The Space Between 

Dressing Up with Bryan Ferry

BRYAN FERRY His clothes make your clothes look like crap.

BRYAN FERRY His clothes make your clothes look like crap.

BRYAN FERRY's speaking voice is exactly as I'd imagined: cool, intoxicating, slightly detached from the real world.

Of course, this could be the lingering effects of the nap I think I woke him up from. But when I reach him at a hotel room in Vancouver, BC—where he's starting his West Coast tour—he sounds as relaxed as you please, with little to prove to anyone, least of all a scruffy American journalist.

This is, after all, a man who has secured his place in the musical history books. Hell, that happened way back in the early '70s, when the first two albums by his band Roxy Music laid the blueprint for both the art-rock fashion of the era and the New Romantic movement a decade later.

Ferry, though, has kept moving forward for nigh on 40 years, barely paying heed to the musical trends of the times. As punk exploded in his native England, he recorded sleek renditions of soul classics. When the artists he inspired reached their mid-'80s commercial peak, he knocked them back a peg (creatively speaking) with his devilish solo albums Boys and Girls and Bête Noire.

These days, the 68-year-old singer/songwriter seems even less interested in the world around him. Instead, he's indulging in pet projects, like an album's worth of Dylan covers (2007's Dylanesque) and The Jazz Age, a 2012 release that reconfigured some of his best-known material as pre-WWII hot jazz instrumentals.

With all that behind him and a much talked-about run of gigs ahead, why wouldn't Ferry sound casually amused at my question about what keeps him motivated to make music after all this time?

"You can always add something new to what you've done before," he says. "Each new album becomes a new adventure. There are so many different aspects to it: the solitary part of songwriting, working with other people, and sharing it with an audience. There are lots of different things that make it very interesting."

Ferry is also savvy enough to know that without the respect of the younger generation, his continued relevance might be lost. Hence his willingness to perform at Coachella on a bill with current indie stars like Haim and Dum Dum Girls, and his recent collaboration with Norwegian disco-house producer Todd Terje on a cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary."

The latter recording brings up at least one aspect of Ferry's career where he receives few accolades. Since the '70s, he has been one of the premier interpreters of the modern pop canon, using his croon to coolly envelop work from Dylan to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Lennon to Tim Buckley. Of that aspect of his career, Ferry says that his choices of covers "aren't flash-in-the-pan decisions."

"They have to have some kind of magic haunting quality," he says. "And something that I could give an interesting twist to make it different. It's lovely to take a song you couldn't write yourself and add it to your body of work."

Don't expect to hear any of his covers on Tuesday; Ferry promises that the Portland set will be all originals, a comfortable split between solo and Roxy material. And, of course, we can expect him to be as smartly attired as ever.

"I always think that to go on stage, it's serious work, so you should dress up for it. When I saw my jazz heroes as a kid, they always wore tuxedos or cool suits. So I've always had that attitude. It's not like you're doing a bit of gardening or something. It's show business."

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