Q&A December 2011, Part I
1/8/2012 (updated 1/8/2012)

Re: Paperback Writer
In a previous answer you listed "Paperback Writer" as you favorite Beatles single. Waiting in line before some of your shows through the decades I've heard you play that song in soundcheck on a number of occasions. Is there something about that song that allows you to test acoustics or is it just a cool song to play? Also, have you ever played it live with the band? Tom Morrissey - Riverside, Illinois

I don't recall playing it at soundchecks too often - it's not really in my key. I just think it's a great bit of 3 minute pop music. I'm also fond of Hey Jude and I Am The Walrus, and many others. Never played it live.

I read in the New York Times about "Louche Luxe." Is this a new persona, like Alan Partridge or Ziggy Stardust? Will we see more Luxe in the future? Pam

Oh, those trendy fashion people, what will they say next. They took a lot of good pics, and printed about the worst one, as far as I can tell. To see a true fashion icon, check out my niece:

When you stopped taking your Martin OOO-18 on the road, what attracted you to Lowden guitars? Did George Lowden approach you? Or did you simply see one in a guitar shop (e.g., McCabe's) and fall in love with it?

Steven from the Guitar Center in Washington DC brought a Lowden down to the Wolftrap PAC, and I tried it backstage, and fell in love. My Martin 00018 is a great guitar, but a bit fragile for touring.

You've been famously critical of your singing early in your career (Henry the Human Fly being an example), quipping that your range is "half an octave." And yet, vocal performances such as "A Love You Can't Survive" suggest that you have far better vocal chops than you give yourself credit for. When did you develop confidence as a singer? How long did it take you to find your optimum range? (Though you're a baritone, it seems that you're most comfortable reaching for notes in the tenor range.)

I've answered questions here before about me as a singer, so I'll be brief. I think I do okay these days vocally. As you point out, I'm a high baritone, or a low tenor, like an awful lot of people. The same notes sound different with different singers - I can sing as high as Roy Orbison, but the resemblance ends there.

Given all of the projects competing for your attention - writing new songs for the next band record, preparing for all-request shows and future 1000 Years show, other special projects such as COS and Frets and Refrains, plus occasional session work (not to mention just practicing) - how do you prioritize where you expend all your creative energy?

I go with what seems interesting at the moment, and I often work on different songs and different projects at the same time. If there are deadlines, then all that changes, obviously, and I have to go with the most pressing thing.

After your recent Town Hall show I remarked to Simon that "Richard keeps getting better," an assessment with which he agreed wholeheartedly. The truth is, compared to many musicians of your generation whose best work is behind them yet who enjoy the wealth and lavish lifestyles associated with mainstream commercial success, you've had to be more prolific simply to earn a living making music on your own terms. You keep pushing yourself to break new ground musically and, in the process, raise the bar on your own high standards. Where does this intense drive come from? Is there a strong connection between your need to "bring home the bacon" and your prolific creative output? Would you be just as driven if you were as well heeled as, say, Eric Clapton or Keith Richards?

My main driving force is enjoyment of the processes. There are a few demons too, I'm sure. It would be fun to find out how driven I would be if I were rich and famous. I'd be willing to submit myself to a 15 or 20 year test period.

As a fellow World War II buff, I am curious to know your favorite war film, be it WWII or otherwise. Have you seen any of the Spielberg-Hanks oeuvre, including Saving Private Ryan and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers or The Pacific, and if so, what was your impression? Or, do you prefer war films that center around the British Army, RAF, and Royal Navy, e.g., Bridge on the River Kwai? As always, Richard, thank you for answering my queries! Cheers, Douglas Alan Feinstein - NYC

I love war films, and probably WW2 is my favourite era. Why do I find them so satisfying? Well, Nazis are the perfect bad guys - arrogant, strutting, and destined to lose in the end. And culturally to feel you're on the winning side, and good triumphs over evil is pretty reassuring. I liked the first 40 minutes of Private Ryan, and people who were there on Omaha Beach commented that it was the best representation they had seen of live combat. After that it got rather flag-waving and sentimental, and the dialogue was nonsense - soldiers don't talk like that, NCOs don't talk like that, and officers don't talk like that. Band Of Brothers was very good, given a few of the above reservations. Full Metal Jacket and Hurt Locker both seemed more realistic overall. I've watched the Great Escape about 10 times, ditto The Longest Day. A Bridge Too Far, Kelly's Heroes, Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and anything with submarines, Das Boot and We Dive At Dawn being the finest.