Q&A July 2013, Part III
8/7/2013 (updated 8/7/2013)

As a songwriter who has never played in a band (and is very insecure about it) I wonder if being a solo performer all one's musical life puts one at a disadvantage musically? I am guessing that playing with a rhythm section imposes a certain musical discipline on the solo player. What do you think?

Always playing solo isn't a terrible thing, but it closes you to some useful and fulfilling musical possibilities. I think kids and adults tend to learn music faster in any kind of group context - this is born out by most people's experience of Frets And Refrains as a kind of sharing musical community. Arguably the two most important things you learn from playing in a group are:

Listening to others. Playing with other instruments means (or should mean) listening to what everyone else is doing, and fitting your own playing into that as a piece of the jigsaw. This then changes the way you play as a soloist.

Time. Some perpetual soloists like Loudon Wainwright have great, steady timekeeping. Others get used to not having to refer to anyone else, and so their timing can be elastic, which is good in some contexts, and not so good in others. On a song where you have to lay down a pulse and keep it there, people will notice if it wanders. Group time keeping tends to be a lot steadier (unless everyone is following a bad drummer). If you tend to be a solo performer, some time spent with a metronome/drum machine can be time well spent.

How did you enjoy playing large venues on the Americanarama tour? Was it by all measures a satisfying and successful venture for the RT3? Did you have any interesting interactions with Mr. Dylan? Did you like his rendition of VBL?

We really enjoyed the tour. The downside was that we opened the shows, going on at 5:30 to audiences still trickling in. The upside of that was that I got to sit in with Wilco most nights, to a full house. One of the aims of doing that type of tour is to reach new listeners, and I think we did that. I missed Bob's version of Vincent - our bus had to start rolling soon after our set that night - but I did get to meet Bob and we had a nice chat.

July 5 Noblesville IN - Klipsch Music Center
RT on stage with Wilco. Photo by Jeremy Roth.

Do you alter your approach to performing when you're playing a large outdoor venue? Do you think there's a fundamental difference between the way one plays to a large (10,000+) crowd as opposed to, say, a 800-1,200-seat theatre?

There is a huge difference between playing a club and playing a stadium, and some acts have really built their style on reaching the back row of a 50,000 seater sports arena. This can make the music seem bombastic, overblown and over-simplified when it moves to another context, like a record or a smaller venue. We lack that particular skill, and tend to play the same way in different sizes of venue.

You must be pleased with Chris Froome winning the Tour de France, a year after Bradley Wiggins won it. If you factor in Cavendish and Millar, one could say British cycling has come to the fore. Did you happen to catch the TDF on TV between gigs? Twice over Alpe d'Huez on Stage 18? Insane! Thank you, Richard. Cheers, Doug

These are golden times for British sport, and the cycling has been a big part of the successes of recent years. I feel quite proud…although stage 18 made me feel very old. After going over the handlebars and landing on my nose a couple of years ago, I now ride mostly 'Dutch' style - there are no hills on the cycle path on Santa Monica beach.

I have a question for Richard: Have you ever visited Graceland? If so, was it before or after writing "From Galway to Graceland"? What did Elvis mean to you, if anything, when you started playing music and what do you think of him now? Steven Hirsch

I've never been there. I'm probably afraid of being massively disappointed. I tend to enshrine young, Sun Studio Elvis, and ignore fat, Las Vegas Elvis, and I fear Graceland will hold too much of the latter. I enjoyed the Sun Studio tour, because it was all of the former. Because I've never been to Graceland, some descriptions in the song are clearly wrong. I loved Elvis when I was growing up, along with Buddy, Gene, Little, Chuck, Bo, Eddy and Jerry Lee. If Elvis was the king of rock and roll, it was only up until the army, when he clearly abdicated, and took the Dean Martin pills. According to Jerry Lee's mother, Chuck Berry was the king of rock and roll.



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