ROBBIE ROBERTSON’S NEW CD: HOW TO BECOME CLAIRVOYANT

FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS

It’s taken a few decades, but ROBBIE ROBERTSON is finally opening up.

On HOW TO BECOME CLAIRVOYANT, his first record in thirteen years, the musical legend probes his past and scrutinizes his emotional baggage with the diligence of a pesky customs agent.

He delves into the vices that took the lives of his friends, the youthful idealism that pervaded his first journey through the United States and — for the first time — writes about the painful dissolution of THE BAND.

And, ROBBIE remarked, the process actually felt pretty good.

“This went to a much more personal place than I would have ever imagined and it felt great. It felt like a release,” he said during an interview in Toronto this week.

“Some personal songwriting to me — from certain people — I feel embarrassed hearing them talk about themselves in a self indulgent way. And I’ve tried my best to avoid the me me me songs…I’ve always been more comfortable with the fictional characters that your personal stuff gets disguised in.”

“And for some unknown reason this time I was just able to (write more personally). It’s almost like saying: ‘Well, here’s what happened.”’

We last heard from the Toronto native on 1998’s CONTACT FROM THE UNDERWORLD OF REDBOY, on which ROBBIE explored his heritage with a fusion of traditional Native American inspired music and other modern sounds.

From the start, he knew he wanted CLAIRVOYANT to be different – to be a challenge. The work seemed to begin in earnest two years ago, when ROBBIE took some of his new songs — some still in skeletal sketch form — to London to collaborate with his friend ERIC CLAPTON.

After their sessions, ROBBIE returned to California with a sudden sense of clarity. While he still had work to do as music supervisor on MARTIN SCORSESE’S 2010 thriller SHUTTER ISLAND, ROBBIE now had a clear direction in mind for his new album. He began to recruit collaborators, a diverse bunch that eventually included TRENT REZNOR, STEVE WINWOOD, TOM MORELLO, ROCCO DELUCA and ROBERT RANDOLPH.

“It was like casting a movie of who’s going to play this part, who would be great for that,” ROBBIE recalled.

“It wasn’t about famous names…It was really about musicianship and people that have a certain gift who can fulfill what’s in my imagination.”

Despite the genre jumping cast of contributors, ROBBIE wanted the record to sound cohesive.

ERIC CLAPTON performs on seven of the album’s twelve tracks (and earns cowriting credits on three). ROBBIE and the English rocker — each with his own inimitable guitar style — manage to mesh nicely, their supple playing providing a spacious setting for the former’s candid lyrics.

THIS IS WHERE I GET OFF will be of particular interest to longtime fans. The lush tune finds ROBBIE returning to the deterioration of THE BAND, the influential Americana act that was crumbling for years before breaking up for good in the late 70s.

The song is certainly melancholic, but hopeful too — the first verse ends with the optimistic line: Everything you leave behind/Catches up in another time.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON — who will be inducted into THE CANADIAN SONGWRITERS’ HALL OF FAME on Saturday — said that he simply wouldn’t have been ready to write the song until recently.

“Now, reflecting on this, it just feels very natural — it almost strikes me as being odd not to…And I thought I was able to touch upon it in an emotional, uplifting and sad way, all at the same time.”

“It was an extraordinary period. And it’s just one of the periods that I celebrate in my life the most. We did some really beautiful work together. And these guys are like my brothers. So why wouldn’t I embrace that?”

Meanwhile, the grooving HE DON’T LIVE HERE NO MORE is also written about a difficult time. ROBBIE wrote the song with ERIC CLAPTON and MARTIN SCORSESE, a friend and frequent collaborator, in mind, dedicating the tune to a period of indulgence they were lucky to survive: I was running on a red light/Always looking for a streetfight/I was higher than a lost kite/Too far gone.

“We were part of a whole culture in the late 70s where there was incredible decadence and abuse going on and nobody recognized it at first. It had come out of the 60s, when experimenting and expanding your mind all seemed to be…a healthy thing to do,” ROBBIE explained.

“And then it went to a dark place – a very dark tunnel. So I am expressing that period with Marty and me and also the period with the guys in The Band. We were all going through this…It’s not like we were outside doing something that nobody else was doing — it was as common as somebody drinking coffee now.”

“And really, what I’m getting across in this is that Marty and I and Eric were lucky to go into that tunnel, see how dark it was in there, and come out the other side and say: ‘He don’t live there no more.'”

Yet not all of his friends were so fortunate.

“Some people didn’t get out alive. There’s great sadness in that. And some of the people that I was very close to, you know. So it’s worthy of acknowledgment – in a deep way to me – that that’s part of our growing curve.”

The languid WHEN THE NIGHT WAS YOUNG also draws from the past, but from brighter memories. The song refers to a specific period in ROBBIE’S musical history, when he and the other members of the yet to be christened BAND split ways with RONNIE HAWKINS and headed south.

ROBBIE hooked up with BOB DYLAN in New Jersey and soon began living at New York’s historic CHELSEA HOTEL, keeping some pretty impressive company.

“Edie Sedgwick lived at the Chelsea Hotel too and she used to spend a lot of time hanging out with me in my room and Andy Warhol — who completely adored her — would come looking for her in the hotel,” ROBBIE remembered.

“So when she wasn’t in her room, they would call my room and they’d say, ‘Mr. Warhol is down here. He’s looking for Ms. Sedgwick. Would she be there by any chance?’

“And she’d be like: ‘Tell him I’m not here! Tell him I’m not here!’ And so I would say, ‘No, Edie’s not here. I think she’s gone downtown to hear some blues.’ I’d have to make up some story. So I’m just weaving all of these things from that period together.”

Clearly, he still has a wealth of stories to tell, so it’s not surprising that he’s planning on finally crafting a memoir.

He says it was actually this album — and the experience of opening up about his past — that convinced him an autobiography could be the next step.

“It opened that door. I thought: ‘I’ve gotta tell these stories.‘ I don’t want a ghost writer. Nobody can tell these stories as good as I can tell them…It kind of freed me up in a way that now I felt like, that’s what I want to do. In a couple of months, I’m gonna roll up my sleeves, sit down and just start telling the stories.”

“All I know is this is going to be a first hand account. There’s no filter here. And I’ve always been a pretty good storyteller, so I think that I’m going to be able to do this in a real honest and hopefully entertaining way, too.”

Of course, ROBBIE – who swore off the rigours of the road a long time ago — has no plans to tour behind his new album except for a handful of appearances.

(“I’m not going to be getting back on the bus.”)

He has other projects on the horizon, but hopes it won’t take another 13 years for his next album.

“I love making records. Making this record is one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. And so, in my mind, I’m thinking I’m drawn to that right now. It just depends on distractions.”

But he’s willing to wait as long as it takes for inspiration to strike. He’s not interested in forcing out new material simply for the sake of it.

“I hope I don’t do that. In the early days, that’s what the program was: make a record, do a tour, make a record, do a tour, make a record, do a tour. And when I got off that merry go round, I got off it because I didn’t want to do that any more.”

“When I’m inspired to do it, that’s when I want to do it. That’s when I’m excited about it.”

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