Dire Straits Bassist: ‘How You Get Music Out There Is Irrelevant, As Long As People Can Hear It’

AA legendary UK band Dire Straits called it a day back in 90s, but as it normally happens with iconic acts – the Straits’ music lives well and keeps bringing the money. This May saw the release of Alchemy: Dire Straits Live, a Blu-ray edition of the band’s Hammersmith Odeon show, originally recorded for a concert album in 1984.

Bassist John Illsley was recently interviewed by Ultimate Guitar’s Amy Kelly to talk about the release and not only. While nothing specific on a reunion possibility has been revealed, John shared lots of interesting info on his own career, beauty of the Dire Straits’ music, and the state of the music industry.

Read an excerpt below:

Dire Straits is a band that has been able to go against the grain in terms of the typical radio song format, with many of your songs going well beyond the five-minute mark. Did some of those songs develop during jam sessions?

John Illsley

I guess you could get a sense of what Dire Straits thought about three-minute songs when you hear “Sultans of Swing,” a six-minute song that was our first single! I’ll never forget at one particular point in time the record company said, “I’ve managed to get ‘Telegraph Road’ down to five minutes.” We listened in complete astonishment, but that’s record company policy. You have to respect that, but we never really set out to do three or four-minute songs. One of the most successful songs we had on the British charts over here was “Private Investigations,” which was six minutes long. It was unheard of! You can break the rules.

As far as the songwriting is concerned, Mark would bring ideas to the band. We’d sit down in a small room and hammer out most of it in pieces. Then we hammered that out again. It’s very – I don’t want to use the word “organic” because it’s overused. But we all put our eclectic ideas out. Mark was very responsive to people’s ideas. As long as the song was working, it wouldn’t get thrown out. I think he, at that particular time, was writing some fabulous songs. I mean a song like “Romeo and Juliet,” it’s just an incredible piece of music. It was an absolute pleasure to work with such an extraordinary writer.

As someone who has been a steadily working bassist in the ever-changing music industry over the past few decades, what is your opinion on the current state of the business?

I think you’d be in denial if you didn’t embrace what’s happening. I think technology has created a completely different space, which some people don’t feel comfortable in. I don’t mind it all. The only think I object to is that some people don’t buy the music. They download it and it goes straight on to their iPod. They don’t have any idea of what the album cover looks like. They don’t care who might have produced it. It’s a different world we’re living in. I’m still slightly old fashioned, but I have to embrace what’s going on in the times. You can’t stick your head in the sand and say, “I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to do that.” People want to cherry pick their albums. They’ll say, “I like Brothers In Arms, but I don’t want to listen to ‘So Far Away.’” So be it. That’s fine as long as people are listening to the music. The music is the most important thing. How you get it out there is slightly irrelevant, as long as you can get it to where people can hear it.

There’s this court case with Pink Floyd. I don’t think Pink Floyd wanted Dark Side of the Moon broken up into bits and sold as individual tracks. I completely and utterly understand that. I absolutely understand that. The record company is saying, “Well, things are now getting broken up.” I think Pink Floyd actually won the case. I thought, well, in some ways they’re absolutely right. They had basically devised a concept album, and that’s the way they would like it to stay. In another way, the record company was right in saying, “When you made that record, this kind of technology wasn’t available.” It puts you between a rock and hard place. I’m pretty open to that whole thing. I think a lot of good things have happened over the last few years to get music out to people.

Read the full article at Ultimate Guitar.