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Robyn Hitchcock plays songs from 'Shufflemania!' in The Current studio

Robyn Hitchcock – studio session at The Current (music + interview) The Current
  Play Now [15:54]

by Bill DeVille

May 15, 2023

Prior to the pandemic, Robyn Hitchcock had never spent a protracted time off the road. While at home in Nashville, Hitchcock and his wife, singer-songwriter Emma Swift, started a record label (Tiny Ghost Records), and for a time, Hitchcock immersed himself in painting. But soon, he found he couldn’t stop writing songs.

One of the results of those efforts is the new album, Shufflemania!, released in late 2022. Hitchcock, touring once again, visited The Current studio to play songs from that album and to chat with The Current’s Bill DeVille about all he’s been up to — as well as his exquisite taste in shirts.

Watch and listen to the full session above, and read a transcript below.

A man sings and plays guitar in a recording studio
Robyn Hitchcock performing in The Current studio on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Interview Transcript

Bill DeVille: Hey, I'm Bill DeVille. And I'm here with Robyn Hitchcock. Robyn, so nice to see you.

Robyn Hitchcock: Bill, how are you?

Bill DeVille: Good. It seems like it's been forever, you know, with this pandemic that happened and all that. Are you been?

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, time is elongated. I've been all right. And yourself?

Bill DeVille: I've been excellent as well. So you got a new album called Shufflemania! that was issued this past, what was it, November?

Photo collage of a man, two cats, two Blackpool trams, and a kid in a towel
Robyn Hitchcock's album, Shufflemania!, was released on October 21, 2022.
Tiny Ghost Records

Robyn Hitchcock: Something like that, yeah, yeah. 

Bill DeVille: Well, tell us about the album.

Robyn Hitchcock: Shufflemania! is the first one that I've done for Tiny Ghost Records, which is run by my wife, Emma Swift, who also records for Tiny Ghost, and it's our label that we launched seriously during the pandemic. We had it as a sort of merch organ before that.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: But with the advent of the pandemic, direct-to-consumer sales, mail-outs became really essential because you couldn't tour, we couldn't tour. So Emma made, finished off her Bob Dylan covers record, Blonde on the Tracks, and I recorded Shufflemania!, and we did all this at home in Nashville during lockdown in 2020. But it takes so long to pressing! Emma's record, we had a Norwegian pressing plant who got her record done in something like six weeks. So within two months of finishing recording it, we were mailing them out from our kitchen. But Shufflemania!, I actually finished off, I don't know, late in 2021. But it took us a year to get the vinyl to press up... what am I saying — pressing plants! You know what I mean?

Emma Swift press photo
Singer-songwriter and record label founder Emma Swift
courtesy the artist

Bill DeVille: Seems like there's a shortage of pressing plants, and it might not have been a bad time to start your own!

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, sadly the one in Norway, our Norwegian friend's one discontinued, but we've just found another one in Nashville with a much quicker turnover. So I think that whatever Emma and I come up with will be a quicker turnover time. But basically what the pandemic has done for us, I suppose, is to find alternative ways of making a living apart from touring, which still remains quite a perilous process. I love being able to get out play in front of people, partly because 18 months off it, you really didn't think it was going to happen again. And you still don't know when you start a tour, whether you're going to get to the end of it, you know?

Bill DeVille: Yeah, you've been doing this a long time; was that the first time you were off the road for 18 months in your career?

Robyn Hitchcock: It was the first time in my life that I didn't go anywhere for six months, I didn't even cross the road for three months.

Bill DeVille: Wow.

Robyn Hitchcock: We'd see people, you know, the unbelievers, kind of jogging around and pushing their babies and things like that. But as far as we knew, if you know, you could get quite a lethal dose of COVID by just passing someone on the other side of the road. So this was before the vaccines, and you got to remember that it wasn't that long ago that it was, you know, we were all held captive by a life-threatening virus. Now we're zapping around; you know, the idea of us sitting unmasked in a studio would have been unthinkable three years ago. So... and we all got to that, you know, everybody just across the world had to shut down. The world had to become an indoor world, you know, unless you were one of those people who said, "Ha-hah, I don't care, ain't gonna bother me!" You know, like the people downtown in Nashville who were boogying, the red hats and stuff like that. Yeah, the ol' death cult. But no, I was, I didn't go anywhere. Quite a shock.

Bill DeVille: What did you learn about yourself? You know, a few years of not touring, you know, a guy has been on the road for the last, off and on, 40 years.

Robyn Hitchcock: I learned that I really like to keep busy.

A man sings and plays guitar in a recording studio
Robyn Hitchcock performing in The Current studio on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: And obviously, you've also got to make money. You know, I couldn't just sort of sit there watching reruns of Bewitched or something. I actually had to, you know, I have to earn money but um, but I like keeping busy and I... For a while, I mimicked my father who had been a painter for a bit, so when we first logged down, I kind of got the easel out and just sort of retreated into painting. But I also would seem to be writing songs. I was probably finishing songs because I wasn't going anywhere. I don't know what it was. I hadn't really finished any songs for ages. Just before lockdown, I went to Mexico and I had, I had the feathery serpent god massage. I went into this tree house and there were these things you get; you get the Kukulkan massage for like 80 bucks or something, you know? And I went to the serpent god's palace, and you know, who knows what atrocities were perpetrated in their name, but it was one of those all-purpose gods, you know, a winged serpent. So that covers a lot of ground in itself; you can fly and squirm and borrow and eat, you're a symbol of fertility, power, wisdom; God knows snakes mean so many different things, you know? Creepy but understanding, as, you know, as ambivalent as fate itself, something to appreciate, worship, fear, adore, who knows? Kukulkan, Quetzalcoatl, probably pronounced completely differently in its day.

Bill DeVille: I'm not even going to try that one!

Robyn Hitchcock: What about the title track? What can you tell us about that? Technically never existed, but still a powerful force. So I just felt that serpent god upon me in January 2020, and I started finishing songs, and then, and then I got locked down, so I got the chance to actually record them at home on a tiny machine that would fit into a packet of Cheerios. You could put two of them in there. Last time I made a record at home, the desk took up half the kitchen table. The first time I made a record at home, in 1992, we had the whole BBC mobile truck parked outside my house on the Isle of Wight. You know, I had a major label deal in those days so you could do those things. Now I'm, you know, I've been through an indie label and now we're simply our own business. And the recording is like, if that thing is that big and you plug the little mics into it, and you've got four tracks, and I sent them off to people. I sent "Inner Life of Scorpio" I sent to Johnny Marr, and he sent back a host of overdubs on that one. “Shufflemania”?

Bill DeVille: That's kind of a punk rock-y sort of fun, fun little tune.

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, I sent that to Brendan Benson. You know Brendan?

A man plays an acoustic guitar on a small stage
Brendan Benson performing in Nashville in 2014.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Bill DeVille: I know Brendan, the Raconteurs, Jack White's friend? From Detroit? 

Robyn Hitchcock: And he produced my— Detroit indeed, same as Kelley Stoltz.

Bill DeVille: Right!

Robyn Hitchcock: They all used to hunt in a pack, apparently.

Bill DeVille: Yeah!

Robyn Hitchcock: But they, yeah, I sent him that song and he just put on bass drums, electric guitars, harmonies, the lot, you know, on that. Brendon actually was only about two miles away from me in Nashville, so I did, I even saw him once, we stood on the balcony 10 feet apart and sang a Beatles song into a camera. But the rest of them I didn't see. The Shuffleman itself, either Shuffleman is... well, it's like quite a lot of characters on the record; they're sort of, they're a bit like superheroes or super villains, which I suppose is a modern version of gods, they're sub personalities. You know, the feathery serpent god has a lot of power. The Shuffleman is like the agent of fortune, the agent of fate. And so it's very ambivalent. It's like Abraxis, or Janus, as you know, it sort of could go either way. It's like a playing card that's the reverse, upside down. The Shuffleman, you don't know whether you can trust him or not, but you want to stay on the right side of him. And the Shuffleman throws you the cards, and you have to make sense of them. Just as in life, you know? You have to, you have to surf what fate hands you; you know, the people who do the best in this life are the people who are able to adapt to their circumstances. I don't think I necessarily am particularly but good at that, but, you know, so I think that Shuffleman is something I kind of admire. And I'm a little bit in awe of, want to stay the right side of. And he has something quite funny. He's got a top hat. He's like a trickster. He's just like a superhero or super villain, you know?

Bill DeVille: Right. Was Shufflemania! also inspired by the shuffle button on a CD player or iTunes or any other number of things?

Robyn Hitchcock: No, I think it's more that I've—

Bill DeVille: The random play?

Robyn Hitchcock: I think it's more that I just sort of shuffle around the world like a maniac.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: Or did. And the pandemic sort of put a stop to that. Then I've resumed it a bit. But I'm really aware that I can't do it like I did. I just turned 70, and I I have a lot of projects I want to accomplish, so I'm going to reduce the amount of touring. 

Bill DeVille: Yeah, I saw that you posted that on Facebook, you're gonna be doing a little less touring. Well, we're happy you're in the Twin Cities with us now.

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, it's very nice to be here. And I think, you know, the States is the last place that I will stop touring, and certainly the bigger cities such as here and Chicago, you know, I will probably carry on doing until I'm an elderly papoose. 

Bill DeVille: Now how does an Englishman like you end up living, you know, spending a lot of time in Nashville, Tennessee?

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, because an Englishman like me has a far bigger audience over here than they ever did in Britain.

Bill DeVille: Really?

Robyn Hitchcock: I mean, I come from there, you know, just like people who come from the underworld have to go back, but I don't actually. 

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: Eighty percent of my audience is over here. So basically, I work in the States. And unless I work entirely by post, which we learned to do, but even mailing stuff from Britain to the States is a headache. It's easier to, you know.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: Like it or not, I'm an American act. And I've also spent so much time over here that I've probably been internally rewired in American ways that I don't necessarily understand. Um, both countries have their advantages and their drawbacks, you know? America's a can do culture.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: In Britain, our motto is "Sorry, love, were closed. It can't be done." "Oh, I'm sorry, we just shut," you know? "Well, it's Sunday, I don't think we can get them in now." You know, over here, it's more like, "Well, we gotta sell you something. What do you want? We can get it for you." You know, there's a sort of... not everyone's high on life or "Boy howdy" and there's a kind of lonely desperation in the States. Britain's just got a sort of lonely, passive fatality. And Scandinavia is just beautifully desolate.

Bill DeVille: Has the Nashville music scene rubbed off on you at all.

Robyn Hitchcock: Yeah! Yeah. I love it. The one album I made before this, Shufflemania!, what's it called? Just self titled. Brendan recorded and co-produced that, Brendan Benson, and we got we the Jons — in Jon Radford and Jon Estes — two Jons with not an H between them. We had them, and Brendan's on this new one, and I would totally, I will be doing more recording in Nashville. Emma's made her — she used Nashville people on on her upcoming projects. It's Music City, you know, it's what it says on the label. You don't go to Nashville for theater or art galleries or something like that. But if you want to record, or you want to go to shows and see good people playing with fantastic sound systems. You know, everyone was there; we saw Tom Petty on his last tour. I see all kinds of people wandering through. Johnny Marr was playing there a few years ago. Weyes Blood. God...

Bill DeVille: So it's not just a, you know, a country music town?

Robyn Hitchcock: No, no! Not at all. Nashville, as I always say, you know, it wears a Stetson hat for publicity purposes, but actually, I don't think it's that country. Certainly not East Nashville. I mean, all of that stuff's going on, you know?

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: But a lot of music publishers are there now. The studios are there. The session players, the Nashville cats. Just as, you know, Bob Dylan put it on the map outside country music by recording Blonde on Blonde there, which they've never quite forgotten, and a lot of the people that played on that were technically country players, and he then actually wound up making a country record, so it's like it sort of began to bring out that side of him.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: But um, you don't necessarily have to make anything country there at all.

Bill DeVille: Yeah, do you think you could make a country record with pedal steel and all if you wanted to?

Robyn Hitchcock: Oh, I had pedal steel on the one before — the self titled. I could make a record that sounded like a country record with pedal steel and, you know, because you're sort of talking about things that, you know, (strums guitar, alternating bass notes) or you know (slow andante strum) or (quick shuffle strum). You've got those sort of tempos, the sort of basic Elvis Presley, inasmuch as he was country.

A man plays guitar while another man listens
Robyn Hitchcock demonstrates a Nashville-style strum pattern to Bill DeVille during a session in The Current studio on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: You know, I don't know that much about pure country, and pure country has — it's gone! It's you know... There's a lot of Americana there, which is really old fashioned, you know, it's like they're still waiting for punk rock to happen. No, I often think about that. I guess it just depends how you approach the songs. I could. I could probably go in and cut a country album.

Bill DeVille: You think you could have something somebody would cover? You could write a song and have one of the big Nashville stars like George Strait cover your song?

Robyn Hitchcock: No, no, the lyrics would put people off completely.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: And if I wrote a song like that, the people that like me wouldn't get it, you know? They'd say, "Well, this, this isn't you Hitchcock, come on!" you know? So no, I am fated to be in my own niche forever. I've sort of created it, and I'm stuck there. But I would certainly, though what I would do though, if I went twangy, is I would also bring in, like a sitar sound, a sitar and maybe a kind of quite aggressive banjo sound, which is quite similar that.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: That sort of, you know, (plucks out Eastern-sounding music). Not that that sounds like a banjo. But so you've got sort of country raga rock, which, of course, is sort of what the Byrds were doing in 1967. So the question is, would I be doing anything new? And the answer is probably no, but I certainly like, you know, I could haul that style out of the... I could customize my version of it.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: And it will be done on modern equipment, so it would probably just sound different, you know? That's a good idea, Bill. I might. It could happen any second.

Bill DeVille: How about it? I happened to notice, and I thought this was the funny or the coolest thing ever, is that there is a Facebook page called Robyn Hitchcock's shirt. Shirts. Are you are you aware of this website? It just shows pictures of you in all the cool shirts.

Robyn Hitchcock: Wow, no, I didn't. I didn't know that. I know this. They had a museum of cones a while back, all the cones I used to draw, cones, pylons that I did artwork on. But um, I didn't know there was a shirt one.

Bill DeVille: There's a shirt one. Where do you get all your shirts? You have quite an abundance; the polka dot ones, a few cowboy shirts.

Robyn Hitchcock: Oh, I've got polka dot cowboy shirts. Ah, well, they were made in Sydney in Australia by a man named Russell Wade, who likes measuring you and making those shirts. Some stuff is just like Paul Smith. You know, and some of it is a company called Blaqua on the south coast of Britain. There's very psychedelic ones, since you ask, and some are... I think this is just a Kenzo one, so.

Bill DeVille: Well, it's a cool shirt.

Robyn Hitchcock: Thank you. I mean, you just got to be shirt oriented, I guess.

A man in sunglasses speaks during an interview in a recording studio
Robyn Hitchcock speaks with Bill DeVille in The Current studio on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Evan Clark | MPR

Bill DeVille: Yeah. Well, it's been a pleasure to chat with you.

Robyn Hitchcock: Well, likewise, thanks for having me in the studio. And it should be, it should sound as good as... 

Bill DeVille: I think so!

Robyn Hitchcock: Me can sound with a slightly out-of-tune acoustic guitar.

Bill DeVille: I saw your next album is going to be an instrumental record. What was the inspiration behind that one?

Robyn Hitchcock: I've been playing instrumental music since before I ever wrote any songs. So, you know, once I could get a guitar more or less in tune in about 1968, '69, I started sort of doing these (plucks Eastern-sounding music) raga, kind of faux raga, Indian, you know, that was voguish in those days. And I've just been doing them for years. So we just thought, you know, why not record some? Meanwhile, I've written, I'd made up, composed, a few pieces of music that I thought didn't need vocals.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Robyn Hitchcock: So it's a mixture of sort of bluesy, raga-ey instrumentals, the kind of thing people were churning out a lot around '69, '70, you know? Especially people like Roy Harper and the Incredible String Band, Bert Jansch, those are the British folky...

Bill DeVille: Right.

Robyn Hitchcock: People, the generation above me, you know? And so, that was, that's that, and that I believe that's called Life After Infinity. And that is out on Tiny Ghost really soon, yeah. [Editor’s note: Life After Infinity released April 23, 2023.]

Lifelike illustration of a fish onto which are pinned two roses amidships
'Life After Infinity,' an instrumental album from Robyn Hitchcock, released April 23, 2023.
Tiny Ghost Records

Bill DeVille: Like in a month or something like that. And I want to thank producer Derrick Stevens, also engineer Eric Romani, sir, for making us sound so good, and video from Evan Clark and Peter Ecklund for making us look so good. Nice work, gentlemen. And Robyn Hitchcock again, it's been a pleasure to chat.

Robyn Hitchcock: Hey, thanks for having having me on The Current.

Bill DeVille: All right, thanks. Cheers.

Video Segments

00:00:00 The Inner Life of Scorpio
00:04:12 The Man Who Loves The Rain
00:08:39 One Day (It’s Being Scheduled)
00:12:28 Interview with host Bill DeVille

All songs from Robyn Hitchcock's 2022 album, Shufflemania!, available on Tiny Ghost Records.


Guest – Robyn Hitchcock
Host – Bill DeVille
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Video Director – Evan Clark
Camera Operator – Peter Ecklund, Evan Clark
Audio – Eric Xu Romani
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Robyn Hitchcock - official site