Monday 16th March 2015
The sun is shining
The US guitar star has a new album INTO THE SUN out on Provogue / Mascot and has flown to London ahead of his European tour dates to talk about the record. Pete meets up with Robben again and the new collection is dissected…..Robben is not a showbiz / flash chap, but always warms to talk about creativity …
PS : So here we are. You released this ‘Day in Nashville’ album last year which sounded to me like it was such fun to make. What’s your take on it now?
RF : Well it’s very interesting that you say …it was made under tremendous pressure and so all the good things that exist in within the context of that record, I attribute entirely to the band
(Laughs) Mr Modest!
It’s true. I did write the songs.
What Jimmy Haslip says is ‘Robben will take credit for nothing’.
(Laughs) Right. Well seriously, it was nine new pieces of music, six of which they’d never played and three of which they’d played twice with me. We had the tour which was leading up to that recording and I woke up with a fractured wrist after the second show. We had to call off the tour.
How’s the wrist now?
It’s ninety nine per cent. Yeah I’m fine. It’s just a slight notion that something’s there but no problem. So indeed. These guys just manned up and the drummer I’d never played with before and we met at sound-check for the first show of that two-week tour that got cancelled.
This isn’t how you like to work, really
You gotta do what you gotta do but I like to take as much time as I can. I’m not neurotic in that direction, it’s not a neurosis, and it’s not a super-perfectionist. Nothing like that. Make it as good as we can get it and then do go over the deep end with it. Don’t kill it. I know that place and I know exactly where that place is and I just don’t. I know when to quit.
It’s like when a painter knows when to stop.
I guess same kind of thing
So from the back of that which was made in less than extreme circumstances, we arrive at ‘Into the Sun’ and for various reasons this sounds very fresh to me. I don’t know if that’s your intention. I think what’s happened is, maybe, you’ve let yourself be open to what’s incoming to create this music.
Well I do live a little bit away from what’s going on today. I go on the road, I work, and I go home and I live in a beautiful small town in a beautiful valley surrounded by trees, sky and oranges in California. So, the openness where it paid off was the trust I had in my rhythm section – bass and drums. Those are the guys to me I counted on for a fresh approach to the rhythm section. That I think is what the difference is on the record
Ok. That makes perfect sense. A lot of the tempos are very unusual.
The other two guys on the record are me and Jim Cox who’s also one of the old dogs. Jim Cox the organ player
This is probably premature, but the other person who must come into the conversation about ‘into the Sun’ is Kyle Swan.
(Laughs) I think you’re giving him a little too much credit! Alright. Let me show you what Kyle did. (Robben picks up a copy of the album) Kyle wrote the lyric to ‘Howlin’ at the Moon’ and he really is an out there guy. You should really check him out…Kyle Swan online, there’s a record and you can just go listen to it and it’s called ‘Gossip’ it will blow your mind. So what the hell is he talking about is the question you will be asking yourself throughout. It’s very out there. I said ‘Kyle!’ I’m trying to work with him cause’ I like him as he’s talented and he’s great. I said ‘Write me a blues man’. I wrote the music for it and gave him the melody and just said ‘write me a blues’. Prior to that, there were several things we got together on; so Kyle wrote the last verse to ‘Justified’.The other he contributed too was ‘Steam Train’ is his song and that’s the most reined in I’ve ever heard him. He is a big lover of Mingus and Monk and these are my heroes
Rose of Sharon has the softest of starts and it has the kick-drum and the organ. It has this really understated guitar and you don’t have to tell the band to lay back. What you’ve achieved here is a sort of mix of Nashville Skyline and Steely Dan…
You know it’s the artist in me. It’s important to me that from the very beginning there’s a serious statement being made. There’s something coming from a genuine place. I think it’s the best song on the record
Day of the the Planets is a lovely song. There’s a hint of The Meters in here. I love the ending of it…
Well I will confess a little bit there. (Laughs) I figure I need to cop to something!(Laughs) Do you know the band Alabama Shakes?
That has been the one band that I have heard in the last several years (and record) they’ve only produced one record so far, the new one’s coming out imminently. That is the one band, they kind of gave me faith in the tradition again. They’re an RnB band that’s what they are. They write their own music and that electric guitar is way up front.
You know, he reminds me of Pop Staples
The way he plays? Well it’s coming from that tradition. I can dig that, but it’s also a modern take on a lot of other things too. It’s not even that modern. Also very Motown so there’s a lot of influences in there. It made me happy that something that ‘of’ the tradition could really get my attention as something brand new. So those guys opened a little bit of a door for me and Day of the Planets is kind of a product of that and there’s one other song Rainbow Cover. Both of those songs, I can really give a little bit of credit to Alabama Shakes for ‘allowing’ me to write those songs.
It’s a kind of elemental alchemy that they do isn’t it?
They’ve been listening!
Howlin at the Moon has this acoustic chug and great electric piano on it. Hard edge. Again, there’s a slight resolve on the end and the guitar solo is very biting. What’s the choral bit because the backing vocals work very well
Yeah. Well I can’t say their names off the top of my head I’m sorry, Pete. But it’s these two black girls who live and work in Nashville. They double and triple themselves so you wind up with six voices. But it’s two girls.They came up with pretty much their own thing on that. We just cut them loose
It’s a really 3-D thing to it and I really like that kind of stuff. ‘Justified’, yes Kevin is on this -Keb Mo. I thought when it started off, it was gonna be John Sebastian or ‘Mellow Yellow’. It’s like ‘porch music’ isn’t it?
That was a bit of a journey that song. That song took the most time to write. I had several aborted attempts basically from the first two line of the chorus ‘I’d be justified to pick up my things and walk’. Those lines haunted me for literally two and a half years so when it came to this album I just decided I was gonna write it come hell or high water. If it didn’t work who cares. I didn’t know if it was gonna work and the way the band played it, they played it so traditionally. With the piano and everything.
That’s Jim Cox piano on that
Yeah that’s Jim. He’s class, that guy. He’s just wonderful. It’s not as weird as I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be weirder but after a while I realised that was the song. It sounded like that and sounded great and then when we put Keb Mo on it, it sounded perfect. Robert Randolph plays his ass of I love what he does on that. It’s obviously tongue in cheek, I mean the opening lines of the song ‘Creaky stairs and ladders, I feel the floor might cave’ I mean come on. It’s out there..quite honestly, I’m amazed at how well it fits into the whole fabric of the record. But it does. It doesn’t break and it’s like ‘wow’. I feel like that about the whole record, it’s a very ‘big’ playing field. It’s like a whole football field of music.
These tracks – they sound organic but it also sounds adventurous in the right kind of way
That’s great. I’m so glad, I like it when people actually pick up things I feel and what I’m doing instinctively. I know exactly what I’m doing. But it comes out of a group. I’ll tell you one thing, a little piece of insider information. It cracked me up quite frankly but I was in Nashville for ten days and I think we recorded for eight of them, I think we took a day off. We worked for five days and took a day off and then we came back and did another two days. …Everybody was exhausted at the end of the day. I could see it in these guys and I talked to them about it. They said ‘For one thing, we never do this. Nobody ever asks us to contribute. People come in and ask us to play this chart.’ They work in Nashville and that entire two-five-one six chord in the key of A is formulaic. Nobody ever asked them to think for themselves. I was like ‘What have you got for me guys?’ and they came to the party.
They’d be going ‘we’ve gotta make it better’. So there was a real beautiful feel in particular with the drummer and bass player. Jim Cox and I have been working like this for our whole lives. (Laughs) Our job is already there. We know about this and this is what we do. I think for these guys, it was a new experience and they are the younger guys. They had never been asked….
Next track; ‘High Heels and Throwing Things’. Now this is fun. Steady tempo, Warren’s (Haynes) on it and its most original. I’ve not heard a song like this. I’m being honest
I know you are. That’s great. Well it’s largely bass and drums and almost the whole thing.
Guitar wise, who’s doing what?
I cut it with an electric, you don’t hear any of my live guitar track as all of my electric is overdubbed. It was after the fact I went to the acoustic guitar. While we were cutting it, I couldn’t find anything I was happy with. It’s got these big loud chords, power chords that happen on certain accents. So that was written in but there was no part. They’re two songs where I did that; ‘Stone Cold Heaven’ is the other one
The last track, yeah
I just borrowed this acoustic guitar from a record store cause’ it’s just this really funky acoustic guitar. I just went ‘Put a mic on it. Roll it.’ I just beat the s*** out of the guitar quite frankly! Hopefully in an artistic fashion. So it’s bass, drums, percussion from the drummer and my acoustic guitar. Then you’ve just got me and Warren.
Yeah. Well again, it’s part of this adventurous thing that I’m picking up on. ‘Cause of War’, I wrote ‘relaxed attack, unusual tempo and busiest cut here.’ It’s quite busy.
It’s intense is what it is. It’s not really busy, just pretty intense.
So Long For You is the one that Sonny (Landreth) is on. He’s playing this wonderful slide sound. My ears tell me, is there a mandolin or a Nashville stringing on this?
Actually it is a ukulele. I picked it off the wall in the studio. It’s right up front.
Sonny comes in and he’s got this think like Frank Zappa where it’s coming up to the solo and you don’t know what’s coming and then he’ll come in with something original…I’m a Zappa nut. He still scares the life out of me
(Nods) One of the most creative people we’ve seen…
So the last song, ‘Stone Cold Heaven’ has a very solemn tempo and the guitar tones seem very similar from the left and right channel. But you’re on one and Tyler’s on the other.
Yeah Tyler’s left and I’m right. I’m playing a Telecaster and he’s playing a Strat
How happy are you with Into the Sun?
I have never made a better record, it’s the best song-writing I’ve ever done and I couldn’t be happier
With how well the collaborations turned out… I was afraid of them at first and I was worried it would turn the record into something inconsistent and therefore incomplete. (Laughs) Like half an artistic statement ! But instead,all thes epeoplejust brought it, Man. They just enhanced it and made it a better record, you know ?
Thanks Lee and Steve and of course Robben (hope the Who T shirt fits!)
Robben Ford’s new album ‘Into the Sun’ is out now on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group
For more information visit www.robbenford.com
Our pal Sonny Landreth gave us this on the sessions:
“ Hey Pete,
I actually played on 2 songs for Robben but he decided to save one of them for another time. So Long For You is the track I’m on that did get included. It has a slow, deep pocket groove he laid down in Nashville with his superb rhythm section. Robben’s the best, he really is. I was excited he asked and had a great time working on it here in Louisiana at my engineer Tony Daigle’s studio. Since I was already all set up recording new tracks of my own, it was good timing in that I was already in the mode. I played Robben’s ’58 strat through a new Komet Aero 33 head with a 4×12 Marshall cab loaded with Vintage 30’s. Big fun! “