Interview: Americana UK favourite Robert Vincent reflects on his recent multiple awards

Americana UK favourite Robert Vincent on a UK view of americana and his appreciation of his UK fans.

Robert Vincent is a great favourite of Americana UK, and if anyone had any doubts about this statement they were obliterated when he picked up the Best UK Artist and Best UK Album in the 2020 Readers Poll.  His popularity is clearly not limited to the website as he also pulled off the same feat at the AMAUK Awards in January 2021. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson met up with Robert Vincent over COVID secure Zoom, though given that they were barely 5 miles apart in Merseyside they could nearly have shouted at each other. They discussed the next phase of Robert Vincent’s career, what it meant to him to have Americana UK readers vote for him, his love of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters and dealing with COVID restrictions. Robert Vincent also gave his clear view on what constitutes americana and the influence Glyn Johns and his son Ethan Johns have had on the genre. On a practical level, he also gave details on what Brexit means for musicians planning to tour Europe.

How are you? I hope both you and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of COVID?

It is just a matter of accepting it and getting on with it really, you can only do what you can do so there is no point getting fed-up about it.

Are you getting bored of winning awards? ‘AMAUK awards for ‘In This Town Your Owned’ UK Album of the Year, UK Artist of the Year and Album of the Year 2018 for ‘I Will Make The Most Of My Sins, and Americana UK Readers Poll awards for Best UK Artist and Best UK Album for ‘In This Town You’re Owned’’?

Haha, it is great because I was blown away to get Americana UK’s award as well because it was the reader’s poll. That really meant a lot because while it is great to get the music industry recognition, all it really boils down to for me is when real people make their views known on what they are listening to and what they like. That was a great one for me, to be honest. I’ve been involved with AMAUK for 5 or 6 years, and I really wasn’t expecting to get anything out of that because I was up against fantastic competition.

It was a tough year this year, wasn’t it?

It really was, yeah. Emily Barker, Yola, Laura Marling and Hannah White, who is really coming on now and people are really digging what she is doing. I kind of sort of saw myself as a big outsider there and I am happy to take the award, I am made up and over the moon with it.

You don’t get awards like those for nothing though, do you?

No, that’s true and I think strangely, one of the things is that obviously, the album is something people have been listening to and they have connected with this album in ways that maybe they haven’t before. It could be people have had more time to sit and listen with the pandemic and everything and take music in differently, but me kind of reaching out more on the live side of things doing Live Streams from home on Facebook and little Zoom gigs and stuff, I think has really opened up the audience for me. I think this could have tipped me over the edge with Artist Of The Year as I think it kept me in everyone’s consciousness and it has kept me going. Those types of things, for me, have been big reasons why I probably got those awards. It has been a strange year but you have to take the positives, you know.

That is interesting because I think your album has been out for a year and therefore pre-dated COVID.

It was released on 14th Feb 2020, which seems crazy actually, because that year just seems to have flown by for me. It is crazy to even be talking about that because there was so much to the build-up. We finished the album in December 2018, so there was a bit of a wait for it to even come out as everything else was getting lined up with Thirty Tigers,  as I obviously wanted to make sure that when it came out it did so in the best possible way it could. It is a good amount of time since the album was done to where we are now, and then it is all the craziness that has happened in between that seems quite surreal really.

Some independent artists have really struggled but, on the other hand, some have really broken through so it’s strange and I think you are probably right that Live Streaming can really help.

I think it does. I am one of those people who didn’t expect to be jumping on to Facebook Live and everything, and I just thought you know what, I will just do one and see what happens. The reaction at first was really nice, and it kind of went from there as I enjoyed it as well because all the gigs had stopped and I knew there was no way out. People then become generous in what they wanted to tip and donate, they want to help you and buy merchandise and do all these different things. I then saw a way of surviving as well as anything else, so I think the people who have embraced it will be getting something from it. It is not just the financial benefit as I certainly get a bit of a buzz out of it as well, I come away from it feeling like I have done something and justified myself as a musician for another week or whatever it is. I also think that when people look back on this whole time, they will kind of look back on the good stuff and the boredom and that will fade away and what will be left is what was positive about it. I think the artists who have gone online and stuck at it will be the ones people remember.

Some musicians I have spoken to have been relieved, in a strange way, to have an excuse to get off the road. They have had time to spend at home and do more normal things and also review their career and recharge their creative batteries. So you are right, it is not all bad for musicians.

I have been a gigging musician for the best part of 20 years, if not more, and at first, it was fine because it was a bit of recharging my batteries and because everyone was in the same position there wasn’t so much of a sense of loosing out. Everyone is in the same boat so make the most of it and accept it for what it is. Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut and go round and round and having time to rethink can definitely be a help, not a hindrance. I felt that at first for the first few months and then I started flapping again, wanting to be on the road.

From what you have said you seem to have managed to fill part of the financial shortfall, which can be a real problem for working musicians. Having your main source of income suddenly stops must be a real shock.

It certainly is. I have managed to keep myself ticking over but things need to pick up soon. I know musicians who have had to take driving jobs to make ends meet There is no issue with having to do anything like that and with the guys I have spoken to, there is a level of embarrassment about it, but I say you just have to do whatever is required to get by. Ironically, a large part of what we do is driving, because we do so much of it, it is just you are driving for a different purpose. It is like everything else, if things can’t get back to normal fairly soon, then you have to start doing something that fulfils you, you have to find something else to fill that hole. I don’t know when that will be for me me, but I am alright at the moment as I have enough momentum with what I am doing to make me feel fulfilled as a musician and financially.

Hopefully, by the middle of the year, things will have started to open up. At least it will come to an end.

Haha, yes let’s hope so.

What did you think of this year’s virtual AMAUK Showcase and Awards, where you shared the stage with some pretty big artists, compared to previous Years?

First and foremost I have to say they did an excellent job. I don’t think I had an opinion either way on how it would go because it is such a new thing, but I thought they pulled it off brilliantly and it added a lovely vibe around the whole thing. It seemed to go very well and you are right, one of the highlights for me was just being part of the Thirty Tigers’ showcase, which of course was kind of interviewing lots of different American artists and a couple of UK artists. Because everything has been the way it has been this year, it just seemed like a great relief for everyone just to see things, and even if virtually, to be part of things. I really did get a buzz of something happening and the three days were just like not being able to wait for the next shows and performances. I was just made up to be a part of it, and then to just pip the awards, it was a lovely three days.

It may have been virtual, but it was also potentially open to a worldwide audience. Did you get a sense of who the audience were? You must have been able to play to people and places you haven’t played before because of the virtual nature of the performances.

Hopefully, I did. As you say, people could tune in from anywhere. A lot of the American folks who were on there and all the positive messages I received meant it did have a sense of vastness and you could go anywhere with it. Regardless of when it goes back to normal next year, I would hope they keep it a similar way in the sense that people from all around the world could tune in and be a part of it. I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it now, and I think this is what the pandemic has brought and forced us to do and even if these things don’t become the new normal they will become part of how we do things in the future.

What does your AMAUK success mean from a career perspective, where do you see yourself going in the future?

I think what it has done for me is kind of make me feel I have achieved a lot in the americana scene over here and now maybe it is time to start making more inroads in America, even though I have gone to Nashville over the last 4 or 5 years and been to their Americana Awards. It would be nice to get a bit more of a head of steam over there and also to move more into working with other artists, writing songs with other people, and obviously when we can, a lot more touring in the States and where ever. The thing that would be nice is to just open it up to a bigger world. I love the americana genre and I think it is growing at a great pace, there are so many fantastic artists coming through even just watching the awards. Some of them coming through, I was just completely blown away. I feel I have reached a natural feeling for the UK and I need to cement that with gigs and what have you but I also need to get over to the States and do more writing and more touring and try and make a bit of an impact there if I can.

The Thirty Tigers record label you are on has a good reputation and they have influence over there as well.

Yeah, they have. First and foremost it is about the ethos of how they do things and how they work with artists. They are very encouraging and they like to grow artists. That is the next step may be. We are also thinking about another album as I am at a point now where I have been writing and at some point, I will put another album together. Who knows what that will be and there are all kinds of options and a sense that the slate has been wiped clean and I’m just going to got at it now and embrace it. I’m probably going to work twice as hard as I already have, and I work very hard now, but I think now seeing what can happen,  and having things taken away from you a little bit, I know I am just going to do as much as I can, I know that much.

Once you can travel, that will be the real re-start.

Haha, when I can start travelling I really will be travelling.

You worked with Ethan Johns on your last album, what was that like?

Yeah, it was ‘In This Town You Are Owned’ the album that has just got the award and the album your readers voted their favourite album of 2020, it was an amazing experience because I have always been a big fan.

And of his dad.

Haha, of course, his dad goes without saying, and the influence his dad has had on music in general in the ‘60s and ‘70s and onwards is well known. It is interesting because I was having this conversation the other day when I was thinking about what is americana and Ethan has been a very big americana producer, but when you think about it, so has his dad because he was working with bands like The Who, Led Zepplin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Ronnie Lane, the Eagles and the list goes on until the cows come home. Fundamentally, when you look at the list and the artists he was working with, they may not have called it americana or alt-country or anything back then, but when you think about the elements of all those musicians in those bands they were all into their blues, they were all into their country and rock and roll. If you really, really want to break it down, I suppose, what he was producing was what people called rock and roll but there was an element of americana because there was an American vibe to it all. I don’t see myself doing anything different from what those guys were doing, we now call it americana and it has this label, but the truth of the matter is that this relationship that the UK has with America is a two-way street, it is 100% a two-way street because if it hadn’t been for some of those ‘60s artists that reinstated some of the old blues guys and the country guys and brought that music to the UK, also brought it to the attention of some of the American audience, because some of the American audience didn’t know it even though it was on their doorstep, some of that music may have fallen by the wayside.

I think people like Glyn Johns and Ethan Johns have been fundamental to that process. It is an interesting question the whole question of what is americana and while it can cause massive debate, I think it is as simple as anything. I am a big Pink Floyd and Roger Waters fan, and people ask how can I be a fan and write the kind of stuff I do and I say Roger Waters was a huge John Prine fan and he was directly influenced by John Prine. I was listening to a Podcast last night and in the ‘70s he was listening to John Prine, and maybe it was John Prine who made him realise he could write a song that speaks about the things that really matter to him. That is what songwriting is, it is having the balls to stand up and say what you want to say and sing about things you want to sing about. Going back to the original question, working with someone like Ethan Johns to me was huge because he has been someone who has brought the americana sound to the UK because some of the records he has produced, the Ryan Adams,  the Ray LaMontagnes, the Laura Marlings, that speak to this community he has been front and centre of it. I first met him in 2016 when I picked up the Whispering Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award, and I met him because he was the MD for the evening and we kind of hit it off a little bit, we kept talking and in 2018 we went into the studio and it was kind of a natural progression for me but it was something I had always wanted to do since I first heard ‘Pneumonia’ by Whiskeytown. For me it was just a huge thing, I couldn’t imagine who else I would have wanted to work with, to be honest.

Unlike his dad, he is also a musician and a very good drummer as well as a producer, isn’t he?

It is probably easier to say what he can’t play and can’t play well, haha. He is absolutely fantastic and first and foremost, I think, a musician but he also has an amazing ear for production, engineering, and everything else that goes with it. He is one of the most fabulous musicians you are going to come across and one of the most versatile.

Chris Difford has been complimentary about your songwriting and performing in a recent AUK interview. How do you know him?

I have known Chris now for the past 4 or 5 years because I have been on his writing retreats, and he is just the sweetest guy in the world. He is so encouraging and when you think about what a songwriting genius he is, he is just so open and he has become a really good friend, and again, it is one of those things you think you will never be able to say, particularly as you have been listening to these people’s records all your life.

He is certainly one of the greats in terms of songwriting. In terms of your own songwriting, how disciplined are you or is it simply when the mood takes you.

I just pick the guitar up and try not to get too frustrated with it and simply accept it when it comes along really, which happens a lot. I think I have realised that the one thing I do is distill things. An idea will come along on the guitar, and I will make a note of it, or a lyric will come along, and I will make a little note of that, and before you know it you are playing over that idea more and more and it just grows organically. Every so often, I will sit down for an hour and a whole song will come out, but a lot of the time I really like to go back to the melodies and the lyrics and just like, distill them. If I am doing something non-musical, like walking or in the shower, and one of them comes back to me I know I am on to a winner, and I will just keep working on it. It is a process really, and I might have at any given time 5 or 6 of those ideas on the go, that I will come back to. I did it with a song the other day, one I had been working on but kind of forgot about for a bit, and it came back into my consciousness and I carried on working on it a bit, and you are just growing it. I see it as a process and not a race. It is something that takes a little bit of time, and I know if I have been working on a particular song for a certain amount of time and I have given it as much concentration as I could so it will probably be one of the good ones and will get through. Sometimes I think it is just not good enough to think that will do, there are so many songs that don’t make the albums, lots and lots of them.

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

I think so. I think part of your job is knowing the ways of doing it, and part of writing is your own creative control, and I think sometimes that is the hardest thing to have, to have that honesty with yourself to say that isn’t good enough. I think that that is page one, paragraph one, just being as hard on yourself as you possibly can be about whether you think that song is good enough. I’m not saying all my songs are way out there, that is for other people to judge, I am saying that is where I get to and then it is up to everyone else to judge them from there on in. The biggest part for me is to throw that song around as long as I possibly can then say I’m there now, it is good enough to go on an album. It is honesty, just being honest with yourself.

There is a big debate around streaming and music royalties. What is your view on streaming from an artist’s perspective?

There is not a lot of money in it. I think we are kind of at the forefront of that, it is up to us to make the public who are listening to the music realise, because, something I have realised, is that there is no point in simply moaning about it because that is not getting us anywhere. I have had conversations with people who don’t realise we don’t make any money from it. Over 2020, I think there were quite a few of the big artists who started flagging this up and started saying we didn’t realise this, because they had been making loads of money from touring and merchandising and hadn’t noticed how bad streaming was, and it is only now when they look at their bank accounts that they have realised this piddling amount that has come in through streaming. It is now they realise they have to do something, and I hope not just for themselves but they must be thinking well how are musicians making a living.

The answer to the first part of the question is I am not against streaming because it is what it is and it is not going to go away. It is like when cassettes came out and people went around saying it is the death of recorded music or whatever and then we had the CD boom. Streaming is no different to when I used to go round to my mates with a C90 and say do me a favour I am skint, I can’t afford that album and until I can afford it just put it on to this for me so I can go home and listen to it. I do see that if people can listen to your album on Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music, or whatever it may be, they can get a taste for it and then if they want to really invest in you then they will go and invest in you. They will buy your album and they will buy a ticket to your gig, and buy a t-shirt and all these things. I just see it as a tool that will get people interested, first and foremost, and while you may be suspicious you also have to look for the positive. Don’t get me wrong, I am as annoyed as anyone that I am not making any money through streaming but we have to somehow turn that around, that is our job, so that in the future Mr. Spotify or Mrs. Spotify isn’t making billions of pounds while I am sat at home getting £37 for a million streams.

It is an appalling amount of money.

It needs to change. Until everyone has had their fill, until the shareholders and everyone else has had their fill the scraps will fall off the table and everyone will get a bit, who knows, but I’m not moaning about it, it is what it is. I’m not going to change it. If someone said we are all going to stand up and change then, of course, I would be in the front of the line with the biggest placard I could find. We have to talk about it and there has to be an open debate. We have to make the people, like the government, realise. One of the lads in Gomez went to Westminster and he said well the average income of a musician used to be about £16,000 a year and it is now less than £9,000, and he put it to the government what are you not making from that musician, and they said tax. So, unless they start making it so that this £5 billion a year industry can ensure every musician can make taxable money through streaming, through gigs, and so it puts more money back into the public purse. The government has to realise they are missing a trick and the balance is far too skewed, musicians need to be making money, everyone needs to be making the money they deserve. It will never go back to the days of making millions and millions but it would be nice to make a living.

Do you have a view on the Brexit impact on touring musicians?

I had gigs booked in for Europe last year and I have been talking to people who want to bring me over to Europe to do gigs, I had an offer recently to go to Spain, and if you look into it every country you are going to will need a visa. If you want to go from Germany to Spain you will need two separate visas, and currently, per member, it is going to cost about £400 to get a visa and it doesn’t matter how many gigs you are going to do the cost is the same per member of the band, That is just Spain, I don’t know where everywhere else is, I have just had the conversation about it and been told that is what it will cost. If everyone is going to have to get X amount of money for each country they are going to go into, and that is probably what US artists have had to do in the past, it is just that we have been part of Europe. They haven’t changed the rules, it is just that we are only now finding them out, and now we can’t move freely around there it is going to affect musicians massively unless we come to some kind of separate deal it is going to be a game-changer. If I am only being offered €500 it is not worth it unless I get 6 or 7 gigs, I don’t know, it is going to be a lot of money. You also have all the other things to take into consideration as well. I think they will have to come to some kind of agreement about it.

It does cut both ways with European musicians who want to tour the UK.

That is a load of nonsense though, it really is. Why are we talking about one group of people not being able to come to work, it just blows my mind that we are in 2021 and we are having these discussions. These problems and issues should have been sorted out a long time ago, and now we are still talking about division and stopping people from doing things they love.

I wonder if we had another referendum now what people would vote for.

It would be interesting but god, I couldn’t go through that again. It nearly got me the first time, haha. I was climbing the walls after the first one but who knows.

Despite the challenges, from what you have said, you seem positive about the future.

You can call it naivety if you want, but that is how I try and do things. The other option isn’t workable, there is no point in me getting feed up about it, get passionate about it, I have kind of only learnt this very recently as we have gone through what we have just talked about, Brexit and everything, from seeing and feeling all of the pain and the division that everyone has gone through on either side, whatever that may be, which is probably one of the main themes of the album and it is kind of where it came from. Whatever way people voted, I felt everyone had been had.

That is a very perceptive view, particularly as it is true.

Strangely enough, someone said that to me the other day, rightly or wrongly, I started thinking about this when we were moving into this territory over in Nashville in 2016 mixing the ‘I Make The Most Of My Sins’ album, and I could see all of these things happening and I started writing a lot of the songs on the album and they came from that standpoint. I think, after the fact, these songs on the album are probably more relevant right now than when they were released a year ago. I am not happy about that but that is where it felt like it was going to me. Going back to the positive vibe about it, I need that because I can’t see any other way to get through it other than being positive and seeing some good in it in the end.

That is really a life view, not just a view about music.

A hundred per cent, and the last song on ‘In This Town Your Owned’ called ‘Cuckoo’ and basically that is what it is saying, and we thought it would kind of be a good song to finish the album because it had that very message of just trying to see things positively.  That is how I like to think, haha.

Hopefully, your recent awards will also give the album extra legs into 2021.

Let us hope so, because I think it hasn’t had its fair crack of the whip yet. I wasn’t planning on a worldwide pandemic when I released it, haha.

At AUK, we like to share new music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

Tracks I have been listening to recently, you know what, I have been really taken by the new Ryan Adams album, I don’t know whether it is cool to say that at the moment.

There have been quite a few people saying that recently, thinking I really like it but should I really like it?

Who knows, but all I can say is the guy has come out and said maybe he hasn’t conducted himself in the best possible way, but he is trying to fix that, and I think everyone needs that opportunity to do that. I will listen to his music for as long as he continues to try and do that. I think that the new album is worth listening to. The Mary Chapin Carpenter new album is just an absolute masterpiece, a track on there would be the title track ‘The Dirt And The Stars’ which I think is a beautiful track. I am also really, really enjoying the new Tom Petty special edition of ‘Wildflowers’ and I can’t stop listening to that. The new 10 tracks that are on the bonus edition sound just like a perfect album, and the opening track ‘Something Could Happen’ is just lovely and there is something just so relaxed about the whole album, I don’t know whether he was, but he seemed to be in such a good place musically. There are kind of a couple of big albums there but then I always kind of fall back on albums, my gotos, my Pink Floyds and Roger Waters and that kind of thing, and some of the more classic stuff as well but there certainly have been some really lovely albums that have come out recently.

And that is what we are here for. Is there anything you want to say to our readers?

I just want to honestly thank them for voting for my album as Best UK Album and me Best UK Artist. I think 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things by other people, but for me, it will be remembered because people sat and listened to my album and thought I was doing some good stuff, and that really means a lot to me and that they voted for that. I just wish them all well and stay safe.

Because it was a readers’ vote then you can be sure there were no vested interests influencing the final outcome.

A hundred per cent agree, and that means even more to me and it is a really lovely thing that they have done that and voted for me. That’s kind of all it means to me that people dig it, that people get the music, I don’t even feel it is about me really I am just happy people enjoy the music.

‘In This Town You’re Owned’ is out now on Thirty Tigers

About Martin Johnson 389 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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