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Bobby Long on poetry, accessibility and his new album

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It starts with just showing up. Whether he’s penning a poem or writing a new song, the work for Bobby Long begins with the disciplined decision to show up every day. It’s how he’s written a book of poetry and several albums over the last decade. We recently asked him about his latest album, now available for pre-order, and why even he thinks poetry is self-indulgent.

How do you start the process Do you allow it to flow and then you place it later?

I just allow it to flow, to be honest. Obviously you’re influenced by what you’re surrounded by and what you listen to and what you’ve read — whether you like that or not. So in terms of poetry, if I was reading a certain poet’s work or had watched a certain film, it might pop up in the next poem I write, even if it’s something tiny, just like the general pace or mood of it.

For me, it’s all about showing up. Writing is all about showing up. Every time you write, you’re not always going to have something worthy to be published or on an album, but it’s about showing up every day and letting yourself be able to write. Sometimes you don’t even write anything; you just sit there and sit there and sit there. [Laughs]

That’s part of the thing really, the romance of writing. It’s not about feeling waves of inspiration. It’s not about that. It’s just like any job. It’s just showing up and working hard at it and putting the time in. You might throw away what you’ve worked on at the end of the day because it’s nonsense. You might even know it’s nonsense as you’re writing it, but you have to show up. You have to be in the midst of it to get something.

You just mentioned the romance of writing but then gave a very unromantic answer — just do the work. Did you have a more romanticized view when you started 7 or 8 years ago or were you aware of the need for such discipline early on?

Reading quotes from Leonard Cohen and people I loved, they really viewed it as something with a work ethic and structure. My main two things, besides a love for music, were that I didn’t want to wake up early and I didn’t want to wear a uniform. On the writing side, I knew that it wasn’t sitting in a coffee shop and writing, just endless writing and feeling great and constantly impressed with the world. If it was just this inspirational thing, then I knew I wouldn’t be doing it properly. I’d be doing it occasionally.

It’s just like any job, I guess. You have hours to go in, like to a flower store or something. If I just went in once a week, I’d only see the creative parts and it’d feel amazing. But when you go in every day, you see the hard work and you cut your fingers off and the thorns and the customers and the smells that get irritating. That’s life, isnt’ it? [Laughs]

When you put out poetry versus lyrics with music, does one feel more vulnerable than the other?

I don’t know if it’s vulnerable, but I have less of a problem listening to my music with other people in the room than somebody reading it in front of me. We just got a first copy made and I left it on the table in the living room. My friend was reading it and his reaction was great. He picked up a funny poem to read and he was laughing. I was like, “Oh, please don’t do that.” It’s all the same really, but I guess when I’m in the room, poetry feels a bit heavier.

Poetry has a derogatory feel where it can seem pretentious. Wait, it is I guess. [Laughs] You’re writing your feelings down in a book and you’re expecting people to somehow want to read it. That’s a little bit pretentious. It goes along with being a supposed poet. I hate people ever calling me one, really. I don’t want to use the word wanky, but it is a bit frivolous--

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Did you ever feel that way about music?

Not so much, no. There’s something about poetry — and I love poetry, obviously. I love it in its best moments just as much as music or any of the arts…. Not many poets are millionaires. If you do poetry first and foremost, you know you’re going to be broke. That’s quite self-indulgent, really. There are connotations to it that music doesn’t have. People listen to music after work. That period when you’re relaxing, not many pick up a poetry book. It’s quite heavy. I adore it, but it’s self-indulgent.

I want to get to the album, obviously. Do you find yourself influenced by or experimenting with something you haven’t in the past?

I’m doing these demos and I’m more involved on the production side. I’m using drum loops to write to, and that’s been amazing and different. I’m doing higher quality demos than I usually do, which was just me and a guitar.

I’m listening to different kinds of music. Every time I write a song, I try to listen to my wife’s view on it. She’s got good taste in music, but it’s not my taste in music. Hearing her response, which is not something I’ve done before, has been really interesting. They’re like, ‘This is great’ or ‘This is terrible’ and I often think the opposite. It’s making me more relatable. I’d like to be.

Has it taken you a while to let her in?

Yeah it’s been seven or eight years. I’d play the stuff, but I wouldn’t ask her opinion. I think it’s important because she listens to a lot more modern stuff, and she knows who a lot of new bands are that I haven’t gotten around to yet, because I’m still listening to The Kinks. [Laughs] I think it’s important to do that. Music shouldn’t be this snobby thing, so just because she doesn’t play an instrument doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what good music is.

What song has you the most excited and why?

There’s one song that hasn’t gotten a name yet, but it’s quite tribal. It started off as this annoying guitar riff, but it moves up the scale and comes down and it repeats a lot through the whole song. It sounds quite tribal, like a mantra almost. That was one of teh first things I wrote. I wrote it with this drum machine and I didn’t put guitar on it until the very end. That was the start of hte record really, where I thought, “Okay, this could be cool.” I loved the drum sounds and the bass sounds and rather having my voice as the engine, I wanted that as the engine. I wanted the songs to move more than they’ve ever moved.

Lyrically I’m always going to push the boundaries of what I can, but I think it’s an interesting collaboration between this kind of quite heavy drums and bass and then my lyrics. I think it will make a great song and the guitar will be slightly less visible and more particular at the same time.

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Bobby Long

Sultans

I’m planning to record a new album, and I want to invite you along for the journey again.
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