WITH the release today of new album Breaks and Bone, award-winning songwriter R.M. Hubbert finds himself completing a trilogy he never intended.
"It was never meant to be a trilogy, but when it came time to make this record, I realised I wanted to take a year to deal with this stuff differently," Hubbert said ahead of this evening’s planned appearance at Hootananny in Inverness.
Hubbert’s unintentional "Ampersand Trilogy", began with First & Last, an entirely instrumental album written in response to the loss of the Paisley born musician’s parents and his own battle with depression.
Follow up Thirteen Lost & Found featured contributions from some of Hubby’s contemporaries on the Glasgow music scene, including Aidan Moffat, Emma Pollock, Alasdair Roberts and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, who produced the album, going on to win the title of Scottish Album of the Year this summer, beating off competition from the likes of Emeli Sandi and Calvin Harris — both of whom failed to make the shortlist.
Breaks & Bone sees Hubby take on vocal duties for the first time on an R.M. Hubbert album in what is again a very personal solo recording.
"My parents had died about the time of First & Last, so the record was about trying to communicate a little bit around that. Thirteen Lost & Found was conceived as a way of trying to connect with some friends. This one is about letting go of some of that stuff," Hubbert explained.
"For the last five years I’ve been touring and talking about all this stuff, but I’m also aware it’s maybe not the best way of dealing with it. I’m just trying to move on a bit and maybe draw a line under it with this album — but it’s a lot happier than I’m making it sound!"
Though creating music has helped him cope with his depression, Hubbert added that he is not trying to depend on it so much.
"Writing music helps me and gives me a bit of catharsis, but it’s not the most reliable source of support," he said, admitting that one bad show could easily pitch him back into depression.
Without the star contributions of Thirteen Lost & Found, he sees Breaks & Bone as a more natural extension of First & Last.
"I wanted to put words on this album as a way of giving it some finality," he explained.
"One of the things I love about instrumental music is that its meaning changes over the years. It’s very easy for people to imprint their own feelings on it. But for this group of songs, because I wanted to put a line in the sand, I wanted to put words to them so the meaning wouldn’t change. But that said, it is half vocal and half instrumental."
Because it is so personal, it was never an option to call on outside help as he did with his second album.
"It was something I wanted to say and I wanted to say it in my own voice," he said.
Hubbert also has a distinctive style when it comes to playing guitar, making use of the flamenco techniques he taught himself while trying to keep his mind busy and combat depression.
"I have this weird obsession with trying to make a solo guitar sound like a full band, so I try and cram as much in there as I can," Hubbert explained.
"I’m not a big fan of acoustic music. I grew up listening to powerful bands like Sonic Youth and Black Flag, so I love the challenge of making this one instrument sound as full as possible."
Yet, having established himself as a solo guitar player, he has no immediate plans to return to a band environment.
"I like the challenge," he said.
"I think the constraint is good for my creativity. Having this very strict limits forces you to be a bit more adventurous. Also I played in bands for years and I’d be very happy never to lug another bass amp or drum kit upstairs again! Just having one guitar is fine for me."
Playing solo also brings an intimacy the band format cannot replicate.
"It’s easier to make a connection, which is important," he added.
"Everything I talk about is very personal to me. I’m fine staring it with a roomful of strangers, but I’m uncomfortable having other people on stage while I’m doing it."
Though, following his win at the Scottish Album of the Year Awards, Hubbert’s music is perhaps getting more attention than ever, he owns up to a complicated relationship between himself and his music.
"Music has to have a purpose for me these days," he said.
"I spent 20 years desperate to be a successful musician, but now I have a slightly strange relationship to music where it’s part therapy for me — and nobody really enjoys their therapy that much.
"I love doing shows and recording, but there was a time when every waking moment was related to music and that’s not the same any more. It’s slightly more complicated now. If I could flick a switch and get rid of my illness, but never play music, I would get rid of my illness.
"Music can be hugely fun, but it’s not like a dream come true. I can get across my feelings better with a guitar than with my voice. That’s what music is for with me."
•R.M. Hubbert appears in The Bothy at Hootananny, Church Street, Inverness, this evening, Friday 27th September, at 8pm and The Tunnels Aberdeen tomorrow. Support comes from Glasgow singer Maeve O’Boyle. Breaks & Bone is released today on the Chemikal Underground label.