By Allyson Bills
For the past sixteen years, Rocky Votolato has been a stalwart on the indie-folk scene with his honest lyrics on life, and catchy guitar hooks. In April of this year, Votolato released Hospital Handshakes, one of his most upbeat albums to date. Hear & Now Media caught up with Votolato at beginning of his current U.S. tour, and discussed how he love with music again, the music video of the title track “Hospital Handshakes” and his love for a certain music promoter in Phoenix.
ALLYSON: You considered leaving music altogether after you released Television of Saints in 2012. So how did you get inspired again to write?
ROCKY: It was a long road actually. It was sort of...I think it really came down to a change in perspective. I realized I was really blocked creatively for quite a long time. I think even though I was functioning outwardly as a...I looked like a functioning artist on the surface. I think I had been having these issues for a few years even before it really showed up. I had realized I hadn't written any songs in over a year, and that was alarming. I just didn't know. I felt burnt out from so much travel, and I kind of lost touch with why I had initially gotten into a career in music. I think it happens sometimes when you tour a lot and you can just lose the plot a little bit.
I basically,I think what happened was...Okay, it was summer of about 2014 and I had decided I wasn't going to keep touring, and it kind of happened organically that I basically just started getting back in touch with why I started playing music in the first place and started having fun with it. I was being way too critical, way to self-critical, way too much of a perfectionist. I think that's really what it was. When I let that go, and I started just having a good time playing with words and lyrics, which is how I relate to music..how I always kind of started with inspiration for songs. When I started letting that happen a little bit more, and just not being so hard on myself about it, songs just starting pouring out. I wrote, like, thirty songs in a two month period last summer, and that turned in Hospital Handshakes. And basically helped me make up my mind that this is really what I want to do, and just got busy doing it again.
ALLYSON: You recently signed to No Sleep Records. How has working with them helped you fall in love with music again as well?
ROCKY: Those guys are awesome. They're just a really...I think it was a perfect place for me. I had self-released the last album and I just really wanted to have a team of people again kind of on my side, and working toward getting the word out for my music. They're just really kind of in-the-moment, and they go with the flow about everything. They give me a complete one-hundred percent control. Usually any idea I bring to them - they're just kind of excited about it, and want to help support me and try to find a way to get it done. Whereas in other situations - I've talked to a lot of bands about-and that I've even been in the past with labels...You can get into places, it doesn't work so well. It can really be like a battle just trying to get your album finished or get it out or making decision can become difficult. For me, it's been great working with them because they just kind of really support the artists vision, and they let me kind of just do whatever I want which is. It's really great to feel that kind of trust from your record label.
ALLYSON: In this case working with a new group of people, Chris Walla produced Hospital Handshakes. What was it like working with him?
ROCKY: It was great. We worked on “Suicide Medicine,” my third album. It was a little over ten years ago now that we got to do that project together. I called Chris. He was down in LA working on this latest Death Cab (For Cutie) record.
**Both Allyson and Rocky took a brief break from the interview to talk about the New Death Cab For Cutie album, “Kintsugi”.**
ROCKY: Chris was working on that record that they just put out when we connected, and I found he still had his studio in Seattle, in Fremont. I really wanted to make the record to tape, so he's great at recording to vintage tape. So I just didn't want to over think things, especially where I was at and coming back to music. I wanted to make things kind of urgently, or with a sense of urgently, and be impulsive about it. We recorded the whole thing (record) in two weeks. Most of it was live off-the-floor. It was really great. We had like three days of pre-production. It was all kind of happening really fast, which was fun for me. I wanted it to be that way. So it was kind of in-the-moment, and just flowing so I didn't over think things.
ALLYSON: I was recently watching the video for the title track, and lead single, on Hospital Handshakes. Why did you want to want to do a stop-animation for this track specifically?
ROCKY: That's a great question. Basically, I just watched a ton of videos when I was thinking about making a video for that song. As soon as I wrote the song, and when I made the album, I was instantly thinking I want to make a video for that song. I always had that thought in the back of my mind. When I started watching a bunch of other videos, I just couldn't see like a performance video. I feel like that's kind of overdone. Not saying I won't do that again in the future, but I just didn't feel like doing something like that and I didn't want to be in the video.
I always wanted to make a stop animation video, and a good friend of mine in Portland-she just graduate from art school there. Her name's Sloan White, the director. My wife actually suggested it. She thought...she really liked Sloan's art. No Sleep Records believed in her and thought she could do a good job with it. So, I reached out to her and then we worked really closely. We collaborated really closely together on it. I'm really happy with how it came out. I think it's, it's kind of like the song.It captures kind of the moody darkness, and it's kind of haunting. It's sort of child nightmare-ish a little bit.
That's why I wanted to use the puppets and shadow puppets and all that. Sloan's really great with that, that technique. I'm just really happy it worked out. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be. I didn't realize how much goes into a stop animation but she spent months working on that pretty much everyday. I'm really happy with all the work she put into it. I'm super proud of her and the video.
ALLYSON: I know you've worked with local promoter Steve Chilton, owner of Psyko Steve Presents, over the years, and now you're playing in his new venue, The Rebel Lounge. Describe your relationship with Phoenix (in general and Chilton) and the opportunity to play at The Rebel Lounge.
RV: Yeah, I love coming to Phoenix. It's always been special to me. I really like the climate. I know it bums some people out because it's so hot, but I love it. I love how dry it is. I love the architecture there. I just like the general landscape. I feel like it's...I really relate to it, and I started playing shows there with Steve. Psyko Steve Presents like doing my shows when I very first started touring. It was I guess over ten years ago now. I remember playing at the Modified (Arts). I loved that place, and then I kind of just started out playing those smaller kind of indie and punk clubs like that.
Then I started working with Steve at The Rhythm Room. That's kind of where I've been the few times I've been through. He's a great promoter, and my shows have been getting better and better in Phoenix. I was super proud of him because he just opened up this new club. I know he was really excited about it because The Rebel Lounge is really new, right?
ALLYSON: Yeah, actually it used to be the Mason Jar until it closed down and he just totally revamped it. It's a really awesome place. I've been there quite a few times.
ROCKY: That's awesome. I'm really looking forward to seeing it, because when I was through last time I was there with Murder by Death. I think it was in February of this year. **Votolato opened for Murder By Death at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on February 9, 2015.**
I'm excited about it. I can't wait to see the room, catch up with Steve and just to play at his actual venue for the first time.
A quick shout out for my buddy who's traveling with me: Mike Henneberger. He's doing a charity. The tour's actually sponsored by a charity called Zero Platoon. Basically, just he's helping connect bands with people in the military. It's helping anybody in the military who struggles with depression or PTSD. Those are issues that I've struggled with in the past, and I think that's why he reached out to me, and it made sense for us to team up. He's got videos with a lot of great bands: Matt Pryor from the Get Up Kids, and just all kinds of different indie and punk bands, singer songwriters. For more information on Zero Platoon, visit: http://www.zeroplatoon.com/
Rocky Volotalo, along with opener Dave Hause, plays on August 18th in Phoenix starting at 8 p.m. at The Rebel Lounge.