Thompson: ‘It’s all about the live show and the T-shirt’Written by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
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Named as one of the top 20 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone, Richard Thompson has flown under the radar since his 1967 school band beginnings in London and U.S. debut in the early 1970s. After a brief recording career with his former wife Linda, Thompson went solo. His technical skills with acoustic and electric guitars have fueled his extensive songwriting. Many artists, including Bonnie Raitt, David Byrne and Elvis Costello, have recorded his work. Thompson’s newest album, “Dream Attic,” is a compilation of songs he wrote in a three-month period and recorded from his live shows.
He will play at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on Nov. 2.
During an interview with Toledo Free Press, Thompson reflected on his career, his new album and the changing music scene.
TFP: If music is a sign of the times, how has your music changed? What preoccupies your writing now?
Thompson: I think you get a more mature viewpoint as you get older. I look back at stuff I wrote when I was a teenager and I think it was naïve. I think there’s a certain imagery when you’re younger, that youthful output, a kind of charm or a quality that doesn’t come back. I think you have to try to find that place within yourself over and over again: That innocence, wonder of the world and the ability to see things in a new way. I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded in that but it’s a challenge. As you get older your viewpoint changes, but in terms of subject matter, I think you’re writing about the same stuff.
TFP: How would you categorize the inspiration for your new album, “Dream Attic?”
Thompson: I wrote those songs in a fairly short space of time. I seemed to be on a roll, but they’re all over the place. If you write something within a certain period because your mind’s in a certain place, there are certain threads that run together. I think it hangs very well together as a record.
TFP: If you could pick, would you rather have a small, intimate venue or a big concert?
Thompson: It’s nice to have a variety. It’s nice to play a little club sometimes, or a festival with 2,000 people or a concert with 100,000 people. Variety is the spice of life as they say.
TFP: Has playing with a band pushed your music forward?
Thompson: Some of the guys are new this year. It’s nice to have a kind of mix, I think. It’s inspirational and challenging to work with new people.
TFP: Why did you choose to go with independent, small labels in 2001 after you split from Capitol Records?
Thompson: I think at that point the role of the record company had changed. Record companies weren’t fulfilling their traditional role of promoting a range of music. They supported pop music, folk, jazz — all these different genres. The whole scene shifted. By the year 2000, it was hard to say what the role of the record company was or what the traditional role of radio was. I’m happy with the model I have now. I produce the records and license them to smaller labels. I really do have control over my own output. Before the year 2000, I owned zero of my own work.
TFP: Are you happy with your career as it is now?
Thompson: I’m not ever happy. I’m nearly happy … I think because you have tools like the Internet, it is possible to have a career. We’re using these different means of [getting] music to people. There are other possibilities for people to hear your music, reach your audience. If you’re an accomplished artist — I’m flattering myself to put me in that category — it’s good … If you’re a young artist, it’s tougher to break into the music business.
TFP: Would you say you’re a session artist at heart or would you rather play shows?
Thompson: Live shows. I think that’s always been the focus of what I do, recording has always been secondary. Everyone’s having to move to that style of career. Playing live has to be the focus now. It’s all about the live show and the T-shirt, really.
TFP: What’s the most rewarding part to you?
Thompson: Playing live and writing as well. I’ve had a lot of time.
TFP: What does your future hold?
Thompson: As long as I’m physically able to tour, it’s my favorite thing to do, as long as I can. Absolutely. It’s not a job you retire from, really, but you have to.
TFP: What’s your favorite album or part of your career?
Thompson: Probably the one after this. In my dreams it’s the best one.
The Richard Thompson Band will play 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, presented by The Ark. Thompson is touring with Pete Zorn, Michael Jerome, Taras Prodaniuk and Joel Zifkin. Tickets are available at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and at all TicketMaster outlets.