Yeah Yeah Yeah: Where are you residing now?
Robyn Hitchcock: I live in London now for about six years.
Y3: The reason I ask is because I know you were living in the U.S. for a period.
RH: I was living in Washington, DC for about eight months.
Y3: Didnt take to it?
RH: I was there to be with someone specifically, not because I wanted to hang out in the nations capitol.
Y3: So I was a huge Soft Boys fan.
RH: Yeah, they were good.
Y3: Yeah , they were amazing. The Soft Boys were like the quintessential 70s band: the perfect bridge between like Dylan and the Beatles and what was going on in the industry at the time, with the Pistols and the Damned
RH: Good. Im glad you liked them.
Y3: So with the new record youre working again with Kimberley [Rew, former Soft Boy). Nasa Clapping could easily be mistaken for a lost soft boys track.
RH: Well yeah, I was hoping that wed have some of that same sound. I wanted to get Kimberley in and have that thing of left and right guitars competing a bit. There are a lot of guest guitarists on the record. Im usually in the middle, though sometimes Im on the other side of the other person on the end of it. But probably it wasnt a similar sound cause in those days there were different amps. I think Kimberley didnt even use an amp this time and he still managed to be louder than me. But actually the first guitar break in Nasa is me even though it sounds like Kimberley.
Y3: So where has Kimberley been all these years?
RH: Well hes been in Cambridge doing odd things with Katrina and the Waves, but I think thats pretty much worn off now. Theyve split into two factions which are both claiming to be called Katrina and the Waves. One of them is Katrina without the Waves and one of them is the Waves without Katrina, so there are some legal problems. They had their final supernova a couple of years ago; they actually won the Eurovision song contest with one of Kims songs. And I dont know, I seem to run in to him more lately. He lives quite simply.
Y3: So there was no falling out between the Soft Boys?
RH: No no no, none of us were ever confrontational enough to actually fall out with any of the others. We were all far too uptight. Kims quite a shy person and he expresses himself most through his guitar, though I did think the Soft Boys did get into a bit of a guitar battle. And he needed an outlet for his songs and the Soft Boys were my vehicle for songs. I dont think it would have worked with us alternating songs. we might well have had a hit [laughs], but that wasnt really the point of the game. And our approach as songwriters then was really different although were musically quite compatible. So he needed to go off and have his own thing. Ya know the Waves were really going before the soft boys and we actually pinched Kimberley from the waves around 77. if you go back not quite 25 years, and I know wed all love to, the Waves were the best band in Cambridge. They had the best equipment and they had Kimberley, and Alex Cooper, whos still there today. and they had a bass player who did all the singing and Kimberley wrote all their songs. The Soft Boys kind of became popular but we werent nearly as good or proficient as they, we were far more chaotic. but we sort of eclipsed them during 1977, in this small pop world way. Microfiche. And their singer got some sort of glandular fever and they sort of died out, so we pinched Kimberley, which annoyed Alex to no end. But then at the end of the Soft Boys , Kim got back with Alex in a band that would become Katrina and the Waves. Alex was a much more straight ahead drummer than Morris Windsor was. In lots of ways Kimberleys playing is better suited to Alex. Alexs playing is more square. Morris is more sort of ornate if you like. So anyway we never really fell out, we never communicated a great deal anyway. None of us did. It wasnt really a social thing. but whenever Im in Cambridge I seem to run into him and get him on stage, and Kimberley has come down to London a few times. Got him up for a few encores. Id love to bring him over here but I don! t know.
Y3: When you set out to make Jewels For Sophia, did you intend to involve Kimberley and/or any of the other players? I know in your bio you state that you havent made a record in this manner since Black Snake Diamond Role.
RH: Yes it was a plan not specifically to involve anybody but the plan was to form a series of bands in different places just for the purposes of the recording. Really it was the Young Fresh Fellows in Seattle, plus Peter Buck and Tim Keegan. And it was Kimberley and the rhythm section of the High Llamas in London. And there was a bunch of stuff done in L.A. with Jon Brion. And Grant Lee was involved. And Ethan (Johns) and Tim. You know that whole Largo [the L.A. club] set-up. Although I was introduced to Jon with the idea of doing some recordings, I then got to like him and became part of the Largo set.
Y3: You have indeed
RH: Which I love! You know its only 6000 miles from home, but to me its the local club that you can drop in and play.
Y3: So how many more visits do you think you have before you finish Chimes of Freedom?
RH: Well Im there on Thursday so thats another verse. How many verses does it have? Another four at least but theres bound to be some repeats because I havent been making notes.
Y3: Have you been taping all those shows? It would be great to piece it all together.
RH: The great thing is we tape them but we always lose the tapes. [Laughs] Rick [Gershon, Warner Bros promo man] tapes them but I think there was one he couldnt get to. I imagine we could put together a good album from Largo. I should make more of an effort. Theres so much good stuff thats gone you know. But I think thats the beauty of it, the fact that youre doing it, youre not trying to do it for eternity youre doing it for the moment, and people just have to remember it. They cant always go back and access it. Certainly I cant.
Y3: How did you find Largo?
RH: You mean how did I discover it? Geoffrey Wiess, my A&R man at Warners, said Why dont you meet this guy Jon Brion, I think youd like him? And I knew about Largo anyway from Grant Lee and his wife Denise, whom I know, or Im getting to know and love more and more. So I go in and see this Jon play some lovely stuff at the piano and we sang through Ill Keep It With Mine, you know, the Dylan song?
Y3: Sure, Nico, Judy Collins, the song Dylan never recorded
RH: Right, and he could play it exactly the same. So I think I sang it, and then he says, I know, Heliotrope, and I thought, well thats nice, thats quite a new song. Mostly people come up to me and proudly announce that they were in a band that played Queen Of Eyes or something . Not many people have had time or decency to pick up on what Ive done recently, so I thought that was nice. Jon is fast, you know how fast he is. Is he playing a show this week?
Y3: Yeah this Friday hes got the eels on the bill.
RH: We did that TV show with them [the lost VH1 pilot of The Jon Brion Show].
Y3: How did you enjoy that taping?
RH: I had a good time , but I know Jon felt really kinda drained afterwards. Cause you know he had to do something like 8 hours
Y3: I know it was draining on the audience, or at least those of us that stayed from beginning to end.
RH: Oh I could see by the end when we were doing the improvised bits that everybody was glazed over. I enjoyed I because I just did things in little bursts and sort of got gradually drunker. And Grant had fun I think. Ive actually seen a bit of it. A bit of a rough cut of it. It could be good but Ive got a horrible feeling theyre going to try and trim it down to a half an hour, which will mean three minutes of music with the commercials. utter useless crap. But maybe, just maybe theyll pick up an option of doing a series and that would be so good. But the real thing as Jon says is to capture the improvising. It might be easier if they just shot it at Largo on little handycams, whatever they are, rather than having lights and camera and crew, though I dont know if you are allowed to do it that simply
Y3: I think the problem was that the audience and performers never felt like they were at Largo. Somebody should have revved us up a bit more It has been an extreme treat for us to have you as a Largo regular.
RH: Its a great spot. I was just telling Lou Barlow he should go down there.
Y3: How has the tour with Sebadoh and Flaming Lips going for you?
RH: Its been good really to get to know the musicians, thats what I like. Expands the phone book. I actually now do a couple of songs with Sebadoh at the end of my set. And Ive enjoyed meeting the Lips. Stephen [Coyle] used to do some stuff with Sonic Boom and Sonic Boom used to do some stuff with me in my set. And EQ is interesting. Its all interesting. Logisticially its a drag because youre all going around in a big circus and Id much prefer to be a lone operator. Im going to do my own tour in November.
Y3: Solo tour?
RH: Im gonna try and bring out some musicians, but there are logistics and what I can afford. Those tours with the Egyptians, we never really made any money, by the time you pay for your roadie and your bus. I do sorta like to bring something back from tour. I dont just regard them as some sort of promotional exercise. I am very proud of this record and I have to do everything I can to let people know its there.
Y3: Jewels is one of your finest works, and I think youve made a number of strong records in the 90s, but there seems to be no allusion that youll ever approach the mainstream
RH: Oh Im never anywhere near the mainstream. Its like an optical illusion if people think Im mainstream. I think it stems from the fact that my music is more conventional than the lyrics, its probably at odds with the lyrics. If I produced music that was more like Captain Beefheart or a modern experimental atonal dissonant freaky whatever, people would probably find it easier to except. Its like pop songs with the wrong words. In a way neither camp is really satisfied, unless youre really tuned into it, in which case there is no substitute. But that means that the sort of pop world was kind of scared off by my words and I think the sort of hip, noisy indie people were scared off by my melodies. Ha Ha, so there you are.
Y3: So cult figure suits you fine?
RH: I remember doing an interview with the NME with the lovely Ian Pennman back in 1978 and he asked me what I wanted and I said I wanted to be a cult figure on the obscure cult fringe, I think I said, and he quoted me on that and he said he didnt believe me, he thought I wanted to be a true star. I dont think I knew exactly what was involved, but also things have changed a bit over the last 10 years. In terms like the industry was prepared to have people like Roy Harper or Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett or The Incredible String Bandall the people I liked. Even people like Martin Cathey would be on major labels. I suppose now its gone back in a way almost to what it was like 40 years ago. All theyre interested in is hit singles. I grew up in a time when there was the ethos that you had album acts and they did albums, and thats obviously being eroded. Im still on Warners but I dont know if Ill be on Warners for my next record.
Y3: So how has the association been with WB? How do they treat a Robyn Hitchcock record, do they ask you for singles?
RH: No they dont do any of that. I actually, artistically, had a really good time, compared to what happened at A&M where I very discreetly got railroaded into making more and more produced records. Warners have let me do what I want but they havent really done much to promote them either. You know, I guess it just looks good, but I dont know where it looks good for their accountants. So well see. Its certainly been fun working with Rick Gershon. Hes my anchor there. Its all changing in the next few years again anyway.
Y3: And it will all change back again.
RH: I dont think it will change back into vinyl. I dont think it will change back into large companies being interested into promoting niche artists.
Y3: But with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of indie labels there seem to be more grass roots type music avenues than ever.
RH: Oh yeah. I mean probably when the time comes that I want to release another record it might just be that it all just goes straight down the internet anyway. Maybe it would only be available on either vinyl or something where you turn on the tap and it just comes out.
Y3: Youve got a really imaginative web site (www.robynhitchcock.com). Are you a big fan of the internet? Do you have a computer?
RH: No not at all. That was done for me by David Greenberger of Duplex Planet. As my girlfriend Michelle says about the internet it supplies information but it doesnt supply knowledge. You can find all sorts of stuff but are you really any wiser at the end of it all? You can get Chinese Beet root eels or you can find out how many takes of Jolly Hangmen Fairport recorded before they shelved it, but its just information gabbling at you. But what I do foresee is that the unit that once was vinyl and is now disc will be shrinking down
Y3: To a credit card.
RH: Yeah. That is gonna go, but what youll do is your account will be debited by PhonyWeaGram or whatever and lets say you want to hear Walk Awhile by Fairport Convention; youll either pay 20 cents for a rental or a dollar for a life time supply of this thing, and you will then get it through any crack in your wall or through your car speakers or it will come out of your shirt. The line between record company and radio will just completely vanish. Youll be able to access anything you want anytime and you wont physically have to have the thing. If you want to look at the record cover you can get the computer to show it to you. And if you want it you can print it out on whatever you want. I would think actual records as such, will become redundant in 10, 20 years. Everybody says no, no they always want to buy a piece of the artist. My daughter says No they want it, its like holy relics. Its like getting the shoulder blade of St. John. They used to do that in Medieval times, go around selling things that claim to be a relic of the shroud or one of the bandages that Christ had been wrapped in.
Y3: Or Hitlers pencil box.
RH: Yeah Hitlers Pencil box. Or John Coltranes pencil sharpener.
Y3: Or The Elephant Man.
RH: Yeah except he is the Elephant Man. But we are our own holy relics. I personally would be happy never to acquire a record again. If some one says you should listen to Massive Attack, Ill go sure and dial up Massive Attack. So when I do get computer stuff, which will probably be next year, I would plan as if to make stuff that could be pulled out of a tap. I assemble a clutch of songs and work on how to do that, and it seems that most of my audience would want to buy that. You know this project, the album you see which is called Jewels For Sophia and then theres the album you dont see which is coming out in November but only through the Museum of me or through live gigs.
Y3: The labels ok with this?
RH: Yes, Warners is letting me do that myself. You know it would be just as easy for me to line up the 24 songs and say Ok, here you are, give me 35 cents per song, have as many as you want, my favorites are this. People are always hollering for the outtakes, they seem to want them more than the actual records. So maybe if we no longer make a distinction between the two, if you just say Robyn Hitchcocks laid a bunch of eggs and here they are.
Y3: Does the companion record have a title yet?
RH: No, not yet. I know generally what the record is going to be composed of. When I get back to London Ill figure it all out. I know I better get a move on.
Y3: I asked Rick about a couple of new songs I had heard you performDont Talk To Me About Gene Hackman and Last Night I Saw Nick Drake and he told me theyd probably never be released
RH: I Saw Nick Drake? Yes, well thats on the outtakes record. And you know now that Gene Hackman is hidden there at the end of Jewels, and you know Rick actually recorded that with his little DAT machine right there from his table at Largo.
Y3: Well yes I know. I believe I told you this before but there is a whistle at the end of the song
RH: Oh yes and thats you.
Y3: Thats me!
RH: Well there you are then, captured for posterity. Dont expect a royalty check anytime soon though.