ON TOUR AND INTERVIEWED : HUGO RACE

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BY GIL ALEXANDER

Melbourne rock icon Hugo Race has returned to release his solo album ‘No, But It’s True’ through Rough Velvet Records. I spoke with Hugo earlier this week to get an insider’s look at his album, his life, and his homecoming.

When I called Hugo at around lunchtime he was crossing over busy Lygon St and I had to wait patiently while he found a quiet café to talk in. He spoke with a reassured and calm voice, no doubt a product of having been interviewed many times before, which instantly relaxed any formalities of our conversation.

GA: “Perhaps eclectic isn’t a strong enough word to describe the variety of artists featured on this album, from Leonard Cohen to Barry White as well as a Christmas carol, how did you decide who made the cut?”

HR: “Well I suppose I have an eclectic taste in music” Hugo laughed. “’No, But It’s True’ is a collection of love songs that have been special to me during my life. I was interested in the process of breaking those songs down to a common denominator, and in that deconstruction I found them all to have a curious aspect that made them remarkable. I also wanted to see how they could be interpreted and translated on a steel string guitar.”

GA: “Ok let’s start with Barry White. Arguably, a high percentage of his songs are about love, what was it about ‘Never Ever Gonna Give You Up’ that made it particularly remarkable?”

HR: “Barry certainly has a number of love songs to choose from, a lot of good ones too. Honestly, it was the iconic baritone intro to that got me, though sadly I had to bow out from doing it on the album as it wasn’t in my repertoire.

GA: “One of my favorites on ‘No, But It’s True’ is Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’. It’s a dark and covetous number, how did you feel when you first heard it?”

HR: “Over the years I have debated the validity of Bruce Springsteen, but I’ve always admired this song. I remember when it came out in 84’ thinking just how sexy it was. It’s complicated in its own way, because ‘I’m on fire’ isn’t just about sex, it’s about desire and frustration; I try to bring that out. It’s a song I wish I had written, so naturally it had to be on the album.”

GA: “Lee Hazlewood’s 1968 ‘Wait and See’ is one of the more heartbreaking songs on the album, how do you feel it fits into ‘No, But It’s True’?”

HR: “Well, ‘wait and see’ is the ultimate “I’m sorry baby” song, and for me it’s something I can relate to on a personal level. I wanted the entire spectrum of love songs for the album. It’s apologetic, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t say “next time it’ll be better”, it simply says hopefully it’ll be ok – let’s just wait and see.

GA: “A track I had a lot of fun listening to was ‘Never Say Never’ by Romeo Void, though it wasn’t until I read over the lyrics that I realized just how sexually graphic this song was. Considering this song is clearly from a female’s perspective, why did you choose it for the album?”

HR: “We used to go to dance halls in the 80’s where they played a lot of new wave, and this song in particular got a lot of play, so it’s nostalgic for me. The lyrics are perverse and strange, and relate to the Elektra complex as well as outlining the possibility of lusting after and disliking someone at the same time. It’s just a weird, funny song, and I’ve always liked it.”

GA: “Leonard Cohen’s ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ is an incredibly moving piece, and you seemed to be very much in your element whilst executing it. How has this song affected your life?”

HR: “This song was written in a later stage of Cohen’s career, and you really do get the sense that he is an old man looking back on his life, coupled with the feeling of having arrived at a certain point. So this for me this was a song I could empathize with”. Hugo laughs a bit before he continues. “‘A thousand kisses deep’ is a beautiful song with incredible imagery built on a bed of profound poetry; it was a piece I took a lot pleasure in performing.”

GA: “You have been living abroad for over twenty years, why have you chosen now to come back to live in Melbourne?”

HR: “Life takes curious twists and turns, and honestly coming home has been in the works for about five years now. The short answer is family reasons have compelled me to return.”

GA: “Speaking of your time abroad, you were one of the first western musicians, let alone Australian musicians, to perform in the eastern bloc. How was that experience as both an artist and a westerner?”

HR: “Amazing. There was a real thirst for music at that time, just because pretty much no one had been there. In fact a lot of our first gigs were organized by underground political groups.”

GA: “Really?”

HR: “Yeah, It was crazy. Half the shows we did back then were lit by 45 gallon drums of burning diesel. Also, skinheads would occasionally do run-throughs.”

GA: “You’re going to have to explain that skinhead thing.”

HR: “Basically, skinheads would get word that a lefty band was playing that night, turn up with all their skinhead friends and trash the place. Throw bottles, get into fights with the crowd, we were lucky there were no major incidents. Thankfully we had this guy driving the bus at the time who could double as a bodyguard/get away driver.”

GA: “You’ve chosen to conclude the album with a verse from ‘Silent Night’, a piece that is traditionally a religious song and not a love song. Why?”

HR: “Well actually for me it is a love song. It’s my girlfriend’s favorite song and she really wanted it on the album. So in a way it’s gift of love. Also, I feel it pulls away from the mainstream and gives the album a kind of non-sequitur ending.”

On that note I thanked Hugo Race for his words and his time, and let him get back to his café in Lygon St, as he left me to ponder love, forgiveness, and fascism.

Hugo Race will be performing ‘No, But It’s True’ on the 25th of this month at Pure Pop Records. The album has also been made available on iTunes.

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