Art Garfunkel emphasizes Songs and Singing
by Mary Campbell, AP News Feature WriterSeptember 5, 1981
Art Garfunkel has a new recording out, "Scissors Cut," on which he emphasizes songs and singing more than production, and where he did far fewer than usual takes of each song. Roy Halee, who produced all the Simon and Garfunkel records and Garfunkel's first of five solo albums, "Angel Clare," in 1973, phoned him, Garfunkel says, and suggested they work on an album. Garfunkel quickly agreed.
“We talked about this album as featuring vocals and the songs and putting everything else in a secondary role. We listened to lots of songs. I had lots of favorites kicking around, side two, cut four, on somebody's album, that nobody ever heard of but I've been loving it for years. There's a theory now that you cut more songs than you need, do it quickly, get the basic tracks down and see what happens. We overcut tunes. We did about 17 or 18 and fixed on the seven we liked. We brought those forward. The final three are those that occur as you're in the middle of your album and you're looking for what balances."
The single from the album, "A Heart in New York," came in at the last minute, Garfunkel says. "Gallagher and Lyle, English soft rockers, who write in a style that suits me great, wrote it. They wrote 'Breakaway,' the title song of my second album. They've now split up. It was Graham Lyle who brought the song in, and he plays guitar on it."
Garfunkel says, "Roy and I talked about how not to be too clean at the expense of emotion on this album. Both of us are perfectionists. We like all the details tied up. But in this case we mostly tried to be true to quality vocals and strong songs. In the past. I'd go way past 35 takes. On this album, there are no take 35s. I didn't go past a dozen and usually one of the earliest takes is the one I went with. Goddard Lieberson got me thinking about that. He said there's a great advantage to working with technology but the disadvantage that goes with it is that the mind can't fool itself. If you know the take you're doing now doesn't have to be it, it likely won't be. On stage you've got to reach for it and find it now. There is a perfect time when the song is fresh and well learned. Repeating might make you learn it more but you lose freshness.”
"I always made a dummy vocal with the basic track musicians. I try to do my best shot with dynamics, so they really support my singing. But I don't pay much attention to quality of the tone. I do the vocal again. Their performance is part of the master and my performance is a guide. This time, I kept some of those. I don't think I've ever done that before. It's more of a documentary approach. You see what Garfunkel sounds like when he opens his mouth and confronts the song for the first time."
Garfunkel doesn't look on this approach as a gimmick to be discarded for a different gimmick on his next album. He says, "I'd like to take it even further. If I did a tune with just a piano, the entertainment is whether you like the song and the way Arty is singing it. A record won't happen if the arrangements aren't supportive and the rhythm doesn't swing. Those things are crucial, but I want them to be more unobtrusive.''
The Columbia album also has on it "Bright Eyes," which was a single bit for Garfunkel two years ago in England but not released here. It probably will be the next single. The title tune and two others are by Jimmy Webb, whom Garfunkel calls a growing talent. He predicts we'll be hearing a lot from Webb in the 1980s.
Garfunkel has made only one solo tour and doesn't plan to tour to promote this album. “I’m one of the victims of the touring scene," he says. “I sense that the touring situation used to be a much healthier, nicer, more enjoyable thing. Many new middlemen now have cut into the pie. I love to sing. Give me good mikes and sound system and I'll wail. I love singing and I liked the two hours on stage. I like recording, too. I like it more. Being a shy individual, I like the chance to do my stuff behind the scenes."
Garfunkel has acted in three movies, "Catch 22" in 1969, "Carnal Knowledge" in 1971 and "Bad Timing” in 1980. While he was working on the latter in Europe in 1979, his 26-year-old girlfriend committed suicide in New York. Garfunkel says he "sort of pulled back" for about a year spending time by himself, not answering telephones, traveling and "reading someone's diaries a lot, for some time."
He says, "I started going into the studio to get back into the race." He isn't driven to get to the top of the recording charts any more, he says, though he still wants to do good work while recording. But he felt like an artist and "threw my whole being into making it work" while acting in "Bad Timing."
Asked about writing songs, Garfunkel says, “Somewhere in me could be a writer. I'm getting more confident about expressing myself verbally. The fact I make so few attempts to write means to me there's a block. It's probably the proximity in my life of a very talented writer, Paul Simon. Why should I make the public suffer with my diminished quality of song writing when there are good song writers? My ex-wife said what I need is a sharp pencil, a piece of paper and to be made to sit down at the piano. She said any analysis of the situation won't be as good as just the enforced attempt to write. It would be tempting to me to retreat and develop as a writer. I think about that a lot."