SALON: Joe Boyd on RT

"Nobody knew who the hell Nick Drake was"

Salon: In that original English scene you worked in, the other great talent seems to be Richard Thompson, whom you worked with through the '70s and in the '80s as well. You describe him in 'White Bicycles,' I think, as someone who could play an encyclopedia of different styles and still sound like himself. I wonder if you continued to follow his career since then and how he seems to have developed since you worked with him. Does his playing and songwriting still interest you?

Joe Boyd: Well, in fact, funnily enough, I just had dinner with him the other night in Austin, and I saw him play in London three weeks before, and I think he's playing as well as ever, and I think the new album is terrific. It was interesting, I played the new record, and I was listening to it and thinking, 'Boy, he sounds like he’s having fun.' And then I thought, 'Wow, these songs!' There's a certain, I've found over the years with Richard's songs, sometimes there’s certain genres of songs that he has. There’s a type of ballad and a type of off-tempo rocker, but these sound fresh. He sounds like he's got a new lease on life. He loves his rhythm section I think.

And then the other thing which is really striking, I was thinking to myself, I was just listening to it on my Boise portable in the kitchen, and I just said to myself, 'Wow. It sounds so good. Where did he do this?' He made it on the last great recording medium: the MCI 16-track two-inch. Because that's really - you could say that's where, that was the beginning of the end, where they took a 2-inch tape and they crammed 24 tracks onto it, in the same space that had previously held 16. And the sound of those multitracks going at 24 2-inch is nowhere near as good as 16 track 2-inch. And then you go to digital, and the rest, it's all... doom and gloom.

And so the fact that he went back and did it all analogue, and 16-track 2-inch, boy. You can just tell. If anybody thinks these are just weirdo farts who say 'analogue is a good thing,' you know, listen to that record. Just listen to that compared to an earlier Richard Thompson record done digitally, it just sounds so different. It sounds so much more three-dimensional.

My only frustration with Richard was that I think he has the talent and the sensibility to go into any culture and conquer, and just do something amazing. I tried years ago to get him to come with me to Morocco and make a record with Moroccan musicians. And you know, he’s like, 'Ehhhh, just like Ry Cooder and all them.' He sort of doesn't want to be the copycat. And yet I think he more than any of the other sort of Western white guy - I mean, which is not to say that I don't appreciate Paul Simon and David Byrne and Ry Cooder and what they've done - but I think Richard could have done something really extraordinary and still can. But he's just throwing himself into some other completely different context.

Scott Timberg, Salon