Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato has maintained a remarkable consistency during his more-than-ten-year solo career. While fronting power-emo group Waxwing he released his minimalist, melancholy self-titled debut in 1999; Waxwing released its last record in 2002, but Votolato continued to make records under his own name—2003’s “Suicide Medicine” and 2006’s “Makers,” one Second Nature Recordings and the other on Barsuk, were highlights. Over time Votolato slowly increased his sound with full-band accompaniment, and also got away from the somber acoustic blood-letting and moved more towards rock-folk and even country, embracing his Texas roots.
Votolato is a family man now with a wife and two kids, and on “True Devotion,” his brand new record for Barsuk, he takes a step back and slows the pace, offering songs with little more than just his voice and his guitar-playing. A subtly hopeful record, devastatingly pretty, “True Devotion” was the result of a year-long battle Votolato had with isolation and depression.
“I just went through a dark period leading up to the making of the record,” Votolato says, “where I couldn’t make music at all. I was really sick, dealing with depression—I’ve battled it my whole life, and it was what originally got me into music, the healing aspect of it—and so, I just reached a place where things were pretty dark. And so I couldn’t write for almost a year. I was trying to write, too. This is how I’ve made a living. I was way overdue on putting out a record, almost three years, and when you’re an indie artist who skirts by that’s a long time. But I didn’t care about that. I was just so sick I had to stop everything. I stopped touring, stopped going out, stopped seeing my friends. I just stayed in my apartment. I read a bunch of books, got back to the source of why I made art in the first place.”
Votolato says ultimately it was his family that helped pull him through, and admits that “True Devotion” is at its core a record for them. Even for a songwriter who has poured his soul out on record after record, the content of this album might make a man feel vulnerable, at the mercy of the audience. Votolato says that with time, he’s developed some perspective.
“You know, what’s cool now, I just feel a little detached from it,” he says. “I guess I’m just happy I got through that period. The album is done. I’m happy with the record, so I’m not feeling as vulnerable. I actually feel confident I think, and I’m more ready to talk about what I went through, and I’m less concerned what people think in general. I just think there’s wisdom in understanding that it’s really none of my business what other people think of me. It’s just up to me to be who I am and do what I’m doing from my heart.” (Tom Lynch)
Rocky Votolato plays February 26 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508. 10pm. $15.