or rather just a way of living my life where things are less of a burden than they are when you're younger.

Was this the main experience that accelerated you into a spiritual understanding of some sort?
Yes, when mom was first showing signs that she was really quite ill I saw the effect that it had on my father. Then, after she died, this indestructible man became destructible...as clay, as a human...but as a spirit, never. He was bowed down by grief, but as a spirit he still lives on very strongly inside me. What I learnt in dealing with their demise I don't think I could put into words. But it opened channels which I had closed off over the years.

In your latest album Pictured Within, it seems that you use your experience of their death to produce an incredibly poignant and beautiful piece of music.
Thank you very much for that. I'm often quite surprised at the effect it has on people. I mean, I did realise it had some depth. The guy who was engineering it for me said he'd never done anything like it before. He'd worked with keyboards and strings and such before, but it'd all been quite jolly, and after just a couple of weeks of working together, he saw the way things were starting to move and he became a different man himself. He became more quiet and contemplative. It was really wonderful working on it.

It has some of your own essence in it.
I was worried, and still am, that it's too personal. I have friends who can only play it at certain times - my manager, for example, can't play it unless he's emotionally secure. It seems to have become almost like a soundtrack for sorrow, but it's not meant to be that. It's actually meant to be uplifting, and I think that if people play it a few times they will find the uplifting quality in it. The sadness comes out of it as a very immediate thing, but once you get past the melancholy...

You get to great beauty.
Well, I'll be honest Richard, I was trying to make a beautiful album - something that was attractive, because I love beautiful music. One of my joys is the warmth that such music gives, the spiritual quality that comes from beautiful music that can fill you up, when maybe the well has run a little dry.

In going towards beauty, you do meet a very sensitive edge. It's a balance - beauty can make you cry. It opens you out, doesn't it?
Absolutely; a great sunset can make your eyes prickle and even turn to tears, simply because it's so beautiful; or a view - the sea crashing and pounding on rocks - awe can turn to tears. And that's what I love about being a human being. I was responding to an inner voice and this is what came out.

Has your music changed because of the depth of your experience?
I've found a voice that I had lost for a while. My voice in the 70s, outside of Deep Purple, was a big orchestral voice. I love writing grand gestures for orchestras - I did four or five pieces for large orchestras; I'm still very proud of them and want to do more work in that genre. But the voice is very much the piano, a small number of strings, and maybe a synthesizer just to give a backwash; a chamber voice is what I've found. This is where I feel very comfortable at the moment and what I'm writing now is still for those kind of forces. Right now I'm not writing music that shouts, I'm writing music that whispers to you. I'm happy to be there at the moment, it's leaping out of me.

I'm intrigued to know where you'll go with your next album.
There's more movement to it. The general tempo of Pictured Within is adagio, occasionally andante, but certainly not presto or allegro. The stuff I'm writing now is slow music but there's more movement to some of it; also I've written a couple of things just for strings. The string quartet who played my music on tour this year (1999 -ed.) were wonderful. I've written a musical portrait of each one of them which will go onto the next album. There were two women and two men. The women were Romanian - very deep and soulful, and beautiful too, bless them! I'm trying to be less introspective on this album. I don't really think of it as an album, but as a collection. I would also like to write a Mass, so I'm working on a Pie Jesu which I hope to put on the record. I'm having a wonderful time as a composer right now, and I hope I always will. I really feel as if a gate opened a few years ago and I went through it. Not only that, I felt that something opened in me as well, and something came into me. It's a good feeling at the moment; it feels right.

 

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