Turntable Interview: Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock turns 60 in March, but in the words of Aaliyah, age ain’t nothing but a number to the former Soft Boys lead singer and longtime fixture of the indie rock scene. His 19th album Love From London comes out a few days after his birthday and it is filled with ten tracks that show Hitchcock hasn’t slowed over the years. The album is filled with his trademark songs fabricated of abstract imagery all set to a jaunty beat, or as Hitchcock calls them “paintings you can listen to.” Hitchcock stepped up to Turntable.fm to talk about his new album, what’s on his reading list, and how eating falafel led to “Balloon Man.”
Melissa Locker started playing “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Hello back!
STEREOGUM: Thank you for agreeing to meet in cyberspace
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: You are welcome, it’s a safe & friendly environment
STEREOGUM: For all your surrealism, you’ve never really branched into the cyber-side of surrealism
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: It’s probably branching into me.
STEREOGUM: Are you comfortable around tech? Or do you naturally shy away from computers/technology?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I avoid it, but it follows me around. We are pursued by our own dreams until they get us in a corner and eat us. The internet & cyberspace is the collective dream, where human minds melt into each other…the great lake.
STEREOGUM: Are you a William Gibson fan?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “TVC15” by David Bowie
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Neuromancer? Is that like Phillip K Dick?
STEREOGUM: Yes, more or less
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I missed that but my daughter’s read it
STEREOGUM: Do you have time for reading? You seem awfully busy
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Reading is all I do unless I’m doing emails, and occasionally playing the guitar
STEREOGUM: What’s on your reading list?
Melissa Locker started playing “Sixty Minute Man” by the Dominoes
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Neuromancer! Just reading Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, finished The Comedians by Graham Greene, and Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehman, a novel from 1920’s smart posh England
STEREOGUM: Oh I have Dark Places sitting on my dresser. So you just played David Bowie, have you heard the new single?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: See how Dark Places works for your eyes. Yes, the Bowie song is poignant with the video – he’s not hidden his face from time – and the song is unadorned. It turns out that Bowie was the Godfather of Indie, the Bob Dylan of the 1970s, and ….brilliant!
STEREOGUM: You credit Bowie with being the Godfather of indie?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “Are You Experienced?” by Jimi Hendrix Experience
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Hunky Dory is Adam & Eve, as they bite the apple together. From those juices spring forth everything from The Psychedelic Furs to Blur and the creatures that surround them. I’m sure I wouldn’t have synthesised the 1960s music I fed on the same way without Bowie. I’m so glad he’s still alive and recording again. When’s this Devo record from?
STEREOGUM: The late 70s I think. Are you a Devo fan?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I remember every second of the late 70’s, but i somehow missed this. Before the Smiths, even…
STEREOGUM: You were playing in the Soft Boys then, right?
Melissa Locker started playing “Beautiful World” by Devo
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Yes, we were a rickety bridge between 1967 and 1980. But quite a few people passed across us, so we served our purpose.
STEREOGUM: Who “passed across” you? Oh, the song is from Devo’s 1981 album.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Just outside the zone. Have you seen Mark Mothersbaugh’s palindromic cars? There’s one with two fronts, and another with two ends.
STEREOGUM: No I have not.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “The Main Thing” by Roxy Music
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: They’re elegant and disturbing: conundrums. He has a volume called Freakshow I think…this is a live version, I think?
STEREOGUM: I think? Now, according to Wikipedia, one of the acts associated with Soft Boys was Katrina and the Waves, a band I only know from “Walking on Sunshine” which still gets played in commercials here.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Kimberley Rew, the guitarist, he wrote Walking on Sunshine, and he is! But his style of writing and mine didn’t mesh, back then. Katrina made a much better job of that song that I would have
Melissa Locker started playing “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price
STEREOGUM: That song has had an incredible lifespan. If someone looks back in 200 years, what song of yours would you want them to unearth?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Chinese Bones, or Sometimes A Blonde: songs that wander out of dreams.
STEREOGUM: Chinese Bones is one of my favorites.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “Change Is Now” by The Byrds
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Thank you! It’s its own world, like Stagger Lee.
STEREOGUM: Ha! You have a new album coming out in February. Do you think your best work is yet to come?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: It would be if I allowed it to. The songs are all out there if you allow them to come to you. It’s like catching fish or feeding birds…you have to lure the best ones by remaining vigilant and slightly magnetic.
STEREOGUM: You released a box set a few years ago that included a lot of rarities. You must have gone through a lot of material that you hadn’t listened to in a long time. Did anything jump out as being better or different than you remembered?
Melissa Locker started playing “From The Morning” by Nick Drake
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Hmmm. A lot of it sounded faster, to my mature ears. You slow down with time, sadly. This song would be much more languid I’m sure if Nick Drake were to be still playing it now. My old songs are still there, accelerating into the future or the past according to their mood. The most contemporary sounding music I’ve heard lately is Dark Side Of The Moon.
STEREOGUM: You think Dark Side of the Moon is contemporary sounding?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “Candy Says” by The Velvet Underground
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: More than a lot of music from the 1980’s, and it begat Coldplay who are the fount of all post-indie. It’s so cleanly recorded, but it has enough of the fog of rock to keep it wraithed in eternal miasma. Or was that Syd?
Melissa Locker started playing “Wine And Chocolates” by Theophilus London
STEREOGUM: So if you think Dark Side of the Moon is contemporary sounding, have you heard, I don’t know, A$AP Rocky or Battles or Death Grips?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I’ve heard of Battles; what are the others like?
STEREOGUM: A$AP is a rapper and Battles …well, I’ll play! Did you said you’ve heard Battles?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Please do. Theophilus sounds good – that name means Lover Of God. I’ve heard of Battles, not sure if I’ve heard em.
STEREOGUM: Death Grips is an indie hip-hop punk hybrid.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: That sounds relaxing…
ROBYN HITCHCOCK started playing “Ace Of Spades” by Ace Of Spades
STEREOGUM: Absolutely. Back to your new album, your songs can be so surreal. What is your songwriting process like?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I know when something is coming through – when I’ve got a bite – when the birds are settling on the branch – and I have to be receptive; ideally with a notebook or a guitar or piano. Then I’ve got it – I pounce. But swarms of songs get away – I lose more than I can trap. Once you’ve trapped it (slightly cruel word for it) then you have to nurture it, feed it scraps, be firm with it as you would with any creature you are rearing. Then, finally let it go into the zoo where your other compositions dwell and beyond out into the world where it wears your brand
STEREOGUM: Is that what you did with songs like “Balloon Man”?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: That was based on real life: eating a falafel walking up 6th Ave from 34th to 44th in a rain storm. You can still do that legally today. But in terms of composition, it’s exactly the same…
Melissa Locker started playing “Ice Cream” by Battles
STEREOGUM: Well, we are out of time, but thank you so much for chatting with me!
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Likewise – it was a modern pleasure!
Robyn Hitchcock’s new album Love From London is out on 3/5 on Yep Roc Records.