Robyn Hitchcock was planning to call his new album "My Vision of World Empathy." But after considering the sentimental and nostalgic bent of the 10 songs -- albeit with Hitchcock's wry bent -- he decided to make it the first eponymous album of his four-decade recording career.
"As I get older, I'm sinking deeper and deeper into my own mythology -- people that I encountered or I imagined, or people I knew or thought I knew," Hitchcock tells Billboard. "That's why it's called Robyn Hitchcock, in a way; Robyn Hitchcock can be made of other people. We sort of take root in each other in a strange way -- sort of like a Russian doll. When you open me up, there's someone else inside."
For more of Hitchcock's thoughts on the new album, check out the video premiering exclusively below.
Due out April 21, Robyn Hitchcock is the singer-songwriter's 21st solo album, and reflects a number of different approaches to record-making for him. Recorded in Nashville, which has been Hitchcock's home since November of 2015, it marks the first time he's made an album without an acoustic guitar since his work with the Soft Boys during the late '70s.
"You can thank producer Brendan Benson for a lot of that," Hitchcock says. "He got in touch before I even moved to Nashville, said, 'Could we do something together? Could I make a record like the old Soft Boys ones?' He just meant in terms of the sound, the old template -- two guitars, bass, drums, harmonies. So that's why it got launched with that particular sound. The material lends itself to that as well, as if the songs knew what was going to happen to them."
The songwriting, meanwhile, was all done away from British soil, save for one that has roots "deep under London in the subway." "Apart from the Isle of Wight, it's a very off-shore record," Hitchcock acknowledges. "I spent a long time out of Britain. I've been 'commuting' to work here in the States for the last 30 years or more, so I actually took the step of moving here."
That didn't stop Robyn Hitchcock from having a distinctly British flavor, however. "I've no pretensions about being American," the alt-rock forefather notes. "I don't come from Tennessee; I just happened to be there. But I'm still writing songs about going on a trolley bus with my father, or writing songs about old friends, ex-friends, dead people, imaginary people. I’m not very good at getting rid of ghosts. Even if I move continents, they're still there with me. They're all still present."
Being in Nashville did allow Hitchcock to take advantage of some ace musicians for the album, however. Guitarist Annie McCue, bassist Jon Estes, drummer Jon Radford and pedal steel ace Russ Pahl play on the album, while Wilco's Pat Sansone, Grant Lee Phillips, Gillian Welch and Emma Swift provide harmony vocals throughout.
"It's not like I’m making [Bob Dylan's] Nashville Skyline or [Elvis Costello's] Almost Blue,'" Hitchcock says. "But there’s a couple of little bits of local color, so you can maybe tell I'm beaming it out of Nashville. But its preoccupation largely is my interior, mythological Britain -- nothing about Theresa May or Margaret Thatcher or Winston Churchill. Just my interior."
Hitchcock, who's currently on the road opening for Psychedelic Furs, will be touring "permanently" to promote Robyn Hitchock and whatever else comes along in the future. "It's how I make my living, and I also enjoy it," he says. "It's what I've put myself here to do. And I'm still refining my show after 40 years." Hitchcock was also the recipient of this year's South By Southwest Grulke Prize for Career Act, named the late SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke honoring artists who have used the conference as a vehicle to launch new projects.
"That was nice," says Hitchcock, who plans to share the prize money with charities in Nashville. "(Grulke) was the guy I would always contact to say, 'Can I do South By this year? Where would I go?' He'd sort it all out, find the venues and get the accommodations. I didn't go through record companies, I just went through him, and he was very helpful and kind and supportive, so this (prize) means something to me."