Smile Politely

Rocky Votolato

This Saturday, folk singer Rocky Votolato will be stopping by Mike ‘n’ Molly’s in Champaign on his tour supporting his new album, Television of Saints. Votolato made time in his hectic tour schedule to talk with us about the tour, the album, and his songwriting process. You can check out that interview below and you can see Votolato, with opening band CALLmeKAT, play Saturday night at 10 p.m.

Smile Politely: Hey, how are you doing?

Rocky Votolato: Good, thanks, how are you?

SP: Good, thanks for making time for this. Seems like you’ve been very busy the past few months with your tour.

Votolato: Yeah, been doing a lot of traveling, a lot of shows. I’m rolling down the highway right now, heading to Columbus, Ohio for my show tonight.

SP: Has it been a good tour in support of your new album?

Votolato: Yeah, it’s been great.

SP: Have you been able to do anything other than perform on this tour?

Votolato: Not really [laughs]. It’s a really tight schedule, so usually there’s not a lot of time for sightseeing, unfortunately. I’ve been through the country enough that I’ve had my share of sightseeing. So, I don’t mind it too much.

SP: Was your schedule this tight overseas as well?

Votolato: It was a little better over there because of the size of the countries. The drives aren’t anywhere near as long. This tour, in particular, is short to do the entire country. I used to take about seven weeks to get around the U.S., but this time I’ve just got five-and-a-half weeks.

SP: Was there a reason you shortened it?

Votolato: We were trying to get done in time for summer so we can work out a summer tour plan.

SP: What have you been doing on this tour? Are you touring with other musicians or is it just you and your guitar?

Votolato: Just me and my guitar, doing this one totally solo.

SP: I’ve seen you play before with just your guitar; is that how most tours go for you?

Votolato: Yeah, I did a band tour the last time I went through the U.S. I’ve gone back and forth, but I’ve always liked doing solo more than doing a band tour. I don’t know why. Maybe I haven’t found the right guys or something, but I feel like my show – my songs – are best suited to that format.

SP: You recorded your latest album with some family members. Would it be just too hectic traveling with them?

Votolato: [laughs] They all have lives and other musical projects, things going on. Getting our schedules to sync up would be too difficult. It’s super fun to work with those guys though.

SP: Have you had a chance to work with people you’re related to on past albums?

Votolato: This is the first time I’ve had them be as involved as they were. That was really, really cool. My little brother, Cody, was in a band called Blood Brothers and has been touring with Telekinesis the last few years; he just happened to be in town. I’ve had him record on a song or two in the past, but he was really involved with a lot of this record. My older brother Sonny also played and it was really cool. I was really happy we could all work together. It’s fun to open up the liner notes and see all of our names together.

SP: This is your first album you’ve self-released. What was that process like? Was it more enjoyable for you?

Votolato: You know, everything you do comes with pros and cons [laughs]. There were certain aspects that were easier because I got to make all of the decisions, so it was what I wanted to do then it was done. But other things, like dealing with the manufacturing and what labels have done in the past, made it more complicated for me. So, overall it’s been awesome – doing Kickstarter and being able to fund the album that way – but there are some things I miss having the label do. It’s like anything in life, you take the good with the bad and I’ve been having fun doing things this way.

SP: Do you feel like the album you came up with is more authentic than your others?

Votolato: I wouldn’t say that. I feel like it’s very authentic, more so than others. My fourth album, Makers, I got the same feeling about, where I felt like I got exactly what I want from the songwriting and the audio-technical recording aspects as well. This one, I feel, was the easiest to get there. I was the only one really producing it and deciding how that vision would come together.

SP: Was the songwriting process easier for you this time?

Votolato: If anything I feel like it was probably more difficult [laughs]. I started writing the record about a year-and-a-half ago. I ended up recording it twice; part of the problem was in the songwriting. I felt like that first version didn’t have the songs I wanted, and also production. The way I approached the record was much more push-pull instrumentation and a full band approach. I wanted to rethink that and go back to a simpler, less-is-more vibe. That is what I think I do best, and those are the albums I’ve been happiest with. I wrote more songs in that process from rethinking the album. Then I rerecorded it. To answer the question, it’s always a challenge. I’m my toughest critic and I have really high standards for what I’ll allow to go on my record, in terms of the song writing. It can take a while and be a brutal editing and rewriting process.

SP: You said you wrote this over a year and a half. How long would you say you spend on a single song?

Votolato: That usually is only a day or two, the process of it. I just write a lot of songs, then once it’s written it could be six months of going back, looking at one line to make it right. There’s a lot of tweaking, changing the structure, that kind of stuff. A lot of that happens during the recording process, too. It’s different for every song. The ones I like the most are the ones I write in half an hour [laughs]. It’s kind of strange. The majority of the idea will be there really quickly; it’s coming from some unnamed source of inspiration or whatever. Then I’ll take that and continue to work on it until I feel like it’s really worth recording.

SP: On this tour, are you mostly just playing Television of Saints songs?

Votolato: Um, I’m not just playing the whole album. I figure, because it just came out, people need time to get acquainted with all of the new songs. I know some artists do it that way, and that’s cool too, but my approach is to perform a mix of my favorite songs from all of my records.

SP: You’ve got a lot of albums. Are there any songs that aren’t your favorite to play, that you’ve gotten sick of at this point?

Votolato: [laughs] Yeah, there’s quite a few of those. After making seven records there are a lot that I used to play but just got tired of playing. It’s interesting, the ones that still resonate with me I think always will. I’ve done so many shows; I’ve been playing about 200 shows a year for the past few years. So I’m looking for something timeless and classic in my songs, that doesn’t get old. There’s hopefully something underlying in the song that makes it universal so I can keep going back to it and keep playing it.

SP: Those are the questions I had. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about before your stop in Champaign?

Votolato: No, that’s it man. I’m looking forward to playing Champaign.

You can catch Rocky Votolato with CALLmeKAT tomorrow night at Mike ‘N Molly’s. Show starts at 9 p.m.

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