Robyn Hitchcock, who will turn 63 on March 3, the day he performs in Phoenix, formed the Soft Boys in 1976 and went on to front the Egyptians in the '80s. He has been performing a vast amount of solo material in various incarnations ever since. Whether he is fronting a band or performing with just an acoustic guitar, Hitchcock is prone to different moods and flights of fancy. Somewhere between Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, and Captain Beefheart, Hitchcock roams a slightly psychedelic and often dark musical highway teeming with all different kinds of life.
We caught up with him to chat about his current tour.
New Times: I'd like to ask a few questions.
Robyn Hitchcock: Do ask me things. That will focus me. You don't want an unfocused mind on the phone. It is a liability.
NT: Where do you call home these days?
RH: I am all over the place professionally, like all musicians. Now I'm based in Nashville, Tennessee, when I'm at home.
NT: Do you enjoy playing live?
RH: Yeah, I do. Much more than I did 35 years ago. I got going at the height of punk when the audience [would spit] at you whether they liked you or not. It was horrible, really. People who had been sitting on the floor in greatcoats smoking a year or two before, well, now they or their little brothers or sisters were standing up, beating each other up, and spitting. It was a kind of horrible harbinger of Thatcherism. The atmosphere in Britain kind of soured toward the end of the '70s. Then Thatcher got in and there were the riots.
NT: I've seen you a few times and you always look so intense when you play. It made me wonder if you enjoyed any of it.
RH: Well, it is intense. They're [Hitchcock's material] not necessarily fun songs. I saw a review once where it said my work didn't function as escapism. It's not escapism . . . It's not necessarily expected to be fun.
NT: In a Rolling Stone article, you once talked about painting yourself into a corner with your own cleverness. Do you still feel like you do that?
RH: No, my material [now] is much dumber. My brain is far less . . . [pauses] It's not as good as it was then. It's used. The circuits are not as quick. I was much smarter 35 or 40 years ago. Probably less happy, but the thing with intelligence is being smart enough not to flaunt it. The Beatles were very clever, but they were clever enough not to seem too clever . . . It was simple enough you could sing along with it — most of it — but there was a lot of craft and thought going on underneath.
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NT: What do you think about the idea of artists putting out products — T-shirts, videos, etc.— other than music anymore?
RH: Why should they [put out new records]? People don't buy them anymore. We're like animals that built nests [and] the trees have vanished, but we're all still making our nests. We're all writing these songs that nobody needs. Nobody needs a new album by Paul McCartney, really, or me.
Our audiences just want to hear songs that make them feel young, and we live off of live performance. It is a huge part of our income. We're like wildebeests. There are thousands of musicians roaming the Earth looking for watering holes. I still write songs because I programmed myself to write songs as a teenager. That's what I wanted to do . . . Even if nobody needs them, I'm still recording them. I can't stop myself. Nobody needs another Robyn Hitchcock album, but Robyn Hitchcock needs to produce them because otherwise I'd be like a cow that needs to be milked. I'd burst.