Jerry Lucky: I was looking at the photos I took of the band playing at the Marquee in 1983, waxing nostalgic…I think it was Gothique (maybe Tamarisk) that opened for you…when you look back on those times did you ever imagine you’d still be making music in 2009?
Peter Nicholls: Probably not. We’ve never had a game plan as such or even planned particularly far ahead, we’ve always taken it pretty much a year at a time, so to be in a position where we can now look back at 28 years of band history does come as something of a surprise, I think. We’ve had occasional periods of being quiet but IQ has never split up or ground to a halt. The band has been consistently active since 1981, which I think is a great achievement.
JL: I want to come back to that thought in a bit…But let’s talk about some of the recent personnel changes.
PN: Line-up changes have usually happened when a band member has decided, for whatever
reason, that IQ isn’t what he wanted to do anymore. When I left in 1985, I wasn’t happy in the band, we weren’t really able to talk
to each other about our feelings and I was having some personal difficulties as well outside of the band so I really felt I had to
make a break. When Paul Cook left in 2005, though, it wasn’t because he no longer enjoyed playing in the band, it was down to the
fact that he was re-locating to
JL: The new album is called ‘Frequency’…with all that was going on with the new people, how difficult was it making this record than the previous ‘Dark Matter’?
PN: This album had more than its fair share of obstacles, I’d say. Martin’s decision to leave was very sad and work on the album had to be stalled while we sought a new keyboard player. Then I was seriously ill in hospital last year with pneumonia and spent a couple of months recuperating. But this was a more rewarding album to make than ‘Dark Matter’, I like it much more and for me, the most enjoyable aspect of ‘Frequency’ was that Mike and I worked more closely together than we have done for many years. We’ve known each other for 33 years now and he’s a phenomenal talent. Andy and Mark made brilliant contributions to this album. I think it’s our best work in a long while, and it’s our bestselling album to date so we must still be doing something right!
JL: When it says…“all songs written and arranged by IQ”…I’d like to know how some of your compositions are crafted…a song like ‘Frequency’…how did it come together?
PN: Generally speaking, the initial sound palette for any new track is (or was) defined by Mike and Martin, and ‘Frequency’ is as good an example as any of how we write songs. People put forward any riffs or ideas, large or small, and we work on them together in the rehearsal room. I improvise vocal ideas and lyrics and slowly the track evolves and it’s refined and edited until we arrive at something that works. We’ve always felt it’s very important for each member to contribute to tracks. As long as everyone feels they have a valid contribution to make, then the band still has a legitimate reason to exist. A track like ‘One Fatal Mistake’ is slightly different as that was put together by Mike and me. I wrote the vocals and lyrics over several days driving to work and back!
JL: Over the years it’s become clear to me that Mike Holmes is a compositional-rock when it comes to IQ’s music…is he kind of the ‘orchestrator’ of the IQ sound?
PN: Yes, I would say he is now. When Martin was in the band this was more of a shared role between the two of them but, especially with Mike also being the producer of the albums, he tends to have the final say if a decision has to be made. When we were working on the album, Mike was adding keyboard parts and choosing sounds, it wasn’t Mark’s sole responsibility. I think Mike’s production job on ‘Frequency’ is his best yet.
JL: It says “lyrics by Peter Nicholls”…same sort of question for the lyrics of ‘Frequency’…at what point in the song’s composition do you start applying the words?
PN: An early incarnation of the lyrics is usually there from the start. When we’re working our way through new ideas and I’m improvising vocal melodies, I’m always jamming rough words, just to have something to sing. At that stage, most of the words I sing are complete rubbish but occasionally I’ll find a word or two that fit the melody or will spark an idea for a subject matter for the song. The lyrics go through many, many subsequent changes before I end up with something I’m happy with.
JL: Many of your albums seem to have, if not concepts, general themes…is that a fair observation?
PN: We did originally discuss the idea of making ‘Frequency’ a concept album but in the end the concept was distilled into the title track. For me, albums are always a snapshot of where we are individually and collectively at the time and when I’m working on lyrics it’s often true that a certain mood or atmosphere will work itself into all the songs. ‘The Wake’ and ‘Subterranea’ are definite concepts, in that they have a story running through them and the lyrics are written in a more narrative style but I view the other albums as collections of impressions. On ‘Frequency’, there’s more of a reflective lyrical mood, I found myself thinking back on the early days of the band and there are references to that in ‘Life Support’ and ‘Closer’.
JL: I have this nagging ‘fan-boy’ question, that I’m not sure has an answer, but it’s simply this…How does IQ keep coming up with such tremendously accomplished music. Each new release bowls me over. All the ingredients are in the right place and it just keeps sounding better and better. How do you do that?
PN: Well, thank you for that. Speaking personally, the albums are without doubt the most important aspect of what we do. When the band has finally called it a day, they’re what we’ll be judged by and for me it’s crucial that each album is as good as it can be. From start to finish, ‘Frequency’ represents about three years’ work. We spend a lot of time making sure the albums are really strong and we work hard to maintain an upward curve creatively. I guess we’re always competing against ourselves, trying to improve on what we’ve done before. We obviously have a style, there’s an ‘IQ sound’, but we’re never happy to repeat ourselves, we always push ourselves to come up with something new.
JL: Can you give us a sense of what it was like being in IQ back in the eighties?
PN: Well, we were professional in the sense that we did the band full-time, we
weren’t holding down day jobs as well. We were always flat broke...any money that came in from gigs and sales of cassettes and T-shirts
was always much less than the money we had to spend keeping the band going. We played live an awful lot, all over
JL: Now that we’re all a bit older and we look back and see that things didn’t work out exactly as we expected, how do feel about the band’s current status in the world of music?
PN: When we started the band, we were under no illusions about the lack of mainstream acceptance for this kind of music. If we were seeking huge international stardom, we certainly wouldn’t have chosen to play progressive rock. But I’m very happy with the state of IQ now. The most important thing for me has always been to be part of a creative team and I feel I’m in a very lucky position, getting to create something special with people who I regard as good friends. For me, the proudest aspect of IQ is that we’re still creating new music which people genuinely respond to. Our audiences don’t come along to gigs just hoping to hear the early songs, they really want to hear the new material performed live every bit as much. When we’ve played the whole of ‘Frequency’ live as an hour-long chunk of music, it’s been received very enthusiastically.
JL: Are you happy with the amount of live gigs you get to perform each year? And how difficult is it to tour with everything else that’s going on in your lives?
PN: Generally speaking, we average about 10 shows a year, which is entirely dictated by our individual work commitments and family ties. I think that’s a good number. Any more than that and I’d find it hard to make room for everything. It’s fair to say that other members of the band would probably prefer to play live more often but for me the need to stand on stage and have people look at me isn’t as strong as it was, say, 20 years ago. I enjoy doing concerts but I wouldn’t really want to do more than we do.
JL: It seems you’ve been playing mostly prog festivals…has that proven to be the best method of touring for a prog band like IQ?
PN: Because of time constraints, we have to pick very carefully what we do and festivals are often a good way of reaching a good number of people in one hit, plus it’s always a good challenge to play to new people. Limited time means we unfortunately can’t do some of the shows we’re offered.
JL: I have to think the internet has helped when it comes to exposing the band to new fans? What about the dark side of that equation…illegal downloading and such? Any thoughts one way or the other?
PN: There’s no point in getting stressed about things I can’t control. Martin has been very vocal in his criticism of the internet since he left the band but I don’t share his views. There will always be people who prefer to get music for free but, in my experience, progressive fans really want to support the artists they like and they will always buy the product. The internet is definitely a vital tool now for introducing new music to the marketplace and downloading is an unfortunate by-product of that, but I can live with it.
JL: Last question then…if you were stuck on a desert island tell me what five CD’s you’d like to have with you and why those ones?
PN: Off the top of my head and in no particular order:
1. David Bowie – ‘Diamond Dogs’. His best album by a mile.
2. The Feeling – ‘Twelve Stops And Home’. Excellent songs.
3. The Beatles – ‘Revolver’. Still as amazing and revolutionary today as it was when it first appeared.
4. Genesis – ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’. Love it.
I've been following IQ since I first saw them at
The Marquee Club in London back in the early
eighties. Back then I conducted an interview by sending
them a cassette of questions and they sent me a cassette of answers. Not sure why I didn't call them on the phone?
Still that was many years ago and I thought it was time to catch up so emailed lead vocalist Peter Nicholls (that's him on the far left) to get an update.