“With prog I started with Rush, which I guess is where quite a few people started. When I was 15 I was into anarchist punk, so it’s not really where you’d think my interest in music would go – but it did. But before then there was stuff like Johnny Thunders and New York punk, and then it was glam and then I got into Queen and Kiss and more into metal and that was the gateway for me. So getting into 70s hard rock and the roots of metal it eventually came to Rush. It definitely wasn’t cool, and everything around me told me not to listen to them – which, being the contrarian, is probably why I didn’t listen to them.
My Record Collection: Lady Starlight
Lady Gaga's mentor talks about her prog roots. This originally appeared in Prog issue 24
The Tom Sawyer video was on MTV all the time, the one with Geddy wearing a sweat suit and these, like, jazz/dance shoes with white socks – ha ha ha! It’s the worst look ever, but I love it. It couldn’t be less rock’n’roll.
Hemispheres is my favourite Rush album, which is their least favourite. Why is my favourite Rush album the one where they’re depressed? But it’s the best, and it was the end of that era of longer songs. And the second side is what inspired me to start experimenting with mixtapes.
From Rush I got into Van der Graaf Generator. In fact, tonight I’m actually doing, for the first time, a piece of performance art to Masks from World Record. And I can tell you now that we might be including that on the next Gaga tour. Imagine that happening in arenas around the world, so just prepare yourself! That might be happening – ha ha!
It was Peter Hammill’s Nadir’s Big Chance that got me into them. It was my favourite record for years, but I never really took the plunge until I’d gotten into Rush. There’s a big jump from the more accessible nature of that than jumping into A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers from Pawn Hearts. Unfortunately I’ve never seen them, although a dear friend had gotten tickets and left a message, and I never called him back!
With Pink Floyd I prefer Animals to anything else – another album that often gets overlooked against some of their other 70s albums. Floyd were huge in America and The Wall was the album that introduced me to them. I kind of had an aversion to Floyd when I was younger because they were so big and everyone was into them. But with Animals, the cover art is so striking and I was intrigued because nobody seemed to talk about Animals. And when I discovered the music I couldn’t understand why people overlooked it, because to me it sounded so amazing.
Yes were also huge in America when I was growing up, and they still are. So I always had an awareness of them, but they’re a little bit harder to get into. But I just love that track Perpetual Change from The Yes Album. It’s one of the top songs ever for me.
The overall thing that appeals to me about prog is the imagery and the difficult time changes. That appeals to my ear and I find it admirable, because you can’t just do that. How does a band create something that’s completely arrhythmical but that actually is rhythmical? I feel the same way about Metallica’s …And Justice For All album. I know it’s a metal album, but listening to some of the time changes in there, you’ve got to think that the band were coming from a slightly progressive perspective. The difference between Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets and this album – to me it feels like it’s the next level. I think there’s a strong King Crimson influence on display here and a very high level of artistry. The time changes and the subject matter – to me it’s prog. And I know a lot of people who agree with that. I’ve not read an interview with the band where they talk about it though.
A long time ago I got this bizarre CD called The World Of Krautrock, which had people like Popol Vuh, Guru Guru, Birth Control and Wallenstein on it. I have no idea now where I even got it from and it’s got the tackiest album sleeve. I think I picked it up when I lived in London at the beginning of 2000 and was becoming even more experimental with my music, and I probably ordered it with a load of other things. It’s not got any of the big Krautrock acts on it, but through this I did really get into Birth Control and Wallenstein.
Wallenstein’s Mother Universe is just one of the best records ever and I’ve never read a single word about it. The vocals are a little bit Roxy Music but it’s just great.
I really believe that in terms of rebellion and challenging accepted norms, prog is more punk than punk. A two-and-half minute song in 4/4? That’s all of pop music from the 50s on. Not an earth-shattering revelation. Prog is about complete creative freedom. Anything goes. I think it’s a million more times rebellious to challenge the very structure of rock music. No, the song doesn’t have to be three minutes and no, it doesn’t have to be in 4/4. It can be anything your brain can imagine. And to me that’s earth shattering.
Does Gaga like prog? Well, she likes a lot of rock music. I’m not certain the world is ready for a Lady Gaga prog rock concept album, but if she does wish to kill her career off I’m more than willing to help her – ha ha!"