Julian Redpath

Words: Chelsea Haith
Image: SOurced

Soft-spoken, old-soul, Julian Redpath and his partner artist Robyn Nesbitt hung out with Archetype over G&Ts and a plate of chips to discuss playing in the dark, the worst gig ever and the wonder that is Sam Cooke. The guitarist’s mellow acoustic sound is warm and enveloping, like a hot bath and a glass of red wine at the end of a long day, which explains why Redpath chooses to play in the dark. It’s not because he’s shy, but because he wants the audience to engage properly with what they are hearing. And what they are hearing is sublime. Lights off please.

A: Shipwrecks is your EP, what’s next?
JR: I’m busy recording this album for about five years that just won’t die (chuckles), like it just won’t finish, but it’s really close now. About half of the songs are being mixed and mastered right now, and some need small things,
but I’m really excited about it.

A: I’m sure, so when will it be ready?
JR: I want it to be finished by the end of July, and then I’ll start figuring out how to put it out or whatever.

A: Will the new album be like Shipwrecks?
JR: Shipwrecks was supposed to be this album and then I played here in 2009 and thought I need something so I had this and put it together so that I had something. This is kind of an expansion of Shipwrecks.
RN: I think it sounds quite a bit different.
JR: There are a lot of people working on it. Shipwrecks, even though it sounds minimal, what I’m most proud of it for are the people that worked on it. My friend Gabby sings vocals, Johan de Lange is an incredible illustration artist, he did the illustration, you know, friends helping me do stuff. So the album is kind of expanded, with the people, I don’t know how I got them to help me, but they are.

A: I realise it’s a fluffy question, but where does the music come from?
JR: I think you either play guitar and you find something that sounds good, and it sounds so good that the words just come out, or you’re walking around and you think of some words and you had some guitar bits so you put them together. Obviously the more songs you learn, the better you get. If you look at the most prolific song writers, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, they know the most songs. Dylan was rumoured to know every single Woody Guthrie song off by heart, and Johnny Cash had a ridiculous repertoire. The more songs you learn, the more songs you’ll write because you’ll have a greater memory bank of songs and sounds that become other songs and sounds.
A: That’s interesting, no one’s ever put it like that.
JR: I think because people are scared of admitting it comes from somewhere else you know? Like it just fell out of the sky.

A: Who are your favourite musicians?
JR: Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, all those guys. I mostly grew up on the stuff my mom played. My mom has a deep love for music and I learnt most of that from her, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, I was born listening to James Taylor. Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash. And when you get old enough to start finding your own stuff it just grows from there.

A: So I saw you play last year at Lowlander, why do you play in the dark?
JR: I feel like sound travels better the darker it is, I don’t know why, like I’ve played hot shows, where the lights are on, and the first person will play and then I’ll go on and say, “Right, let’s turn off all the lights,” and it creates this vibe so that everybody can just zone in. I’m just trying to create an atmosphere. Actually, I brought the stuff for it so I hope it works, Robyn and I worked on a projection that I want to use.
RN: Yeah, it sets everyone up for the music.
JR: My worst is playing outside in the day.

A: Worst gig you’ve ever played?
JR: SO MANY. I have an endless amount of terrible shows. The type of music that I make, if the venue doesn’t lend itself to it, the show just bombs.
RN: You had that one where the guy was just changing the light bulbs and stuff during your set…
JR: Yeah, I found out the hard way that my friend was just doing me a favour, I played at this thing called Retro Fest and the festival was terrible anyway and I played at 10 in the morning and there were about ten people there and dudes thought I was sound-checking and they were changing light bulbs and other bands were coming on to set their stuff up.
A: Does that get your spirit down?
JR: It used to really destroy me, but now I just laugh. The tricksy thing about it is that you can never tell. Sometimes you think this will be good and then it’s just aaarrrgghh, and other times you think it’ll be alright and it turns out really well.

A: How do you feel about playing in Grahamstown?
JR: Grahamstown is my favourite, it’s like a different world, people actually care, and they watch and they buy the stuff afterwards and it’s great, it’s really special.

A: How did it feel to win an ovation last year?
JR: It felt really nice, like it was a good feeling. And they didn’t have to make it silver, that was nice. But it’s more about just having it you know?

A: If you could be any musician other than yourself, who would you be?
JR: Uh… (long silence).
RN: Alive now?
A: No, they can be dead.
RN: That makes it easier.
JR: I know the musicians that I like, but I don’t necessarily like their lives, like it would be cool to be able to play like them and then not kill yourself.
RN: Come on, choose one, I really want to know!
RN: I would probably be… Dead, I would be Robert Johnson. Because it would so cool to play guitar that well. Oh, you know who I would be, this is going to be so good, I would be Ray Charles or Sam Cooke. They are just so good. I don’t think Sam Cooke was blind so maybe him rather than Ray Charles.