From The Archives: RM Hubbert Interview

Earlier this week, Glasgow guitarist RM Hubbert released his second album under his own name, Thirteen Lost and Found. It includes collaborations with Aidan Moffat, Emma Pollock. Alasdair Roberts, Hanna Tuulikki, John Ferguson and more. I spoke to Hubbert and the album’s producer, Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) about the record’s inception, old friends, and Glasgow’s DIY scene for The Quietus and I reviewed last week’s album launch gig for The Herald.

Hubbert gave some clues about the album when I first met and interviewed him, in September 2010, below.

“Gus Am Bris An Latha” by RM Hubbert (w/ John Ferguson)

This feature originally ran in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on 12 October 2010, under the heading BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME.

Glasgow guitarist RM Hubbert has recently performed in a Dundee hothouse, an East Neuk cave and a disused Govanhill swimming pool. He has also appeared in several living rooms, under the banner “will play for food”.

It is this latter ingenious scheme that brings Hubbert – first name Robert, better known as Hubby – to a Bridge of Allan end-terrace on a rainy Thursday evening. In exchange for a home-cooked meal (hold the cucumber), he will come to your house, humour your offspring, compare tattoos with your siblings, and play the sublime acoustic instrumentals that have him earmarked as a singular talent. Little wonder that Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Emma Pollock, Aidan Moffat and Alasdair Roberts all jumped at the chance to collaborate on Hubbert’s forthcoming second album.

He will also tell you stories about how he came to be here. About his father’s death from lung cancer in 2005; about his mother’s sudden passing from a brain aneurism two years later; about his recent marital separation and his long-term chronic depression. About how, were it not for his music, he would be “very ill”.

Not that you’d know it round the dinner table. Hubbert is a congenial, self-deprecating “typical Scottish bloke” who’s been entrenched in Scotland’s DIY music scene since the mid-nineties, and whose bygone post-rock rabble, El Hombre Trajeado, played with the likes of Nick Cave, Sebadoh and – a key figure to Hubbert – Mike Watt (of eighties punk-rock pioneers Minutemen). He’s also been a local promoter, sound engineer, label boss and online innovator. “I’ve wasted most of my life on some aspect or other of the music industry,” he laughs.

El Hombre split up in 2006. (“Ten years together was enough. We were like – we’ve done our Peel Sessions, we’ve toured with Mike Watt. Do you know what? I think we’re done.”) But while Hubbert’s exquisite six-string invocations are laid-back, low-key and melodic, his inherent – and infectious – punk spirit prevails.

True to form, Hubbert runs an ethical DIY record label, Ubisano, with fellow Glasgow indie-pop stalwart John Williamson. They make their own CDs and use recycled packaging; Hubbert even studied the ancient art of Coptic binding (“it’s basically just sewing”) for the book that accompanied his debut album, First and Last, which he released this year on a pay-what-you-wish deal.

Ubisano’s stance is ardently “open source”: Hubbert actively encourages people to copy and share his music (“it’s free distribution for me; it’s better than obscurity”), and to use the content however they wish: they could soundtrack a film with it; they could sample or remix it; they could build on it to make a new song. The only provisos are that they make no money from the adapted work, and that they adhere to the same “creative commons” agreement as Hubbert.

There is punk at the source of his picturesque arpeggios, too. “When my father got really ill, I decided to learn flamenco a way of taking my mind off things,” he says. “I kind of picked it arbitrarily, having never really listened to it, because I knew it’d be really hard. But of course with my obsessive nature, I got totally into the music. It’s very raw and emotive,” he reflects. “It kind of reminds me of punk rock. It’s visceral.”

As he learned these techniques, he began to write music, and to articulate his emotions and experiences therein. “That’s the stuff that ended up on First and Last,” he says. “I really struggled to talk about everything that had happened, and I really needed to talk about it. That was the only way I could to do it.” It is an intense, expressive, intimate record: there is only Hubbert, his guitar, and his breath. It takes a brave man to bequeath such private art to an audience, does it not? “Oh, I never intended to play this stuff live,” he shrugs.

But he did, in November 2008. “The partner of one of my best friends asked me to play a few songs at his 30th birthday party. So I did that, and then the ego took over, and then I remembered it was fun.” He has a hearty laugh. Less than two years on, Hubbert has played understated but compelling shows at the Fence Collective’s Haarfest (alongside Admiral Fallow and Silver Columns), Glasgow Platform’s Eastern Promise (alongside Rachel Grimes and Josephine Foster) and many more.

Upcoming bookings are equally colourful: he’s set to share a bill with Faust and Tarwater as part of Stirling’s final Le Weekend later this week, and then with Errors and King Creosote at Glasgow Arches, for The List’s 25th birthday bash next Friday.

“I’m really looking forward to these dates,” he says, “but I’m cutting down on the ‘normal’ shows.” He tucks into his apple crumble. Then he plays to four of us.

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