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Interview: Robert Vincent

Robert Vincent
15 February 2020

Photo by Alex Hurst

Robert Vincent, one of the fastest-rising artists in the Americana scene, isn’t actually from America at all. He’s from Liverpool, England, which of course is much more strongly associated with The Beatles than anything grounded in Stateside roots music. There’s no question that he’s doing well with his chosen genre, though: his 2013 debut album, Life in Easy Steps, and his 2017 follow up, I’ll Make the Most of My Sins, both received critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic. Between those albums, in 2016, Vincent won the UK Americana Music Association’s UK Album of the Year award. This past year, his performance at the annual AmericanaFest in Nashville created quite a buzz. Speaking from his home in Liverpool a couple of weeks before releasing his third album, In This Town You’re Owned (out on February 14), Vincent discusses why it makes sense to be an Americana artist from Liverpool, the importance of hope, and a how a teacher’s encouragement changed his life.

You have a new album coming out soon. How do you feel as you approach the release date?

ROBERT VINCENT: I want to get it out there and I want people to hear it. Then you’ve got to ride the wave of criticism or anything else that comes along with it. But quite honestly, I think this time around, I’ve done as good as I could have done. So I’m really excited for it to come out and for people to hear it. it’s full of things that I wanted to say, so no regrets. It’s an exciting time.

What themes are you especially hoping to get across this time?

ROBERT VINCENT: Both of our countries [the U.S. and the U.K.] over the last three years seem to be politically quite fractured and divided within – not divided from each other, but divided from within. And so there’s a lot of that in the songs. The track “This Town” is about that. And then there’s a song called “Conundrum,” which is more pointing toward the climate and where that’s gone over the last two or three years and how that’s become front and center of our consciousness and what we need to do. I wanted to try a bit of a statement with it. My idea [for the music video] was to get a lot of stock footage together which really painted the picture within that four minute time frame of what we’re actually doing to our environment and to our planet. There’s another huge theme, I suppose. Then there’s songs like “The End of the War,” which is a story of somebody going off in the second World War but then it rounds up with the meaning that we don’t seem to have learned a lot of the lessons from those times. So there’s some big, heavy themes, there’s micro and macro, there’s light and shade.

But yet, throughout, there’s the sense of hope, also.

ROBERT VINCENT: Absolutely. Because I think there’s no point in me talking about it if I don’t think that we can do something about it. I’m quite a hopeful person. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, with any of these things. There’s always something we can do about it. So yeah, definitely, the main theme is about forgiveness and how we can move forward. There is a lot of hope in that. Where would we be without hope?

How do you write your songs? What’s your process like?

ROBERT VINCENT: Lots of coffee and sitting with a notepad. I try to write as often as I can. What tends to happen is, every now and then, a song will come along, and it’s just kind of made up from the consciousness. I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and then somehow they come out in the words. So it’s trying to capture that little bit of lightning when it comes along. Songs like “The End of the War” were almost written as a poem, and then put to music. The process can change and that’s how I like it because then it keeps me guessing and it doesn’t get boring. I’ve heard other writers talk about this subconscious way of writing, which I also believe in because I think sometimes when we are thinking about things that bother us – it might be the environment, it might be politics, whatever it is – those thoughts are all collecting somewhere within our minds and then there’s a flow of consciousness that will then present some type of a song. But they always do start with me thinking about a particular theme.

What made you want to become a musician in the first place?

ROBERT VINCENT: I was a bit rubbish at everything else! [Laughs] That, and I’ve always sang since I was a kid. It was just something I always did. I was always musically leaning. I can still remember being hugely emotionally moved by music as a kid. So I think it was just always there. In my school, I was lucky, I had a lovely Welsh teacher called Mrs. Jones who noticed that I could sing, and she was just really encouraging. Then I just never really stopped wanting to do it, and here I am.

You should track her down and let her know that you’ve succeeded with it.

ROBERT VINCENT: Do you know what, I’d love to be able to track her down! I don’t know how old she was then. I’m sure she probably felt a lot older than she was. But I’d like to think she’s still around and that she might see what I’m doing because I definitely have a lot to owe to her. I think that’s part of noticing the strengths of kids with teaching. All kids are different, and I think at times we all tend to be on the same conveyor belt when there’s a lot of conveyor belts that kids could be going off on. Music was definitely one thing that was introduced to me very early in life, and I’ve never really looked back.

What made you decide to play Americana music, out of all the types you could have chosen?

ROBERT VINCENT: It was a very natural thing. Liverpool has always been a really big country music influenced city, since the ‘50s and the ‘60s. My dad, growing up, was a huge country fan – still is. It’s always been a really big thing. The sailors that would go out of Liverpool on the ships to New York, they would bring back import records of country and jazz and old blues and all kinds of different things. I love American music, and even as a teenager, I suppose I was probably listening to bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and R.E.M., I was probably leaning more toward that than the British bands at the time. I suppose it’s just taste. But what I do has still got a very British sound to it, also. So I think it’s the best of both worlds.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you do a style well.

ROBERT VINCENT: Exactly. And I think that Americana is a very broad church. It could be folk music, or Irish influenced music, because Irish folk influenced American music. I think everything comes full circle, that’s the interesting thing about it. If it hadn’t been for Irish music going over to the States and then turning into bluegrass and everything else it turned into – I think there’s always a way of completing the circle, certainly, with music. That’s all the Beatles were doing with ‘50s American rock and roll, they were just tweaking it and then sending it back in a different way. I think it’s just something that both of our countries do, and is what makes it cool, really. I think once you start looking into the history of it all, it all becomes very interesting, and we start to see that actually, we all put into the pot, so we can all take out of it, too.

Now you have some tour dates over there. Will you also add dates here in America?

ROBERT VINCENT: I’m really hoping I can hook up with one of the U.S. artists over there and do some tour dates. I’d love nothing more than to be able to come over there and do some shows. For the U.K. shows, audiences can expect a full band – essentially the band that played with me on the record. They’ll come out with me on the road. That’ll change, depending on the venue. Some venues can’t cram all six of us on the stage. They’ll be good shows. We always have a good laugh onstage. I always like to joke that with songs as miserable as mine, you’ve got to have a bit of a laugh.

A little levity?

ROBERT VINCENT: Yeah, absolutely! [laughs] With everything you do in life.

In This Town You’re Owned was released on February 14.

 

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