Rocky Votolato Is His Own Toughest Critic

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  • Bjorn Lexius

Rocky Votolato has been making music for two decades, following his muse like a wayward child. It has led him through a few '90s bands, including Waxwing, a project with his brother Cody. He struck out with his first solo album in 1999. Votolato’s approach is tender, intimate and folky—reminiscent of Elliott Smith and Damien Jurado—though he’s also fooled with an alt-country-ish full-band sound as well.

In 2008, Votolato took a break from music. He was burnt out and close to suicide. With the help of meditation and spiritual study, Votolato pulled himself out of that hole, a time captured on 2010’s True Devotion. He has just released the follow-up, Television of Saints, his seventh album. The recording was a tough process that included ditching an entire album’s worth of recorded material.

In the Wednesday, June 6, issue of Boise Weekly, we explore Votolato's rocky road to the present in anticipation of his show at Neurolux Friday, June 8. Here are some excerpts from our conversation with him that didn't make it into the article.

BW: You’ve said that Television of Saints is your favorite album you’ve ever done. I was wondering if the intimacy of the subject matter on True Devotion might make you, maybe subconsciously, distance yourself from it?

There’s always more going on than you’re personally aware of, and you’re so close to the art, it’s hard to have an objective viewpoint. So I think that’s true, because that kind of a record makes you so vulnerable, going through the touring on it and the interviewing, all of it. Talking about that record and that time was personally exhausting for me. So this one has a bit more distance between me personally and the songs. I’ve always wanted my writing to reflect the time in my life, and this one does perfectly. ... I think it does really call up these deeper philosophical ideas that are important to me ... but I think you can do it in a way that is really artistic and makes it interesting and creative in that way without basically turning into a church hymn.

Did you go through a stretch of banging your head on the wall and wondering if scrapping that whole recorded album was a bad idea?

Absolutely. Looking back, I’m really glad I had the courage to do that because, as you know, I really love this record and feel very behind it from an artistic level. It’s what I wanted to create. I made no compromises. I did go back to my old philosophy—I tracked a lot of it myself; I was more involved in the recording process than ever before. Started to do some mixing and realized I didn’t know enough to do that. That’s when I brought Casey [Foubert] in. He was just involved in the last few weeks of the process. He mixed it remotely. I sent him the hard drive of the stuff I recorded. I basically scrapped everything from those first sessions. Kept a few of the basic tracks to a couple of the songs and then redid everything.

It seems like a lot of pressure—between the critical response to True Devotion and the decision to scrap an entire album’s worth of material.

I’m really my own toughest critic and I want to make an album I believe in. That’s what was driving me in the process. That’s what the hard thing was—I’m so self-critical when it comes to my art. That’s something that’s always been a challenge; it probably is for most artists. That’s the demon I’m fighting with—making something I approve of. Something the critic inside me says is good enough.

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