English songwriter Robyn Hitchock pours his wealth of experience into every song he writes. Working recently with producer Joe Boyd, his musical connections are strong with many of England’s great songwriters, and his latest work is among his strongest. We spoke to Robyn ahead of his show at Band on the Wall in June, asking about places to write, collaboration and his thoughts on Nick Drake.
As an artist who’s songs recall times and places and explore the details of everyday life, is the place you choose to write a song highly important to you? Do you like to travel to certain places to write?
I’m currently on the Isle of Wight where I wrote a good many songs over 20 years ago now. Hardly any of them were about the island but it was a good place to process my life into songs. When I’m making up songs, I need to stare at something; it could be the sea or a crack in the wallpaper…
You come to Band on the Wall with Emma Swift, an artist you recently recorded a single with for Record Store Day. Tell us what brought the two of you together, and how your styles work together.
Emma and I met at an Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell show. She’s more ‘Twangy’ and I’m more ‘Psych’ – sounds like a 70’s cop show: Psych & Twangy. We intersect at Gram Parsons, The Byrds, and Lucinda Williams – quite an intersection. We’re both connoisseurs of the morose. Singing a couple of songs with Emma is the high point of the show.
I first encountered you on the Nick Drake ‘Way to Blue’ concert, covering a couple of tracks from Pink Moon. Is Nick Drake an important artist for you, and have his three albums informed your songwriting?
Nick Drake has a soft, stealthy sound and his music crept up on me over the years. Getting to know Joe Boyd and work with him also drew me in to the still evening beauty of Drake’s songs; and the agonized resignation as his world glided downstream towards the waterfall.
You’ve been with both major and independent labels in your career, and the debate between what is best for artists as they progress is an interesting one. How have you found the difference between major and independent labels? Have you ever had to compromise creatively under a labels direction?
Whoever you record with, or for, you have to know what you’re doing and you have to give them direction about how you want to be perceived or they will make it up for you. This is less the case now – labels are now mostly banks that press and distribute your records for you, and may advance you some money in the process. If you make music that you think will sell to a lot of people, go to a major; if you feel that your appeal is more…specialist…then stay independent. That’s what’ll happen anyway
In a 30 year recording career, what have been the personal highlights? Have any particular songs remained key to your life and you fans?
30 years – I wish! It’s 38 this year…My songs are often wiser than me, and feel a lot older. I’m glad there are people who still want to hear them. I’m getting good at interpreting other people’s songs, too. Every year I keep playing is a highlight for me.