We recently reviewed David Rotheray‘s Answer Ballads (read it here). As Helen explained in her review the premise of the project was quite simple: “take a classic pop song – for example, Dolly Parton’s Jolene – and create a response (Answer Ballad), written from the perspective of the original subject.” She added “although apparently simple [the album] generates a complexity of ideas which are more than sufficient to sustain it effortlessly across the musical diversity of these thirteen songs.”
Being such a fascinating project and getting such a praiseworthy review we thought it would be interesting to get one of the contributing artists, of which there are many, to interview David…step forward Bella Hardy:
Bella Hardy: Head to Head with David Rotheray
So Dave, a second solo album of creations and collaborations, didn’t you get enough of us all the first time round?
No, I didn’t! Unless I learn to sing, this is how it’s going to be, I’m afraid. It’s a shame, but the only way I can get to meet new people these days is by making long-winded concept albums.. still, it beats going bowling.
Which was the first song written for Answer Ballads?
I’m pretty sure ‘Roxanne’s Song’ and ‘Jolene’s Song’ were first. They felt like the obvious ones , so I got them out of the way first. If someone said to you ‘I’m in a bit of a Roxanne situation’ or ‘she’s a real Jolene’, I’m guessing most people would know what you meant. The situation is reasonably plain, at least at first sight.
Did you have the album’s concept before you wrote the first song, or did it inform the album?
The concept predated the first song by about a year. It was concept first, then making a list of possible ‘donor songs’. Then when I had a list of 15 songs, I wrote a short prose ‘character sketch’ of each protagonist -how much time had elapsed, what had happened to them, what their worldview was and so forth. Only when I had a strong detailed profile of each character did I start the actual lyric writing.
You seem to have a soft spot for folk singers… what leads you to the musicians you calloborate with?
Well, it just so happens folk music has been the music I’ve been listening to over the past few years. I have fads in music. I decided to try and stop listening to records with drums on them a couple of years ago. I’ll probably give that up next year.
I love the way folky singers- or rather, the folky singers that I particularly like – deliver a lyric. There’s something transparent about it. They never allow their ego or their technical ability to get in between the listener and the message. I hate show-offs.
If you could take any Answer Ballad character out for a drink, who would it be?
Hmmm tricky one. I guess Dino (from ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’) would have some good stories , and he’d know all the best bars in Dublin. Roxanne would be problematic , so would Jolene. Mrs Avery and Sylvia would be no fun at all. So, Dino.
Where is the best pint in Hull?
The New Adelphi Club, of course. Best live music venue in the world. But it doesn’t open till 8:00. I’d suggest you start off in Cannon Junction, bottles £1.30, Jaffa Cake flavoured schnapps at 50p a shot. Plus it looks like a train.
What albums have most inspired you to pursue this crazy musician life?
In early life, ‘Sounds Of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel and ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ by Joni Mitchell. In adult life, ‘Ten Song Demo’ by Rosanne Cash and ‘Rain Dogs’ by Tom Waits.
Where was your first ever gig?
As a punter – the Welly Club in hull I think. Probably as a performer as well. The New Adelphi wasn’t there in those days. Probably I watched a local punk band but I can’t remember.
Are there any characters who made it to the notebook but not onto Answer Ballads? Left wondering in the wilderness?
Yes. Joe from ‘Hey Joe’ and Rio (eponymous) have lyrics that never made it into a song. Also Marie-Claire (from ‘Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?’) and Lili Marleen (eponymous) had actual recorded tunes that didn’t make the album for one reason or another.
If you could only listen to one other musician for the rest of your life who would it be?
This is a bit of a Desert Island Discs question. If you count Duke Ellington as a musician , rather than a composer, then it would be him. If you don’t allow that , then I would take Louis Armstrong or possibly Glenn Gould.
Answer Ballads is released 14 Oct 2013 via Navigator Records
Order the Limited Autographed Edition here via ProperMusic