In this week's paper, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robyn Hitchcock, a purveyor of inventive pop music dating back to his days with the Soft Boys. After months of shows with the Venus 3 (a.k.a. Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin of R.E.M.), Hitchcock is back touring solo. For his Wednesday, November 7, show at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, he'll have Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger in tow (Nelson will be doing a solo opening act; more info about him on A to Z in the coming days!)
But in these outtakes, Hitchcock discusses his first-ever producing gig, for McCaughey's seminal indie-power-pop band the Young Fresh Fellows, his thoughts on future reissues and recordings and his experience doing a tribute to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
As a bonus, here are some MP3s to snag from Hitchcock's career.
Robyn Hitchcock, "Madonna of the Wasps" -- from the out-of-print CD Queen Elvis
Robyn Hitchcock, "I Wanna Go Backwards" -- from the I Wanna Go Backwards boxed set
Robyn Hitchcock, "Cynthia Mask" -- from Eye (and the I Wanna Go Backwards boxed set)
I Wanna Go Backwards is coming out in a month or so [ed note: actually, it's November 16]. When you go back and listen to that stuff now, what are your thoughts? That I was faster when I was younger. You know that you’re faster in terms of, well, maybe you’re physically faster. I mean you run around more, or maybe you think quicker. But you realize that you actually played songs faster when you were younger.
I can see that. I saw the Police this summer and it was definitely slower. Well, maybe they decided that they wanted to play them at tempos that they are more comfortable with. And I’ve long noticed that if I play old songs from the Soft Boys days, they’re about half the speed they are on the record. It’s not intentional. But even my solo acoustic stuff is way slower than on record. So if anyone come to the gig, you know, it’s going to take hours.
[Hitchcock mentions tourmate Sean Nelson doing harmonies with him during his live show] It’s funny you mention harmonies because on Olé Tarantula, that’s really what stuck out. I really love that record and probably because of the harmonies. Well, I’m hoping that the next record will have a similar crew of harmonists on it. I mean, Sean has toured with us a bit, which he hadn’t done when we made that record. We recorded it and then Sean and Chris Ballew [Presidents of the United States of America] came by that afternoon and put some harmonies on it, and I took it back to Britain and Morris Windsor put some harmonies on. This time Chris came over here and he’s on it. Nick Lowe’s on it.
Tarantula's "Adventure Rocketship":
Is this the new record then? When is that coming out? Oh, probably not for another year because of all the back catalog stuff. It’s like planes waiting to take off. But I’m hoping I’ll get a similar collection of singers on it.
You played a Sgt Pepper's tribute gig with a symphony at a festival in Milan. How did that go? That was fun. We had a bunch of singers in a huge car-park. I mean, Milan is a bit like LA, really. It’s not a charming old Italian city. It seems to be just a series of huge industrial buildings linked by traffic jams. So there was this car-park sort of like a mile long surrounded by monolithic buildings, one of which was filled with people playing guitars -- sort of a giant music shop -- and then one of which was [selling] shoes. But unfortunately none of the women realized it until it was too late, which is a shame. All of the girls could have gone out and gotten shoes. The boys could have gotten guitars, I suppose …anyway it was fine. We had Marianne Faithfull, Jarvis Cocker, Badly Drawn Boy, Alex Chilton, the Residents, or three of them anyway…
And I got to sing “I Am the Walrus” with an orchestra, which was really one of the best things I’ve ever done. I kept wanting to have more run-throughs. And we did “Good Morning Good Morning” and the “Sgt. Pepper’s” reprise and then I was brought back out to do “Walrus” so that was fun. And Alex Chilton did “Fixing a Hole," which was a good version of that. Marianne Faithfull didn’t seem that familiar with “A Day in the Life,” but she was actually around when the original was recorded, so I guess she was entitled not to have lived with the record.
She can be forgiven. You’re doing a little bit of touring then -- are you going to take December off to regroup for the holidays and work on repackaging? Well, I guess we’re going to have to get that next package done. My guess is that we’ll be doing the Egyptians package. We’re going to be recording in Seattle a bit, which is nice. And in addition to finishing up the final tracks for the next record with the Venus Three, Scott McCaughey’s band the Young Fresh Fellows. Do you know the Fellows?
Yeah. Are they getting back together to make a record? They are, with me producing. This is the first time I will have ever produced a record.
Really? Your first time ever? Yeah. I’m a huge Fellows fan. So the plan is to do it quickly and beautifully in Seattle. And it should be basically a vinyl record. You know, six songs on each side, with nice thick bands between them, and none of the songs lasting more than three-and-a-half minutes. With a nice hard cardboard cover. They can sell it in the, what’s your shop? Vintage Vinyl. Yeah, it’s sort of designed to be like that. It’s coming out next year. I’d like it to be on vinyl and downloads only but we’ll see what the sellers want. But I’m seeing this as like we’re making an LP.
I like that. It’s kind of like what Radiohead just did. Oh, didn’t they do a download and you can pay whatever you like for it, and then it’s coming out in December as an LP?
Hitchcock, Buck and Nelson @ SXSW, "Flesh Number One"
Yes. Which is beautifully packaged. Well that’s the thing. It’s hard to feel a lot of respect for CDs. They seem to have come up through the floorboards, really. They’re very hard to get rid of. They’re smaller and thinner than LPs, but LPs couldn’t be as wantonly distributed as CDs. And I think what has happened to the record industry is in part a kind of judgement on the compact disc.
It’s funny, I don’t know what it’s been like in America, but when I was a kid money was bigger. Pound notes and pennies and shillings were large coins and then gradually they shrunk down they were decimalized and the ten shilling note went and the pound note went and now the five-pound note is not much bigger than a bus ticket. It’s a sorry little thing. The only note of a decent size is probably a 50-pound note, which is the size of an old five-pound note. What’s happening is that money is being shrunk before it disappears. In another few years there will only be a credit system there will be no need for coins -- except for homeless people, and they’ll probably just be given vouchers or something.
Already you don’t (in theory) need to pay for anything using coins. So I think it’s the same with recorded music, a sort of shrinking before it vanishes altogether. In another ten years’ time it will all be digital and probably all free unless you want to buy a beautifully crafted LP, you know, for audiophiles. So, anyway I think the stylized thing is going to be the way of the future. And what better band to pioneer this than the Fellows?
Have you heard any bands this year that you’re really into, or any new groups? No. I don’t really listen to music. I mean I listen to compilations that come out or omnipresent CDs if I’m cooking. But I don’t have a car and I don’t listen to music. I listen to the radio in the bathroom. I can’t listen to music if I’m writing songs, and I can’t listen to music if I’m doing paperwork so there are very few times when I would. I just kind of reached saturation when I was about forty. The last record I really liked was that I heard was Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch. And undbelieveably, I ended up working with Gil and Dave [Rawlings, Welch's collaborator].
Didn’t you show up at a Nashville show in March? I found a bootleg online. Well, I imagine everything is up there. It’s nice that you call them bootlegs, but every show we do goes up onto the Internet. I got a good tape of that. That was in March and we had Gil and Dave and Peter [Buck, R.E.M. guitarist] and Sean Nelson because we had all been at SXSW and John Paul Jones. And yes I have a good quality tape of that and I think there’s a sort of very primitive one camera shot of us doing something up on either YouTube or MySpace.
Is there anything else that you wanted to tell the good people of St. Louis? Don’t vote for the wrong guy.
I say that as well. If you get the chance. Your chance to steer history is coming up next year. Concentrate hard. I mean, what was tragic, was I would meet people after the last election, and they’d say, “I know Bush is no good, but I didn’t really trust the other guys.” I didn’t meet anybody who liked Bush, but people just thought that Kerry wasn’t much good so they voted for Bush. Unbelievable. Anyway.