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Interview:
Mark Knopfler Keeps "Working" At His Music
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Mark Knopfler likes to refer to himself as “a working musician.”

And music has worked out quite well for the British guitarist, singer, songwriter, band leader and producer.

With his band, Dire Straits, and as a solo artist, Knopfler has sold more than 120 albums worldwide. He has a passel of hit singles — “Sultans of Swing,” “Walk of Life” and the chart-topping “Money For Nothing” — and has won four Grammy Awards in rock and country categories. Knopfler has also scored several films, including “The Princess Bride” and “Local Heroes,” collaborated on album projects with Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris, and produced recordings by Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Randy Newman and Weird Al Yankovic.

His work has earned him honorary doctorates of music from universities in Leeds, Newcastle and Sunderland, as well as an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. And while he’s certainly an active member of the species of music makers, Knopfler has had a dinosaur — Masiakasaurus knopfleri — named after him.

That’s not bad for three-and-a-half decades of work in the public eye. But, Knopfler — who’s on tour to promote his 2009 album, “Get Lucky” — says that “I never stop to think about all that.”

“Usually, I find what has interested me is interesting to a lot of other people,” he explains by phone from his home in England. “It doesn’t take you long to realize that, as a songwriter, you’ve just got that gift. In the early days, I really didn’t respect that. Now I’ve just learned to respect it a little more, so I just sit down and look at the songs more than I used to.

“And, of course, I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked with so many engineers over the years that I’ve picked up some knowledge from them, so I can enjoy recording now and making this music available to other people.”

That past is on parade somewhat on “Get Lucky,” an 11-song collection Knopfler, 60, recorded at his award-winning British Grove Studios in West London. “Some of them deal with stuff that helped shape who I am, to a certain extent,” Knopfler acknowledges, including songs such as “Border Reiver,” which recalls the truck drivers he watched while growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, and Newcastle, England.

The title track, meanwhile, recalls itinerant workers, while sailors (“So Far From the Clyde”), guitar makers (“Monteleone”) and military veterans (“Remembrance Day”) populate other tracks.

“I don’t really have a method” for writing songs, Knopfler says. “There are no rules about it. It’s a wild thing, but there is, for me, no formula to it. But I do feel very fortunate that it is something that I can do. I don’t think I’d be particularly employable in any other area, you know?”

He says with a mix of pride, joy and relief that “I’m writing a lot these days,” but, in supporting “Get Lucky,” he’s also playing prodigiously, too, with a band he’s had together for many years, including former Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher.

“I do get a lot of pleasure from touring and playing live,” Knopfler acknowledges, “It’s kind of an affirmation. It’s certainly something I don’t have to do financially; I just do it because I have a compulsion to go out and play every now and again, and it’s an important part of what a traveling musician does.

“It’s enjoyable just taking a look at everything and doing various things with the songs and working them up in different ways. It’s very enjoyable.”

How different those songs can be, however, is always an issue, especially the Dire Straits material that’s so well-worn in his fans’ ears.

“When I’m playing the old Dire Straits stuff ... these (songs) have become like milestones for people, and when you play them you have to pay attention to that,” Knopfler explains. “I never like to play things the same, but with, like, ‘Brothers in Arms,’ the first four notes I probably do play them the same because they’ve become part of this fabric and the way people live with the song.

“And the end of ‘Sultans of Swing,’ I’ve tried doing different things but if you don’t go back to the exact same set of notes that they know from the album, things just don’t seem right with the world. So I try to be somewhat aware of that.”

But while he’s still happy to play that material, Knopfler says he’s never regretted putting the Dire Straits name to rest in 1995, even though he could still make a valid claim for using it — and probably sell more albums and concert tickets under that moniker.

“It just belongs to that time ... when I founded the band with John (Illsley) and my brother (David),” Knopfler says. “But I also associate it as with things on a large scale. And, you know, it’s not a small scale now, but it feels like it’s on a smaller level, for sure, that I like. To try to do what I do as (Dire Straits) would just be counter-productive, I think, and maybe a bit dishonest to what I want to do right now.”



Mark Knopfler and Pieta Brown perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Some tickets remain at $85 and $69.50. Call 734-668-8463 or visit www.livenation.com.



Web Site: www.livenation.com

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