Richard Thompson :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Time has not dulled Richard Thompson. On his new record 13 Rivers, the 69-year-old's guitar sounds as barbed as ever, ringing with the same rawness that defines past masterpieces like Shoot Out the Lights and Sweet Warrior. What's more, the new lp, his 19th overall, finds the songwriter addressing the spiritual longing that's run like a thread through records like Pour Down Like Silver and Hand of Kindness. "I'm longing for a storm to blow through town/And blow these sad old buildings down," he sings on album stand out "The Storm Won't Come," pining for the kind of destruction that makes way for new creation. "Fire to burn what fire might/And rain to wash it all away," he intones over an insistent stomping rhythm. After all these years, Thompson remains committed to tearing away the superficial to make way for the real.

Following a set of acoustic releases and 2015's Still, which was produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, 13 Rivers was produced by Thompson himself. Recorded in 10 days with familiar collaborators from his live band, the album benefits from a first thought/best thought strategy. "I’m always aiming to get in and out of the studio as fast as possible, without rushing," Thompson says over the phone. "I had a producer slated for this record, but he had to cancel. Everything was booked, so I thought, 'I’ll just do it myself this time.'"

The result is a tough but yearning record, and one of Thompson's best in years. AD rang Thomson from his home in New Jersey, where he's lived about a year since moving out from California, to discuss the record and the energy that's fueled his work since emerging in the late '60s with Fairport Convention, through his '70s and '80s classics with his ex-wife Linda Thompson, and into his long and consistent solo run.

AD: You always play with a tremendous amount of intensity, but 13 Rivers feels especially relentless. In the notes that accompany the album, you talk about how the playing was a reflection of your internal state. What do you mean by that?

Richard Thompson: It’s been a tough couple years for my family, which I can’t really talk about. That kind of stress gets reflected in the music. It’s been intense in that sense, and probably that goes into the playing, songwriting, everything. Hopefully, that emotion comes across. I hope it would.

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