Holy Holy keeps David Bowie’s 'The Man Who Sold the World' alive
"I play the game with David that he plays with all of his fans. You should get your own meaning from the lyrics. That’s the way it’s always been."
While working on David Bowie’s last record "Blackstar," producer Tony Visconti also had another project on his docket: Holy Holy.
The band, featuring Visconti and longtime Bowie drummer Woody Woodmansey, comesto The Wilbur on Thursday, and will perform the late icon's 1970 album, "The Man Who Sold the World." The lesser-known Bowie full-length, arguably the visionary artist’s first glam rock record, also marked the unofficial beginning of his backing band The Spiders From Mars.
As Visconti is currently touring with Holy Holy, we spoke with him about the group, working with Bowie and "Blackstar" just three days beforethe rock legend’s untimely death.
What were you and Bowie hoping to accomplish on "The Man Who Sold the World"?
When we sat back after we finished [1969’s "Space Oddity"], we thought it was very lightweight. We were going to set out to make the heaviest, darkest rock ‘n roll record ever made. We really had big, high hopes for that album. Mick [Ronson] introduced us to his friend Woody Woodmansey and that completed the band because we had a drummer but he couldn’t play anything like Woody. Woody was off the charts.
Looking back on the "The Man Who Sold the World," what are some of its highlights for you?
To me, "The Width of the Circle" is one of the best epic rock songs David Bowie ever wrote. It’s over seven minutes long. It’s got three separate sections. In a way, it’s almost similar to the song he’s got now called "Blackstar." It’s got a beginning, a middle and an end. On stage, we open up with that — and it’s just unbelievable to feel all that power.
How did the record’s title track come together?
That was pre-written. It was based on his 12-string guitar playing. We had a little basement studio because we were all living together in the south of London, and we put up egg crates on the wall and foam rubber anywhere we could find. And it absolutely didn’t work. We were very, very loud, but the job was always putting David’s 12-string song into a rock context. David would sing the opening chords and Mick just played around with the notes A and G. I remember that moment very well.
How does Holy Holy’s performance of the record compare to the original recording?
I’m playing about 85 percent of what I did on the album. But there’s a nice 15 percent of refinement that’s been included and, as a result, it sounds really heavy. We play the album in a slightly lower key. If the album isn’t dark already, it sounds even darker now when we play it live.
You’ve now worked with Bowie for decades, how has the way you’ve worked with him changed over the years?
It hasn’t really changed. He’s the same David and I’m the same Tony. We relate in exactly the same way. Over the years, he’s produced other people so now he’s earned the title of co-producer and we’re co-producers. But I love that because, you know, he is my peer. We are really good friends and we work together very well. Sometimes almost telepathically.
Blackstar’s title track is a long, cryptic, experimental song. What are your thoughts on it?
People are reading a lot of stuff into the lyrics. I’m just going to stay away from that because I never even discussed that with David. We have an agreement. He goes: Don’t ask what the lyrics are about. You just go along and you work on the basis that you. What you think that the lyrics are about.
It’s a great way of working. So I play the game with David that he plays with all of his fans. You should get your own meaning from the lyrics. That’s the way it’s always been.
Holy Holy plays at The Wilbur (246 Tremont St.) on January 21 at 8 p.m..