An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your self-titled album is about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make this album and the reaction to it so far?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Well, the people that normally like my records like this one, so far. And that's it really – if you like this one, you'll probably like the others. If not, I'm not your flavor. That's why the record is simply my name. The journey? Well it was the lucky coincidence of my moving to Nashville at the same point that Brendan Benson was getting in touch, asking if I'd like to come and record with him there.
SPAZ: You’ve been creating music for a long time yet you always seem to be reinvigorated with each release. The ROBYN HITCHCOCK album contains some of your most ‘immediate’ material. When you start on a new project – whether acoustic or electric – do you try to approach each of them differently? Or do you have a routine or formula that you prefer to stick to?
ROBYN: Thank you. The songs appear by themselves, really. They percolate through me like coffee and drip into the cup when they're ready. They distill my feelings. I guess each 'brew' catches the flavor of my life at that time. So I don't approach song-writing as a project. But when a batch is ready, I look around to see who might produce them. This time, it was Brendan.
DAVE RAYBURN: Your catalog runs the gamut of music styles ranging from stark acoustic arrangements to expansive, classic Psychedelia. This album captures much of this range, but one thing that is apparent is the influence of "the magic three” from The Beatles (HELP!, RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER). Gems like "Time Coast", "Mad Shelley's Letterbox" and even the honky-tonk "I Pray When I'm Drunk" certainly sparkle in such light. Were you listening to much music from that period during the creation of this album or was this simply a result of you being hard-wired with the same great pop sensibilities at an early age?
ROBYN: The records you mention are the nutrients that have always fueled me. I still listen to them regularly, yes, like you might have a flu shot. Same goes for Bob Dylan's and other classic LPs of my adolescence.
SPAZ: Are there musical influences buried in your psyche that fans or critics haven’t yet noticed in your own work? This new record is extremely focused, yet still has such an expansive emotional and musical reach. Like a painting, it reveals more depth each time you revisit it.
ROBYN: I don't know what's buried in my psyche ‘til it worms its way out. There may be sounds I heard years ago still mutating and gestating in there – who knows? Let's hope so. It's possible that as you get older your work has more depth, emotionally, as an artist. It would figure, as life grows more complex with time. I'm very glad to hear this record bears repeated listening – thank you.
DAVE: With the Buck Owens-tinged "I Pray When I'm Drunk" and the gorgeous pedal steel guitar in songs like "1970 In Aspic", would it be safe to say that your Nashville settings are forging their way into your production style, or is that essentially a reflection of your long admiration of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers?
ROBYN: I wanted to show my context, you know, without going the full tourist and trying to make a Country album. Russ Pahl, the pedal steel player, did a beautiful job on Emma Swift's record. As did Annie McCue who is my electric guitar 'foil' on this record. Emma's my partner and I totally slip-streamed her on this – I was borne to Nashville on her wings. And, yes, I've always loved SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO. Bought my first copy in WH Smith's in Winchester in 1970. Mad Shelley was there – she already had a copy.
SPAZ: When recording an electric album like ROBYN HITCHCOCK, do you find yourself consciously holding back on adding more instrumentation in order to leave ‘space’ for the songs to breathe? Or do you prefer to keep them closer to a live feel?
ROBYN: The template for this one – two electric guitars, bass, drums and harmonies – goes right back to Buddy Holly. Then came The Beatles, The Searchers, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, Big Star, and... The Soft Boys. You follow this template, and you can tell when the song has enough on it, I think. Position the instruments in the right sonic landscape, clean up any mistakes you can, and double-track some of the vocals – that's it, really.
DAVE: You've long been open to collaborations with other artists, notably in a live setting (as witnessed on regular occasions at venues such as the famed Largo in Los Angeles). Your Nashville neighbors, Grant Lee Phillips and Gillian Welch, guest with you on this album as well as the very talented Emma Swift. Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with yet, either live or on record, that you would jump at the chance to collaborate with?
ROBYN: I'd still love to work with Brian Eno; to see what chemical affect he'd have on my songs. He's like a mysterious app: he enhances people's music, but not always in the same way each time. I've met him a few times, but I've lost his number. Cass McCombs might be good to work with – he really understands sound. Emma's a beautiful singer, and a great harmonist. So is Grant. I love singing with another lead singer: you get a different flavor every time. Could be pistachio and chocolate, or pistachio and mint. I'm always pistachio.
SPAZ: The music business is a completely different animal today than when you started in The Soft Boys. What are your thoughts on the vinyl vs. CD vs. streaming debate?
ROBYN: I'm emotionally attached to vinyl – it's how I first heard the music I loved. So as a mature groover I'm really happy to hear my records on LP again, and to be buying vinyl in record shops. But as long as we can get paid for it, I don't mind how the music is conveyed. It might be an implant soon, like phones and ID. We're turning into iPhones now.
Thanks to Robyn Hitchcock