Interview: RM Hubbert in his own words

The revered Glasgow guitarist explains how music brought him therapy

Solo work and how it began
'I decided when my dad got ill I needed something to take my mind off things. So I decided kind of arbitrarily to learn flamenco guitar. I’d never played acoustics but I thought, "That looks really fucking hard". I don’t think I’d ever really heard flamenco music. It was very complex and very aggressive and it sounded like punk music to me. But it’s also very technically challenging. Even just understanding the rhythms in the first place is difficult.

So I started doing that. I basically spent two years just doing technical exercises, just doing it to take my mind off things, not actually writing any music. My mother died two years after that, very quickly and I was really, really struggling to communicate clearly, to my then wife and the people around me so I kind of found just going away and playing the guitar to be quite therapeutic.

Flamenco and First & Last
I found that while I was doing these little exercises that I was adding in these melodies that weren’t flamenco so I then decided to start writing these wee pieces of music each month just as a wee outlet or a catharsis and I just started using some of those little bits I’d been using in the technical exercises. So that’s why, First & Last is mostly based around flamenco structures. It’s because most of the songs are based on technical exercises I was doing, or some that I made up myself. I get slightly nervous when people call it flamenco though. It’s not. It’s based on it and I use the techniques, but people who are into flamenco would be appalled if someone called what I do flamenco. I wanted to take those melody structures and do them myself.

The only musical rule I gave myself for that record – although I didn’t know it was going to be a record at that point – is that I wasn’t allowed to overdub anything, it had to just be me and the guitar. I started off using a loop pedal but it wasn’t great. But after I ditched that I basically decided that if I want a bass line in the song I have to figure out how to play the bass line over it and if I want percussion in the song I have to figure out how to play the percussion on top of the melody.

Communicating with the crowd
The reason I go out and play is more to do the talking than it is to play the guitar, because it is a catharsis, it makes me feel better. That’s the reason I play so often, it’s not for any career-motivated reasons. I go out and it makes me feel better. I didn’t really do the talking so much at the start but once I started I realised it was much easier to talk to a room full of strangers about this stuff than it was to talk to my friends and family, even though my wife would’ve been in the crowd or whatever, it was much easier to do that. And it made it a little easier to talk about stuff that I just wasn’t talking about that was causing some major problems at that time. And as I’ve gone on doing it, it’s interesting because the stories change; what those pieces mean, changes. But that’s life. I can now talk about in the past tense because I recorded that record about two and a half years ago. It’s interesting to me that you can’t really do that with music with vocals. The story doesn’t change for them, the vocals stay the same.

The idea behind Thirteen Lost and Found
I had a much more general idea about this record. Having had really bad depression for about five years, I’d lost contact with loads of people, basically with all of my friends, I had shut myself away. Even before that, it’d probably been about ten years since I’d actually been out and about on a regular basis. I mean, the El Hombre stuff was very sporadic during the last 3 or 4 years so I had this idea that it might be easier to go into a studio to write music with old friends. It’d be easier to go in and do that than to sit down and say ‘so what have you been up to for ten years?’ I thought seeing as how doing the solo stuff had made it much easier to make connections with people in the room while I was playing… so that’s what I kind of crave from it, it’s that connection you get with people, and you get that more with people through the talking than you do with the music.

So I’d had this idea that it’d be really great to reconnect with this people, and it seemed like a logical step that if we wrote music together it would make it easier to reconnect our friendship while we were doing it. I’ve known all of them for a long time, there’s some newer friends I’ve only met recently. It’s maybe people I haven’t seen for 9 or 10 years, even though we’ve known each other for a long time, because I didn’t really go out so much or keep in touch with people. So that was the idea. I deliberately approached it in the way that I didn’t write any music in advance for it. So the first meeting was almost a six hour rehearsal session.

Whatever we had at the end of that was basically what we ended up with. We would refine it a little bit or whatever but the idea was to capture that reconnecting bit, trying to document that moment where it clicked again. Which makes for a really stressful record-making process! Before I started recording I started working with Chemikal Underground so I was sitting down for the first meeting with them and they were like ‘so what’s this new record about?’ Well… I can tell you what it’s about, I can’t tell you what it’s going to sound like! I have no idea what it’s going to sound like because it’s going to sound like getting to know these other people, so they were really nervous!

RM Hubbert - Frost and Fire

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