He wrote the line about feeling "half-past dead” 50 years ago, but there are no flies on Robbie Robertson today. In addition to putting out a luxurious golden-anniversary box set version of the groundbreaking Americana album from The Band, Music From Big Pink, Robertson is busy with a new solo LP, a film soundtrack to an upcoming Martin Scorsese film and a second-volume follow-up to his 2016 memoirs Testimony. He somehow found time to speak to The Globe and Mail from Los Angeles.
In his words
"I’ve been working on a few things, including the Music From Big Pink box set, which is out now. This reissue is not a remix. I know what a remix is. All this is, is tweaking something that had certain equipment limitations at the time. This record was made on four tracks. There’s nothing to remix. All you can do is sonically make it breathe a little bit more, and let you be a little more part of the music. What [engineer] Bob Clearmountain and I have done is make the music wrap around you a little more. And that’s it.
The year 1968 was a powerful time. It was reverberating through us. We were up in the mountains in Woodstock, looking down on what was happening in the outside world. It was heartbreaking. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I couldn’t imagine anything like this happening in our generation. And then Bobby Kennedy got killed. And this war was escalating.
So, while there was a joy in the record we made, there was a deep sonic sadness in there, too. In Woodstock, we had an opportunity to live on the outside of everything that was happening. We were in this other altitude. That’s why when this record came out, people were like, ‘What is this? Where did this come from? This isn’t what’s in the air.’ Oh, it was. It was in the air where we were, up in the mountains.
I’m working on a movie, The Irishman, with Martin Scorsese. The film is being edited now, and then it’s going in for a process where they’re going to make the characters different ages. It’s a big process, and they’re trying to get it done, but I haven’t had a chance to experience the film rhythmically or to get a feel of it. But Marty has asked me for music, so I’ve written a bunch of pieces and I’ve gone into the studio and recorded things.
I’m shooting in the dark, really. It’s like making music blindfolded. Marty has that music now, so we’re going to see if any of it has a place in the film.
I’m also in the process of finishing up a new solo album, which is really turning out to be one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I jokingly refer to it as ‘Peckinpah rock.’ It’s very violent, and sensual. There’s a nature to this record in the writing and in the performance that is sonically different than what I’ve done previously. It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever, and I just found out how to do it. I’m really enjoying the process. The album will come out next year.
In addition to the music, I’m writing the second volume of my autobiography. And a documentary on the first volume, Testimony, is being made. All of this is going on, and there are two or three other projects that are circling around. Right now though, I just want to make sure I don’t bite off more than I can really be dedicated to."