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Waxing philosophical with Robyn Hitchcock in The Current studio

Robyn Hitchcock performs in The Current studio.
Robyn Hitchcock performs in The Current studio.Nate Ryan | MPR
  Play Now [34:09]

by Mary Lucia

April 06, 2017

Robyn Hitchcock - I Want to Tell You About What I Want (Live on The Current)
by MPR
Robyn Hitchcock - Raymond and the Wires (Live on The Current)
by MPR
Robyn Hitchcock - Mad Shelley's Letterbox (Live on The Current)
by MPR

Robyn Hitchcock first opened for the Psychedelic Furs 37 years ago (when Hitchcock was with his early band, the Soft Boys). Hitchcock's friendship and professional collaboration with the Furs continues to this day, as he'll be sharing the bill with them at a show at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Before the gig, Hitchcock stopped in The Current's studio to play three songs from his forthcoming self-titled album (releasing April 21) and to enjoy a deep and thoughtful conversation with host Mary Lucia.

We've posted highlights below. Use the audio player above to listen to the complete interview and session.

Interview Highlights

Robyn Hitchcock on his musical peers and their common thread:

All us great British narcissists & mdash; and I include myself in there along with Richard Butler and Bryan Ferry and Bowie and Marc Bolan, I suppose — we kind of are all people that create our own sort of beauty. … I think it's a lot to do with the visual arts. Ferry and Bowie I think both went to art school, I went to art school, I don't know if Richard did — I must ask him; but it's a British visual thing, I suppose, and we've all gone off and made different kinds of music accordingly.

On the artists who impressed him on first listen:

I don't necessarily like people the first time I hear them. None of the people that I've mentioned to you [see above] are people that I was immediately knocked out by. It's more like my appreciation of the Furs or even Bowie kind of deepened over the years.

I think I was pretty mesmerized by Bob Dylan from the very beginning, once I heard that voice. But all those other people took a bit of getting used to. So I'm never in a hurry to recapture how I first heard them. For me, it's an overlaying of I hear something I love again. … It's just like giving a cat the food it likes again: Oh yeah! Yippee!

On the comment that songwriting is "like dreaming in public":

Actually, that expression I trace back to Paul McCartney; I think he says something like that in "Let It Be." I think all art in a way is dreaming in public because I think what we call art is this slightly unfathomable product of the curdling unconscious, which we often get in our sleep but which in some way helps us make sense of whatever is bothering us, even if it wakes us up with a nightmare or a feeling of sadness or regret or something. It's kind of clearing your head. It's why you need to sleep and dream rather than just lying down for eight hours. Your mind has to go elsewhere.

I think art is extremely connected to that. … I think it's very related to dreaming.

On the power of music compared to other art forms:

I think music just gets down further. I love reading stories and watching movies and looking at pictures and creating them, but there's nothing like music. Music comes from somewhere else and it does something else to you. And I don't know what it is, but it's the most emotional of [the arts].

On what sparked his imagination as a child and what sparks it now:

Bad dreams. I used to hate those songs when it went, "May all your dreams come true" because because I'd think, "No, no, because you haven't seen mine!" …

[And] Fear. My grandfather and my father were both in World War I and World War II, respectively. My grandfather was on the Western Front; oddly, he wasn't wounded, but he I don't think he was ever the same. My dad was hit, and he had a stiff leg from 22 years onwards. People have suggested to me that things go into your genes, they go into your DNA and you pass them down. There's a lot of combative fear that I have because both my father and his father were under fire, and I'm incredibly paranoid. … For me, life is about fear and anxiety.

On which traits of his late father he carries with him:

I think I contain him as an app. I don't know that his soul is necessarily watching me. We really can't speak for the dead; they could all be having these exciting dreams. The energy that is us dissipates on our death, and no one has ever really been able to successfully track down the passage of the soul. We may have souls, but we don't know where the hell they go. I don't feel like [my father] Raymond is necessarily up there watching me, but I do feel like Raymond has become an integral part of me. It's more egotistical — I feel like I've absorbed him.

On musical history and taxonomy:

The beat group — I think of it as actually as starting with Buddy Holly, bit then you've got the Searchers, the Beatles, the Byrds and the Velvet Underground, who were very different, but it was still the two electric guitars, bass, drums and harmonies. Sometimes three songwriters, sometimes one, whatever, but it was a particular sound.

Then, when things got heavy in '67 and I think pop turned into rock and people got really hairy and everything and Zeppelin came along, the beat group was passé. I think one of the reasons the Beatles really was over was that they didn't want to be in a beat group any more; they wanted to be hairy and play long solos. Paul could see the value of the group; John and George actually wanted to be hairy people expressing themselves like everybody else was. And they all hung out with Eric Clapton, who was the vanguard of it.

I got my first art-school band going in '72, and we had an attempt at a beat group, but everyone else was trying to be heavy or funky. … People weren't ready for a beat group at that point. Glam had a little echo of it, but it was all about that big, heavy guitar and stuff.

And then punk came along, which was sort of the return of the beat group, but it didn't like harmonies and it was much more coarse and brutal. They tried to have power pop. And then my band, the Soft Boys, was an attempt at a sort of beat group, but I don't think we made it very clear what we were doing until it was too late; we were very experimental to begin with, and people didn't know what experiment to follow, which all sounds great now but it made it very hard to sell.

The beat group probably never returned, but I still love that, and you see echoes of that in so many people. Even Oasis was a bit of a beat group. XTC I felt could have been a beat group as much as rock band, and Squeeze and people like that.

Songs Performed

"I Want to Tell You About What I Want"
"Raymond and the Wires"
"Mad Shelley's Letterbox"
All songs from Robyn Hitchcock's forthcoming self-titled album, due out April 21, 2017, on Yep Roc Records.

Hosted by Mary Lucia
Produced by Lindsay Kimball
Engineered by Michael DeMark and Elijah Deaton-Berg
Visuals by Nate Ryan
Web feature by Luke Taylor


Robyn Hitchcock - official site

Info on Robyn Hitchcock: Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc Records)