Musically speaking, 2003 was a good year to be Rocky Votolato. The local singer-songwriter (who is also the frontman for rock act Waxwing) released his third solo record, Suicide Medicine, and received praise from coast to coast—it got 7.8 out of 10 stars from San Diego's CityBeat while Baltimore's City Paper called it "impassioned, affecting, poignant, memorable." He also went on successful tours with the Casket Lottery and Gatsby's American Dream, and even made friends with, and played a few shows with, fellow singer-songwriter Dashboard Confessional. Yup, things seemed to be going very well for the man who had only recently made the move to making music full time. But in the New Year things got unexpectedly quiet, especially considering Votolato has a habit of releasing at least something from his myriad projects every year.
Votolato hasn't been in hiding, however. Besides keeping busy as a happily married father of two (he has a 6-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter), Votolato has spent the past two years working on a record, making the conscious decision to do something different this round: take his time.
"I wanted every song on the record to be something I was very proud of because I feel like I've kind of rushed recording and releasing records in the past," he says. "It was nice to just really try and get it right this time. That was my philosophy with the record. I kind of dug my heels in and said, 'I'm not putting this record out until I'm 100-percent happy with it.' The record benefited from it," he pauses to laugh, "but I don't know if I did mentally."
The result of those efforts is Makers, his upcoming fourth release due out early next year. While historically Votolato has been thought of as a painfully honest, raw singer, often summoning the spirits of artists like Paul Westerberg and Jeff Buckley, Makers shows a new side, incorporating a delicate simplicity that hasn't been present in the past.
The opening track, "White Daisy Passing," is a quiet tune with a subtle country feel. Votolato sings, "Please slow it down/there's a secret place that I know/where I could dig a grave out and climb underground for good." It nods more to Elliott Smith than it does the Replacements. On "Where We Left Off" things grow even darker, and with his brother, Waxwing guitarist Cody Votolato making an appearance, it could almost be passed off as a haunting, acoustic Waxwing song.
To record the album, Votolato brought on friend and fellow musician Casey Foubert (Seldom, Pedro the Lion). "He's really talented," says Votolato. "He's got a great ear and we have really good communication, so I could get the kind of sounds that I wanted. And since we did it at his house, it was a real low-key environment and we were able to take the time we needed, which is something I'm not used to. I've usually tried to do records in a two-week-or-less time frame."
More time allowed for more attention to detail. The few but well-thought-out flourishes of vocal harmonies, steel guitar, and harmonica give the songs a more finished feel than previous efforts.
"I think those past records are what they are, I'm not ashamed of them," he continues. "I just wanted to take it up a notch in terms of being satisfied long-term. I wanted to make a record that if I put it on in two years, it will still be something I'm really proud of and will hopefully have some kind of a timeless quality."
While Makers won't be out until January of next year (with a CD release show January 28 at the Crocodile), Votolato will showcase new material this weekend, playing Seattle for the first time in many months.
"I'm gonna do a few new songs and I'm also going to be playing with a band," he says, "so I write a more stripped-down record and then I start playing out with a band..." It doesn't make sense to him either, but the changes sound firstname.lastname@example.org