In the age of grime, hip hop and EDM, do we still need rock and roll?
Did we ever need rock and roll music? We welcomed it. We prostrated ourselves at its feet, got up, dusted ourselves off, moved along – but rock and roll is still there. But I was in a guitar shop in LA picking up strings and it was jammed on a Sunday. So somebody still cares.
Do you get mobbed in guitar shops?
I wouldn’t say mobbed. I would say, at best, noticed. By the sales clerks. That is a good day for me. Just, “you’re next”, kind of thing. I think I have earned that, just by being there for half an hour.
Are modern rock stars comparable with your generation?
I don’t think they are comparable in the sense of the debauchery. Or even bauchery. I think unbauchery is the modern way. They have learned the lesson. They want to live past 27. It is live and learn, or don’t live.
Meditations Upon Ageing is the subtitle of your new LP, Smalls Change– what are the best and worst things about getting older?
Your mates dying off.
Is that a good thing or bad thing?
I’m glad you asked, I was trying to decide myself. I think it is a bad thing – you turn around and another one has gone. But even those among us who are not that wise get closer to wisdom with age. You see things coming around a second or third time, whether it is fashion or politics. You are less startled. Which is why I have a different musical feel on my new record, a symphonic palette. Because that will give them a WTF moment, won’t it? As you get older there are fewer WTF moments. I wanted to give people something to make them go WTF.
There is no handbook for that first generation of rockers, is there?
There is no manual for how to be an ageing rocker. I look at the music that rock ‘n’ roll came out of, which were country and blues. We are standing on their shoulders – although they are very stooped shoulders – and we should learn from them. Play till you drop, man. Play till you bloody drop. Sir Mick [Jagger] has the right idea. Still playing and rich. That is the way to do it. I admit I’m no Sir Mick. I’m not even Sir Derek, yet. But if the Queen is reading, there is still time.
What would your teenage self make of your career?
He would say, blimey, I thought you were going into real estate! You have surprised me, man. I didn’t expect a life in rock ‘n’ roll or to be married three times, each to a woman named Cindy. Well, that is what I called them – it’s just easier that way. “
What is your advice to this summer’s festival headliners?
Glastonbury 2009 was my biggest thrill in the rock and roll business. My feeling is that you get one chance. The audience are not going to walk out, but they might go to another stage. So you have got to keep them in the grip of your hand. Keep hitting them. It is not like a regular gig where you have their money so sod it. Don’t let go of the reins or the horses will bolt. There are no horses there. I would love it if they had festivals with horses – see a band, get a ride.
How does the new album play out, lyrically?
I look at what is gained, what is lost as we grow older. Memo To Willie is about adverts on the telly in The States featuring good-looking lads out with a nice-looking piece of crumpet, canoeing on a lake, hiking on hills, biking through a nice part of the urban settlement. They look like they are going to get it on, then it says: “When the moment is right, will you be ready?” But if this [erectile dysfunction] is a real problem, you don’t need a pill – just give William a good talking to: “Get it up, get it up, get it up, get it up”. That is the chorus. As I say, it is not about me.
You just wanted to start the conversation?
It is not a conversation, more of a stern talking to. I’m not interested in a reply from Sir William. The song Gummin’ The Gash is about the fact that, as time takes things away, you are still useful for something. You may lose your teeth, but you are still able to give pleasure to others.”
Did the title come first?
In that case, the title did come first. Memo To Willie too. She Puts The Bitch in Obituary, title first. Almost all the titles came first. I didn’t realise until you asked me.
There is no Spinal Tap at the moment. It is like the Pangaea, the supercontinent.
When Men Did Rock is a nine-minute tribute to rock’s heyday…
It is my epic, my nod to Homer. It is not about ancient times but times that are fading now. The 1970s. This was a time when rockers strolled the earth like so many colossuses and you would fill the musical desert with pure licks of your own construction. And that time has passed.
Does the title mean you miss the days before rock discovered feminism?
No, it is just that When Humans Did Rock doesn’t scan as well.
How are relationships within Spinal Tap at the moment?
There is no Spinal Tap at the moment. It is like the Pangaea, the supercontinent. It turned around a few million years ago… where has it gone? There is South America and Africa but no Pangaea. Tap is like that.
Which continent are you?
I am the Atlantic Ocean in the middle. The lukewarm water. I talk to Nigel occasionally. And I sent him the record. He said: “Very well done.” I took that as a compliment.
Do you have more creative differences as a solo artist or in Spinal Tap?
That wasn’t what our problem was. I don’t know what our problem was – when we were playing Wembley and Glastonbury in 2009, I thought: “Here we go.” But here we didn’t go. The phone stopped ringing. Again. It didn’t feel like creative differences. It didn’t feel like differences. It didn’t feel creative either.
David Crosby guests on the new LP – was there any facial hair envy?
No. He is a curmudgeonly git. He wouldn’t admit to envy of any kind. But there is a softness beneath that gruff exterior. And beneath that there is a really gruff interior. But he did a wonderful job. He brought something personal to Gimme Some (More) Money. When my producer asked him about his sailboat, he shouted: “I had to sell it!”
Did Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters have any trepidation given your track record with drummers?
I don’t think the curse of Tap has attached to me as a solo artist. It is attached to the three of us. Three being a very powerful number, both in hell and music. Everyone who has drummed for me seems in better nick after the session. It is a curse in reverse now. Satan works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?
At the Big Issue, we like to talk about big issues affecting society…
I sussed that from the name. But go ahead…
Poverty and loneliness affect a lot of older people…
Forming a band is certainly a cure for loneliness. Playing with mates, bashing out a tune, keeps you young, there is no doubt about it. But poverty? I don’t think starting a band will help you.
Is that a wider societal issue, perhaps?
I think so.
Are you a political animal, Derek?
I was political once. When I heard they were torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay by playing AC/DC and Metallica very loud all night, I had to organise a press conference. I said, “I cannot for the life of me understand how the USA, this beacon of the free world, cannot make room on that playlist for Spinal Tap.” I got a lot of push back for that. That was my farewell to politics.
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
Donald Trump or Kim Jong Un?
As a leader?
Or a a hair enthusiast?
Who has the better hair? I would say Donald Trump, because he hides it better. He knows he has a problem up there. Kim doesn’t spend enough time and Donald spends too much.
Meghan Markle or Kate’s new baby born yesterday?
A princess or a baby. Well, that baby is a boy and I quite fancy the princess. So there you go.
Jacob Rees Mogg or Shania Twain?
Jacob Rees Mogg the tall, very right-wing Tory MP or Shania Twain the country singer who has just released a new record after about 15 years? Well, I know that feeling, so Shania Twain. I feel a bit of camaraderie – if you can have camaraderie with a woman.
Rock (majesty) or roll (fantasy/pageantry/mystery)?
Rock or roll? Rock. Rock is harder than roll. Roll is smoother than rock. You have smooth rocks eventually, if enough water rolls over them. But if rock and roll were equally hard, you wouldn’t need roll. Just rock.
The Simpsons or Family Guy?
The Simpsons. Spinal Tap were on it. They almost killed us. There was a bus crash. Did they kill us? I don’t remember. But Family Guy has never had us on, so I’m against them for that.
Arsenal or West Ham?
Arsenal. Good luck with their new coach, whoever he might be. I love the idea that Arsenal had the old coach’s name in their team name. Every time they get a new coach they should do that. It bonds everyone together. My team? Derek City. No, Derek United. I am a bit partial towards Shrewsbury Town as well – I wore their shirt [in This Is Spinal Tap]. For a while I thought it might be good for a rocker to buy a football team. This was before the Oligarchs took over.
Ed Sheeran or Eddie Van Halen?
Eddie Van Halen. He still shreds like no one. Literally, like no one.
Complete free trade with associated tariffs or customs union based on the Norwegian model?
I like Norway. Beautiful, beautiful birds out there. I would love to have a Norwegian model.