In conversation, Bryan Ferry is everything that you might imagine. His personality matches his wardrobe and general demeanor — suave and slick, refined but grounded. We love him from his days fronting art-glam troupe Roxy Music, and there’s always going to be a heavy dose of nostalgia when discussing Ferry due to his frankly phenomenal back catalog. Ferry knows this and he embraces it.
But this is also an artist determined to look forward, even if that means reinventing some of his classic material. His most recent album, last year’s Bitter-Sweet, and also 2012’s The Jazz Age, saw him reinterpret old Roxy and solo tunes in a jazz style. Before that, 2007’s Dylanesque saw him take on 11 Bob Dylan classics. In between, 2010’s Olympia and 2014’s Avonmore allowed him to stretch his artistic legs with original material. And that seems to be his pattern of late — a nod to the past and then a march into the future.
The “Avalon” tour he’s on at present will clearly see him represent both, although this isn’t a “Bryan Ferry Orchestra” tour, going the jazz route. Still, he’s pleased with the response he got to Bitter-Sweet.
“It’s funny, I haven’t talked about Bitter-Sweet for quite a while and we aren’t really doing anything from it on this tour,” he says. “This is the other music that I do. Although ‘Boys and Girls’ is in the set. But yeah, it got a really nice reception. People sometimes like to hear a singer without all the noise in the background. It’s nice to do something that is a quieter, more intimate mood. It’s nice of course to ring the changes and do different things. That’s part of the fun of recording really, to try and do albums that are different from each other. So it had a good reception, especially in Europe. They like that kind of thing.”
For Ferry, who has been active since 1967, the opportunity to revisit some of the songs that he’s performed countless times and give them a rejig is irresistible, and keeps things interesting.
“It’s a shame when a song only has one performance to remember it by,” he says. “A lot of the artists that I’ve admired since I was young lad, people like Charlie Parker and singers like Billie Holiday or Sinatra, they always did several versions of a song over the course of their career. In rock music, that doesn’t really happen so much. So it’s nice to go back to a song and put another twist on it, a different sound, different musicians playing it or whatever. It’s fun to do when you go on stage on a tour. Most of the tours that I do, I try to do the song roughly the same way that it was on the record. It depends who I’m playing with, whether it stretches out in a different direction. I think sometimes, the audience at a live show, they like to hear the original version that they’ve liked over the years.”
His current pattern of one original album, one album of covers or reinterpretations, looks deliberate. Certainly, he says that it allows him some breathing space to write without feeling hurried and pressured.
“I’ve never been able to write as fast as I’d like to have done,” Ferry says. “Sometimes, songs take a few years and gestate. You go back and chip away. In the writing side of it anyway. So I don’t like to write myself out. Certainly in the last few years, I’ve been touring so much that there hasn’t been a great deal of time for that, for writing new things. But there are a few things that I hope I will complete. Maybe for the next album, maybe for the one after, I’m not sure yet.”
If he’s consistent, the next album will be original material. Ferry says that he’s currently juggling ideas.
“It’s funny, when you are touring, it makes you hungry to go back into the studio again because you see the audience that you have and you know how great they are,” he says. “The last few nights, since we started in Toronto about five shows ago, they’ve all been great audiences and I think it would be great to give them something new, but we’ll see how we get on in October when we get back to the studio again.”
The singer and songwriter has obviously been coming to Los Angeles for decades and he has many great memories, recalling shows at the Palladium with Roxy, and more recent shows at the Wiltern, the Greek, and a standout gig at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Different venues, and the crowds in L.A. are very appreciative,” he says. “They know their music. I hope it’s going to be a good night when we come this time. The band is great, and the audiences are really liking the band. We’ve got two great guitar players in Chris Spedding and a Belgian guy called Tom Vanstiphout, who’s new to the band. They’re really good. Jorja Chalmers, the sax player — she’s very popular with the audience. She’s done really well. And there’s a girl who plays viola, Marina Moore. She’s really good. They’re both classically trained so they’re great players.”
This time, back at the Greek, Ferry will be playing a career-spanning set with an emphasis on the final Roxy Music album, 1982’s Avalon.
“Neil Jason, the bass player, played on that album and played on some of my solo things as well,” he says. “He’s one of the great New York players that I was lucky enough to work with when I started working in New York in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. I’m very pleased with the sound of the band.”
Ferry and his band should certainly be warmed up by the time they get here; this tour has already taken them to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and across Europe. They’ve put the miles in, and they still have a show in Sarajevo coming up — a first for Ferry. At 73, the man is showing no signs of slowing down.
Bryan Ferry plays at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 29 at the Greek Theatre.