Recently, Rocky Votolato visited the great city of Lansing, MI while on tour in support of his most recent album, True Devotion. He stopped by the Impact studios to sit down with Jesse Wiza and talked about the album, his favorite places to play, and the resurgence of vinyl.
Jesse Wiza: Is there a particular part of the country that you really like going to?
Rocky Votolato: Well, I like the west coast, because it's close to home. But yeah, just the whole west coast is really good for me. I've got good crowds over there and a lot of really excited fans. But yeah, I love going all over the country. I really like coming to Michigan, I've got some good friends here in town.
JW: Is the west coast where you started out playing music?
RV: Yeah, I started playing music in Seattle where I live, and so I've probably just done more shows out in that area than anywhere else, but I've been touring the country for quite a few years now. I think this is only my second time in Lansing, or maybe this is my third time? I was here in 2007 at Mac's Bar.
JW: You had a show there [April 3rd]. It was strange to be there with sun shining through the blinds.
RV: Yeah, it was a really early show. And it was crazy because it was at the same time as the Michigan State game. That was kind of a bummer, I know there was a lot of people who wanted to come to the show but were torn.
JW: So you had a new album come out recently: True Devotion. What was the process like, writing it?
RV: It was different than a lot of the other records I had made; it was a slower process. There was probably about a year when I wasn't really writing at all, and I kind of had writer's block. That was new for me, I've been pretty prolific since the time I was young, since I started writing songs, about the time I was 15 years old. So this is the first album where it was, you know, that creative process really broke down for a long time. I kind of dropped out of tour and really pursuing a music career for several years, to regroup, get my head straight. Through that process I started writing again and then the album really poured out in about a month and a half. So once I started writing songs again, it happened quickly. Then I recorded it on my own. This is the first record where I was involved with the engineering process, and doing all of that in ProTools. So that was a learning experience for sure.
JW: Is there anything you took away from that, doing it on your own?
RV: Yeah, I just really enjoyed it. It was freeing in a certain sense, not having a producer, to not always have someone I had to check in with about the tone of the recording or how I was going to arrange the instruments for a particular song. I got to spend more time getting the takes that I was happy with and, when somebody else is in the studio, no matter how helpful they are, there's always an element of self consciousness. Sometimes that's really good to help drive the process or even just get stuff done, because I found I would just go down a rabbit hole of redoing things forever. But, overall, I was really happy with the process and I learned a lot. It was a fun way to do it.
JW: Last night, I heard a really interesting story about your song "Makers". Could you tell us a little bit about that?
RV: The song is actually kind of inspired by a poem by Allen Ginsberg; it's a poem called Kaddish. He wrote that poem the day after his mother died, so it was kind of a eulogy to her. And that poem inspired the song, and I actually wrote the song in an apartment building that he lived in when he wrote that poem, and where he wrote Howl, and a bunch of his other famous poems, on the lower east side of Manhattan. And one of my good buddies happened to live in the building that he used to live in, so, it was pretty cool for me because I'm a pretty big Allen Ginsberg fan. So I was just sitting around drinking Makers with my buddy, and you know, we're talking about existential philosophy and transcendentalism, and that's where this song came from.
JW: I noticed that you have True Devotion on vinyl, what inspired you to do that?
RV: Well, I've got a great record label called Second Nature Recordings. It's based in Kansas City, Missouri, and they've always done my vinyl. I've been working with Barsuk Records out of Seattle for my last three albums now. But I've kept a good relationship with Second Nature, who was my original record label when I started out, and they've always put out my vinyl. They just do a really great job with it. I think I heard something like, last year was the largest vinyl sales in all of history? Or something like that.
JW: I heard that too!
RV: You know these huge bands like Coldplay, you know, are getting their vinyl in Target and Best Buy, and so vinyl is on its way back and CD's are on their way out. And you know, the vinyl comes with a free digital download now too so if you buy it on that format it's cool. You know, a lot of people have record players and then they can just download it to their iPod, too.
JW: What's your preference, how do you like to listen to music?
RV: Well, I usually just get things on my iPod these days. But, I do have a good record collection, and for records that I really love, I'll buy the vinyl. It's awesome if it comes with a download code because that's the best of both worlds to me. Then I can have the product I like to collect, because CD's have always kind of sucked in my mind. You can collect them, but they can get lost easily, they can get scratched. They're not really like a product to hold onto. And then the internet changed everything; it seems like they became even less valuable because people just want the file on their computer or on their iPod. But vinyl's on its way back so it's pretty cool.