FT: Your new album, ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ is released in June. It is your fourth record in three years. Did the enforced pandemic lockdowns allow you the time to write so many songs?
RP: Yes, absolutely. I’m very prolific by nature and I still love the process after all these years. I’ve been writing songs for forty-two years now and it still gives me great satisfaction when it all comes together. It is hard to explain. A bolt of an idea, a phrase you hear, a metaphor comes into view and you snatch it from the air – suddenly there is a piece of art that didn’t exist before you cobbled it together. It’s mystical in some ways.
FT: You’ve also teamed up again with long time co-writer and friend Slaid Cleaves. Is that an easy writing partnership?
RP: Writing with Slaid is very easy. We are very hard on each other and both very vigilant writers. We’ve known each other since we were eight years old so that long connection makes it easy to cut through the politeness and trepidation that can come with co-writing. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of ideas but we always seem to have something cooking.
FT: I sense this album is very personal, in particular songs such as, ‘Lover’, Mona Lisa’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ appearto be written very much from where life finds you right now. Was that planned?
RP: Every song is intentional, though the group of songs that come over a period of time might not be. I write from a lot of different angles. Those three just happened to sit nicely in the overall group of songs I went into the studio with. Each of those songs is intentional but their inclusion wasn’t particularly planned. They just played well together.
FT: A personal favourite of mine on the album is ‘The Revenuer’. Tell me a bit about the background to the song.
RP: ‘Revenuer’ was written after reading Taylor Brown’s novel The Gods of Howl Mountain. It’s a fantastic read and I had never written a character quite like that. The song came very fast. The first version was a bit more of a blues style and I wasn’t happy with the chord progression. I turned it into a sort of stomping minor key setting with I think brings out the characters voice better. We had such fun recording that one because it’s one of the few real barn burners on the album.
FT: Another standout song is ‘Sonny Liston’. His life story is both remarkable and tragic. Was tackling that story and doing it justice daunting?
RP: The only thing that was daunting was that Mark Knopfler had already written a song about Liston – and done it really well. But I had my own reasons for writing the song. Liston’s story is so very tragic and dramatic. I thought there was room for one more song about the man. There is so much still unknown about the man who was once one of the most well-known men on the planet. “His mother didn’t know when his birthday was.” Is the first line. I mean how much gravitas does that have. And it’s true.
FT: The album was produced by Neilson Hubbard. Was this the first time you worked with him and how was that working relationship?
RP: This is the fourth album I’ve recorded with Neilson. He is a genuine artist. He hears things other people don’t hear. He’s incredibly easy to work with because he always puts the art first and he’s always dead on honest. If something isn’t working for his ears he’s not afraid to tell you. You should see his photography. It’s stunning.
FT: After almost two years off the road this summer will see you back out on tour again. Aside from song writing how did you cope during the lockdown periods and are you looking forward interacting with friends and fans on the road again?
RP: It was not easy. I had days when I questioned who I was. I had profound bouts of depression. I have worked very hard to carve out my little piece of the scene and a lot of that had to do with playing live, touring non-stop. My entire year of shows in 2020 was cancelled in one day. That was a difficult phone call but most of us were trying to protect each other. I recorded bespoke albums for folks, I played online shows, I re-recorded acoustic versions of all the co-writes with Slaid Cleaves as a limited run release. I have to say my listeners were incredibly generous. I could have fallen hard but folks just kept helping me up. I just kept inventing and re-inventing and folks followed along. It was humbling.
FT: Thanks for you time and good luck with the new album.
RP: Thank you!
To pre-order ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ and see a full list of U.K. tour dates visit Rodpicott.com