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Robyn Hitchcock: 'These Songs Are My Memoir. This Show Is My Life'

Musical genius and pillars of stone go together hand in hand.EXPAND
Musical genius and pillars of stone go together hand in hand.
Emma Swift

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Soft Boys’ debut record, A Can of Bees. If the record is unfamiliar to you, that’s understandable — they were a relatively short-lived band hailing from Cambridge, England, and their second LP, 1980’s Underwater Moonlight, is more popular anyway. You may be more familiar with their leader, renowned singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock.

While The Soft Boys’ legacy is something that music fans will continue to discover, Hitchcock, who turned 66 years old on March 3 and currently calls Nashville, Tennessee, home, has continued to carve out a sizable niche in the world of psychedelic rock as a solo artist and member of several other projects over the last four decades. Currently on tour with just an acoustic guitar, Hitchcock was kind enough to chat about A Can of Bees and what fans can expect from his upcoming show at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM).

Phoenix New Times: A Can of Bees is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What are your thoughts as you reflect on this record?
Robyn Hitchcock: A Can of Bees — what furious bees they were! I haven’t listened to that in its entirety for decades. I think the most successful pieces are “Do The Chisel” and “Leppo and The Jooves.” We hadn’t recorded them before so they were fresh. Some of the other songs were getting stale. We’d tried them in so many studios previously. It was not a happy period, or a happy group of people. We were uncomfortable with ourselves, and with each other. But the tensions — unspoken, unvoiced — between us all resulted in some very intense music. My compositions then were still experimental. I was just about to finally write some decent songs, after a decade’s apprenticeship.

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Your 2017 self-titled record is also really fantastic. The rhythm section on the album, in particular, is really great. What do you look for in drummers and bass players? You’ve always had great ones, so I’m curious if there is a certain feel or sound that you look for, personality-types mixed with talent, or all of the above? Tell me a little bit about how you, Jon Estes, and Jon Radford came together?
Nashville is rich in musicians, maybe that’s why it’s called Music City. I’m glad you like the record, thank you. Brendan Benson offered to produce and engineer it, and he, among others, suggested Estes and Radford as the rhythm section. Like all great musicians they’re great listeners — beware of anyone who talks too much. The two Jons are great: Estes dry and laconic, Radford amused and enthused. His drum fills on “Mad Shelley’s Letter-Box” have been learned and played with amazement by other drummers who have backed me live around the world.

Tell us what you have in store for the crowd at the Musical Instrument Museum on April 2?
It’s 40 years later. The landscape has changed. There’s a huckster on the throne. Many people have shriveled up and died. Many more have been born and some of them, too, have died. The heat gets hotter and the fat get fatter.

I am now a troubadour in my mid-60s ... white-haired, with a Fylde acoustic guitar, drawing on a quiverful of songs that go back to 1979. I’m a cooling ingot of rage ... quiet and generally polite. My testosterone levels are low. Onstage I sometimes talk a lot, word solos. My songs are often sad ... my chatter is inane. Audience members will request songs via the internet, and I’ll play the ones that I can play solo, acoustic. These songs go back to The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight but not to Can of Bees, I’m afraid. I am no more A Can of Bees these days than (Bob) Dylan is Blonde on Blonde. But here they are, from “Queen of Eyes” to my forthcoming single “Take Off Your Bandages” ... a whole lake of tunes. These songs are my memoir. This show is my life.

Robyn Hitchcock. 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at the Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Scottsdale; 480-478-6000; mim.org. Tickets are $35 to $45 via mim.org.

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