Douglas McPherson chats to Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay

The don of rock saxophonists with Roxy Music, Andy Mackay’s latest project is a world away from For Your Pleasure. Inspired by ancient religious psalms, 3Psalms is an experimental symphony. Andy explains why it took 25 years to complete, and gives clues on his old band’s future…

Why did you decide to make an album based around psalms?
I’m quite happy people are challenged by the religious side of this. Christianity sometimes has a bad name, especially evangelical Christian music, which is a genre I don’t want to be associated with. I’m ordinary Church Of England – I don’t go to church every Sunday, but I go sometimes. I find it hard to believe a lot of Christian doctrine, and even harder to maintain atheism. A lot of the aggressive, Professor Dawkins-type atheism seems a little out of date to me. The universe is a mysterious place, and you can’t oversimplify it. Oversimplifying religion is the worst thing you can do. I started the record when music software became available in the mid 90s and it became easier to record.

Why did it take so long to finish?
It started out as more of an electronic project, like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Then I moved to Somerset in the late 90s, with a better home studio, and it turned into something for strings and voices with electronics on top. When Roxy Music started touring again in 2001, that took up my time. Once Roxy finally ground to a halt in 2012, I thought, “Okay, what am I going to do with this?” One of the pieces, Psalm 90: Refuge, has the line: “The days of our age be three score years and 10.” I turned 72 this year, so I’ve exceeded that age and I thought now is a good time to deal with some of the questions of existence.

You also completed a theology degree in 1991…
I felt I’d wasted my time when I first went to university. I was at Reading from 1965 to ’68, listening to music and generally not working. I wasn’t exactly a hippy, but I was alternative. I went to university again after Roxy and I had two children of secondary-school age. The degree covered a big chunk of human life. I studied other faiths, Renaissance religious art, literature, philosophy. I wasn’t training to be a priest!

Roxy’s Phil Manzanera plays on it…
We nearly always do a little bit on each other’s projects. Most of the album was recorded at Phil’s studio, he’d pop in from time to time. The first half of the concert for 3Psalms features Phil and I fronting Roxymphony – orchestral versions of Roxy songs. We hope that might go further.

Will Roxy ever do anything together again?
I can’t decide if another tour is a good idea. Most of the recent ones have followed our albums, and I wonder if the same arrangements and stage antics we did in our 20s don’t look quite right. The alternative is a different version, and maybe Roxymphony is a direction for us to look less like our own tribute band. I like performing, and I like working with the others. Bryan prefers concert halls and theatres to big stadiums, and he’s committed to extensive touring next year. But there’s no particular reason why we can’t do anything again.

What happened to the new album that Roxy started in 2007?
We went in the same way as the Stranded days – get a rhythm track, then have Bryan work on lyrics and vocals while we worked on other songs. Bryan had had some songs half-finished already, which he later turned into his album Olympia. To me, we hadn’t wanted to work on those anyway. All five original Roxy members, plus Guy Pratt on bass and Chris Thomas producing us again, we should really have been able to start again on all-new songs. Which we did, we had seven or eight really good backing tracks.

Are there any other projects you’ve worked on in the meantime?
I’ve two new tracks for Andy Mackay + The Metaphors: I’d love to re-release the album we did in 2009 with some extra tracks and maybe do some gigs. The players in The Metaphors were exceptional. But the one project we really should finish is that Roxy album. It’s down to Bryan to decide. I can’t ever read his mind. We’ve done a lot of great work together, but he’s quite stubborn in the directions he wants to go in. I feel we owe people that album. Rock ‘n’ roll has given me a great life and the people who supported Roxy would like more, so I think we should try to do it.

Read more: The Godfathers of Pop: Jeffrey Daniel interview