Dirty Dozen: Ned Roberts

Ned Roberts is a hotly-tipped folk musician, who has drawn comparisons with the likes of Tim Hardin and Leonard Cohen. With a timeless quality to his sound, a poetic turn of phrase, and a perfectly judged vocal sensibility, his songs sit comfortably amongst the classics of the Laurel Canyon era. The highly anticipated new album Outside My Mind is out now on Aveline Records.

Can you tell us about yourself? Where you’re from and what you’ve been up to over the past few years?
I’m a singer-songwriter based in London, and I grew up in the East Sussex countryside. It all started when I picked up the guitar around 18 and taught myself various Dylan songs. At university up in York I began gigging in the many pubs and folk clubs, but it was only after I moved to London I committed fully to songwriting. The past few years I’ve been writing and playing music wherever I can, all around the UK, and to Spain, Germany, France and Italy. I’ve also been out to L.A. to record both albums.

How would you describe your music?
A mellow melodic mix of fingerpicking folk and rootsy Americana. Take a listen, I’m sure you’ll like it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your influences?
It certainly all began with Dylan. My dad bought me the Freewheelin’, Times They Are A Changing, and Another Side Of, when I was 13/14. I confess I didn’t quite know what to make of them at that time, but after a while they really sunk in. I then delved into the electric stuff, the bootlegs, the later years, and so on. Dylan bootlegs and fan culture is quite something. It’s quite fun to peek down the rabbit hole, and you can discover some gems, but you’ve gotta come back up. My mind is full of entirely obscure weird Bob Dylan knowledge I still remember from 15 years ago. From there I explored the other great 60s/70s songwriters, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young etc. More recently I’ve been inspired by Bert Jansch, and more country tinged American songwriters like Dillard and Clark. Perhaps that will be the direction the third album will go. I grew up in a house of piano music, Debussy, Ravel, Liszt, as my father is a classical pianist. But I can’t say that has, consciously at least, influenced my songwriting.

What are you currently promoting?
My second album, Outside My Mind, which is released on 24th March on Aveline records. I recorded it out in L.A. with my producer Luther Russell. It’s very exciting to finally get these songs out there.

Have you got a particular song you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of, one that might define you?
I’ll say Song for the Ending, a 1 and half minute song, with three short verses. It was a rare occasion when I knew precisely what I wanted to express and managed to achieve it with a clarity that often gets diluted in the songwriting process. But if I’m honest, I’d rather put up the album as a whole to define who I am as a musician. Perhaps that’s a cop out, but I love the old idea of the album as a cohesive whole, as more than the sum of its parts. It’s the ebb and flow of different moods and sounds that creates a larger experience. This album defines me at the moment, and it’s certainly the creation I’m most proud of.

What are you currently listening to?
A fair mix of stuff, the new Leonard Cohen, the latest Radiohead, a bit of Gene Clark and Bert Jansch, Young’s On The Beach. I only discovered Rumours a couple of years ago so that’s still on heavy rotation. And a few jazz records we have in the house, Ah Um by Charlie Mingus, and a great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli LP. I’ve also been very much getting into my new label mates new releases, Cactacus by Ruth Theodore and Cosmic Country Blue by The Goat Roper Rodeo Band. It’s great stuff!

And your favourite album of all time, the one you couldn’t do without?
There would be quite a few, but I’ll pick a Dylan album considering that’s how I began. I’ll be conservative and choose Blood on the Tracks. I know the album almost too well these days, but it remains the pinnacle. I love the range of its storytelling, the long rambling third person narratives, the small vignettes, the fury, the introspection, the wry humour. It also marked an entirely different mode of songwriting for Dylan, yet another reinvention to keep his creative mind working.

What are your hopes for your future career?
I hope to simply continue what I’m doing, keep playing, recording, writing. And for my music to find a wider audience.

If money were no object what would be your dream project?
Buy an enormous falling down chateau in the South of France that I spent my summers in a long time ago. The trees are encroaching and the roof is coming down. What I’d do with it then is a mystery. Get all my good friends along, and have a big old party most likely. I’d also put both my records on vinyl, with the spare change.

What’s the best thing about being a musician?
The adventures and the people you meet along the way are certainly a perk. But mainly it’s the act of performing, standing on stage, getting right to the heart of a song, and taking the audience with you. Everything condenses into a single moment. That’s the thrill of it right there.

And the worst?
The pay.

Finally, have you anything you’d like to say to the readers of Americana UK?
Do check out my music! The new album is available from 24th March, and the self-titled debut is out there too. Find me on all the usual places, under Ned Roberts Music. And I hope to see some of you at a gig sometime…

Author: Rudie Hayes

Rudie is the weekly host of the syndicated radio show – The Horseshoe Lounge Music Session – playing the best American Roots and hosting terrific live guests.

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