Robyn Hitchcock, British Psychedelic folk troubadour, iconic cult figure, and self-proclaimed “prophet of the unconscious,” with his partner, Australian Americana songstress Emma Swift -- now both based in Nashville -- have just released a new double A-sided 45, “Love is a Drag”/”Life is Change,” on their own Tiny Ghost label.
The Hitchcock/Swift single, their second, was recorded in Kitchener, Ontario, about an hour outside of Toronto. It was produced by Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, at his studio. Both songs were co-written while they “were living on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom,” Swift told me. “It was the middle of winter. It was very isolated, and it was cold.” When I asked Hitchcock about the origins of the song, Hitchcock replied, “I would have brought the first line or two to Emma, probably … and form a beginning, yeah. That’s all I can be sure about either of them, really.”
Both songs have a glacial feel, although, according to Hitchcock, it was recorded in July. “It was warm, and there were mosquitoes, and we were swimming in his pool, and it was all very serene,” he said.
I told each of them I was surprised by “Love is a Drag,” which sounded like it might be a humorous song, or possibly an uncomfortable one, but I found it to be a very fragile one. “It’s all emotion, this song, all feeling,” Swift told me. “It’s not necessarily clever or wistful, it’s just a stark, emotional piece, I think.”
“What’s nice, actually, is they were both songs that we sang all the way through, like the Everly Brothers,” according to Hitchcock, “but when we actually recorded ‘Love is a Drag’ with Norman, it turned out much better with Emma singing what was originally the harmony line as a lead line. I think that’s what gives it its fragility, and also some dynamics.”
The Beatles and Neil Young
When I suggested “Life is Change” was inspired by early solo John Lennon, and Neil Young’s "On The Beach" album, with a dash of Yoko Ono’s minimalist poetry sprinkled in, Swift agreed. “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, there. I think it’s a Lennon-esque meditation from someone who’s been listening to a lot to Neil Young’s "On the Beach," and also writing songs for 50 years, in Robyn’s experience. For me, I came in and most of my contributions were lyrical and arrangement-wise, really. There was a line in the song that Robyn already had there that I really love, ‘You jumped in the air and kissed my brain.’ That’s what made me want to help flesh out the song.”
“I’m sure all of those characters are in there, in some way,” Hitchcock concurred. “It is one of those chord sequences, the way it starts. The diminished chord in there -- which I think is the second one -- is very solo John or solo George, yeah … You can kind of imagine a mournful demo that John or George would have done … (laughs) that the other Beatles would have all thrown out! ‘Cause this was when they were solo …” Humorously acting as an ex-Beatle, Hitchcock went off: “‘I know this is a good song, really …’ and all of their mates say, ‘Of course it is! It’s that bastard Paul who doesn’t want to do it!’ ‘Who’s a bastard?’ ‘Paul!’ ‘Who do we hate?’ ‘Paul!’ Yeah. So you can just say that ‘Life is Change’ was rejected by Paul McCartney, absolutely. It wound up on our record instead.”
Although Swift and Hitchcock tour together, and share the stage near the end of their shows, they maintain separate careers. Swift expects to start recording her new album next year, while Hitchcock’s is almost ready to go. “I think you and other long term aficionados will like it. You know, it should tick a lot of vintage boxes," Hitchcock told me, laughing,"like there’s a lot of vintage boxes, lying around, waiting to be ticked!” It should be out on Yep Roc by late March.
“Love is a Drag”/”Life is Change” is available now from Robyn Hitchcock’s official website, or at stops on their current tour. #RobynHitchcock #TheBeatles #Music