Thirteen Lost & Found: RM Hubbert

Featuring Aidan Moffat, Alasdair Roberts and more...

RM Hubbert crafts music which is at once both intimately familiar and unquestionably strange.

Eshewing lyrics, his guitar playing takes the place of the human voice. Opening himself up to a wealth of new influences, RM Hubbert recently gathered together a crew of collaborators to focus on a fresh album.

‘Thirteen Lost & Found’ is out now on Chemikal Underground, benefiting from the voices of Emma Pollock, Alasdair Roberts and more. Alex Kapranos oversaw some aspects of the recording, inviting the cast down to his home in the Borders.

A wonderful release, ‘Thirteen Lost & Found’ is a sumptuous, gorgeous listen but carries with it an emotional weight which plunges into the deepest of black seas.

ClashMusic sent out a number of questions to those involved, attempting to piece together just how this record came into being. Here’s what filtered back to us…

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John Ferguson
Hubby is someone whom I have been a huge admirer of musically since his time with El Hombre Trajeado. We used to share bills with them from time to time and I have always been struck by his imaginatively melodic and emotive guitar playing. The music he made with El Hombre and his ‘First and Last’ album never suffered from the absence of vocals as the substance and style of his playing communicates and resonates with the audience/listener more than adequately. His solo music is brave, very emotional, evocative, melodic…one thing it is not is musical wallpaper.

How did the collaboration occur?
Hubby asked me and I said yes! We got together to work it out in a rehearsal room and in his flat – his flat proving more conducive to the process. Probably something to do with having natural light, a supply of coffee, a dog kicking about, dim sum to eat and so on.

I’ve recorded with Jamie Savage before and value his attention to detail and also his creative suggestions. I’d never worked with Alex Kapranos before but he too was very easy to work with. Good chat, encouragingly responsive and, like Jamie, highly attentive.

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Shane Connolly

How familiar were you with RM Hubbert’s music before you began the project?
As familiar as a draft to a draft excluder

What does his music mean to you?
Not sure… Making music with him means a lot.

How did the collaboration occur?
He asked me and I said aye.

What was the atmosphere in the studio like?
We wrote the piece in my living room and the atmoshphere was all living roomy.

Is the collaboration something you would consider again?
Oh go on then.

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Aidan Moffat
I’m a big fan of the first record (‘First & Last’) and I’d seen him play loads of times before. He was pretty difficult to avoid; he always seemed to playing somewhere whenever I went out!

What does his music mean to you?
That’s a difficult question to answer because I know that all the songs have certain meanings and inspirations to Hubby, but of course with largely instrumental music these meanings probably won’t tally with those of the listener. I just find it incredibly beautiful with a hint of sadness; the meanings change depending on where I am and how I feel. That said, when you see him live and he introduces a piece and explains the motivation behind it, it always seems to work and gives you a fresh perspective.

How did the collaboration occur?
He asked! And I said yes immediately.

What was the atmosphere in the studio like?
I was only there for about three hours but it was great. We’d already recorded a demo so we were very prepared and it didn’t take long to get a good live take. Then Alex managed to coax some harmonies out of me, which I was very impressed with. I’ve tried things like that before and never got it right, but Alex seemed to know exactly what to say to trick me into doing something I thought was impossible.

Our song turned out great, I’m very happy with it, and I’ve got no reason to think another one would be any different. He need only ask.

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Alasdair Roberts
I’d seen Hubby’s previous band El Hombre Trajeado play back in the day – oh, ten, fifteen years ago or so. We used to live in the same street in the west end of Glasgow but I was a bit intimidated by him. I got to know him personally a lot more recently and discovered that
he was intimidated by me too. We bonded over mutual social ineptitude. I’ve heard him play and observed his solo music develop numerous times over the past few years. We also shared a flat briefly so I got to hear the work in progress.

Hubby’s music is true art: personal, thoughtful, subtle, passionate. It’s a real window into the man’s soul and an intermeshing of all his influences, musical and otherwise. As a guitarist myself, the flamenco element appeals to me a lot, and my respect for Hubby’s knowledge of and love for that musical form.

Hubby asked me to be involved. I sent him the demo of the song I had in mind, ‘The False Bride’, an old Scottish folk song I learned from my father Alan. Then we met in my kitchen to work on it together. Hubby came up with a guitar figure which complements the vocal well, I believe. I had a day off on tour so I went to Alex’s studio in the Borders for a night to do the recording, which we nailed in a few takes.

It was a beautiful spring day – or was it summer? The session was very relaxed with a lot of warmth and camaraderie – most of the musicians there have known each other and crossed paths in Glasgow and beyond for years. Alex cooked a delicious stew; everyone chatted and reminisced over red wine. There was another band around, two young men from London whose names I forget, but a pleasant time was had in their company also.

Well, of course I’d consider collaborating again. I’d be interested in actually writing something totally new together at some point in the future as opposed to presenting Hubby with an old traditional song to arrange, although I am very fond of that song and am very happy with Hubby’s treatment of it.

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Alex Kapranos
I’ve known Hubby’s music since we were both in our teens, so this is the third decade. I loved First and Last, it was so honest and emotionally expressive. Hubby was always a great guitarist, but I’d never heard him, or anyone else for that matter, play like this.

What does his music mean to you?
It expresses part of me that can’t express itself.

How did the collaboration occur?
Hubby was staying at my house. We were catching up, necking whisky, playing guitar by the fire. It was cosy. We were either going to do this or get off with each other.

What was the atmosphere in the studio like?
About 90% humidity. I live in the wettest village in Scotland.

Other than that, I found it very easy. Hubby and all the collaborators were open and quick to work with. There was no fannying around. The way I record, I’m in the room with the performers, rather than in a control room most of the time, so there were some real hair-on-the-neck moments, as it was all live. Being in the room with Emma or Ali with Hubby was such a privilege.

Is the collaboration something you would consider again?

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Emma Pollock
It’s wonderful to appreciate how a single instrument can sound so huge in its effect when played with the skill that Hubby possesses. There’s also something so refreshing about there being no lyric – so much of popular music is always sold as being as much about the lyric as the music leaving very little room for instrumental music to be heard in its own right and not as an accompaniment to film or advert. The fact this album has been welcomed by so many people is testament to the sad fact that the range of genre choices offered to us by a lot of popular media is really very limited and when we hear music as beautiful and stripped back as this, particularly live, it completely stops us in our tracks.

Hubby came round to the house a good few times and we sat together and just played about with some ideas. I’ve never really written a song like that before and it was pretty scary, but wonderful to have the opportunity to sing alongside such a lovely instrument.

We recorded at Alex’s home studio and it was mostly completely live apart from some minor additional overdubs. It was quite an intense song to record but I do like that actually as it gives the whole affair a heady atmosphere. We did the vocal overdubs in a glass conservatory which had loads of plants in it and as it was right in the middle of the summer it smelled amazing. The room had great natural reverb and I was singing quite far from the mic to get a really ethereal sound. Hubby and I also recorded a song with Alasdair Roberts – a cover of an old traditional Italian song. That was completely live with all of us doing our thing in the one room around a few mics. That was quite unforgettable and again extremely intense. Alasdair and I were singing in Italian, with me not entirely sure of the translation of the words, but it sounded terrific. Looking forward to a chance to play that live.

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‘Thirteen Lost & Found’ is out now.

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