HT Interview: Bobby Long Discusses Wishbone

It’s hard to believe just how far Bobby Long has come in the past four years. When we first started covering him back in 2009, we knew he had a powerful voice and a small collection of well-crafted songs, but his biggest claim to fame was the legion of fans that discovered him through his musical contribution to the first Twilight film. While the placement certainly did wonders for his career, we also wondered if it would serve as a musical typecast – if he’d be able to break away from Twilight and strike a chord with a broader audience.

Sure enough, in that short time he’s managed to sign to ATO – the label founded by Dave Matthews and Coran Capshaw that hosts the likes of My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, Primus and Drive By Truckers; complete two full albums and an EP and evolve as a musician. His vocal qualities carry the material, but what a careful listener will notice most over this short time period is the continual reinvention of  the music. What began as mostly singer-songwriter acoustic material has morphed into rock ‘n’ roll replete with distinctive electric guitar licks. Each album in itself is entertaining, but the changes from one to the next are enduring. Here, Long discusses his latest album entitled Wishbone.

Hidden Track: Let’s start out with the recording process. Perhaps you could compare how things played out with this process on Wishbone with how things worked on a Winter Tale, or even before that on your pure solo material.

Bobby Long: Well, this time around we actually had time – more than A Winter Tale at least. I did an EP last year with a backing singer, and we recorded that in about two hours. I like recording fast, but it felt like a nice option to have time on this record where the guys in the band came in for five days and tracked, and then we had an extra week and half afterwards for me to do my work on certain arrangements and stuff like that.

So, it was nice having time. It wasn’t so much time where we felt we were just doing stuff for the sake of it. For the first time ever, I was in the studio where we weren’t rushing to do a certain number of songs in a day.

HT: One thing I’ve noticed having followed your music for a while is the evolution of your guitar playing. It’s come through a lot of periods and styles and really improved. How did you get so good in developing electric guitar licks from your original style of rhythmic, finger picking singer-songwriter tunes?

BL:  When I first started playing guitar, I always really enjoyed playing electric. I was a really big Jimi Hendrix fan as well as Tony Iommi and people like that. So, I was more impressed with the electric when I first started when I about 16, but when I started writing songs on my own and playing acoustic, you have to be more in the pocket.

So, when I first started writing songs for this album, I got more confident that I actually could play guitar quite well – or reasonably well, not great – but I was confident being more expressive. I was also playing electric on everything because we weren’t doing it live and we were doing everything kind of “rock” in a live room tracking straight to tape.

For me it was a confidence thing, because I’ve always had it in me to push myself more, so I got into the finger picking and strumming, which I love and I’m really proud of some of the things I’ve done, but I kind of forced myself to push it and remember that I’m not just that style of guitar player. It felt like really revisiting myself as a 17-year-old, plugging in with a fuzz pedal and going for it a bit more.

HT: On a similar note, this album is probably the most “band” prominent thus far. How do you like the approach of working with a band as opposed to the more solo effort?

BL: It was actually really nice, because it’s great playing with people, but I could also never really be in a band. It’s not the control. I just like being on my own, writing on my own, being up there on my own, and playing on my own. But I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with people. When we did the first record, A Winter Tale, I enjoyed working with Liam Watson too.

But this was really refreshing. We rehearsed in New York a few times just me and the guys who played and they had some really good ideas, hearing a different opinion and some different ways forward with the songs.

It’s a massive difference at the same time when it’s just you and a producer, because then you really have to work and you can’t rely on other people. It’s different though, where if one person’s not feeling the take, it can really bring the whole team down. I really enjoyed it though.

HT: In terms in lyrical material, I was curious if there were one or two songs that you really feel strongly about on the album?

BL: Yeah, on this album, lyrically are some of the same topics that I’ve sung about before like war and death and stuff like that [laughs], but this time I think it was a bit more tasteful on this record and more laid back than ever before. I’m trying to think of some of my favorite lyrics. I found myself on Yesterday Yesterday doing a bit of a commentary on society, which I’ve never done before. I always kind of hated people who did that [laughs], since it’s quite a Bono thing to do, but I quite like how that came out.

There’s a song called Not Tonight, Not Today where I talk about an event, this parade, from when I was a kid. I’ve never done that either, so the lyrics are quite painful and a bit sinful, so I quite like that. It’s a bit different, and I think different is good.

HT: How has the reception to the poetry book been?

BL: That was really good. It can be a bit weird when you put something out like that, trying to get somebody to buy a book of your feelings and thoughts [laughs] in a free form. But it was really good and people are still buying it. I’m really glad I did it.

Almost because of the intensity of that, when I wrote the songs on Wishbone, I was more free medium. I was able to relax into it a bit more. It was great as a project in itself, but it also worked really well for the album as well, because I felt really relaxed lyrically and it helped me push myself.

HT: I know in the past you’ve talked about your folk background, but I just realized that you actually did a whole thesis on it, so I was curious to know what that entailed and what the actual project was about?

BL: I wrote about the connection between folk music and the civil rights movement through people like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan being the voice of dissent in the civil rights movement. It was also talking about how this massive incredible social event kind of brought Martin Luther Kind to Washington, and folk music became the vessel where folk music became the voice of the movement and the protesting. Even with Dylan’s singing, he probably didn’t really want to be thought of as a protest singer, but he was there and his songs seemed to display what everyone else was thinking. It was talking about that really; just trying to capture this rare thing where a form of music brings people together so much.

HT: Have you made a point to play at venues that still exist from that period?

BL: Yeah, I have actually. I love to do that. The places in Greenwich Village and Boston where a lot of the folk singers played, that’s a really important time, so I try to play there.

HT: One other question for you. We were talking about New York a little bit. What have become your favorite places to hang out since you’ve lived here in terms of restaurants or bars or venues?

BL: Oh wow. I just had my favorite pub close down. I knew the owners and I didn’t pay for a drink in there for three years. It was called Local 269. It was kind of a good thing, so now I don’t come in at 3 am four nights a week [laughs]. I go to Iggy’s quite a lot on 73rd street too.

My thing in New York though is just walking around. Three are restaurants and bars I like, but I really love just walking around. I have a dog, so we walk everywhere. We love Central Park.

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