Interview: Rocky Votolato

Rocky Votolato - Photo by Christopher Nelson

Rocky Votolato - Photo by Christopher Nelson

It was late last year when singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato made the decision to postpone an upcoming tour, something which was plenty discouraging for many of his fans in mainland Europe.

But Votolato, 35, had reached a point where he was burnt-out and exhausted, and needed a break from life on the road to recuperate and recharge, as well as spend time with his wife and children.

“I had been on tour for my last album kinda non-stop for a couple years, and it was just too many tours really. And I was trying to work on a new album at the same time,” he said, prior to this afternoon’s show at the Ramones Museum. “I needed a little space between the last album and this one, and so I just took it.”

Votolato is on the third day of his European tour, in support of his seventh full-length, “Television of Saints,” which came out last week on Defiance.

When the topic of the album came up, Votolato became noticeably excited, unabashedly gushing like a proud father extolling a successful child.

“Not every time do you totally hit the mark, you know, but I’ve really got it this time. Like I just, I love the record,” he said.

Part of his attachment to “Television of Saints” stems from the sheer amount of himself he poured into its creation. In total, it took a year-and-a-half to write, and the recording process was another situation all its own.

After an entire recording session, Votolato wasn’t happy with the results, and opted to start from scratch again, a decision which he said he didn’t arrive upon lightly.

But it was necessary, because Votolato knew what he wanted it to end up like and wouldn’t stop until he’d reached that goal. This included spending a lot more money, repeatedly pushing back schedules, and doing the majority of the engineering himself, in an effort to retain more control over the outcome. He also brought in Casey Foubert, who worked as producer on a number of his albums, to do the mixing.

“It’s just perseverance, a lot of hard work, a lot of long hours of writing, and then rewriting, and revision, being patient, waiting,” he said of the process in its entirety. “[But] I just wouldn’t give up on the vision for the album. And so having it realized now, after the second time of recording it – writing more songs, revising the ones I did have, letting it kind of open up organically – I’m much happier with it, and I’m satisfied artistically.”

Now, “Television of Saints” takes its place alongside 2006’s “Makers,” as Votolato’s favourite records.

“We’ll see if people like it or not, but to me, I don’t really care,” he said. “I like it.”

And now that he’s this far into the game having done the solo artist thing for more than a decade, Votolato shared that – aside from taking musical advice from his wife – he is reluctant to use too many external figures as a soundboard for what he should or shouldn’t do artistically.

“Once I started handing that power over to other people, I started losing touch with my own internal voice that said whether it was right or wrong,” he said. “And when you start relying too much on a producer or your friends or your family, then you can lose your way.”

Another fear he mentioned is how, after so many releases, there is the propensity to accidentally do the same thing twice, but he shared that he tries to nip it in the bud if he catches on that it’s what’s happening.

“I’m watching for that,” Votolato explained. “And if I get that feeling, I know to follow it and start over. Or, like, scratch that line. ‘Cause I don’t wanna do it exactly the same as what I did before.”

Yet at the same time, Votolato said that, regardless of how different the song structures themselves are, the music indubitably has to come from the same place, which he referred to as one of veritableness.

“I like to retain…the sound of what I’m trying to do,” he said, referencing what he refers to as a classic and timeless approach to songwriting. “I guess being original is not as important to me, other than in the real meaning of that word, which is like the origin, the place it’s coming from. I want it to be authentic, you know?”

This also speaks in a larger sense to the overall purpose of his music, which is for it to be so firmly rooted in truth that it has a lasting quality.

“I don’t wanna make something I’m only gonna like right now,” he said. “Artists have different goals [and] mine is clearly to do something that I’ll like now and I’ll like in 10 years.”

And while Votolato admitted he would get by just fine if he were the only person proud of his music, he shared that he feels lucky to have such a supportive fanbase, which makes everything worthwhile.

“It’s just like that connection to people, that, it’s like, you get high,” he said. “When it goes well, and you have a good night, and you’re on and you’re performing well, and like people come to the show and are enjoying it and it’s just that connection. That’s my favourite thing. That’s really what I’m here to do, you know? I think, that’s like, what all this other drama and ego around the surface of it is for, you know. So to me, that’s the payoff.”

Rocky Votolato plays tonight at Magnet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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