Speaking with Robyn Hitchcock feels natural. Maybe it’s his warm English accent, his charming sense of humor or his gift for words, it’s most likely a perfect combination of all of these things. It’s easy to see how he has amassed fans over the past 40 years. Hitchcock will be performing at the Continental Club on Saturday, November 9.
Hitchcock gained fame with The Soft Boys in the late ‘70s and went on to have a vibrant solo career of his own, known for his unique ability to braid surreal lyrics and rich guitar licks. Hitchcock has been greatly influenced by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, two influences that are a constant presence in his music.
“I used to play the folk clubs before The Soft Boys, before I met Nick Lowe, before punk rock, before any of that.” He has released an impressive 21 albums, bouncing from electric to acoustic guitar, but never straying too far from his neo-psychedelia roots.
“I’m a two and half trick pony; I have the electric jangle rock style, which I’ve had on and off sometime since The Soft Boys, and I’ve also had the acoustic style. I’m sort of like a windshield wiper, I go back and forth between the two things, I don't usually do anything very different.”
Hitchcock is currently veering into new territory, working on an album of all piano songs which he admits will take a few years to complete. He currently resides in Nashville with his partner, Emma Swift, also a singer-songwriter, and his last self-titled 2017 album shows evidence of living in the Music City.
“There’s a couple of nods to twang, I suppose it’s the pedal steel on one or two songs. Country music has long been an ingredient in pop music, the pop music I grew up on, including the Beatles. I’m not a student of country music, but it’s a genre like blues, which is in pop and rock and roll.”
Hitchcock’s 2017 release initially registers as a catchy, psychedelic record but after closer inspection, listeners can process the depth of his lyrics and underlying sounds. On the haunting track “Raymond and the Wires”, he opens a time machine allowing fans to go back in time to walk in the shoes of a young Hitchcock.
“I liked the things that were becoming obsolete that had overhead wires and my father at one point took me to a town that had these rare trolley buses. The British trolleybus systems are long gone, so it’s very romantic, and my father is long gone too so it’s one of those reminiscences.”
For those unfamiliar with Hitchcock’s discography, the singer offers a quick navigational tip, “I’ve made so many records already, there’s a pretty big pile. The last one I did, you could probably start there and work backwards if you are new to my work, or you can start at The Soft Boys and work forwards, or you can listen to The Soft Boys and listen to that and skip all the stuff in the middle really.”
Hitchcock recently teamed up with compatriot Andy Partridge of XTC for a collaboration titled Planet England. The two contemporaries began the project 13 years ago but just released the EP on Partridge’s own record label, Ape House.
Hitchcock may have served his time in the music business but he is not a man stuck in his ways. He accepts the changing scenery and the challenges that come with it. When artists can no longer rely on making sufficient income from selling records due to streaming services, they are forced to be on the road more often.
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“A lot of us have to still travel with our own portable record store and it’s just the way things are, there’s nothing we can do about it but it means everybody is out there doing gigs and god help any of us if we want to retire. ”
He’s not complaining about still being on the road though, he’s recently returned from a European tour which reunited him for one special night with two fellow Soft Boys and Yep Roc label mate and old friend, Nick Lowe.
“I really love playing still. I’ve got 40 years or more worth of songs now, it’s like a traveling exhibition I suppose. Every night I get to set up my life, elements of it, reinterpret my own songs, some of them are pretty different than how I’ve recorded them not deliberately but they’ve just slowed down. Things have changed, I like being a kind of portable museum, portable gallery I guess.”
Robyn Hitchcock will perform with Emma Swift, November 9 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 8 p.m. $25-56.