I had just finished listening to Thirteen Lost and Found while eating scrambled eggs on toast when it was time to ring RM Hubbert for a chat. For anyone who doesn’t know, Hubby is a mainstay of the Scottish music scene, his above mentioned album winning the 2013 Scottish Album of the Year Award. He plays four dates in Ireland in September 2014, including Thursday 18th in The Workman’s Club, Dublin.
He has played in Ireland a few times, including a gig supporting Mogwai, which, he says, was great. “I’ve known the guys about twenty years, we grew up playing music together, so aye, one of my favourite bands, it was good to get to see them every night.”
Hubby doesn’t listen to a lot of acoustic music, instead he prefers American punk, experimental music like The Minute Men and Sonic Youth. Adam and the Ants were his first musical love and he still really likes them. “I listen to a lot of new Scottish music, as well. I really love The Twilight Sad and all of Aidan Moffat’s stuff… the new Mogwai album is brilliant. But yeah, there’s a real resurgence, some really great Scottish music just now.”
I saw this as an opportunity to get some insight in the current political debate in Scotland, thinking it would lead to some interview gems. Turns out I didn’t need to tease it out, at this point, Hubby who is firmly in the ‘Yes to Independence’ camp came into his own and was clearly very passionate about the referendum.
“It’s an exciting time in Scotland overall, with the Independence Referendum?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s hugely exciting. This is the biggest political decision that we get to make. Obviously, from the start, I’m very pro-independence. But the excitement is doubled somewhat because normally our political decisions don’t actually get counted, so this one’s doubly important for us.”
After he votes he has to catch a ferry, so he’s going to be in Ireland when he finds out what happened, which I think is a nice place to be if they successfully gain independence from Britain. I asked him if he had an independence song to celebrate on stage with.
“All my songs are independence songs,” he said with an amazing chuckle like a modern Scottish Santa Claus. If he seems a bit preoccupied on the night it will be because he’s checking the polls on Twitter.
“If the Yes vote does go through, what are your hopes for an independent Scotland?”
“My hopes are modest, I just want self-determination. I want to be able to choose the government that the people want. And I really want to get rid of Trident. It’s a strange one, I’m well aware there we’re basically replacing one group of self-serving politicians with what will likely be another group of self-serving politicians, but the big difference is we get to hold them to account, we can kick them out, which is something we don’t get to do just now.”
He’s really excited by it. He’s never known Scotland to be so politically engaged. The reality is, he says, that the Scottish vote hasn’t affected a UK election since the Second World War; you could take the Scottish vote out, and it wouldn’t change the result. So you get this affect that Westminster realises it doesn’t need Scotland, so it doesn’t need to please them. What they’re seeing now is the realization that they can take what is essentially, an incredibly wealthy country, and address a lot of the social concerns they have about poverty, education… So, it’s very exciting right now. Especially seeing the polls change. It’s blatantly obvious that all the major newspapers, and the BBC are very anti-independence; it’s getting kind of embarrassing now. But, Hubby informed me, the Scots are used to being underdogs. Then I brought up the football. And he laughed and told me it was probably best not to bring up the football.
Clearly very engaged with this referendum he then told me about the time Scotland voted on having a Scottish Assembly, their own parliament, in the 70s, and they voted yes, but then the government decided to count all the people who didn’t vote, as ‘No’ votes, so it didn’t go through. And the next time there was an election, the UK promised that if Scotland voted ‘No’ they’d give them more powers anyway, (which is what we’re seeing now in the 2014 referendum) and then “the people voted ‘No’ and they got fuck all… Well, actually, they didn’t get fuck all; they got eleven years of Margaret Thatcher (he laughs), in which we basically got our industry destroyed instead.”
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I decided then to bring it back to the music and I asked him if he had a person who hadn’t heard him before, would he prefer to win them over with an album, or would he play for them.
“I’d prefer to play for them. The albums are very important, I mean, each album had a very specific purpose, but when I play them live I get to explain what they’re about a bit more clearly. It’s all about feeling a connection with the people in the room, the shared intimacy you can get. Everything is a flyer for the show, so everything you do as a band is done to get people to your show, that’s what’s important. I love playing live. And during a set, I talk a lot, so it’s usually quite funny and sad but also the point of it is to build this connection with the people in the audience. I really enjoy making records as well, but I make records so I can go on tour. They feed off each other. But I like touring, I make my living from touring.
“Also, it’s my therapy in a lot of ways. It’s important that I get to go and travel and play for people.”
A few years ago both of Hubby’s parents died suddenly, and he was retroactively diagnosed with chronic depression. It was a response to this depression that he started doing his “RM Hubbert thing”. Making music to prevent depressive periods, being able to get up on stage and talk to people and not feel alone. He doesn’t talk about the same things every night, it’s more like a stream of consciousness, and that’s really what therapy is, you go and sit with someone and you talk at them, and it’s just someone who listens. That’s pretty much the relationship between a musician and the audience.
“It makes for an unusual experience for anyone who doesn’t know what to expect.”
“But that’s the point, isn’t it?” I asked “It makes them feel something, and that’s an emotive response, and that’s most of the point of art, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes, but also, I’m really fuckin’ funny as well.”
I laughed for a moment, I think his line proved itself. He is funny, I’d like to hang out with this guy.
“I like the idea of playing with people’s expectations, of what a performance is going to be. But the real crux of it, is I do it because I don’t take anti-depressants anymore, so I need something to look forward to and this has been it.”
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Knowing people with depression, I asked him about the depressive periods where you don’t want to get out of bed, where it’s hard to find a point in anything, and if that has ever stopped him from turning up at a show, or if having a show beats the depression in that way.
“Yeah, having the show is the thing that makes me get out of the bed. That’s almost exactly what depression is like. Depression isn’t people being sad, it’s like an isolation. It’s like living inside of a dirty bubble, you can see the world around you, and you know how you’re supposed to react to things, but the reality is, you just can’t quite connect with it. So having this external responsibility is the one thing that gets me going, if I have a show to do, I’ll go and do it.
“In my depressive state, playing live is the one thing that cuts through it for me, it doesn’t really matter if I’m in a bad place before the show. Once I start playing, I’ll have a connection with the audience, and I’ll have an hour when I’m okay. I’ll probably be shit again afterwards, but it’s the one thing that I can do that doesn’t get to be dictated by the illness. Everything else does, but going out and performing, that’s the one thing that’s left.”
I asked him about his writing process. Listening to his music I pictured him sitting for hours on end strumming and plucking a guitar. I asked him if he loses hours this way, and does he find songs like this?
“Yes. I fanny about on the guitar, I don’t have any formal musical training so I can’t write or read music. So when I’m writing I basically sit and torture my girlfriend and my dog for months on end until some bits come out that sound good. I’m a big fan of using music as documentation. It’s normally about the things that are happening at the time. I rarely write with any sort of purpose, I just write and then look back and see what was going on in my life. And figure out what the song was about. So it can take a while to write new stuff.”
He’s a long time friend of Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, who produced his award-winning album Thirteen Lost and Found. I wanted to know if he thought things got harder or easier for Franz Ferdinand after the success of ‘Take Me Out’ and all that followed, and if he envied that level of recognition.
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“I think their types of problems changed. I don’t envy it at all. Yeah, I think it’s a whole different set of problems. I mean, it’s a strange one, they’ve continued to make great music. But, it must be difficult being defined by something you did ten years ago, you know? Because, artists want to move on, and, the worst thing you can say to an artist is “ah yeah, I used to love the stuff you do”. I can’t remember which one now, but there’s a Woody Allen film, from the 70s, where he basically played himself and there was just a constant stream of people coming up to him and saying, “I used to love you when you were funny”, so yeah, I don’t know, they’re a great band and they do very well. I, and most people I know, were incredibly happy for Franz when they got successful, but it’s a strange case because I know many truly exceptional musicians… but every generation has that one band that’s kind of a defining band… you know, we’re seeing it just now with Chvrches as well. When they just absolutely explode, which is a bizarre situation to put anyone in, it’s not a natural situation.”
I told him I was looking forward to his show in the Workman’s Club on the 18th of September. I asked if he’d played there before, and he said “yeah” and I let an “oh” out by mistake, and he said, “don’t worry, nobody fucking came.” Then I promised him that we’d try to get more people out this time, so, do me a solid and go see him on Thursday 18th, trust me, he’s great and you won’t regret it. He said we’ll have a pint to Scottish Independence.