A CHAT WITH: HUGO RACE
aaamusic | On 15, Dec 2016
Hugo Race is a founder and collaborator for music projects embracing various genres from blues to electronica, ethnic vibes and industrial. Thirty years of music career shared between Australia, Europe and Africa; a unique combination of emotional power, mesmerising sonic landscapes and transcendental philosophy. AAA Music journalist Agnessa Yermakova interviewed Hugo in the middle of his ongoing European tour dedicated to his 24 Hours to Nowhere album released earlier this year.
Was there any certain point in your life at which you realized that you want to step into music career? Or did it all go naturally and smoothly?
I was awed and mystified by music as a small child, from there I gravitated naturally towards music. By the time I was 12 I was playing guitar and at 14 I formed my first electric band, but I wouldn’t say it went all that smoothly! I fell into this musical life, a series of setbacks and complications played out against a backdrop of illusions, but that is also the art-life – a sometimes beautiful but unusually difficult business. In a way, I never really felt I had a choice – the momentum of the music carried me away before I’d even realized it was happening. You know that old song, ‘The River of No Return’?
You chose the name Fatalists for one of your music projects. Do you believe that everything in one’s life is determined and we have no choice at all? Or you just feel that there are some laws of life which no one can bypass?
Certainly there are life laws that we all obey – having our hearts broken, growing old, these are non-negotiable inevitabilities. And then there is the question of character; many have said character is destiny. But what of character? Being father to two children showed me that we are born with very specific personalities, evident at a very young age. So in a sense we are own destiny and our fate is to evolve into who we really are, the person we were always intended to be. I think we know when we’re on the right path instinctively, but when we act against our own best interests, that too is fate. When we are not true to ourselves, we subvert our destinies. Our fate can be indecisive, unrealised – we can fail in this life if we fail to be faithful to our own nature. Life is a paradox where nothing is it what it seems to be, and in that lies the beauty. Free will is ours if we choose to use it. Many don’t.
Your latest album is called 24 Hours to Nowhere. And what about the destinations in your own life? Where are you going and what were the main “stations” on your way so far?
To me, the title 24 Hours to Nowhere resonates on different levels. There’s the existentialist thing – 24 hours, a single day, the meaningless repetition of another rotation of the planet. Or – 24 hours, the time it takes to fly from Melbourne to Rome… Or just the Australian experience of vast distances and time to leave one place and arrive somewhere else. My life has contained thousands of destinations, but arriving there was never the real point of it all – it was always, as they say, about the journey itself. I just keep moving forward. They say my music is often dark, but personally I’m an optimist. I believe we can make things happen, that there are no coincidences, and that the space between right/wrong and good/bad is a vast continuum of grey zones. I’m looking not just for information but for understanding. I’m constantly working to evolve my own creative concepts and new experience is part of that. I’m writing this in an airport after a week of recording in Istanbul, which was amazing. There have been many stops along the way and Turkey was the most recent. Next week, it’s Spain….
How would you define the main subjects of your songs? What ideas make you obsessed and push to create new songs?
Songs present themselves to me as vaguely intuited ideas, and I work as a channel to translate the words and music into something we can share. There is a mystery to creation that I don’t want to disturb with analysis. But I can sense the power of ideas, and once they present themselves (in a dream, an overheard conversation, an old song heard on the radio of a passing bus, the memory of a song from childhood that may be or even may not be real) I move fast to hold on to that idea, that inspiration. Inspiration can happen at the weirdest times. The basic impetus to create tends to be relatively simple – even if the realization of the idea is complex, it needs to be rendered in a simple way. Simple concepts are universal, powerful – part of the collective subconscious. Love, transcendence, fear, desire. These are the basic materials of my songwriting.
Many of your songs are about man/woman relationship. What does an ideal relationship mean for you?
We live in the duality of ourselves, isolated within/against the universe, and this is the adventure, that we discover ourselves through each other, through the significant other. Most of us are in some sense incomplete, we often fear being alone and need union with another. It’s the dominant theme of human life. Music is a spiritual force, what else should music talk about if not love? Music is the closest thing to love that I know. But I’m no expert on relationships – as they say, love is a battlefield…
As for your relationship with music, did it somehow change during the years of your career?
Music has become deeper for me as time goes by. How I hear it, how I play it, the experience is now more powerful and personal than it ever was before.
Musical forms that were my horizon thirty years ago are now far behind me. Modern ‘new’/classical music – Ligeti, Arvo Part, Penderecki – or African beats, are as meaningful (if not more so) to me as rock and roll music. They are different galaxies, but they also overlap and collide. My musical universe has greatly expanded and so have the kinds of ideas that I attempt in my own work – I’m drawn as much to ambient, ‘world’ and electronic music as I am to songwriting. And I think this is because through traveling I’ve exposed myself to different forms and no matter how alien they may appear at first, ultimately they touch the heart and the soul. Every time I don’t know what to listen to next, I just go back to the master – John Lee Hooker – and he straightens out my mind every time.
We know that you release not only music, your Road Series book was published earlier this year. What urged you to share your memories and experience with the audience this way?
I’ve always been interested in books, literature and writing. Previously, I had written two unfinished books of fiction, both of which I abandoned because after a year or so of work they meant almost nothing to me. Then I found myself talking to friends and often answering questions about where I’d been and what I’d been doing and came to realize that the strange way in which I move and work was of interest to other people. Then came the first trip to Mali in Africa – which was so fascinating and intense that I began to take notes in order to remember later exactly what had gone on. So traveling and taking notes in Mali became the beginning of the writing of Road Series. And then I realized that writing about real things in the real world was what I wanted to do. Experimenting with my memories and with the language to describe them took me on a deep trip into the past. The writing of the book was a three-year journey through my psyche. I think about writing the sequel in maybe ten years from now…
Australia is known for quite dark music, blues and hard rock bands. What is so special about your native country that encourages people to create successful music of this kind?
Australia is a pretty harsh landscape where crops, animals, practically everything perishes from exposure to the natural elements. It’s a country built on colonies and forced labor. Everything is far away from everything else and in between there is more space than anyone can handle. It is a fairly tough reality and the Australian culture reflects this. There is also humor, and self-deprecation and the willingness to fail in pursuit of your dreams. Some of these qualities come through in the music. And to play music in Australia requires real commitment as the odds are stacked against you to succeed. When success is not the target, experimentation and self-expression can flourish. In the early days of making music, we made original music to please ourselves because it was so hard to get the new records from overseas – and through that to some extent we grew up in a vacuum and created our own sound.
What is the dominant source of inspiration for your music – reality or dreams and other obscure things?
The world around us in all its paradoxical pain and joy is the inspiration for my music and writing. Yes, there is music in my head all the time and I try to set it free, and dreams are a part of this, but I’m inspired as much by music and songs from long ago (particularly the 1960s) as I am by fleeting (dream) visions of music that does not yet exist. As a lyricist, I write from real life, a very simple approach exemplified by the blues. Everything you need is right there in front of you; talk about what you know, and if what you know is strange, sincere and interesting enough, people will want to listen.
You maintain a number of music projects that are active for many years already. What is your receipt for such sustainability?
The main thing is that the music is good, real and from the heart. I rotate between the projects – when one album project is over, there’s another waiting for its time and space. Timing is important. The True Spirit waited six years to make the last album, The Spirit. There was no rush, there was always something else to do, so the album evolved without pressure and expectation, and that is good for the music.
And how do you tend to build a band?
I don’t – I prefer to allow the band to evolve from a situation where there is a natural convergence of intentions, personalities and opportunities
Are you looking for specific personal traits in musicians or you are mainly interested in their proficiency?
Personal traits, yes, like connectivity, telepathy and passion, as well as an aptitude for serious hard work. And the basic ability to experiment and not to lose your cool when things don’t work out.
What are the three most difficult things for a performing musician?
Staying healthy on tour, not letting either success or failure contaminate your soul, and managing your personal life.
What are the three most rewarding things in being a performing musician?
The joy of music itself, the experience of being drawn inside other cultures when you travel and collaborate, and working for your own dreams
…Your top three most influential books?
William Burroughs – Naked Lunch
Jack Kerouac – On The Road
Nic Cohn – Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom
…Your top three most influential music albums?
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
The Pop Group – Y
John Lee Hooker – The Real Folk Blues
…Three pieces of advise for anyone who wants to become a professional musician?
Take nothing for granted; trust your own instincts; whenever possible, don’t sign anything.