Robbie Robertson: Seeing Around Corners
The sessions quickly took on the immediacy of a working group. There is the push and pull of what humans come up with in a recording studio that remains the essence of rock and roll; it cannot be made to order or duplicated. It’s the magic that lets players conjure life from the air and put it on records for infinity. Those that chase those spirits know the ground that they’re walking on. And that includes Robertson.
“Winwood and Clapton are guys I’ve known for years, but we’ve never done anything like this before,” he says. “It was my job to figure out how to make something really special happen in this situation. They’re always good at what they do, but to make it take on that other feeling without showing off—that’s what we went after. When Eric and I are playing together, nobody is trying to do acrobatics. This is like talking guitars having a conversation. It’s not about seeing who could yell the loudest. We’re past that.”
Robertson’s background in The Band is proof that he believes in musical fellowship and knows that artists collide when things come alive onstage or in the studio. On new songs like “When the Night Was Young” and “This Is Where I Get Off,” those collisions are career highlights for the musician.
“Something deeper happened,” he recalls of finding the sessions’ stride in those songs. “We quickly found out that place that’s above and beyond, where you know you’re in the zone, which made me so happy. We hit a certain kind of grace—something that’s the real thing. It’s interesting because sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got when it’s happening. You just want to live in that place the best you can.”
After the band had recorded in London for three weeks, the album took a fortuitous left turn. Robertson returned to the U.S. to work on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island film. As he began searching for the right modern classical music for the movie, the process began to influence How to Become Clairvoyant.
“It was an interesting experiment and it let me hear how some outside touches on the London sessions might open things up,” Robertson says of the soundtrack project. “So when I came back to finish my album, I saw it in a different light. I could see how opening up the casting could really help the music become something even more. Working with [singer] Trent Reznor, [guitarist] Tom Morello and [pedal steel guitarist] Robert Randolph gave me a clearer vision of the possibilities and allowed me to go down a new path. In the end, it allowed me to be even more reflective in the songs. I got lucky.”
One of the best examples of this luck is “He Don’t Live Here No More,” a song that still gives Robertson a bit of the shakes. He looks at the end of the ‘70s, a time excess in the entertainment world—and for him.
“It was something that had developed in the culture of music where I didn’t know anybody that didn’t have that excessive lifestyle,” he says. “There was a certain kind of decadence then and a lot of cocaine everywhere. Some people dabbled and some crashed and burned. Some hit a wall and learned you can’t do that or you’re going to die. Everybody I knew was indulging.
“Instead of driving fast cars like in the ‘50s, there was a different kind of recklessness. In the ‘60s, it was more of a ‘do something good, be free, change the world and stop the war’ mood. The ‘70s was a different game completely. So this was a hard song to share. Looking back, I saw my own experiences with Martin Scorsese. He and I went through the bubble together and it burst. Thank God. I lost a couple of brothers in The Band to drugs and alcohol, so I saw it first-hand.”
How to Become Clairvoyant is something of a primer of Robbie Robertson’s life so far. When told how he’s always enveloped himself with a certain sense of mystery—noting those photographs of his hooded eyes in the early Band images—he laughs quickly and shakes his head. A bit of acceptance is behind that laugh, though, and he knows it.
When pressed about the notion of clairvoyance and how that talent comes in handy during such a long history in music, he admits that it’s something he’s always respected. “Sure, I yearn to see around corners,” he admits, “and to the best of my talent, I sure try every way I can. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with a lot of the best musicians over a very long period—some you’ve heard of but also many you haven’t. It’s helped me see what’s important and taught me a lot. As for seeing the future, I don’t claim to have it down but I am in search.”
In his office at Village Recorder, the various guitars hanging on the four walls give silent testament to Robertson’s legacy as they seem to almost smile on their owner—simply glad to be part of his continuing journey. One in particular, an older blonde Fender, catches the eye. When asked if it’s the instrument that Robertson played on John Hammond’s So Many Roads album in 1965 (before he’d made his name helping Dylan storm the walls of rock and roll), he says no, but that it was a similar one. Forty-six years later, it’s just another entry on a long laundry list of credits.
Ever gracious, Robertson gives thanks for the memory and heads back into the studio. He has more songs, more sessions and more phone calls to make. The sparkle in his eyes says that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
- John Fogerty: Wrote A Song For Everyone
- The Facebook Photo Contest Top 10
- Welcome to moe.town (Relix Revisited)
- Visions of the Hangout Music Festival 2013 (A Gallery)
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Share "Better Days"
- Jim Weider’s Project Percolator at the Inn On The Blues
- Electric Daisy Carnival New York (A Gallery)
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll