Towards the end of January this year I had my first listen to Thirteen Lost and Found, the new album from the Glasgow based guitarist RM Hubbert. I was intrigued by his concept to create a collaborative album as a way of reacquainting himself with old friends whilst making some new ones.
Given that Hubby played in the post-rock band El Hombre Trajeado from 1995-2005, and has been promoting gigs for around 20 years, as well as releasing records on his Ubisano label, it’s no surprise that the ‘friends’ involved consist of some of the major talent in Scottish music. The album was produced with Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, and features Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap), Emma Pollock (the Delgados), Luke Sutherland (Bows/ Long Fin Killie) and Alasdair Roberts, amongst others.
We are now half way through 2012, and it is one of those records that has stayed with me since January. I was lucky enough to see Hubby supporting Wells/ Moffat at the end of March and after I revisited his darker debut album First and Last I was intrigued enough to ask him a few questions.
You have been touring a lot since this album emerged, with the likes of Wells/ Moffat and David Thomas Broughton. Do you enjoy touring and will your sets always be solo sets?
“I do enjoy touring. I’ve been out a lot over the last couple of years and I’ve been very lucky with both the artists I get to share a stage with and the audiences that come along. I’ll be keeping the RM Hubbert stuff solo, I think. A lot of the songs are too personal to me to get others involved in. It is always nice when some of my regular collaborators are around to play as well though.”
You mentioned how playing to a room of strangers is therapeutic for you, and talking to them can help you come to terms with your chronic depression. It is interesting for people who enjoy your instrumental music to hear a bit of background to it though. Is this the same for doing interviews?
“Aye, it can be. This kind of interaction makes it much easier for me to talk about my depression and the associated events. It has a kind of formality to it. It’s very one sided. Not unlike the relationship you might have with a therapist. Therapists don’t generally talk back so much. It’s more a sounding board. It’s much easier to be honest when you can be relatively sure that you won’t be disturbed.”
I remember seeing you many years ago in El Hombre Trajeado. Technically I guess this solo music is different, yet I think it would still appeal to fans of your old band. I don’t like putting music into genres but it combines flamenco and post-rock it seems.
“I don’t really see the music as that different. It’s certainly melodically similar. A lot of it is based around flamenco structures and techniques though, you’re right there. By the time I started writing the pieces that would eventually form First & Last, I wanted to make it sound like a band playing but without the use of other musicians, overdubs or loops. Basically, I tried to do El Hombre by myself!”
How long did it take you to move towards your current style of playing? I liked the way that there are no loops and very few effects on both the albums and the live set, this makes things more difficult for you though!
“It’s strange how it came about really; I arbitrarily chose flamenco guitar when I wanted something to take my mind off of my father’s illness. I’d heard that it was very difficult to learn so I thought that it was something I could immerse myself in. After he died, I got even more into it. After my mother died very suddenly a couple of years after that, I had the idea that writing music about these events might be a cathartic experience.
The only constraint I put on myself then was that I must be able to perform the pieces unamplified so I had to learn how to add a bass line or percussive part whilst playing the melodies.
There’s actually no guitar overdubs or effects on either of the records. All played live as is.”
Who would you say at your main influences on your guitar playing?
“The big one is D Boon. Other than that, Greg Ginn, J Mascis, Chris Mack (James Orr Complex), Baden Powell, Thurston Moore and Sabicas are all important to me.”
Both of your albums sit very well together as a set, although obviously the recent one has more guests involved. Was it an idea to ask people you knew, rather than people you had collaborated with?
“Aye, that was the point really. I found that I’d lost touch with a lot of my old friends over the years and thought that it might be easier to reconnect with them by writing music together. After I started writing them, I realised that it would be a good way to get to know some of my newer friends better as well. The album is really about those relationships. Stevie Jones and Alex Kapranos were actually the only ones that I had ever written music with previously.”
Tell me about the process. Alex from Franz Ferdinand was the overall producer of the album, had you worked with him before? You’ve also managed to involve three of the finest Scottish vocalists of the last decade or so, Aidan Moffat, Emma Pollock and Alasdair Roberts.
“I specifically asked the collaborators not to write anything in advance. I certainly didn’t. I wanted to try and capture that feeling of reconnecting and thought that any preparation might water that down. I booked a six hour practice session for each one and what we had at the end of that is basically what you hear on the record.
Alex and I played in bands together and put on shows a lot in the nineties. We had lost touch in the early 2000’s what with Franz’s touring and me not really playing music anymore. He’s always been great to work with in the studio so when he mentioned that he was getting into producing it was a no brainer for me. Also, he’s a great cook.
We spoke a lot about how to best encapsulate this idea of reconnecting. To this end, everything bar some minimal additional instrumentation was recorded live in the same room. The emphasis was on trying to capture the people on tape. Sounds a little wanky to say it but I think we achieved it.
Aidan, Emma and Ali all have very unique voices and lyrical styles that I have loved for a long time so no argument there. Hanna Tuulikki too, she is a stunning singer.”
Is there anyone else you would like to work with? What kind of recording might you make next?
“There was actually a load of other collaborations lined up for Thirteen Lost & Found that didn’t get finished due to us running out of time. Mogwai, Twilight Sad, Adele Bethel from Sons & Daughters, Wounded Knee and Adam Stafford come to mind. I’m hoping to do those at some point, and hopefully something with Muscles of Joy too.”
Tell me a bit about the non-performance based musical involvement you have had over the years. What is Ubisano?
“I’ve been playing music, putting on shows and releasing records for about 20 years now. My longest running band was El Hombre Trajeado from 1995 until 2005.
Ubisano is an environmentally minded record label that I started with my friend John Williamson a few years back. The basic idea is to cut both the environmental and financial impact of releasing records. To the end, we bought some CD manufacturing equipment and designed reusable, recycled packaging for the releases. This way, we only over manufacture as much as we need at any given time. This makes it much easier to be more adventurous with our releases as we don’t really need to be concerned with how many copies will sell.
We’ve got albums by Sycamore (Stevie Jones, Shane Connelly & Jer Reid with Bill Wells, Daniel Padden and others) and Finn Le Marinel coming out over the next few months.”
Interview by Jonathan Greer
Photography by Luke Joyce (top) and Different Light (centre)
as always with this blog interface, click on the images to view them at a larger size
for more information, news and tour dates have a look at RM Hubbert’s official site.