First Words and Last Thoughts of an Artist

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Jean-Xavier Boucherat talks with long-standing Glasgow institution RM Hubbert about Flamenco and Open Source.

Glasgow’s ‘DIY Ethos’ has existed in various shapes and forms for at least twenty years now. RM Hubbert has seen an awful lot of this since his days in the endlessly creative math-rock outift El Hombre Trajeado, who in their time played with the likes of Deerhoof, Nick Cave and Malcolm Middleton. The group was laid to rest in 2004, but they have since made all their records available for download on bandcamp, with the option to name your own price, like you did for In Rainbows all those years ago.

In the mean time, Hubbert’s been stupidly busy with various projects, most recently the 7-piece guitar-only improv group Burghead, but the last couple of years have seen his solo project take some precedence. In that time, Hubbert has recorded an achingly honest debut album, collaborated endlessly, played in various kitchens as part of his ‘Will Play for Food’ scheme, and is about to embark on a European tour supporting Mogwai. We caught up with him to talk about music, Glasgow, and The Man (that is, the one who grinds you down).

You’ve been going solo for a couple of years now, usually equipped with just the guitar. Is this a more fragile arrangement? What’s the biggest advantage to it?

It’s certainly a more convenient arrangement! Doing solo, instrumental acoustic guitar makes it very easy to do shows in more unusual spaces. Makes touring a lot simpler too. That’s not the reason I do it though. I started writing the solo pieces as a way to help deal with my inability to communicate clearly in any other way about my depression. As the subject matter was so personal, I felt uncomfortable getting other musicians involved.

Tell us about your decision to make largely instrumental music. Where does the flamenco influence come from?

I’ve been making mostly instrumental music for the last 16 years or so, first with El Hombre Trajeado then as RM Hubbert. I’ve always liked the way that the listener can imprint his or her own meaning onto instrumental music, with that narrative changing over time. It’s much more difficult to achieve that with lyrics. Learning flamenco was actually a fairly arbitrary choice; I needed something to take my mind off things when my father was dying. I figured that flamenco would be a hard thing to learn.

You were recently signed to Chemikal Underground; How did you feel about this? Being Glasgow-based, would it be fair to say it’s pretty significant for you?

I was really happy to join Chemikal Underground. I’ve known them all since before the label even existed and think that what they have managed to do over the last 16 years is nothing short of amazing. They are still a DIY label at heart and that is important to me. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been at all interested in signing to a label other than them.

Do you think your music reflects the fact you’re Glasgow-based at all?

Not particularly, to be honest. I don’t think that there is a discernible ‘Glasgow sound’ right now. This is a good thing.

You’ve made most of your material freely available, with the option to contribute to the artist, explaining on your website that ‘Obscurity is a far greater threat to artists than piracy’. Tell us about that decision. How would you explain it to someone who might be looking to make millions off of their releases?

It actually started more as curiosity. I have been interested and involved in the Open Source software movement for a long time and was very interested in how those principles might translate to music. I started a label called Ubisano with my friend John Williamson and we released First & Last as an experiment in doing things this way. It has worked well for us so far. We found that in the majority of cases, when people are given the choice to pay what they want for music they will actually pay more to support the artist. To put in simple terms, we made more money and distributed the album more widely than we would have done if had followed a traditional model.

As for someone that in making millions off of music, my advice is to become a plumber instead. Those fuckers are loaded.

Do you consider this an act of defiance against ‘The Industry’? Or more of a withdrawal?

Not defiance, just indifference. The traditional music industry model simply doesn’t work without spending a lot of money up front and even then it’s rare to break even, let alone make money.

Last December you supported GY!BE, having supported Silver Mount Zion previously. Tell us about that. How did you feel about the re-union?

I had a great time playing with both of them, they are all really cool, welcoming people. As were their audiences I might add. Playing the Barrowlands for the first time was pretty incredible too. It was the last thing I had to do on the little list that I had made in my head when I first started making music. The 16 year old me was happy about that.

I saw Godspeed a few times that week and all I can say is that it was never forced and easily as good as the first time round.

Are there any Glasgow-based artists you’re particularly excited about just now?

I think that Glasgow is having a really inspired time right now. Some of my favourites, in no particular order are Remember Remember, Yahweh, Happy Particles, Correcto, Trapped in Kansas, Campfires In Winter, The Ballad Of Mable Wong, Human Don’t Be Angry, Aidan Moffat, Stevie Jones, Alasdair Roberts, The Unwinding Hours, The Phantom Band, Make Love, Finn LeMarinel, iSSHO Taiko Drummers, Tattie Toes, Divorce & Gummy Stumps. Plus many, many more.

Visit www.rmhubbert.com for links to all of Hubbert’s releases, many of which you can name your price for. Hubbert is headlining a show at the Arches on the 26th of this month, along with Finn Marinel. Tickets are available from Monorail, as are hard copies of Hubbert’s releases.