The "mathematical guitar genius" on his greatest work
Aged 44, Robertson releases his first solo album, an atmospheric Southern stew with contributions from U2 and Peter Gabriel. It includes Robertson’s only UK hit single, “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”.
It wasn’t easy making that record – we were working with all kinds of different people and Daniel Lanois was working with U2, so he was back and forth. We had an interesting time on “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”. I wrote it on this funny Omnichord-like instrument, an electronic autoharp that Brian Eno liked. When I was working on the lyrics I just started telling a story to Daniel about experiences I’d had in the South, a whole New Orleans vibe, and he was like, “That’s it! Nobody is doing this!” It came out of nowhere in a way that was quite magical. I went over to Dublin and did some experimenting with U2 – we just went in, boom, boom, boom, and came up with “Sweet Fire Of Love”. After that I went to Bath and did a couple of things with Peter Gabriel. I returned to America with some really interesting music, but then it was about making everything come together.
How To Be Clairvoyant
His first solo album for over a decade features Eric Clapton, Trent Reznor and Tom Morello, as Robertson takes a more autobiographical view of his past…
The genesis of this record was Eric [Clapton] and I hanging out, telling stories and playing guitar, just seeing what was going to happen. We’re old friends. I came to London and called in Steve Winwood and for three weeks we recorded these 12 basic tracks. Eric was really supportive, and the decision was that I should finish this record and make it my own. Later I came back to it with a whole other vision, with other characters I wanted to work with: Angela McClusky, Tom Morello, Trent Reznor – all who do something extraordinary. It was brilliant casting! I didn’t realise until I was deep into the LP that I was doing something more personal than I’d done before. I always took the storyteller angle, but I’d never said: ‘Well, here’s what happened.’ There was an honesty I couldn’t deny. On “This Is Where I Get Off”, I’d never thought about talking about the break-up of The Band in a song before. It was beautiful to do that with Eric as he was very close to The Band’s music. It felt right.
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