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After more than four decades, numerous personnel changes, and a musical trajectory integrating blues, rock, prog, folk, classical, and practically every other genre either straddling or circumventing pop's progress over the past 40 years, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson has remained the band's leader and musical mainstay. His iconic image as the wild-eyed ruffian balancing precariously on one leg became, in the minds of many, the quintessential model of English eccentricity, a role Anderson assumed early on. "It obviously served the band very well as an identifying feature and a kind of logo," Anderson reflects. "But over the years, it became reinforced to the point where a lot of people don't know I actually have a real name. They think my name is Jethro Tull."
Speaking with New Times from his London office, Anderson took time from a busy day preparing for Tull's latest American jaunt to share his thoughts on both the band and the times in which they dwell.
New Times: What can we expect from a Jethro Tull concert nowadays?
Ian Anderson: We have our flexible repertoire that we play in concert, but some of it we won't be playing in June in America because it's not appropriate for an audience that is drinking and smoking and generally looking for an upbeat experience. The music we play in different countries of the world is a little more esoteric and adventurous.
Did you know that Aqualung was appropriated for both PlayStation and Rock Band?
I had no idea. I don't do videogames. Usually they seem fairly harmless. I'm quite circumspect about authorizing my music for violent videogames of the shoot-'em-up variety. I don't mind if they're vaguely musical or somewhat educational — giving these people a little bit of an opportunity to have a little bit of creative input into the musical world is OK, I guess.
When you watch Tull's archival videos, do they put you back in the moment, or does it become a detached observation?
I'm often surprised as to the degree to which I really can identify with the moment. It is quite surprising, the little things that you do remember about particular concerts. You may not remember it out of the blue, but if you happen to see them on video or film or a TV recording or happen to hear a live recording from the early days, it does tend to sound frighteningly familiar.
At what point did you know that Tull had definitively broken through and the band had attained megastardom? Was Aqualung the defining measure?
I think that the real watershed was after the Benefit album, because by then, we had become quite well-known in most countries of the world where we had played concerts on our own or as a headline act. I can remember at the end of recording Aqualung, at like 7 o'clock in the morning, when we finished the last mix at Island Studios on Basing Street, sitting with [then-keyboardist] John Evans and saying, "That's it, we're done, and this one is either going to make us or break us in terms of fame and fortune, or else we've gotten as far as we're going to get and this one's going to be a relative failure and we'll be in a slow decline."