Part 4 of the interview between George Michael and journalist Mark Goodier in Spring 2010. This was from a booklet that was included in the Faith: Legacy Edition release (deluxe box version).
It took me four days recording the bass line. I can’t do it live, but I can play five or six bars well enough to construct the whole thing.
MG: Why does that work for you, rather than having someone who can play sat there?
GM: Because it doesn’t allow you the distraction of your own musicianship. It means that you have to create a mood with what you have, and what you have is limited.
MG: Something else happens …
GM: I never learnt to play an instrument as a child. If I had, I’m sure my music would have been totally different.
MG: And maybe not as good.
GM: I had a conversation with Barbra Streisand, and she said to me: “I don’t play anything and can’t read music at all.” And I realized that, actually, I had learnt to read music. I did it at O Level, but what I’d done is discard all of it. I completely subconsciously discarded anything that I knew, so that I literally forgot the notes. I know where middle C is, and I can work them out from there I suppose, but I can’t still tell you the six strings on a guitar. You’d think I’d somehow learn the strings on a guitar wouldn’t you? You’d think you’d be forced into remembering. But no, theory just doesn’t get a look in. I’m afraid of theory, but that part of me that’s afraid of theory acts on it — even if I am completely unaware of it. I’m not that smart; my musical instinct is much smarter than me, so it feels as though – and I know that it sounds ridiculous, and it is such a cliche – but I sometimes feel like a bit of a vessel. When its coming from somewhere so subconscious you’re not even aware of thinking it, It’s very easy to believe it actually comes from somewhere else. I am someone who totally believes in things like energy, emotional energy, the energy of human beings that transforms itself into proper electricity, or whatever. We don’t understand it at all. And there is a reason that one person can go and stand on a stage and perform, and people at the back of the room feel the same thing as the people at the front; another person with just as good material, can’t project further than the first six or seven rows. How do you explain that? I swear to God when I’m on stage somewhere like Earls Court, even though on one level I’m enjoying every moment, on another level I’m constantly keeping up an energy and I’m terrified to let it die because I’m aware that you only have to hit a few burn notes and the atmosphere in the room changes. People don’t know it but they’re invested in you somehow and, suddenly, they’re not as secure. The ability, through complete fear of failure, to maintain that control of the room is inexplicable..
MG: Of all the songs on this record …
GM: I don’t think there is anything that I would choose to listen to now. I think it must be something to do with the period of my life in which it was written, because I was massively unhappy and lonely. Ironically, I think one of the reasons the record was so successful is that people can recognize the loneliness.
MG: These are songs that people love though.
GM: Oh, I understand that some of them are “classics,” and I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a commercial quality to them. I never went for that again; I never went for the jugular again after this.
MG: And they feel it in their lives, too.
GM: Exactly. This is what I’m saying: they recognise it when it comes from the same thing they feel. They recognise when someone’s genuinely lonely and hasn’t just written a morbid lyric. I’ll probably never connect with as many people again as I did when I was lonely.
MG: Songs like “One More Try,” which people absolutely loved for its plaintive quality.
GM: That’s probably the best one. I think that if I had to listen to one song, it would probably be “One More Try”. I wrote it in one evening and even at that stage that didn’t happen very often, but I was beside myself that I’d written it. I knew, in some way, it was a real leap. I suppose a lot of it was the performance but I remember going to Dick Leahy being so excited to play it to him, in a way that I wasn’t when playing him “Faith” or whatever. It makes you realise – that I’m lucky enough to have the ability, the gift. On the other hand the two weakest tracks are “Monkey” and “Look At Your Hands”.
MG: Except that “Monkey” is lyrically interesting, isn’t it?
GM: It’s interesting … I’d found out that a girl took some drugs that I didn’t know she took; I didn’t know how to help her because I didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t even smoke weed or anything. I think it was around the same time that I met her that, through someone else, I took my first ecstasy tablet. So, “pre” that period I had no experience of addiction in anyone around me; no one in my family had been an alcoholic. It’s quite a big family between my mother’s and my father’s families, but not one alcoholic amongst them as far as I know. Believe me there were enough reasons for them to get drunk.
MG: There’s an awareness, not just a self-awareness, but an emotional awareness of what you want to write with songs like “Hand To Mouth.”
GM: I heard that recently, and, actually, I think the song is quite nice. The lyric is pretty good for somebody of that age. It’s very anti-Thatcher. It’s all about Thatcher and Reagan really but I don’t think I’d express it that much better if I did it today. Some of my best lyrics are when I’ve dared to use metaphors. I like to be direct. I think that it says is that, even when I was in the middle of the firestorm, I was still very much looking out at the world. I was, ultimately, very tempted to be an activist in some form, but I knew that no one would really listen very hard to that. I suppose “Hand To Mouth” is one of the tracks on the album where I’m trying to show off as a lyricist. I think maybe one of the reasons I find “FAITH” — and “LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE” — harder to listen to than anything after, is that I can hear the effort. I can hear a front.
MG: You can hear yourself on the journey.
GM: I can hear me on the journey. I can hear me trying. LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE is very much is that to me. When I listen to that album I think, ‘here’s a soul musician who’s been listening to too many Beatles’ albums.’ Because I had, I’d been listening to The Beatles a lot. But by the time I got to OLDER, I was completely aware that my natural, most effective and most honest form of writing would always have some R&B to it. That’s where I hear things; that’s how I hear things. To me, some things are dead until you put certain amount of rhythm in them — unless they are very specifically a different genre. OLDER is completely honest. I suppose it’s my first completely honest album. FAITH is honest, in that it’s right-down-the-middle pop — pop and R&B — but I’m still trying to show people what I can do. By the time I got to OLDER — yes it was a huge challenge to have been away for so long, but I’d had such a huge experience in losing Anselmo, worrying about making the right impression on rock journalists didn’t occur to me. I was, by then, trying to write to honour him. I was writing much more autobiographically and, in some weird way, I thought I had nothing to lose.
MG: How do you rate your vocal performance on FAITH? Were you at your best, or do you think you were still on the journey as a singer?
GM: I think I’m at my best in terms of the strength and the purity of my voice. It was before the smoking happened, and before most of my life happened. I absolutely believe I’m a much better interpreter of my own material than I used to be, and I get more joy out of it.
MG: Rolling Stone Magazine said of FAITH: “At times he’s almost too good.”
GM: I think what that probably means is – and I think it would be the reason some people don’t like much of what I do – is the symmetry of it. I’m trying to make beauty and give lyrics intelligence and truth.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Q Magazine: George Michael The Only Interview (December 1998)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)