A chat with Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock has a reputation as one of the great British musical eccentrics, having written many an odd ode to a fish or insect in his time…his signature song, “Balloon Man,” sums up the inherent weirdness of his lyrics rather well (“And it rained like a slow divorce / And I wished I could ride a horse”)…but the older he gets, the more calm and collected he appears to become. Indeed, Hitchcock’s last record, Spooked, was the work of, dare we say it, an elder statesman of British pop-folk. On the eve of releasing his sixteenth studio album (give or take a few, since it’s hard to know how to classify the collections of alternate takes he’s released over the years), Ole! Tarantula, Hitchcock was kind enough to chat with Bullz-Eye for an extended period time, discussing old friends like R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, new friends like XTC’s Andy Partridge, his thoughts on the late Syd Barrett, and how he was a stone’s throw away from playing with the reunited New York Dolls.
Robyn Hitchcock: Hi, can I speak to Will, please?
BE: This is he.
RH: Will, it’s Robyn Hitchcock calling.
BE: Hello, Robyn, how are you?
RH: I’m fine. Where are you?
BE: I’m in Chesapeake, Virginia. I’m about five miles away from the Boathouse, in Norfolk, where I saw you play ages upon ages ago.
RH: Oh, right, 1989 or something…
BE: (Absolutely dumbstruck) That, uh, that is remarkably impressive! Yes, it was!
RH: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve been there since…
BE: Unfortunately, it’s barely even there anymore. It was damaged by a hurricane a few years ago, and they’ve never done any repair work on it since, so…
RH: Ah, okay. How’s the rest of the climate?
BE: The rest of it’s pretty well.
RH: Right, what magazine or online site is this for?
BE: This is for Bullz-Eye.com.
RH: Uh-huh. Oh, right, okay, great!
BE: And I’m a huge fan from a long time back, obviously.
RH: So are you 43…?
BE: Something like that.
RH: Okay, great. Good.
BE: I don’t want to oversell Ole! Tarantula to anyone who might be reading this, but I really do think that it’s right up there with (1986’s) Element of Light as one of your best albums.
RH: (Disbelievingly) No! Really?
RH: Oh, it’s got a good cast, that’s the thing. A very strong crew.
BE: I dare say it does. How did the lineup of the Venus 3 fall into place? I know you’ve worked with Peter Buck for eons, and you worked with Scott McCaughey as far back as (1999’s) Jewels for Sophia, but had you ever worked with Bill Rieflin before?
RH: No, but my daughter Maisey pointed him out to me when I took her to Lollapalooza about a dozen years ago…or more, actually. Wow. And she was a big Ministry fan, and she said, “That’s Al Jorgensen, and that’s Bill Rieflin.” And we met them in the general “hostility” area…and Bill then sort of started to appear with increasing frequency. But, of course, it was all brought together by the hands on the clock. As you say, I’ve known the other two for quite some time…and, then, of course, Scott became an integral part of Peter’s band, and Peter became an integral part of Scott’s band, and then they got Bill, and, y’know, I didn’t really have to hunt them down! We’d been talking about doing something else for awhile, since the Jewels for Sophia sessions…since the Viva! Sea-Tac sessions, which Peter and Scott were on. So as soon as the R.E.M. clock stopped for awhile, they were very keen to do something…and this is what something is, as well as, of course, the Minus 5. And I think they’ve just done an album with John Wesley Harding as well, and I think they’re working on something else in L.A., and they’re working on…Bill’s got his music project, which Peter is part of. So, yeah, I’m very lucky to be a beneficiary of their down time!
BE: Well, it sounds like no one there is resting on their laurels!
RH: Well, they like to keep busy! And I think also because R.E.M. is a very structured…it’s a sort of caravan, y’know? They can’t just sort of turn on the ignition and say, “Okay, why don’t we go and do a gig?” It’s like they’re the Rolling Stones: everything has to be planned months in advance. Which I think is why they like doing the occasional things with Bill Berry, the original drummer.
BE: Right, I knew they were doing the reunion gig for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
RH: Because there’s no roadies or plans or anything. But I think that a lot of spontaneity has gone out of the R.E.M. organism. It’s inevitable. When you get that big, your mass becomes that great; it takes longer to get it going and longer to stop it. So these smaller scale things can happen much quicker…these little gnat hops…which suits us all.
BE: And it looks like you got several other Seattle underground superstars on the project as well, like Chris Ballew (from the Presidents of the United States of America)…
RH: Well, we do. Chris Ballew came along, Chris Ballew and Sean Nelson, to do some vocals. And then they came back, which was fantastic.
BE: I’m a big fan of Harvey Danger’s most recent album (Little By Little…).
RH: Are you? Great. Great, yeah, it’s good. Well, he looks like this sort of…slightly outsized cherub – like a Goya-ish Art Garfunkel – and he stands there. He’s very sort of poised and innocent looking. I don’t if he’s either poised or innocent when you get up close, but he certainly looks it. And he’s got a great pitch. And so does Chris, who’s much more wired and scuttling. Very energetic. So it was fantastic. They just turned up; it was Seattle, we did the backing tracks, and they came in and draped their voices over it.
BE: How did Kurt Bloch come to record the album for you?
RH: Well, Kurt is in the Young Fresh Fellows with Scott, and has been for ages. And, so, it’s really just part of the same network. I think Kurt or Scott found the studio. I mean, it’s terrific. It’s just an in-house job. It requires no initiative on my part at all. I just sort of say, “Okay, is everybody around? Let’s do three days in Seattle,” and then that’s it, really…if they are around. If they’re not around, of course, then it doesn’t happen at all. Again, that’s where the hands on the clock was good; everybody was there, nobody was out on the road.
BE: So I guess the Soft Boys reunion must’ve ended up on a positive note, since both Kimberley (Rew) and Morris (Windsor) are both on your new album…
RH: (Hesitates) Well…it’s just the continuing saga, really. Morris and Kim, I love doing stuff with them…not particularly under the Soft Boys umbrella, but, y’know, if we’re doing a party, they always come along. Yes, Kim played guitar on three tracks back in Britain, and then Morris and I went into the Attic, (a studio) in Cardiff, where we were mixing it and tidying it up, and Morris put some harmonies on it, which sound fantastic. So there is definitely a pattern of the old Soft Boys on there. I was just lucky. I just feel like I got the best out of everybody, really. Very quickly and extremely cheaply.
BE: Do you think there’ll ever be a follow-up to Nextdoorland (the band’s 2002 reunion album), or…"I felt a little bit like I was disturbing the undead by reinvoking the Soft Boys."
RH: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it’s not set in stone, but I think it’s extremely unlikely…and I felt a little bit like I was, y’know, disturbing the undead by reinvoking the Soft Boys. I include myself as one of them, but it wasn’t really a persona I wanted to have or felt very comfortable with. I didn’t really want to be a Soft Boy at 30, let alone 50. There were lots of things that were difficult about making it happen, although I would say that I think it’s a great record and my only regret is that I didn’t come up with stronger songs. I think the songs on this one are a lot more…instant, in a way, than the ones on Nextdoorland. But I think there are a few gems on that one, like “Mr. Kennedy”…
BE: Yeah, I love that one.
RH: …and “Sudden Town.” I’m certainly not ashamed of it; I’m just not sure whether we really should’ve… (Hesitates) It was good to get together and play to big audiences in America that had never seen us do those old songs, so I’m glad we did it from that point of view, but I’m sure that the Soft Boys flag should’ve been planted in the future.
BE: With the new album, “Museum of Sex,” with that saxophone, reminds me of Black Snake Diamond Role-era (1981) stuff.
RH: Oh, well, we had horns on…yeah, there’s a sax on “The Man Who Invented Himself.” Well, there was; I lost it when it was reissued. And there’s a lot of sax on Groovy Decoy (1985)…Anthony Thistlethwaite.
BE: Of the Waterboys.
RH: Who then went on to be in the Waterboys. Yeah, this is Colin Izod, who’s actually a filmmaker, but he was in a horns fest with my old friend, James Fletcher, who used to play with me many years ago, and he went to the Arctic as part of an expedition with my wife, Michèle…a group of artists and scientists, to look at the effects of global warning. So Michèle introduced me to Colin. That’s Michèle with one L; her second name’s Noach. You can find out about her if you Google her, she’s an artoonist.
BE: And that answers the question about who’s the inspiration for your song “One L” (from 2003’s Luxor).
RH: That’s Michele with one L, yeah. Well, Robyn with a Y…Robyn and Michele, easy to misspell. We’ve both suffered from that, so I’m with Y as in “yogurt,” and she’s one L. So, yeah, she’s the artoonist, and, anyway, she got me hooked with Colin, which was great, ‘cause Fletcher couldn’t make it. And who else do we have? Yeah, Ian McLagan (of the Small Faces), who I didn’t actually get to go into the studio with, but I’ve met him through Billy Bragg a few times. He’s a lovely man; unfortunately, his wife’s just died…
BE: I’m sorry, I hadn’t heard that.
RH: Yeah, Kim, who he was with for a long time. But he just sort of…we did it down the wires. Sent the track from Cardiff, and it came back with just the sort of elegiac feel that I wanted for that track.
BE: I have to say, seeing a co-write between Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge (on “’Cause It’s Love [Saint Parallelogram]”) was, for me, the college-rock equivalent of seeing a co-write between Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.
RH: Oh, right! (Laughs) Well, Andy and I have got a lot of the same records in our collections…and sound surprisingly different, really. He finishes things up much more than me. He’s a more airtight sort of performer; I leave more holes in what I do, I think. But we just started doing some…attempting to do some stuff, to record some songs together, write ‘em together, arrange ‘em together…in his shed. (Chuckles) He was actually unable to play the guitar for most of this year, ‘cause he had what I call a sleeping accident: he woke up one morning and his hand wasn’t functioning properly. It was a problem with the tendons and stuff. But I think he’s getting better, so we’ll probably do some more stuff in his shed in the winter.
BE: Had you worked together before this, or just known each other?
RH: No, we’d both been aware of each other, and I think it’s one of those things that time just sort of, again, narrowed the distance between us. We were probably a bit suspicious of each other earlier on, but I’d just been listening to a few XTC tracks and thought, “God, this stuff’s great.” And I had his number, anyway, so I’ve been up to Swindon a few times. So I don’t know; I think we’re going to do some more, whether it comes out as a whole record or just contributions to each others projects. We’ll see. I’ve got one track that now has Grant Lee Phillips on it as well as Andy and me.
BE: And that ties into a question I was going to ask you, which was, have you heard Grant Lee’s cover of (Hitchcock’s 1984 track) “I Often Dream of Trains”?
RH: (Instantly brightens) Yeah! It’s lovely! I mean, (Phillips’ album, Nineteeneighties) is a good, dark record, on the whole, and I like…I’m very flattered that he picked “Trains,” and I like the way he’s done it. It has a very different sort of feel; it’s more like a Doors song or something. Hopefully, I’ll see him in the next month or so. He’s the person who introduced me to Sean Nelson; he’s a friend of the Harvey Danger…mouse.
BE: (Laughs) And speaking of my favorite British songwriters, I see you’re doing a cruise, of all things, with Glenn Tilbrook (of Squeeze). How did that come about?
RH: (Legitimately surprised) Am I?
BE: Yeah…well, according to one site, anyway. Maybe it’s not accurate. It said that you were doing a cruise in Japan…in Tokyo…with Glenn Tilbrook.
RH: Um…maybe Glenn’s there at the same time. We’ve got the same promoter; I didn’t know that Glenn was actually on the ship. That’s news!
RH: But that’ll be nice. I haven’t seen him for ages. I know he’s done some stuff with Andy Metcalfe. I don’t know… (Still distracted over this new information) Well, that’s good. I’ll find out. We’ll discover.
BE: October 10th. There you go.
RH: Oh, yeah, I know the one. I didn’t even know it was advertised!
BE: Well, where I found it was on http://www.fegmania.org.
RH: Oh, well, they always know what we’re doing long before we do.
BE: There you go.
RH: Sometimes, they’re not…the only site I look at is my own, just to check it. But we tend to not put stuff up until we’re really sure it’s happened, and I dare say that the other sites may put things up before they’re confirmed, so that means they’re ahead. I don’t like to put anything up until it’s confirmed…or until it’s already happened, so I know it really did happen.
BE: I love “NY Doll.” It does double duty as a poignant tribute and a lovely album closer.
RH: Have you seen the film?
BE: That was actually going to be my question to you. Yes, I love the film; it’s great.
RH: Glen Max…he actually appears in the film. You can see him; he’s a ringleted beauty in his early 40’s. He runs the South Bank complex in London, and he took us to see the movie…because he promoted that Meltdown, that gig that Morrissey got the Dolls back together for. And, funnily enough, I was asked by my New York agent if I wanted to be in that, the Dolls reunion, and I declined because I really didn’t think it was appropriate to have me. It wasn’t my kind of thing; I was touched to be asked, but they needed more of a rock-ass guitarist. I don’t think they really…I think it’s because I have the same agent as David Johansen, so they were probably just looking through other guys on the same list. But, anyway, I saw the movie, and it was very poignant, indeed. And the next morning, I just got up, picked up the guitar, and wrote the song…and it’s about nothing more than that. So I’m glad you liked it.
BE: I was pleased when Mossy Liquor (a collection of outtakes from the sessions that produced Hitchcock’s 1996 album, Moss Elixir, and previously only available on vinyl) turned up on iTunes, having the original release but currently no place to set up my turntable.
RH: Well, that’s probably the future, y’know? Vinyl and iTunes. We’re talking about possibly doing that for some of the re-releases.
BE: That was something else I was going to ask you.
RH: A lot of stuff’s out of print now. It’s a matter of whether we can find un-rotten masters or whether we just master our CD, which is a bit unadventurous. There are whole acres of my records…you mentioned Element of Light…which are no longer available, and there are a lot of Soft Boys stuff; I think even Underwater Moonlight is now out of print.
BE: Oh, wow.
RH: So I think there will be a sort of vinyl-and-downloads bonanza when we can crank all this stuff out again.
BE: Y’know, I might’ve done this in the wrong order, but I actually fell in love with your stuff before I knew the first thing about Syd Barrett.
RH: Oh, that’s great! (Writer’s note: Barrett, the original lead singer and songwriter for Pink Floyd, died earlier this year. Hitchcock paid tribute to him in the pages of the British magazine Mojo, saying, “Syd Barrett left his host body 35 years ago and there were many periods when I thought he had moved into mine, but that was my own fancy.”)
BE: My friend Bobby steered me from (1988’s) Globe of Frogs, which was the first album of yours I ever bought, back to Element of Light, and from there onto Syd’s solo albums.
RH: Well, his songs are more primal than mine. They were also written by a pretty young person, although I think his songwriting talent emerged kind of fully formed and then fell apart, whereas it took me quite awhile to evolve into writing a decent song. I didn’t write anything good until I was about 25, by which time Barrett was obviously long gone. I sort of think of myself as evolving in my own spiral way, as a creature and as a songwriter, whereas I think he just…that was it. Just one eruption. Krakatoa. But his stuff is more intense than mine, and I think more…well, obviously, more original. I don’t know. I can see all the influence and all the sources, including him, where my stuff comes from. I feel like I sort of synthesized a Robyn Hitchcock oeuvre…which I’m very proud of. I basically make the music that I like. But his stuff was really something else. He’s the sort of…he was a bit like Arthur Lee. They were mega-stars that never were, but they produced brilliant stuff that time has enhanced rather than destroyed, and they both have that feeling where people think, “Well, what else could they have done?” Rather than accepting that they did what they did. And at least you’ve got Forever Changes and a bunch of other good Love songs, and you’ve got Piper (at the Gates of Dawn) and, I think, two fantastic records. I prefer Barrett’s solo stuff to the Floyd. And that’s a life’s work, really, for anyone.
BE: I know you’ve paid tribute to him many times, but what’s your favorite Syd Barrett song?
RH: Mmm…I think my all-time favorite is probably “Wolfpack,” which I think was his as well, according to his last interview. But I just…well, I just recommend listening to it. But, again, if you’re not very familiar with his stuff, you’re probably better off starting with “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” and the Piper album, and then edging your way out along the diving board into the Barrett solo material. That might not be the best one to start with, but it’s certainly a good place to finish.
BE: This morning, when I was putting together my questions and doing some research…well, as long as I’ve been a fan of yours for all these years, I literally didn’t realize until today that your father (Raymond Hitchcock) was not just an author but one who’s got connections to a Kinks album (Percy) and a Peter Sellers movie (“There’s a Girl in My Soup”).
RH: (Impressed) Well, you have been doing your research.
BE: I have!
RH: Is that all on the ‘net?
BE: If you go the right places. (Chuckles) Yes, there’s a reference to your father having been an author, and when I did a search for his name…well, you go from one spot to another and eventually come up with all the pieces.
RH: Oh! Well, yeah, he was. He was an engineer…not an engineer on a train, but a trained engineer…who worked for the telecommunications system, early satellites and things, and the British post office, which was part of it. Then, he became a cartoonist who then became a painter, and he was a great cartoonist, then not a particularly great painter as he began to imitate other people. He was an original who then lost confidence and started imitating Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon, and doing sort of ‘60s-styled sculptures…well, it was the ‘60s! And then he started writing and hit the bonanza with a book about a penis transplant (“Percy”). I see that the first penis transplant has actually just been carried out in China, and after two weeks, they had to take it off the recipient…not because it physically didn’t work, but because there were psychological problems! Which means that the guy’s back with his stump, so I don’t know what he’s going to do. And, anyway, I was wondering what my father would have thought of that. And, yeah, Ray Davies wrote the music for the movie of “Percy,” which…I don’t know if there’s any real classics on that, but it was just after “Lola,” so it wasn’t long after his heyday as a songwriter. So Raymond then spent the rest of life as an author, and he died in very early ’92.
BE: And I also discovered this morning that you now have an official MySpace page, whereas before you were represented by the very well-done fan group, Globe of Robyn Hitchcock.
RH: (Once again legitimately surprised) Do I?
RH: Is there anything on it?
BE: Um…not a lot. Which, I guess, answers the question, “Have you actually gone onto MySpace yourself?” (Laughs)
RH: No, I have no interest in computers at all. I do emails because I have to stay in touch, but even that, I sort of resent. It’s not like I was wondering what to do with my life until e-mail came along. I no longer have an answer phone, so I suppose messages came through like that. The fax machine’s broken down. So if people want to leave a message, they either email me or call my cell. But, y’know, all these instant forms of communication, they’re just ways of not being there, and they add to the general pressure of needing to do two things at once. I dunno. Mind you, in “Magnum Force,” Clint Eastwood stops a hijacking at San Francisco Airport while he’s eating a hamburger, y’know. He’s still eating it while he busts into the cockpit and kicks their asses. So I suppose multitasking has some honorable roots in time, but David Greenberger runs my website and I send him details. I know what YouTube is, and MySpace, but I have absolutely no interest in going there. Not only that, but I don’t like television, either. And I don’t listen to music! And, yet, I’m incredibly busy, you know? I think the more electronic media there are, the less they interest me, and I resent having to buy stuff that becomes obsolete in two or three years, or costs you as much as it costs to buy it to have it fixed, or to be explained how it works, only to have it become obsolete. Twenty years ago, I had a… (Phone rings) Oops! Someone’s ringing on Line 2. What do you know? Hang on just a second…
RH: (Slightly muffled) Hello? Alan, can I call you back? I’m on Line 1. I’ll call you back at the office. Okay, thanks. Bye! (Returns to phone) See, that’s the sort of call waiting I have.
RH: So, anyway…sorry, that’s just my favorite rant. And, again, I will be quite happy if my records wind up either being on the internet or vinyl, so you can either see them or not see them. (Laughs) What have you listened to that you’ve liked?
BE: Let’s see…well, I got a copy of the new Lemonheads, an advance of it.
RH: Have they made another record?
BE: Yeah! And it’s actually…it’s a harder album than Evan Dando’s solo album. Kind of a back-to-basics thing, I guess.
RH: Yeah. Has he got some of the old ‘Heads with him?
BE: Actually, no, it looks like he’s filled out the lineup with members of the Descendents. But he does have Garth Hudson (of the Band) on keyboards for a couple of songs.
RH: (Impressed) Wow. Recognizably?
BE: Yeah. And J. Mascis is on a few tracks as well.
BE: So that’s very good. And I haven’t had a chance to listen to it more than once, but I’ve also got the new Thea Gilmore album.
RH: I don’t think I’ve heard of her.
BE: She’s British, a semi-folky singer.
BE: Very nice. And I also have the new Lambchop album, which is really good thus far.
RH: I think I’ve met them.
BE: Possibly so. The frontman’s name is Kurt Wagner…?
RH: I don’t know. There’s a lot of them, aren’t there? I was in a room with them in Spain, while it was raining. Well, that’s good, then.
BE: Have you picked up anything yourself recently?
RH: Nah, I don’t listen to anything. Things come through the letter box all the time. I listen to records that my friends make ‘cause they’re my friends, so I’ll listen to Grant’s record or Tanya Donnelly’s record or R.E.M….you know, the folks. But, really, just because they’re people I know, not because I seek anything out. And, also, I have to stress that it’s not that I dislike music that comes out now; there’s lots of stuff that sounds great. I just think that I saturated myself somewhere along the line, about ten years back. I don’t have enough gigabytes of RAM to absorb anymore! (Laughs) When people ask me what’s on my iPod, I roll a few eyeballs.
BE: Okay, I just have a couple of last questions here. I know you probably love all your children equally, so to speak, but do you have an album of yours that you think is particularly underrated?
BE: Yeah, like, I’m a big fan of (1993’s) Respect, but it didn’t exactly, uh, receive much of its title when it first came out.
RH: I don’t like that record.
RH: I like the material, but I think the result was so far from the intention. You can’t even hear my voice, really. It’s just sort of… (Drifts off) I was coming and going a lot. I was going all over the place, at a bit of a fascia, a fault line in my life. I was going back and forth across the Atlantic all the time, and I wasn’t really properly focused on how it came out. I think also when people make records in two months and they’re in there all the time, you lose sight of what’s there because you’re going in every day. I only make records now spending two or three days maximum on something. Usually, I’m paying for myself, anyway, so I can’t afford to block-book studio time…but I don’t really enjoy it when it’s block-booked. I always remember going in the first time I did demos I paid for myself, and I just couldn’t wait to go in and spend that day…and the early days for making stuff for the indie Soft Boys record. “You’ve got two days, man! Two days to do six tracks!” And that really mattered. By the time you’ve come to making some record where they’re giving you enough money that you could buy a row of houses in North Umbria or somewhere, I mean, it’s just…I don’t know. What does it matter if you spend a week on a song, or a day or a month? I know that malaise affects other groups, so I thought Respect…not to diss the playing on the original, which I thought was great – somewhere underneath all of that, there’s some great three-part stuff – but I never listen to that. I don’t think of my stuff…I don’t know if it’s rated or not. I don’t listen to my records, either, because there’s too many of them, so apart from checking something for reference, I haven’t heard any of them now for ages. I really enjoyed the Moss Elixir sessions because I had a little bit of a budget and I was in complete control of all of that; I think the songs on Respect are probably better, but I really like the feel of the songs on Moss Elixir. I mean, Spooked, the last time I heard it, sounded great. I always like that; I don’t know if it’s rated or not, though.
BE: I rate it pretty high.
RH: My favorite album with me and the Egyptians was probably…Queen Elvis was good, but I haven’t heard it for ages. I might sound like Mickey Mouse! (Laughs) I know that, when I do play old records, I’m always amazed at how much faster we played them back then. We’re definitely slowing down…and I have affidavits from R.E.M. – certainly from Peter – that they’ve done the same. But there you are: you wade into the treacle until you become it.
BE: Do you think there’ll ever be a Robyn Hitchcock box set, or are you spread across so many labels that the licensing becomes cost-prohibitive?
RH: No, they are talking about it. This is one of the things that, certainly, the albums from the ‘80s would come in box sets. You mean like a, uh, greatest flops thing?
BE: (Laughs) So to speak. Or something like what Billy Bragg’s been doing recently, where he’s reissuing everything with tons of bonus tracks.
RH: Yeah, I think that’s what they want us to do; it’s the same label in America (YepRoc). The only thing about bonus tracks is, if it wasn’t good enough to release back then, what makes it so great now? And…I dunno, fine, if you’re Bob Dylan or something, but if you’re the rest of us…? Well, having said that, I’m going to have fish around and dig up some demos. I’ve got some reasonable stuff, if you’re a Hitchcock fan.
BE: And my last question is a total fanboy question, mostly because pretty much only total fanboys will even have heard it, but…how did you come to record a cover of “Kung Fu Fighting” for the (1990) Alvin Lives (In Leeds) compilation?"When I play old records, I’m always amazed at how much faster we played them back then. We’re definitely slowing down."
RH: Well, it was the last days of Midnight Music (the label that released both the compilation and several of Hitchcock’s early albums), and it was a benefit for something…I don’t know what it was; I know we weren’t seeing any money for it. (Writer’s note: further research determines that the proceeds went to an anti-poll tax coalition…which I really should have known, given that the album’s subtitle is “Anti-Poll Tax Trax.) We went into a studio in North London somewhere…I think it was just me and Andy Metcalfe… (drifts off) Oh, God, needless to say, I haven’t heard that in decades, and I don’t have a copy. But I’ve always liked that song, and we did a “Naff ’70s Hits Against the War” thing a couple of years ago after they invaded Iraq, to raise money for recent benefit for Médecins Sans Frontières, which we do occasionally. Michele sort of promotes them and makes the tickets and books the gig in this pub in East London. And I think we did “Kung Fu Fighting” there…possibly with Jon Brion; I know he was in town. I love digging that one up at parties.
BE: If you need a copy of it, I can send you an MP3 of it.
RH: Oh, you could, but I’m not sure I can download MP3s. It takes about a week for him to get through! (Laughs) I know that I’m never going to gather up all that stuff in my life; if someone wants to round up the things, that’s fine, and I’m sad if a lot of my stuff isn’t’ available, but I’m more interested in churning out the new stuff than scooping up the old stuff. But I’m sure someone will scoop up the old stuff. And if they want to give us some money for it while they’re doing it, that’s fantastic. (Pauses, apparently looking out the window) Oh, God, there’s a woman on the phone, she’s got a small child, she’s trying to move it out of the way of a car. She’s pushing the pram along and on the phone. It’s fantastic. (Suddenly jumps back to the conversation) Well! Be here now! So, well, I’m sure I’ll be directed to your site and maybe I’ll have a look at it. Is this going to be a Q&A, or are you going to make it into an article?
BE: It’s actually going to be a full-on transcript. We just call them “A Chat with…”
RH: But it’s not a podcast?
BE: No, unfortunately. But by transcribing the whole thing, it feels more like you’re really listening to the conversation.
RH: If you do, if you could maybe cut out if I’ve said a lot of “y’knows” and “uhs” and that kind of thing…?
BE: (Laughs) You’re not the first person to ask me that.
RH: Good, lovely! So you know all about that, then. Thank you very much, Will.
BE: Absolutely. And I’m hoping to get up to the November 20th show in Baltimore.
RH: Oh, that’s the end of the tour! That’s going to be an absolute rock-out! We are planning to come back in March…well, me, and it depends if the others are available. I very dearly hope they are, but even if they’re not, I will turn up in some shape or form. So there’ll be another appearance. But this is definitely…if you can get to any of these band shows, these Venus 3 shows should be fantastic.
BE: And, plus, I’ve never seen you with Peter Buck before.
RH: Have you not? Geez, we’ve played for all the crown heads of the world by now. I mean, the popes, in the end, just got fed up with us. “Not them again,” they said. “We want Bryan Ferry!” (affects thick Italian accent) “Yes, Bryan Ferry! No more Buck. No more Buck!” (returns to normal voice) So, yeah, we’ll be there. Well, if you can make it to the gig, come and say hello.
BE: Absolutely. In fact, I’ve seen you twice before: one in ’89, like I mentioned, but I also saw you in Detroit with Billy Bragg, in a benefit for striking newspaper workers.
RH: Oh, in that very decrepit hall! With Deni Bonet (playing violin).
BE: That would be it.
RH: We found a nice pair of shoes in one of the closets.
BE: But do you still have the shoes? That’s the question.
RH: Michele has them, yeah. They’re Detroit shoes. Detroit boots. Yeah, yeah, we got rather smashed. Well, we found the boots, and then we got rather smashed. But I suppose that’s what happens in this business. (Laughs)
BE: Well, I look forward to seeing you, if not in November, then in the near future.
RH: Oh, we’ll be orbiting, I hope. Have a good winter ‘til then, and I’m so glad you like the record. That’s very great for me to hear.
BE: Certainly. Thank you very much!
RH: Alright, thanks, Will. Have a good day! Bye!