How music cool is this – they met at an Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell concert at South by Southwest.
While you might end up standing next to an out of tune sing-alonger and behind a tall guy who hoists his stage-blocking girlfriend up on his shoulders, Robyn Hitchcock goes to a show at SXSW 2013, meets the angel-voiced Australian Emma Swift, and collaborations and new directions follow. Drawn together musically by a penchant for songs of desolation and love just out of reach, Hitchcock and Swift have been performing together for a few years, and have now put together a second EP, “Love is a Drag,” recorded by Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub, New Mendicants) and being released globally in early October on Tiny Ghost Records. This is Hitchcock’s first new music in more than two years.
Robyn Hitchcock once described his songs as “paintings you can listen to”, and with this new partnership, the paintings have a fresh emotional depth. Both “Love Is a Drag” and “Life Is Change” were written “in the middle of a desolate winter on the Isle of Wight,” says Swift. “Hitchcock planted the seed and I finessed lyrics, structure and thematic ideas. It was a depressing, grey time and the songs reflect that … Strange times.”
The Man Upstairs and Love is a Drag
This melancholy may come as a surprise to those Hitchcock fans familiar with his work with The Soft Boys, or the Egyptians, where, sure, things could get dark but the lyrical ship was quickly righted by the introduction of a goofy character or a happy non sequitur. However, Hitchcock’s last full album, 2014’s The Man Upstairs, was a step in the sad-core direction. Critically-acclaimed, it contained five original songs by Hitchcock and covers of songs by Roxy Music, The Doors and a luminous take on The Psychedelic Fur’s “The Ghost in You”, a song which, done the right way, and Hitchcock does it in a way that makes fans and Richard Butler himself happy, can be a gorgeous bummer.
I’ve been on the Hitchcock train since the late eighties, and few albums remind me more of those college radio days than Globe of Frogs, a collection of weird and wonderful jangly pop songs that may have gone over my eighteen-year old head at the time. I remember a fellow dj walking in on me listening to the album one night and, after a moment, saying, I don’t understand what he means…? And all I could say was, yeah, but I’m sure he does.
The only complaint with these Swift collaborations, which draw you into their beautiful wanting, is that with that much feeling packed into each song, you want to come up for air a little sooner than the song allows. I can’t wait to hear Hitchcock and Swift interpret them live. Tissues at the ready.
Robyn Hitchcock is currently in the US doing shows with Emma Swift at places like Largo (see complete dates below) before a quick jump to Toyko and then Europe, back to the US, and Australian dates later in the year. He took time out for our Quick Six Interview:
Q: What inspires you?
Failure. Whatever didn’t quite happen. People who never got to where they might have.
Q: Who decides on your album cover art?
Me and my partner Emma Swift worked together on the art for our new 7 inch. It was designed by James Bellesini. I enjoy bold colours and psychedelic prints. My favourite year is 1967, so I wanted to reference that.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t in the music industry at all?
I’d be a visual artist. My father Raymond was a painter. I like De Chirico, Paul Delvaux and Max Ernst.
Q: If you could duet, vocally or instrumentally, with anyone alive or dead, who would that be?
Kendra Smith, Brian Eno, Tanya Donnelly, Joanna Lumley, Bryan Ferry.
Q. How do you know when a song is finished? And do you ever go back and dig out unfinished or old songs?
I never quite finish anything. Sometimes I go back and work on songs from 20 years ago or more.
Q. What song do you wish you had written?
Visions Of Johanna, which Bob Dylan got to before I did.
“Love is a Drag” will be available via all the usual digital outlets as well as a limited edition 7″ vinyl via mail order. See www.robynhitchcock.com for details.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK TOUR DATES (featuring Emma Swift)
OCT 4 TUE Fremont Abbey Arts Centre Seattle, WA
OCT 5 WED Fremont Abbey Art Center Seattle, WA
OCT 8 SAT Club Congress Tucson, AZ
OCT 9 SUN Largo Los Angeles, CA
OCT 15 SAT Club Mandala Tokyo, Japan
OCT 19 WED The Lantern Bristol, United Kingdom
OCT 21 FRI West End Centre Aldershot, United Kingdom
OCT 22 SAT Philharmonic Hall Liverpool, United Kingdom
OCT 23 SUN Brudenell Social Club Leeds, United Kingdom
OCT 25 TUE CECIL SHARP HOUSE LONDON London, United Kingdom
OCT 27 THU The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, United Kingdom
OCT 28 FRI The Morris Hall Shrewsbury, United Kingdom
OCT 29 SAT CCA Glasgow, United Kingdom
OCT 30 SUN The Greystones Sheffield, United Kingdom
NOV 10 THU City Winery Atlanta, GA
NOV 11 FRI 3TEN Austin City Limits Live Austin, TX
NOV 13 SUN The Kessler Theatre Dallas, TX
NOV 15 TUE The Mucky Duck Houston, TX
NOV 17 THU City Winery Chicago, IL
NOV 18 FRI Stoughton Opera House Stoughton, WI
NOV 19 SAT City Winery – early show New York, NY
NOV 19 SAT City Winery – late show New York, NY
DEC 11 SUN Newtown Social Club Newtown, Australia
DEC 15 THU Grace Emily Hotel Adelaide, Australia
DEC 16 FRI New Globe Theatre Fortitude Valley, Australia
DEC 18 SUN Northcote Social Club Melbourne Vic, Australia
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.