Guitar Player Interview :

April 1992


Robyn Hitchcock: Hungry Babies And Wet Socks

"I've been playing guitar since before most people were born, and someday I'll play my last A chord or C chord, which is a strange thought," says British singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, whose new album _Perspex Island_ (A&M) distills his free-associated wit and sense of romantic ironyinto a bracing spirit of jangly Rickenbackers and acoustic-style rhythms.

"All thought is free association to some degree, isn't it?" he queries. 

"It all depends on how much you have to justify what you say. Nobody

knows how the mind works.

Hitchcock's endlessly imaginative mind has been confounding and intriguing listeners for years, beginning with his band Soft Boys n the late '70s, whose masterpiece, _Underwater Moonlight_, combined the Sex Pistols' angst with an _Abbey Road_-period melodic sensibility. Often compared to John Lennon, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, and poet Edward Lear, Hitchcock is best known for his evocation of an organic underworld teeming with bizarre fauna and absurdist physical interaction, an ethos visually manifested in his stunningly surreal cover paintings. Supporting his colorful verbal landscapes is his equally articulate right-hand pickstyle, which on his two predominantly acoustic releases, _I Often Dream Of Trains_ and 1990's _Eye_, creates a kind of finicky folk that's not sentimental enough for the coffeehouse, and too acerbic and sharply poetic for most rock audiences.
"Basically, I'm an acoustic player, and the acoustic state of mind for me is sitting at this particular table and staring out the window,"

says Robyn in his London drawl.

"You strum or pick, and it goes from there. Some points of the room seem to start a song better than others,but even those you can't guarantee."

Robyn's acoustic influences go back to the late '60s, when as a neophyte songsmith he absorbed the folk-rock explosion as manifested by Pentangle, Roy Harper, Robin Williamson, and the Incredible String Band -
"that ornate, picking guitar." "When I got

hold of an electric, it was very hard to control,"

he recalls.

"There weren't chorus pedals in the early '70s, and it was hard to make a nice noise. So I innately started picking, which makes you sound like Roger McGuinn or something. Everybody else was trying to play like Eric Clapton, but when I did leads I tried to play like Barry Melton from Country Joe And The Fish."

Hitchcock's nasal Cockney, song-supportive arpeggios, and breathy strum style make _Eye_ and _I Often Dream Of Trains_ acoustic listening experiences with few antecedents. And he utilizes the steel-string's inspiring compositional qualities to create vocal melodies that move in parallel with the untampered, spontaneous flow of his lyrics.

"I think you can revise songs," he says, "but I can't labor long and hard while I'm doing them, because I couldn't concentrate. I'd find that I have a fryingpan full of potatoes and my mouth is full of ostrich feathers or something. Obviously the great gift would be to be able to edit yourself very quickly - to be able to realize overnight what it takes other people six months to realize - to adjust and correct it, rather than trailing around like a hungry baby that needs dealing with, or a pair of wet socks."

Robyn perceives plenty of virgin ground between acoustic and electric music.
"There's 'acoustic music' and then there's 'rock'", he muses.

"What you don't get are 10-minute electric guitar pieces with no

drums, or acoustic songs with drums but no bass - both of which are things I'd like to do.,"

On the title track of his first A&M release, _Globe Of Frogs_, Robyn plays warm acoustic guitar over hypnotically stuttering tabla drum embellished by the melodic doubling of a grand piano. On earlier acoustic tracks like "Get Me A Spanner, Ralph," he goes with country-style harmonica and washboard rhythms, enhancing the wry flavor of his cowboy-in-a-derby sendups.

Lately Robyn has begun to channel his knack for active imagery away from sci-fi super-stratums and into the development of his songs' emotional truth, peeling away the many "layers of protection" which he claims sidetracked him into "adopting other people's masks.

" "There's a lot more about relationships," he says of his recent work. "I prefer my newer songs to the old stuff, which I think sounds a bit childish now. You've got to have something to show for your years. They always say that when you're young, you're brash, and when you get older, you get more considered, more harmonious. But that doesn't have to be. You might get old and go completely berserk. Not everyone faces away in a serene glow - although I'd rather do that than scream on a clifftop somewhere and be blown out to sea."

Back to the Robyn page.