As the singular psych-folk troubadour releases his 22nd album with help from famous friends, he answers your pressing enquiries in the latest issue of Uncut magazine – in UK shops from Thursday, October 13 and available to buy from our online store.
Even on London’s teeming Commercial Street, Robyn Hitchcock cuts a conspicuous figure: imposingly tall and clad in a brightly patterned Paul Smith shirt, today he’s joined by his partner, singer-songwriter Emma Swift, and their Cavalier puppy Daphne. Basking in the late summer sun, fresh from a trip to his usual home in Nashville, he’s delighted to be back in the UK.
“I’d prefer to go over the waterfall here than in the States,” the former Soft Boy muses. “The great thing about here is we don’t have Jesus and we don’t have guns, but it’s the same mindset really – Britain and America swap insanities. I never pursued it, but America was where I caught on, maybe because I am so English?”
Hitchcock is preparing to release his 22nd album, the remotely recorded Shufflemania!, which saw guests such as Johnny Marr, Sean Ono Lennon and Wilco’s Pat Sansone adding to the psych-folk songwriter’s solo recordings in their own studios. “They’re all people who can intuit what the song needs,” Hitchcock explains, “and they play things I don’t. When I sent “The Inner Life Of Scorpio” to Johnny Marr, it was just a phone recording… I think it all sounds pretty together.”
We settle in an upmarket pub on Brick Lane, where Hitchcock – aptly for the writer of a song called “The Cheese Alarm” – orders a cheese plate to sustain him. Up for discussion are The Soft Boys, the power of gatefold sleeves, his love of Bryan Ferry and Syd Barrett, his friendship with Gillian Welch, and the crucial matter of where he gets his shirts.
“That’s a motherlode of chutney,” he marvels as the cheese arrives. “This place is fantastic – I recommend it!”
You’re capable of amazing profundity, but then the next line might be about, say, seafood… Do you consciously vandalise your songs?
– William Gale, California
You don’t really want a song entirely about seafood, or a whole song of profundities, you’ve got to balance it out. That’s how it is – life is vandalised. You go back to “The Waste Land” by TS Eliot, and he lurches between the vernacular and sublime; Dylan, an Eliot disciple, he’s also good at that. For me, life veers between the inane and profound, or the banal and the terrifying. I’m very aware of that in my songs, and in a way the darker it gets, the dafter you have to be. It’s the Fool in King Lear: he’s the only one who’s allowed to speak the truth. He’s an idiot, so he can stand there, bopping himself with a pig’s bladder and speaking words of wisdom, and the king’ll say, “Good on you, man, have a sardine…”
You lived on the Isle Of Wight in the ’90s. Do you ever go back?
– Clara Lubeck, via email
I just made a short visit, actually. I’ve been seduced by the shores of Australia and lapped by the Mediterranean, but Compton Bay is still unbeatable. A few days ago it was cloudy, so you could see the plesiosaurs coming out of the water and the pterodactyls swooping around the headland and over the ice cream van… Then, yesterday, all that was left were these little flies and the sun, and people casting very bright shadows, like one of those Dalí paintings. It becomes like a dream, wandering up and down Compton, reinhabiting my earlier selves. It recharges me – so much so that I left three shirts in the hotel. But they weren’t top-drawer ones, not stage shirts.
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