Rocky Votolato creates his own path with first self-released album of his career
:: Rocky Votolato ::
:: hi-dive :: June 6 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
Sometimes in the creative process the best thing an artist can do is take all of the progress they’ve made, ball it up and throw it out.
That’s exactly what singer/songwriter Rocky Votolato did with his most recent album Television of Saints.
“I was almost finished with the album and then I scrapped it,” Votolato said during a recent phone interview with The Marquee as he drove toward Boston on his way to a gig. “I just wasn’t happy with it and it was one of those situations where you have to take a stab at it and end up with something that you don’t like, to end up knowing where you want to go with it. So that’s what happened. I just totally changed directions.”
The first version of the album was a full-band affair with multiple layers and complex arrangements. But once Votolato stopped to listen, he realized it all sounded too produced and too slick for the songs he was writing.
Votolato had a lot at stake on Television of Saints. The album was set to be his seventh full-length release, but the Seattle-based songwriter was doing something this time around that he hadn’t done previously — he was self-releasing this record, without the help of a label.
To make that happen, he developed a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the recording, and while he clearly said he didn’t feel an obligation to his fans, who ended up donating nearly double the $20,000 goal he had set for the record, he asserted that he would make the only record that he could.
“People have asked me if I felt beholden to my fans on this album and I was very up front from the beginning that I was going to make the album that I was going to make as an artist, and that I was not going to compromise that or feel like I needed to please people because they had contributed in that way,” Votolato said.
The night before he launched the Kickstarter campaign, said Votolato, he was on the phone with his manager discussing how nervous he was to put himself out there in that way. “I had never self-released anything and this was uncharted territory for me. But we hit the goal of $20,000 in a week and by the time 30 days had gone by, we had almost doubled it. It was so exciting but very humbling to have that outpouring of love and support. The comments left by fans on there were almost as important than anything else in the whole process, because I was getting insight into how my fans experience my music. After years of touring and making albums and pushing things out there, getting that feedback was a great experience,” he said.
While the comments from fans may have been humbling to Votolato, the man is not a stranger to praise. His Barsuk Records debut in 2006 was heralded by critics with praise that most artists would die for. Performing Songwriter said it was “as perfect an album as you can get. Alternative Press said it was “the disc Ryan Adams keeps threatening to make,” and Acoustic Guitar said it belonged in “a vinyl collection next to Gram Parsons.”
The accolades have continued with this new release, with Performer stating that “Television of Saints isn’t just one of Votolato’s finest; it’s one of the finest folk albums in years.”
While the album is a sparse, acoustic centered affair, Television also has a richness to it provided by the subtle accompaniment that comes from Votolato’s brothers Cody and Sonny. “My younger brother Cody was the most involved and just has a great way of supporting the songs, and adding to them instead of getting in the way or taking away from it by being too flashy. So I gave him a little direction, but he came up with the electric guitar parts on the album. My brother Sonny played bass, and they both helped me to make decisions in terms of instrumentation about where things would land. I trust those guys and feel grateful for the chance to work with them. It was a great experience. I like looking at the liner notes and seeing all three of our names on there,” Votolato said.
He added that his sister is the only one of the four Votolato siblings that doesn’t play in a band, but said that she does sing and one day he hopes to get all four of the Votolatos on an album.
Votolato had some help co-producing the album from Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens and Pedro The Lion), but said that he took a very hands-on approach as well, in hopes that some day he can do all of the producing himself. “I’ve always had a DIY ethic from growing up and listening to Fugazi and being in the punk rock world. I always wanted to be involved in everything I was doing,” he said. “There’s a point when you need to draw a line and delegate to the people you can trust, but on the recording side, I’ve always wanted to be in control of it, because I know how I operate and it makes me end up with something I love.”
And Television is something Votolato loves. “I feel like this is something I’ve been working toward my whole career,” he said.
:: Rocky Votolato ::
:: hi-dive :: June 6 ::
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