NEW YORK — The man behind "The Last Waltz" looks back on those days — and earlier — on his new disc, "How to Become Clairvoyant."
Robbie Robertson, the main creative light of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group The Band, is reflective on his first album in 13 years. "When the Night Was Young" is an anthem for the 1960s generation, asserting how "we were believers when the night was young."
Old fans of The Band, who also backed Bob Dylan back in the day, might be most interested in "This is Where I Get Off," where he sings about his decision to leave The Band. An epochal 1976 concert known as "The Last Waltz" drew the curtain down on The Band, and though his colleagues later reformed, Robertson was gone for good.
The disc grew out of initial songwriting sessions with old pal Eric Clapton. His guests are a mixture of old and relatively new in music — Clapton and Steve Winwood, along with Tom Morello and Trent Reznor.
The Band's legacy helped with those invitations.
"If I called and asked them to do it, then the line wasn't going to be busy," the 67-year-old singer recalled.
AP: You're very reflective on this album. Does that have something to do with getting older?
Robertson: There was something to reflect on, for one thing. It was all happening then and you're kind of caught up in that. With some time, for me at least, it just became more comfortable to reflect upon those things and think, "that was beautiful — an exciting team, or a dangerous time or a revolutionary time."
AP: Did you write "This is Where I Get Off" for fans of The Band or those that you left behind?
Robertson: It was written for me, seeking a certain kind of release. It had been something that I had been carrying around for a long time and I just wanted to get it out in the open and have that feeling of release in doing that. I just never talked about anything like this before, or written about anything like this before. It was refreshing and unexpected.
AP: The lyrics talk about things that you did wrong and things done wrong to you. Is that anything you want to be specific about?
Robertson: I'll do that in the book I write.
AP: What did you most want to say and get off your chest?
Robertson: I think that I didn't break up The Band. That's not what happened. It was a situation in which everybody played a part; it was a group of people where everybody played a vital role, and it needed all cylinders going to do what it did. If not, then it wasn't capable of doing its best work.
AP: Did it bother you that people were blaming you for breaking up The Band?
Robertson: I never thought of it like that, because I knew what the story was. I'm not trying to set the record straight or anything like that. It's just what I felt emotionally at the time, to explore that because this record seemed to be becoming more personal. The deeper in I got, the more personal it got. I thought, "OK, then let's really feel our way through this." It wasn't so much a heady experience as it was an emotional experience.
AP: Was your experience on the other side of the music business fun or disheartening? (Robertson worked in the beginning of the last decade as an executive at DreamWorks Records).
Robertson: Fun. What was sad was that after a certain period of time it became evident that the music business was changing so drastically that a new company like that, with those kind of ambitions, just couldn't survive.
AP: With the music business the way it is, how do you feel about releasing a new album now? Do you think it will get to your fans?
Robertson: I don't know about that part. I'm just sending it out there. I have no idea how it's going to work in this day and age. All I know is that I can sleep well at night and say that I think I did a pretty good job on this, and I know there is some good work in there.
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