Robert Hunter Talks About Working With Jim Lauderdale
Robert Hunter Talks About Working With Jim Lauderdale & Their New Album "Patchwork River"
You've collaborated with many of the greatest artists of our time. What is it about Jim Lauderdale that attracts you to working with him?
"Trick is to not collaborate with great artists. Collaborate with the human being who'll be singing the song. What recommends Jim as a collaborator is his deft sense of melody. He can write tunes as fast as I can write the words. This makes it fun, and also exhausting. Couple hours of composing at speed is real work. Then it's always ‘what about this' and he's got one more tune that's kind of hard to leave hanging. But who's complaining?"
How were you first introduced to Jim?
"He sent me a letter in 1999 in what might be the worst scrawl I've ever seen. And it seemed right from the heart, as do all communications with Jim. I said to go ahead and send me a tape, I liked it, and sent him a tape back. ‘Jacob's Ladder' appeared on his next record. In 2000 I went to Nashville for a couple of months and we wrote several albums worth of material. Ever since, Jim stops by when he comes to California and we put in a couple of days writing."
What is the writing process with Jim like? Do you write songs with him specifically in mind, or are these songs culled from your overall songbook and then refined for the specific project?
"Most of the time we write together. He picks a guitar and starts singing a new tune and I generally start writing before he's done. We always have a tape going, so I finish a verse and he takes the page into another room to work on while I finish the lyrics listening to the tape, jockying it back and forth. We can get three or four songs done in a day that way. We have a phenomenal amount of co-written material. Jim uses what he thinks fits well for an album, side-lining a fair amount of the best material for another project."
Patchwork River is a distinctly American Americana album, from the song titles ("Louisville Roll," "El Dorado") to lyrical references (southern Florida and Elvis in "Alligator Alley;" Tennessee and Ohio in "Louisville Roll;" New York City in "Winnona"). Do you write your songs with the American experience in mind, or do those themes evolve naturally?
"Something pops into my head, I write it down, so I guess it evolves naturally. I dust all the critics out of my brain and fly by the seat of my pants. Mix metaphors! There's a certain feeling that songs I write with Jim have that I think are unique. I put my dictionary away and reach down to my own country roots. Also, Jim has a strong sentimental streak and encourages stuff I wouldn't necessarily write otherwise. He's not ashamed to write love songs and I'm not ashamed to try."
You've previously talked about Jim doing it the "slow way" and that he is his "own movie." How do you think modern technology has helped—or hindered—the appreciation and experience of music in our lives?
"The part of music that counts most could be performed in front of our caveman dwellings beating on logs and grunting. Modern tech has made it possible for everyone to make a record. I'm not certain they all should, but..."