One on One with Seattle’s Own Rocky Votolato

One on One with Seattle’s Own Rocky Votolato

462355_10150768789243291_1945673517_oRocky Votolato, who recently released his critically acclaimed, eighth studio record, Hospital Handshakes, via No Sleep Records. I would best describe it as a beautifully blended masterpiece. It was produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) and includes collaborations from fellow Seattleites Cody Votolato (Rocky’s brother who’s also in the Blood Brothers), Eric Corson (The Long Winters), Andy Lum (My Goodness) and Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens). Definitely worth your time. My favorite tracks right now are “The Hereafter,” “Hospital Handshakes” and “White-Knuckles.”

Rocky is currently touring this summer (shows listed below) in support of the record and will be stopping in Seattle for a show at The Crocodile on August 29th.

Seattle Sound Live had a rare opportunity to talk to Rocky about his tour and the depth of his writing style and a little back history of his career and mostly the creativity behind the new album.

SSL – Hi Rocky, How are you doing?

Rocky – I am doing really really well, I have been on the road for….I guess. …

SSL – the whole year?

Rocky – it’s been weeks now, (Laughing), yeah, this trip has been quite a long one but yeah it feels like they blend together. (laughing)

SSL – well, I was looking at your schedule and you started in January, took a couple weeks off, went back out and then went to Europe and here you are again doing this run, it seems like you are going non-stop.

Rocky – Yeah, Yeah, even back to last October it has been a lot of touring, since I got back to work I felt like I wanted to get out and play and d shows, it’s been going really well.

SSL – And you are touring behind Hospital Handshakes, your 8th studio album?

Listen to Hospital Handshakes New Video

Rocky – Yeah, that’s the new album that’s why I got out to play the new songs for everybody. It’s been great getting back out on the road.

SSL – It definitely looks like you are staying busy.

Rocky – Definitely a little too busy.

SSL – I don’t know how you do it.

Rocky – I am having a good time thou, I don’t feel as worn out as I used to after long runs like this, maybe its experience. Got to know how to pump the brakes when necessary and take care of myself better on tour but I am really grateful and enjoying it.

SSL – I love the acoustic vibe and you are a one man band…

Rocky – That’s what I have been mostly known for, I have had bands back me up in the past off and on but most of the time I just play solo acoustic.

SSL – And this is your 8th studio album, when did you start playing and writing? If you don’t mind me asking.

Rocky – You know, I started pretty young, I was 13 when I got my first guitar and was pretty much writing songs that year. It was around 1999 when my first album came out, I was handing out demos and a girl gave it to some guy in Kanas City Missouri and he called me up and wanted to put out an album, so that’s how it started.

SSL – Wow!

Rocky – Yeah, I just kept making an album a year and I am already up to my 8th record.

SSL – That’s pretty amazing.

Rocky – Very fortunate to be making music this long.

SSL – What are your musical influences?

Rocky – You know for me it started when I was young, I grew up in Texas and I was around a lot of …my dad was in a biker gang.

SSL –Really?

Rocky – Yeah, it’s a little unconventional! He built Harleys and listened to a lot of outlaw country music and that’s what I was around, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Bob Dylan was in there too and Cat Stephens. All of those guys was kind of my initial inspiration when I was young. My uncle would come over and play the Beatles and Dylan covers on an acoustic guitar for us and that is how things started and I was really interested in music. I didn’t really know that I wanted to play music for my life, like what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t until I moved up to Seattle, I started going to shows and seeing bands play. I played shows with Modest Muse, (inaudible) and Pedro the Lion, those kinds of bands that went on to be really successful bands and that’s when I first started out in Seattle and it was a really vibrate music scene. So, that’s how it all came together. As far as musical influences, I was interested into rock music and punk music when I started writing and then on the side, I always had these songs that were coming out singer songwriter orientated and more of the stuff that I play now.

SSL – When I was listening to your music I could tell that you are telling stories, is that coming from your own life experiences or?

Rocky – Yeah, my writing is always reflecting what’s happening in my life or past experiences that I had. So, it’s real honest, I have walked the line of fiction and also mixing in my own experiences to make things interesting and to tell a story in a compelling way. I have to be in the song in some way and to feel invested and to have the feeling behind it. I think that is part of what I consider my artistic integrity. It’s fun to just tell stories too but I have always learned that…I got my degree in English literature from the University of Washington, one of my professors said “write what you know” because if you write what you know you are going to have an authentic voice …if you are just making something up you really don’t know how to even express that. So, it’s always coming from a stronger point if it’s from your actual experience, I think. But, then you can mix things in by using different metaphors and I really love writing that’s how I relate to music and the lyrics are very important to me.

SSL – Well, some say you are a lyrical genius…did you ever think that maybe ….…

Rocky – (laughing) that’s always funny to hear things like that.

SSL –Isn’t that cool? (laughing)

Rocky – (laughing) I mean….I don’t think of myself that way, I just like to write a lot. You know? I think that anybody that loves doing something can become a genius at it. I think we all have the capacity of genius and it’s just a matter of focusing in on what it is you really love and honing your craft with whatever you do and if you do it long enough, you are bound to get good at it.

SSL – That is true, I resonate with what you are saying, just writing with what you feel because then the passion comes through, so….

Rocky – Yeah, it’s easier that way.

SSL – Yeah, it’s kind of hard when you don’t know what you are talking about.

Rocky – Right, you don’t have a point of reference huh?

SSL – So, I listened to some of your older stuff, and I want to get back to “Hospital Handshakes” but, I also listened to the previous album and so forth and I noticed a change in the style maybe…

11913100_1028597443831616_778439605_nRocky –It’s always changing like everything in life, all of my influences and whatever I am exposed to or experiencing in my day goes into the lyrics and into the sound of the music. The new bands that I hear and different things I listen to are all cumulative and it all builds up to wanting to express it in different ways. My life experiences changes and with Hospital Handshakes, I think I was trying too hard to hold onto one kind of style and sound and I felt I needed to fit into this idea of what other people saw me as or something like that, it happens to artists and that is always false, it stops the creative flow.
So with hospital handshakes, it was an explosion of creativity after a period of about a year of not writing anything, because I was being too self-critical and too much of a perfectionist. I had a change of perspective and wrote 30 songs in about a two month period. Like I said a whole year of not writing at all, I just got kind of creatively blocked and I think that came from trying too hard to make it into something, to try to control that process. It’s best to let it flow and have fun with it and that’s why this album crosses over a lot of different genres and I wanted to capture that energy so I went with a louder rock band approach. It seemed most appropriate the way the songs came out in such an explosion of creativity. The producer and I both agreed that we should capture that with something a little more hard hitting. There are songs on there that could have easily fit on my previous albums. So, Handshakes definitely crosses the boundaries more. I think the most important thing to me is that it is authentic and honest and the songs underneath are the foundation.

SSL – I think there is a perfect blend going on.

Rocky – Thank you, yeah, I think so too and I was worried about that a little bit artistically going into it, maybe a little worried if it would all tie together. When it was finished I felt really happy about it, just how it flows and the variety of the record. It still feels like a body of work.

SSL – I listened to most of and I liked it, I did notice a common “death” or “grieving” feel to it

Rocky – Yeah, that’s a common thread, I noticed that even on just this tour, I was picking songs that I had been playing had some reference to that and I think that is just me searching and thinking about reality. I have always been interested in poetry and figuring out what the essence of life is and death is always tied up into that.

SSL – I seen that you played at some mental health places?

Rocky – Yeah, that kind of goes with the title Hospital Handshakes as well, I did play at some mental health hospitals for soldiers, I teamed up with a guy and an organization called with Zero Platoon  that connects musicians and bands with people in the military that struggle with depression and PTSD to help them overcome things they suffer with. Music, I think has a healing power to it and so, I was just paying it forward a little bit and I just wanted to do that as a nice thing and I believe it made sense with the album and to do some of these shows and give something back to those who sacrificed for us.

SSL – I think that was highly appropriate because when I listen to Hospital handshakes, I can see how soothing the music would be to wounded warriors or anyone suffering and that’s dealing with issues and it’s a wonderful way of giving back.

Rocky – Awesome, that’s great I am glad you feel that way too. It seemed like the right thing to do and I am happy I did it. That part of the tour is over now, but it is something that I am proud that I had a chance to do and grateful that I had an opportunity to be involved with.

SSL – What is the living room shows about? I thought that was a neat thing to do as well.

Rocky – That’s another cool idea and thing to do, I got connected and involved with Undertone Music and they basically came up with this idea just playing in peoples living rooms and it’s really great because it just strips away all the distractions and it’s a more organic and intimate way to communicate songs especially the way that I do. I just love playing music for people in that kind of settings.

SSL – That’s cool, I think that is really cool. Will you be doing more of those?

Rocky – Absolutely, I will be doing more next year, after this run I am taking some time off. I am almost done with this leg of the tour.

SSL – So, I know you are almost done with this tour and you plan on taking time off, but you are also working on your 9th album?

Rocky – Yeah, already writing!

SSL – Is there anything special planned for the last stop in Seattle?

Rocky – Yeah, we will have the band with me on the last two shows, Portland and Seattle! I am really looking forward to that and the end of the tour is going to be really special and a lot of energy at those shows.

SSL – Sounds like the perfect send off for your vacation.

Rocky – Yeah, let’s hope so (laughing)

SSL – Well, that’s a rap, it was such a pleasure talking with you, we wish all the success in your music career and take care.

Rocky –Thank you, I really appreciate you getting the word out, Have a great day!!

Rocky Votolato Website
Rocky Votolato Facebook

Remaining Tour Dates
Thu/Aug-20 San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
Fri/Aug-21  Fresno, CA @ Strummer’s
Sat/Aug-22 Ventura, CA @ TBD
Mon/Aug-24 Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room
Tue/Aug-25  Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
Wed/Aug-26 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Fri/Aug-28 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Sat/Aug-29  Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile

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Shanna Torp

Shanna Torp

Shanna is a contributing editor at Rock Paper Rock and the resident interview guru. She is currently the Owner of SLT Social Media Services and is gearing up to finish her BA in marketing.