David Gilmour: Comfortably One in Life After Pink Floyd

David Gilmour Royal Albert Hall
David Gilmour performs at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England on September 23. Rune Hellestad/Corbis

David Gilmour, unlike Ike Turner, has never been accused of shooting a newspaper delivery man. Nor have police blown out his tires during a car chase (a misfortune that befell James Brown). Nor has he thrown lit sticks of dynamite down toilets, as Keith Moon did on numerous occasions while touring with the Who. By the standards of certain rock veterans, the 69-year-old former Pink Floyd guitarist and co-vocalist might be perceived as rather boring.

"I don't conform to that type of extreme," says the musician, speaking at his home on the seafront in Hove, a sleepy town adjacent to Brighton, on England's south coast. "I have never attempted to kill anybody. I don't think it's a requirement of creativity or fame to allow your insecurities to run away with you to that degree. Like everyone, I have taken advantage of fame. To get a table at a restaurant. Things like that. But I'm not fond of posing for selfies. I am a musician. I think of the rest as detritus."

Gilmour's single-minded focus on his music has led to a career spanning several decades, during which he has won numerous awards and sold millions of records. Though best known as a member of Pink Floyd, which was founded in 1965 (Gilmour joined two years later), he hasn't slipped quietly into retirement. He has recorded four successful solo records, and the most recent, Rattle That Lock , has been a critical and commercial success. The Guardian gave it four out of five stars, Rolling Stone praised Gilmour as "an expressive master of his craft," and U.K. audiences pushed it to the top of the British albums chart. In the U.S., it reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

Gilmour's first two solo albums, David Gilmour (1978) and About Face (1984), didn't climb quite so high. It was a disappointment. especially considering Pink Floyd's 1983 album The Final Cut —released two years before founding member Roger Waters left the band—reached No. 1 in the U.K. albums chart. Gilmour's third solo album, On an Island (2006), performed better than his first two solo outings: It topped the U.K. albums chart and reached No. 6 in the U.S. During this time, however, Pink Floyd wasn't quite finished. Under Gilmour's leadership, the group, without Waters, released two more albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994). Its latest album, The Endless River , came out in November 2014 and served as a tribute to former keyboard player Richard Wright, who died of cancer in 2008. Composed primarily of instrumental tracks, it broke the record for the most preorders of an album on Amazon. The group announced it would also be its last.

Gilmour released Rattle That Lock in September. The album touches on the themes of time passing, loss and mortality. Gilmour recorded the album at a number of locations, including his houseboat studio—currently moored on the River Thames—and at his home in Hove. The album features contributions from Roger Eno (brother of Brian Eno), pianist and TV host Jools Holland and Gilmour's son Gabriel, among others. It's not all elegy either; the ninth track, "Today," has a distinct funk sound, while the jazz track "The Girl in the Yellow Dress"—complete with piano and cornets—transports listeners to a dark and sultry bar. Underpinning it all is Gilmour's guitar playing. The guitar solo on the instrumental first track, "5 A.M.," is beautiful.

But Rattle That Lock is not a solo album in the truest sense. Polly Samson, Gilmour's wife of 21 years, wrote the lyrics for half of the tracks on the album, including the title track. Samson, whose new novel, The Kindness, was published earlier this year, has described the lyrics of "The Girl in the Yellow Dress" as being like a short story. This isn't her first collaboration with her husband. Samson has penned lyrics for Gilmour since the days of The Division Bell . Not many musicians work so closely with their spouse. "Tom Waits is one," Gilmour says. "Polly and I think similarly about many things. I'm extremely fortunate to work with someone so gifted." It is a creative partnership that goes both ways. "When I'm writing," Samson says, "I have to read pages to somebody I care about. David is that person. His instincts are excellent: He's extremely honest and quite pedantic."

Back in the '60s, when rock music was made largely by the young, Gilmour vowed "to go on till I'm 70." That means Gilmour has until March 6, 2016, to cram in a fifth solo album and then call it a day. Yet when retirement is mentioned, Gilmour responds: "Retiring? That's [death's] anteroom, isn't it? No. My ambition now is to achieve the best I can, without taking myself too seriously. But I do still have the ambition. I do still want to do something really good."

He's not the only rock veteran to feel that way. In June, the Who headlined Britain's most famous music festival, Glastonbury—although after the group's 71-year-old frontman, Roger Daltrey, contracted viral meningitis, the remaining dates of the band's U.S. tour were postponed until 2016. The Rolling Stones spent the past spring and summer touring the U.S. and Canada. David Bowie, who has suffered from heart problems, is due to release his 25th album, Blackstar , on his 69th birthday in January. Hard rockers AC/DC are touring even though one founding member, Malcolm Young, 62, had to retire because he suffers from early-onset dementia. Next month, Gilmour begins his South American tour with concerts in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Then, in March, he'll head to the U.S. for the final leg of the Rattle That Lock tour. And after that? For the man who once described his musical approach as, "I just play whatever feels right," only one thing is clearly not in the cards: not playing.

David Gilmour: Comfortably One in Life After Pink Floyd