Richard Thompson says "misguidedness" led him to record his next album, "Dream Attic" -- due out Aug. 31 -- live in concert rather than in a studio.
"I was thinking that, gosh, recording is an expensive process in the studio, and with shrinking budgets it's hard to get the record companies to give you enough to feel comfortable," Thompson tells Billboard.com. "So I thought maybe it's cheaper to record on the road, and friends are always saying, 'Gosh, we prefer the live records to the studio albums.' So I thought, 'Well, let's test those theories...
"Of course," he adds with a laugh, "after a short time it became obvious it's just as expensive to do it on the road as it is in the studio -- kind of exactly the same price. So that was a brilliant plan foiled there. But I still really like the quality of live recording."
Thompson and his four-piece band recorded "Dream Attic's" 13 new songs during an eight-date West Coast mini-tour in February, with most of the album takes coming from the final three shows at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco when, Thompson says, "we had relaxed a lot more and weren't so self-conscious about it."
Recording live, he explains, "you sacrifice accuracy for energy, and you just accept that. The up side is the energy and the immediacy...The audience is an incentive to play as well as you can and get the notes right, because they're standing there right in front of you."
Thompson had the songs for the album in place before he decided to record live but says from the get-go he was "writing consciously for it to be a band performance and for it to be...an electric guitar record. Even the quiet songs are electric." He was equally deliberate in choosing the instrumentation, which includes saxophone, flute, violin and mandolin. "Fairly early on in the process it occurred to me the songs would do well to have another horn-like instrument," Thompson explains. "A couple of the songs on there are dance tunes, and there are other places where it's nice to have two instruments playing those kind of unison lines you hear in traditional music. And I thought the fiddle would blend in well with...the flute and saxophone. I thought it would be an interesting sound and give a little more weight to the sound."
Thompson will be playing "bits and pieces" during the summer, mostly festivals in Europe during June and July and North America in August. A North American tour to support "Dream Attic" is set to start in October. Meanwhile, Thompson is also curating this year's Meltdown festival, which takes place June 12-20 in London and features performances by Elvis Costello, Van Dyke Parks, Broken Bells, Ollabelle and others.
"We're trying to spread a wide neat that really reflects the music that I love and music I"m influenced by and try to bring all that together in one place," Thompson says. "I think we've assembled a pretty nice lineup of things. I'm really looking forward to it."