americana uk interview

americana uk interview

No stranger to wide open spaces, Robert James Selby has been drawing inspiration from the fells and dales of his native Yorkshire since he could escape out of the house. A schoolboy in thrall the our finest Romantic poets, this Byronic youth soon took the path of the troubadour and headed off around Europe, discovering Baudelaire and Rimbaud, bunking down on couches during the day and plying his trade in various dens of iniquity at night.

The results of his travels can be found on debut album Scrap-Book Ballads Vol 1, released in the summer on his own Grasmere label. With a bulging address book that includes the likes of Jarvis Cocker, The Guillemots’ Fyfe Dangerfield and Carl Barat of The Libertines, it won’t be too long before young Mr Selby can afford a couch of his own!

1. Tell us about yourself and what you do?
Well I’m that old cliché of a singer-songwriter, but as [producer] Mr Richard Jungles would say, if they weren’t cliché, they wouldn’t use ‘em!  I’d say I was a songwriter before anything, before a guitarist or singer or kazoo player and last but certainly not least a dedicated drunk. I like to think of myself from that old poetic troubadour ilk.

2. How did you start out?
I started out by locking myself in my bedroom when I was 16 for a month on a healthy supply of amphetamines and guitar chord books. I wrote about fifty songs. Some of ‘em I even remembered. Wasn’t too long after when I packed up and left home really. I’ve had numerous bands all over the UK and also travelled round Europe playing and writing. The best thing I ever did was pick up a pen, the second best thing I did was pick up a guitar.

3. What is your current release?
My current release is part of a mass collection of songs I’ve gathered throughout the years that I kept in a few scrap-books. The only possessions really never to be lost. So I just called it Scrap-Book Ballads Vol 1. My next release will probably Scrap-Book Ballads Vol 2 although I am doing a lot of collaborating. I was always obsessed with the penny ballads sellers on the streets of London and the poetry book entitled Lyrical Ballads, so that name was a given for me.

4. What is the best part of being a singer-songwriter?
The best part about being a songwriter is knowing you don’t have to try and force a song. I’m confident enough now just to let them come naturally. But when that muse flies over, if I’m there that day to arrow its wings and nail it down, that makes me happy. Knowing I was there to grab the song. ‘Cos otherwise some other idiot could have caught it and messed it up.

5. What is your most significant moment yet?
Probably having ‘fans’ – for want of a better word – contact me and say ‘I’ve took a pilgrimage to Chatterton’s grave or the lake district because of your song”, because you’re actually adding to the beautiful romanticism and in a small way at least tending the flame. I just feel sorry for people ending up stuck up a mountain or somewhere like Bristol and blaming it all on my song. But those things to me outdo any gigs or meeting famous folks or having your song on radio. 

6. What are your biggest musical influences?
The ones I wear so obviously on my sleeve, all the great ones: Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan, Bert Jansch, Beatles, Donavan, Van Morrison, Kate Bush,  Shane Macgowan.  But I do love the 90s likes of Stone Roses. Ian Brown and John Squire are real poets. And all the romantic poets are an obvious influence. All the beat poets, But then again so is Jeremy Brett in the Sherlock Holmes series and random homeless people I speak to and steal drinks for.

7.  What venue/gig do you most want to play?
Shea stadium.. but really….. probably would have loved to have been around the Greenwich Village scene just before Bob Dylan got there. All the best realistic venues have been closed, I mean even the realistic London basement bars of Soho where music mattered, the kind of places you don’t see day light and where you’re not told to empty your pockets before you go in. But I do believe I’m a troubadour, I turn up with me and my guitar and play in a train station if need be. The performer should make the venue, not the other way round.

8. What is your best/favourite song you have written?
I can’t start having favourites or the others will riot or even worse, leave home.

9. What’s your favourite album of this year?
Probably Noel Gallagher’s album… ‘cos he’s as rich as any lad from Burnage is gonna get, but he’s still writing great songs, he’s obviously for real. The jury’s no longer out. I can’t wait to get the new Dylan album. Mine’s a good start as well. There’s not a lot that I get to hear about, there’s just so much stuff to avoid at all cost at the moment. I don’t want to pollute the pool I’ve worked so hard to fill with genius like Dylan and Lennon. The last thing I want to do is start listening to a Bieber album.

10. What does the next six months have in store for you?
Couple of inner city festivals and recording another batch of my songs. Already started Scrap-Book Ballads Vol 2.as far as my kazoo playing, I’m going to buy a blue and a green one. And also try to drink after six or five.

11. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I don’t know where I’ll be, simply because of my existence and personal beliefs. I just hope my songs are more recognised and whatever happens I hope people can turn around and say, well he actually did write some really good fucking songs.

12. What’s the best thing about Americana-UK?
Probably the UK bit, but I’ve heard America is alright too. I’m grateful for you helping with the album. It’s not exactly straight outta the Appalachian mountains, but it is an honest bunch of songs and I’m glad you heard them the way they’re supposed to be. It’s important, like all good things, that only the real ones stick around and Americana UK is one of the few… so I wish you all the luck in the world .. all my lovin’, Roberto x

 

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