Two Voices, One Story: Talking with Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Part 1

First a brief note to explain the existence of this interview. In summer 2008, I was assigned by another publication to do an interview with Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric in advance of their show in Houston to promote their first album together. The interview was supposed to run in two parts on a blog the Friday before their show, but unfortunately, my editor was preoccupied with battening down the hatches for Hurricane Ike, and the articles never ran. It’s just as well, as the show was cancelled anyway, on account of nobody having any power (I saw them in Austin; it was a blast).

So the interview sat around collecting dust, which was a shame, because Amy and Eric spent an incredible amount of time talking to me and said some really interesting things. Eventually, I put it together for Jeremy at SCR, since I knew that he was a big Wreckless Eric fan. I’m very glad to share these pieces with you, because they really are some of my favorite interviews that I’ve done. Talking to Amy and Eric for an hour convinced me that they are just lovely people, and I was sorry to have taken up their time for stories that never ran. I hope you enjoy them.

September 2008
Songwriter Amy Rigby got her start in the pubescent New York indie-rock scene of the late ’80s, playing in the Last Roundup and the Shams. She made her name, though, in the ’90s as an independent alt-country artist with a talent for shrewd, frank expressions of the everyday realities of love, exemplified by her album Diary of a Mod Housewife and songs like “Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?” and “‘Til the Wheels Fall Off.” After leaving New York, Rigby spent five years in Nashville before moving to France with mischievous British songwriter Wreckless Eric. The two were married in June, and their first album together came out earlier this month. Rigby spoke to me from their home in rural France.

SCR: You’re known for writing songs about love, but on this album you have songs about your van getting stolen and how much it bothers you when men wear sandals. What’s behind the change in subject matter?
Amy Rigby: Maybe I wore out the other subject a little bit? I don’t want to go over the same territory again. Sometimes people say, “Oh, you’re our spokesperson for cynical love.” I wouldn’t want to stick to a tried and true topic because that’s what people would expect of me, if it would become like a schtick or something. I just ran out of things to say about it. Or maybe I just was happy. [laughs] I’ve found it’s usually things that are irritating me or angering me, or at least confusing or confounding me that drive me to want to write. So yeah, if I feel satisfied in that area — I have found it challenging. I have definitely not written that many songs in the last couple of years. I guess the inspiration was things like the stolen van and men wearing sandals. I know, it doesn’t sound exactly like the end of the world. [laughs]

How was it different making this record alone with Eric, as opposed to working in a studio as you do for your solo records?
It took a lot longer. It was a little less worked out ahead of time, even what the songs were or what form they would take, because we were determined to play all this stuff ourselves. Sometimes that took longer. It was something I’ve… I know people always say that it was the record I’ve always wanted to make. I’m not saying that, but it was something I’ve always wanted to try, to just go start recording. Even though some of the songs existed, in the same way as with other albums I’ve made where I had the songs all written and had played it live, there was just more…I guess you could call it fooling around, which I’ve never really had time to do before. That’s one of the real advantages of working at home.

Were there things about it that you found difficult?
The things that I found difficult were that it took longer and I’d get kind of impatient. And my own limitations with playing certain kinds of things and having to face up to those. In the past I’ve relied on making records with really good players, and you could just kind of say, “it should be like this,” and “oh, okay,” and they’ll do it. Not to have anyone to fall back on like that is definitely challenging. But it was a challenge I really wanted. And I feel like I’m just starting to even rise to that challenge. Eric’s used to doing that.

It’s also a discipline I’m not used to. I could always make myself write songs, but as for going in and practicing or working on things, day in day out, I could always find, y’know, I want to wash dishes, I want to clean the house, I want to write some little story I’m working on. I’ll find all sorts of excuses not to get on with it. Because maybe I’m not sure how. Once I actually start, I’m always really happy that I did, but I think I do get worried that I won’t be good enough or something.

It’s funny, because I think I’ve always sort of imposed a schedule on myself, but it is almost more like a professional schedule, like I would want to be able to get out and work and play shows, so I would really try to get a record out every couple years, just to be able to keep going and keep trying to earn a living. Eric is more… He’s a Bohemian. But he’s a disciplined artist. So he can really make himself…like, the dishes pile up, and things in the house — he could just let everything go and just keep working on what he’s working on.

If you’re going to go make a record in a studio, where you’ve blocked out time, you know, two weeks or something, that’s something I’m used to doing, to just work for hours and hours that way. But with no distractions. To have it be where you are living your life, day-to-day, and having to apply yourself to what you’re trying to create at the same time, I think that you do just have to do it every day, or it could fall by the wayside, with all the other distractions of life that there are.

You spent most of your career in New York, and then spent five years in Nashville — both places where pop music is a very important part of the local culture. How is the culture in Europe different with respect to music, and do you miss the culture of rock and roll that we have here?
It’s so different. And definitely from being somewhere like New York, where the arts in general are such a big part of it, and everyone you meet is a musician — such a large proportion of the people you meet do creative things really seriously. And then Nashville, where a huge proportion of the people do music, to make a living. And to go from living in places like that to here — when we meet people here and say we play music, I think they picture something like I’m sawing away on a fiddle and Eric picking out a few folk songs on a guitar in a field at someone’s party. [laughs]

It seems impossible to them that this is what we do. It is very different in that way. But, at the same time, in France, artists are really respected. The place where we opened bank accounts, they told us we were the first artists that they had, having accounts at their bank, and what a privilege and an honor it was to them. Of course, that was before I started being overdrawn every month. [laughs] Now I don’t know exactly how they feel about it. But the idea of it was so exciting to them.

You almost have to find some sort of inner motivation. A lot of the atmosphere in somewhere like New York or Nashville is kind of like a healthy competition. You see everyone else, well, like, what are they doing? And in some ways, I think it’s really inspiring and energizing. It kind of fueled me a lot. Whereas here, nobody…it doesn’t matter what I do here. I could stop. It wouldn’t make any difference. So I kind of have to find my own reasons for doing it, and I’ve have some dark moments, definitely, since we came here, but I think I’ve come through that, and I get a new, fresh second wind or something.

Anyone who does something creative for a long time, I think you do have to keep finding ways to just motivate yourself again. If you had asked me that question [laughs] in the middle of the winter here, when all I wanted was to just go get a taco or something, and it’s just not possible… It really is an old world here. Shops are only open a certain number of hours. It’s just a more old-fashioned way of life, and so there aren’t all the amenities and conveniences.

Rock and roll is a lifestyle that depends a lot on the modern conveniences that we have in the United States.
It’s true. But at the same time, there are people in France who just love rock and roll so much and they find us. We played the other night in this little village. It was amazing. Somehow, some people found the gig, and you felt like they were so happy to be there, they could not gather around us close enough. That me feel so glad. We’re sometimes in a place that’s just full of bands and people trying to do this, and you just feel the opposite. You feel like, God, is there any point? I mean, there is so much of it. Why should I contribute to the pollution? So it was great to feel that the other night, to feel like it was worth something.

Do you think that your family life has contributed to the subject matter of your music?
Yeah, I think that it did, and probably somehow continues to.

How has getting married again affected that, if you don’t mind me asking?
I dunno, I don’t think about it that much. It’s been a huge source of entertainment for Eric and I. Just the whole concept of being married and even the terminology. He really gets a kick out of saying [imitating a man’s voice] “my wife,” because he’d never been married before. But as for…sometimes i think it’s really sweet that we are doing this thing — that we’re married and we’re doing this thing together. I’m definitely proud that we’re able to do — I dunno if “proud”‘s the right word, but “pleased,” I guess — and it’s kind of terrifying at the same time, to be working together.

I’ve been an admirer, for a long time, of Eric, his music, and it’s pretty great to get to play with him. And to make sure Eric eats right [laughs] to just take care of each other and stuff. Because it’s hard to get out there in front of people and to drive and stuff all over the place, and you don’t know what you’re getting into. You don’t really know what you’re really walking into. All you can do is hope for the best. It helps to have a person with you that you’re just kind of in it [with] together, and I’m really happy about that. I dunno how it affects the music, but I guess a trust is there.

There’s a song on the new album called “First Mate Rigby,” and I wanted to ask you — why did Eric get to be the captain?
[laughs] When I first met him, he had a boat. I thought that was so crazy, to have a boat. And there was a short time where he was gonna live on this boat and — I dunno, it just seemed so impossible to me, but anyway, like I used to sign emails, when we were first emailing, I’d sign an email to him “First Mate Rigby,” because I would say that I would be the first mate on his boat. You’ll have to ask him about it. [laughs] He got rid of it, but I’ve seen pictures of it, I’ve seen video — it’s quite a sad, tragic story.

And who knows, maybe someday. We drove through Paris and we saw all these canal boats, and we thought… I had told him before, I’m up for living on a boat, but we haven’t talked about it in awhile. I don’t know if could have a canal boat, because he’s got all this recording equipment, he’s got organs and harmoniums. I guess you’d have to have a container on the shore with all this stuff in it and get off the boat to go — some of this stuff is way too heavy. All these little of these tape machines that weigh a ton, I don’t think he could really take them on a boat. But I really admire him for trying it. I thought it was really brave. END

Since this interview, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby have released a new single, “Teflon Wok/Bobblehead Doll.” Check out the single or the full album on Stiff Records — go to amyrigby.com to find out how to order ’em both.

[Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby were supposed to perform Sunday, September 14 at the Mink, 3718 Main Street. (713)522-9985, themink.org. But then Houston got hit by a hurricane.]

Interview by . Interview posted Thursday, January 14th, 2010. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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