We recently caught up with Glasgow’s Roddy Hart to talk about new album Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire and discuss why this is a “band” album and what changed from his earlier solo work to lead him down this road.
You’ve released four albums now, though this is the first to name The Lonesome Fire in the title. Is this a conscious decision and a permanent move away from being a solo artist or will we continue to see both?
It is definitely a conscious decision. The first three records were based around me writing songs, booking time in the studio, going into the studio and assembling a group of musicians round about me to realise the songs in the studio. There wasn’t a huge rehearsal time that went in to them beyond writing the songs, and it was very much me driving them forward in terms of producing the records to make them sound the way I wanted them to sounds.
Much of that was through necessity as I just didn’t have the money in the early days to hire a producer, and I also hadn’t met a lot of the guys in the band. Towards the end of the third record, Road of Bones, I pulled in other members and settled on a final configuration of where the chemistry felt right; before I knew it there was six of us in the band. It felt like a very different thing.
The problem was I’d gone too far to change into a band [with a completely new name], even though we discussed it at a great length. I had released these three records and built up a bit of a following, it had got to a level where it just felt counter-productive to start a new band and go back to the start. It just felt right to give the band a name and not me carrying the whole thing myself, very much the way – and I don’t compare myself in ability to these artists – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band are named. The Lonesome Fire are amazing musicians and band and deserve it.
It was a conscious decision not to give this album a title, simply to self-title it as the first Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire band album and draw a line in the sand from the solo the stuff.
To answer the question, yes, there might be occasions where I do Roddy Hart solo stuff in the future, but I think this is a very different sounding record and I am very excited about where Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire go sonically on future records.
A few years ago on the back of Road of Bones you played Òran Mór with a band, was that the beginnings of The Lonesome Fire as we now know them?
It was. In fact on the second album, Sign Language, in the inlay there is a photo of some of us and it says “Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire”. The name had been around for a time, but the record label wanted to release it as Roddy Hart in the Singer / Songwriter vein. The band was kinda of forming, and if you look at that photo there are two members who aren’t in the band now, but we were just chopping and changing all the time.
It is really now that we are in the final setup where the chemistry is so good that there is the six of us (sometimes seven as we have an honorary member as well who was the last guy to join). It now just feels absolutely right and have been together for a couple of years since we started making this new record.
Given that then, for this new album were the songs written in a different way or were they still very much Roddy Hart solo songs?
They were written in a different way in terms of challenging myself to come up with different types of songs. The first three records were very much me trying to emulate the great songwriters I’ve grown up loving; like Dylan, Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. This though was me wanting to create something that came from within, that was more me as a person. Pulling together loads of influences but not trying to sound like anyone specifically.
That was the genesis of it and my guitarist John suggested we all need to challenge ourselves. But it did start with me in my writing room and then taking the songs to the band. That was the diving board into “What can we do to these sonically that is different from anything we’ve done before?” It was a kind of freeing experience and one that I was equally excited and nervous of. It took a while to get going and find our way into these songs, including some arguments but that was actually me learning to let go of my old methods and my over protectiveness and being able to do what feels right.
You said you wanted to grow with the band, and create a richer sound than before. I noticed Danton Supple was the producer of this record, did he bring something different to the mix?
That was the other element which was completely different. I had produced everything before and never had a budget to it differently. This was the first time we had some money in the pot to get studio time, and Danton was one of the people who showed an interest in the demos. I thought there would be no way we’d make this work – he’d be too expensive – but he took such an amazing cut in what he’d normally charge. We got studio time and helped in so many ways. That was a real show of faith on his behalf because he was demonstrating how much he wanted to work on it. That told me that we had the right guy.
He’s done some massive records, not just the Coldplay thing which seems to be the constant reference. As much as I like them and own some of their records, we didn’t want to sound like Coldplay; nothing against them. He’s also worked with Patti Smith and Morrisey and many great records, so he had a wide enough background that we wanted to work with him too.
He brought so much to the table in terms of what he gave to the band. He absolutely kicked us up a gear sonically. This record is a much richer and bigger sounding thing than anything I’ve done before. That is also a conscious move away from the Singer / Songwriter thing which all about simplicity and being stripped back, towards a band-oriented record.
On the album there are songs like Not Nervous Anymore, Ghost Of Love and Forget Me Not which seem painfully honest and biographical. Is that the case?
Yes. It’s weird, my earlier stuff was much more literal and there wasn’t so much imagery in my older songs and I used to think it was painfully honest, but actually I don’t know how much was about me. When I look back not much was about how I was actually feeling.
Ironically I started to write more obtusely with this new stuff. I thought with the imagery and what I was talking about was a wee bit more guarded but actually when I look at it know its the closest thing to how I feel and the experiences I’ve been through than anything I’ve ever done. It is a nerve-wracking thing to be so bold and do, but it is something that really worked for me and is informing the way I’m writing songs now.
So you’re quite comfortable with the result?
Yeah absolutely! I think you’ve got to be prepared to put your heart on the canvas and people will take what they will from it. I remember Radiohead back in the day, I loved the honesty of Pablo Honey, and loved The Bends and OK Computer. When it got to Kid A and after that, I didn’t connect with the lyrics they seemed to just repeat over and over.
I’m huge fan of Radiohead, but for me I had the sort of nostalgic romantic sensibilities that comes from the artists I used to listen to. The guy who told me it was OK to do that was listening to Matt Berninger from The National. The way he writes is massively personal, but if you do it in a way that has a good line, has a clever turn of phrase then people can connect and not think it’s just sentimental crap.
That’s what I hope anyway, at least, that’s the way I write and maybe I’m completely wrong but it’s how I like to do it.
Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire is out now on Middle Of Nowhere Recordings and we will be reviewing it here later this week. Before that, whet your appetite by watching the video for first single ‘Cold City Avalanche’ below;