British Invasion

Robyn Hitchcock likes Tucson and painting, but doesn't like Tom Waits and sports.

Robyn Hitchcock's musical career has "cult hero" written all over it.

As founding member, singer, guitarist and songwriter of the Soft Boys, Hitchcock was the brains behind the landmark 1980 release, Underwater Moonlight, a timeless album full of psychedelic guitar-pop that influenced scores of bands that followed it, and whose legend continues to grow as it is rediscovered by new generations.

The following year, Hitchcock began a solo career--nearly as spotless as it is prolific--that continues to this day. His most recent release is Luxor, a solo acoustic album that's garnering rave reviews.

Hitchcock is currently spending a good portion of the fall in Tucson, as he begins recording his next album, plays a series of American dates, acts in his first film and breathes that dry desert air that he can't seem to find in his native England. Recently, he was kind enough to answer some of our questions.

As the taped conversation begins, subject and writer are discussing sports.

Tucson Weekly: So, I take it you don't like sports.

Robyn Hitchcock: I'm immune to sport, I'm afraid. Unfortunately. You know, like some people pick up on Tom Waits; some people like Frank Zappa; some people like sport; some people don't like any of 'em, you know. It's one of those things you can't really account for.

Right. Are you a Tom Waits fan?

No, no, no.

Not at all.

No, but I know some people who really love him.

I love him.

It's one of those things (where) people have their different sort of, uh, fetishes, I suppose is the word.

You mentioned that you visited here in February, on what you called a "breathing vacation," so I'm curious what led you here to begin with, and what brought you back.

In February, we were just really looking for some warm, dry air. And, as you know, even if it rains in Tucson, it's still basically warm and dry. It doesn't become damp and clammy and chilly and all the things we live with in London and the rest of Britain. Here, it's more like al forno, the Italian cooking term for the oven that you need to bake a pizza in. It feels like pizza-baking weather rather than weather that will just make you soggy. And, above all, it isn't cold. So, really, it was just a weather vacation. And then, 'cause there were always things to do for me here, we decided we'd spend the autumn here.

So, what types of things are you hoping to do while you're here?

There's a few things. I've got some gigs--obviously this one on the Oct. 17 (at Club Congress), which is close. But I'm playing up in New York on Halloween, and a few places up on the Northeast coast; I was just in Athens, Ga,, last week doing a couple of gigs; I'm doing a bit of recording at WaveLab; and I also have a small part in Jonathan Demme's new movie. He's doing a remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

What's the nature of the stuff you're recording at WaveLab?

Well, I'm just starting off what will probably be another record. I actually have a record out at the moment. It was one that came out for my 50th birthday.

This is Luxor?

Luxor, yeah. ... Luxor is basically all the songs that I wrote, that we didn't use during that Soft Boys reformation project. They're songs that wouldn't have been suitable for the band, so I recorded them.

So, then you'll do a sort of higher-profile release on a larger label, and that's what you'll promote?

Yeah, I'm sure someone will put it out. That'll be the next one, but would come out in a year's time or something.

But that's what you're starting on at WaveLab right now?

Yeah, I've done some recording in Britain, but the WaveLab, I really like it. And it would actually just be an excuse to come back here and do some more in the spring. So, we'll see how the stuff goes in the next week or two, but if it goes well, then I might do the bulk of it in Tucson.

And the Soft Boys got back together not long ago.

Yeah, about two or three years ago. Underwater Moonlight was out of print, and it seemed like now was the time to do the all-you-can-eat Underwater Moonlight, which we did: found the old rehearsal tapes, and got everybody's old photos out of the attic, and David Fricke wrote the (liner) notes--Matador did a good job on it, I thought. And so, as the Soft Boys had never actually toured in America, and as we were all on speaking terms, we did a little tour.

And how was it?

It was good. I'm afraid we didn't get down here.

In addition to music, you also, well, you're a regular Renaissance man. You paint ...

I'm a regular one, yeah.

(Laughs.) You know what I mean. You paint and write poetry and fiction. Have you always done those things?

Well, I started out drawing, and listening to music, and writing poems and short stories; the thing I couldn't do was write songs or music, 'cause I had no training and I had no natural skill. I didn't even get in the choir in school, 'cause they reckoned I was tone-deaf. I was not someone who showed composing promise. But by the time I had reached 15, I really just didn't want to do anything else but this.

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