When you’re a musician from Liverpool, England, singer-songwriter Robert Vincent says, “there’s always a conversation about The Beatles.” And when he’s involved in the discussion, “people want to ask the question of why I choose to be more Americana than I would be Beatles-led.”
Vincent’s explanation is the most Beatles-ish thing about him.
“All The Beatles were doing was leaning on their influences,” he says. “They were influenced by a lot of rock ’n’ roll that was coming out of America. I don’t see me growing up and having the influence of country music or blues music or rock ’n’ roll music as any different.”
Growing up in Liverpool during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Vincent was exposed to the likes of Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris and other Americana artists through his father.
“I think initially, my overriding feeling was I didn’t really like it at all,” he recalls with a laugh. “But I always say, it goes in and then it comes out in the way that it comes out. He was also listening to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and things like that as well, but the thing I always remember the most is the country songs. Whenever I hear Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich or whoever, it just seems to be very comforting for me.”
At first, he wasn’t exactly comfortable sharing his music preferences with his friends.
“Everyone at the time was into indie [rock] music,” Vincent says, citing The Stone Roses as an example. “If I had said I was a country fan to a wide collective of my peers, I probably would have gotten a good beating.”
Along the way, Vincent played in indie bands himself, “but if I picked up a guitar and started to write a song, that country lilt and swing was always there. I couldn’t help but write [that way]. … So when I sit down and start writing, that’s the vibe that comes out.”
Over the course of three albums, Vincent has refined his lyric writing. On his 2013 debut, Life in Easy Steps, he says there’s “a huge ambiguity about it so it can appeal to anyone.” I’ll Make the Most of My Sins was “slightly more direct,” addressing “the personal choices that people take in their lives.”
The Ethan Johns-produced In This Town You’re Owned, released Feb. 14, reflects “the way that I personally see things going on within the world,” says Vincent.
“I didn’t want to poke a hornets’ nest,” he adds. “I’m not trying to annoy anyone — and I’m not preaching, either. These are things that worry me. I’m not saying that anyone else is wrong; I’m not even saying that I’m right. I’m just saying that I wanted [the songs] to say something about now, about this country and places like the U.S. For me, it’s about the division that’s kind of pressed up on both countries.
“It’s always that thing [when writing songs]: Are you worried about how people are going to take them, or do you just want to say things the way that you want to say them? And I think with this album, I wanted to say things exactly how I wanted to say them — not really worry about how people would interpret them.”
Sonically, Vincent wanted In This Town You’re Owned to be sparse.
“When I knew I was going to be working with Ethan Johns, knowing how he works and being a huge fan of how he works, I knew we could get this sound in the room,” he says. “There are no big moments where anyone steps forward on lead guitar and stakes their place. The songs are supported by this blanket of sounds.”
At first, Johns wanted to bring in musicians he’d worked with before to back Vincent.
“And I said, ‘Well, I’d really like to use my group of guys because I think we’re in a good place at this moment in time,’ ” Vincent recalls. “Looking back on that, it was quite bold of me to say I wanted to use my guys because I really could have messed things up there.”
Vincent and his bandmates only had one day of rehearsal, during which he showed them the songs, and together they ran through the material few times.
“I wanted their reactions to the songs, to the music, to the words to be as fresh as possible, so I was capturing their immediate emotional response,” he says.
Johns had an instantaneous reaction upon hearing “The End of the War” that led to a favorable outcome.
“It was seven minutes long in its raw form of me just playing and singing,” Vincent says of the song. “Ethan has this famous thing [that he does]: He would have a sparse beginning to a song, and then the outro would be the band coming in. So as soon as I played this song to him the first time, he said, ‘We’re going to do an outro on that.’ And I thought, ‘Brilliant. I’m going to get this Ethan Johns-esque outro.’ He was happy to add another two minutes onto the song, and I’m more than happy to go for an epic.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Alex Hurst