Hieronder twee interviews met Soft Machine-leden. De eerste is met John Etheridge (2020), de tweede met Theo Travis (2023).

• About your (John’s) guitar playing: which/what/who inspires you to play the way you do?

My inspirations are of course many ..but like all players the real influences are the early ones ..For me it was Hank Marvin who inspired me to get a guitar. But the first major influence was hearing Django Reinhardt in 1963. I was really into this music until I went to see Eric Clapton with John Mayall in 1965 -that was stratospheric, the start of the whole rock guitar thing. Then Jimi Hendrix of course.
I knew these guys a bit and they were both very nice to me about my playing, which gave me confidence to go forward with the mix of Django and Eric that I was trying to achieve (early jazz rock!). Then I heard Extrapolation (the album) by John McLaughlin and In a Silent Way by Miles Davis ( with John Mclaughlin ) and that took me back to Jazz and formed the basis of my way of playing, which developed first with Darryl Way’s Wolf and then Soft Machine .

• What attracts you in Soft Machine’s music to keep the band alive?
I really enjoy playing the way I do with Soft Machine. When the band finished at the end of the 70s, I missed that area of playing very much. Playing with John Marshall and Roy Babbington pushes me to areas I don’t go with any other music and with Theo Travis we have really the best Soft Machine. We move through all the areas of the band’s history, free improv, driving ’fusion’ etc. The only thing that is not represented is the vocal aspect.

• Soft machine wasn’t a guitar band, only beginning and end. Wasn’t it difficult to fit in guitar parts in the older compositions like Kings and Queens?
My approach to this is that I don’t really listen to the old versions ..eg King’s and Queens .. Hugh Hopper brought in the music and I played what I thought fitted the lovely melody. To tell you the truth I don’t think I have listened to the original!
I say, quickly, that this is not always the case. We do Out bloody Rageous and I found a great version of that with 2 saxophones that helped my interpretation of the accompanying part ( which is my job there ). I use an organ pedal to imitate Mike Ratledge’s vamp.

• How do you approach the different styles in Soft Machine’s music, regarding Third-Seven versus Bundles-Alive & Well? Experimental jazz versus jazzrock/fusion?
Whatever we do it’s organic. We don’t approach the historical stuff any differently from the new material. Because I’m covering with guitar, what was essentially a keyboard band. I feel very free. John and Roy are not interested in reproducing the past and Theo, who obviously was not in the old band, brings his intelligence and creativity, which comes from his own background. He is of course quite a bit younger and has different influences

• Theo Travis is somewhat younger and has another background. How does he look at the older Soft Machine’s music? Isn’t it ‘strange’ to play someone else’s music from a band in which you haven’t played before?
This back from Theo himself-
“ It feels very natural to me to play the older Soft Machine music. I listen to lots of music from the late 1960s and early 1970s – some call it progressive/ experimental/ artrock/ Canterbury/jazzrock etc. – it is what I like, so is natural for me to play. As a jazz musician and a freelance saxophone and flute player it is actually normal to play other people’s music from a band in which one hasn’t played before. Often one might get a call to play a gig or two in a band as a ‘one off’. Or a recording session. That is the role of a professional player for hire and I am very happy to do that. On the other hand, I have actually run bands and been a band leader for most of my musical life, so I am used to that too. Soft Machine is a co-operative and works well as one. We all write for the band and we play music we were not originally involved in the composing and recording of. But now all the music we play live is very familiar to us- and feels like our own music. “

• Soft Machine today sounds ‘fresher’ than Soft Machine in the past, I think. Is their music timeless or does the present setting/arrangement give their music an actual ‘feel’? Listening to their recent albums and live shows it doesn’t sound obsolete at all.
Soft Machine is a much more cohesive unit now than it ever was in the past. There were many factions in the band in the old days, which impinged on the music. Things weren’t discussed, so anomalies, both personal and musical, went unchecked. We are now all very happy to be there and Theo ,particularly, coming from a generation where people discuss problems, has been a very good influence on us grumpy old geezers!

• Since I play a little bit bass guitar myself, I would like to know which bass Roy plays. Does he still play his 6-string bass?
Roy is playing a Fender Precision copy (I think it’s a Squier). We tried the 6 string bass guitar, but it didn’t have enough bottom end for our requirements now. Roy now gets a really deep bass sound, that is not possible on the 6 string.

• Are there any plans for new compositions? – an obvious question
We’re hoping to do a new studio album around December January for release, maybe, in the middle of next year. Theo and I write most of the new material. We’ll also dig out some old stuff and feature a lot of collective improvisation.

Thanks for the interview John - and Theo of course.
Interview: Paul Lemmens - augustus 2020


Where do you get the musical inspiration from?

Probably everywhere and everything. Music is life! But more specifically, I do listen to lots of music and can be inspired by aspects of all/any music I hear. This is very broad in range – from acoustic songs by Fionn Regan, to Chopin piano music, to Stan Getz, to the Beatles, to the duduk of Levon Minassian, or the guitar of Peter Green…

•  Are you influenced by other wind players?
In terms of my wind playing yes. Not so much for my composing.  When learning the technique (s) of playing sax and flute, once has to study and learn from the masters  and one’s favourite players . To name a few favourites – Stan Getz, Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Mel Collins, Tubby Hayes, Pharoah Sanders, Hubert Laws, Dick Parry.

•  Is there any difference in your playing on your own records or with Soft Machine (or other bands like Gong, Steve Wilson, Robert Fripp, etc. you played in/with)?
I think my playing is largely influenced by the context of the music. I want to play something that feels like my own musical voice, but is appropriate to the music I am playing on. I have quite a strong sense of my instrumental voice on sax and flute, but I want it to contribute to the overall sound of the music/band/track. The artists you refer to are all very different, and I hope I play something that works with whatever I am playing with. The Travis & Fripp music is clearly very different from Soft Machine or Steven Wilson.

•  Looking at all your projects and solo-albums how important is Soft Machine for you?
Soft Machine is definitely front and central in my musical world. It is very important to me. Nearly all the things I love in music are in the music of Soft Machine – experimental , jazz,  rock (and jazz-rock), ambient, electronic, melody, free improvisation, jazz, progressive, contemporary music. So I can be involved in all the musical things I love. Plus it is great being part of such a historic musical legacy. Soft Machine music goes back to 1967/68 and there are many different chapters.  It is great to be a part of that and I value and respect it. These days I do a lot of the composing and producing for the band, together with John Etheridge, so it feels like my baby!

•  What or where does Soft Machine stand for or stand in your opinion?
For me it is a musical approach. It is adventurous and imaginative music, grounded in jazz, progressive, psychedelic and electronic experimental music, but it is very open and forward looking. It works on a rock stage and on a jazz stage. It comes from the world of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayres songs but went through the world of Mahavishnu and Weather Report and British Jazz. It stands for imaginative, progressive, musically ambitious modern music. I appreciate that is a pretty wide remit!

•  Is there any particular older Soft Machine composition you like to play most? And if yes, why?
I like lots of them! For example – Chloe and the Pirates, Gesolreut, Kings and Queens, Penny Hitch, Out-bloody-rageous, the Man who Waved at Trains… There are many and varied old compositions and we choose to play the ones we enjoy playing. I guess they are musically satisfying and strong compositions but also a good platform to play on..

•  Looking at the new cd, you compose a lot for Soft Machine. Do you look back to Soft Machine’s roots, is there any frame the music has to fit in, or do you approach the music fresh, from your point of view. How does that work?
Interesting question! I am aware of the various parameters of Soft Machine music. However as I have said this is broad and there are many things that can work for the band.  A new composition does need to feel like it fits as a Soft Machine piece. It also needs to work for all the current musicians in the band. Individual musicians have their own approach, sound and way of playing. The band is full of great improvisers, so one can leave lots of freedom in the score and lots of scope for improvising within pieces. Then the musicians bring their own musical voice to the pieces. So the music is both fresh and from my imagination, but also gives freedom to the musicians to express themselves and is within the Soft Machine frame.

•   Is there a project which you would like to do and haven’t done yet?
I have had the good fortune of playing and recording with many of my musical heroes, and I have led my own bands and recorded my own albums for many years. However, I would love to play with Paul McCartney and/or Steve Winwood someday though!

•  Is there any music outside jazz you like?
Loads! In fact I don’t’ listen to that much jazz these days – though I do come back to Stan Getz regularly!  I listen to lots of classical music, eg solo piano music by Chopin/Ravel, orchestral music eg Vaughan Williams/Rachmaninov/Tchaikowsky, Classic rock eg Beatles/Pink Floyd/Sting, acoustic singer/guitarists like Fionn Regan/Dougie Mclean/ Roddy Frame.  And yes I do like US Jazz Fusion, like Mike Stern, the Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

•  Any question I didn’t ask, but you would like to have answered?
No I think we’ve just about covered it! 

Many thanks Paul.

Thanks for the interview Theo!

Interview: Paul Lemmens - juni 2023