Peter Gabriel has spoken to MOJO about baring witness to his old band Genesis's live farewell and how he struggled to convince Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei to contribute artwork for his track Road To Joy.
Gabriel’s forthcoming new album i/o has been trailed with several singles, all of which feature specially commissioned artwork/visuals. However, speaking in the latest issue of MOJO, Gabriel admits that “not everyone I wanted to work with wanted to work with me.”
“[Ai Weiwei] didn’t have a clue who I was, and it was really hard work,: he tells MOJO’s Mark Blake. “Firstly, I drove up to Cambridge to see him. Then I met him again in London and he finally signed on.”
Weiwei sent Gabriel three designs which used his trademark motif: a middle finger raised against authority. It suited Road To Joy, a song which, like much of i/o, is about what Gabriel describes as “raising the middle finger to death.” i/o (which stands for ‘input/output’ but is also the name of Jupiter’s third largest moon) has been gestating for some time. Since 2010, Gabriel has released a covers LP, Scratch My Back, and an orchestral reboot of old works, New Blood. But his last new studio album was Up in 2002.
“I think you can oversaturate people and they get bored with you,” Gabriel explains. “One of the reasons I am still able to make a living doing this is that there are long periods of absence.”
Out in December, i/o includes contributions from Gabriel’s daughter, vocalist Melanie Gabriel, the Soweto Gospel Choir and tracks co-produced by fellow musical polymath Brian Eno. “In the ’80s, Brian, Laurie Anderson and I were trying to put together a virtual reality experience park in Barcelona,” Gabriel recalls. “It involved a lot of dinners, good wine and brainstorming. I like working with Brian. He came in, critiqued it all and did his thing on a few tracks.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Gabriel discusses his next project – a story about a piece of apparatus that enables mind-reading – his optimism about the future, artificial intelligence and why he attended Genesis’s farewell concert at London’s O2 Arena in March 2022.
“Phil wasn’t in as great a shape as he used to be, but they did a great job,” he says. “Me going was a rite of passage, really. I’d been part of the creation of Genesis so I wanted to be there at the end.”