There’s a scene in the stop motion film Ric Robertson created around his upcoming EP where the main character falls off a skateboard and loses an arm. It’s a harsh scenario and one the New Orleans-based artist wishes didn’t imitate life. Unfortunately, it mimics his real-life to a certain extent. Several months ago, Robertson also had a skateboarding accident that left him—limb retained—in a cast for a few months.
On the mend, Robertson has gained mobility and is refocused on releasing singles around Strange World, out Sept. 25, a four-track, funk- and trance-induced EP leading up to his second full length, set for January 2021.
First incepted back in 2018, the music on Strange World originally started out as instrumental jams in the studio with Robertson, drummer Nicholas Falk and Sam Fribush on organ and synth. More of a collaboration effort, Robertson had the musical base and decided to create the story around it.
“In addition to the songs I had written for the album, we just had these jams that sounded great, so I took a month and wrote words over it and recorded them,” says Robertson. “Just from a songwriting perspective, it’s very different from how a lot of my other songs have come out, which is more storytelling or based on experience, and done by myself.”
Opening on the swampy blues tale of “You Got Soul,” Strange World unravels its more nuanced multi-instrumentation on its title track and beyond. It’s difficult not to credit the current U.S. leadership for inspiring the soul-synth pierce of ‘“Donny B Gone,” a play off Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit “Johnny Be Goode,” but the references to the presidency were initially unintentional.
“We don’t expect the dude to be good,” says Robertson of the track. “We just need him to be gone. For the record, I’m not trying to even make some super strong political statement on one side or the other. It’s just a coincidence that he’s named Donnie and that the puppet in the movie has orange hair.”
Strange World is not meant to be compared to Robertson’s 2019 debut The Fool, The Friend, or anything Robertson creates. Each is its own musical entity. “American music is the biggest thread,” says Robertson. “I don’t know if that’s too broad, but I don’t really identify with labels or genres. It’s confining and doesn’t seem realistic to me. Ray Charles was one of the greatest country singers of all time.”
Robertson adds that to a certain extent he gets the genre-filled boxes that music is marketed within, but on the peripheral, and everywhere in between, it’s rarely the bigger picture of the sound. “If you really look into rhythm and blues or country, or rock and roll, it rides such a spectrum that it’s hard to really pull apart what’s influencing the other,” he says.
Closing on “Louisiana Love Thing” leaves off on a lighter note, wrapping Robertson’s Strange World up. “It’s more of an easy track,” says Robertson. “Compared to the others, it kind of eases everyone in. It’s funky and fun, and it’s more of a song.”
To complement Strange World, Robertson tapped into stop motion animation, and created an 11-minute film to accompany its tracks, with the exception of “Louisiana Love Thing,” all exploring real life and its fit side, the effects of technology on the human psyche.
“The movie and some of the lyrics of the songs are dealing with the mergers of technology and humanity where those things overlap or if they’re the same,” says Robertson. “I’m always been really curious about that, and I certainly think it has a lot to do with why our world feels so crazy right now. Technology is what has made it feel different than it has before.”
Crafting paper puppets and backgrounds and developing the story around Strange World‘s animated movie is something Robertson says he wouldn’t have been able to work on if he weren’t for the lockdown.
“All touring was canceled, so I had time to get into something like stop motion animation, which is 16 frames per second, “ says Robertson. “Talk about a coping mechanism. I have to stay busy. I’m just that kind of person. I like to be project-based. If I’m not working on a record, I like to be touring or working on something, so cutting paper every day really kept me kind of sane.”
Addressing the impact of social media on people, particularly during the pandemic and the current political state, it’s a world, Robertson says, where everybody’s got an opinion and nobody agrees on anything.
“There’s this preface on social media, which then translates into real life,” says Robertson. “It’s like watching the news, and they’re saying there’s a war erupting over here and there’s famine over here, and then you look out your window, and there are birds chirping. Then you’re like, ‘where’s where is all this stuff going on’?”
When it comes to social media, Robertson says there’s a fine line with creating art, promoting it that often gets crossed, and imbalanced. “There are people that hermit in their house and never share what they’re doing,” says Robertson. “But the people putting themselves out there all the time, not making stuff of substance, may not garner the kind of success that’s sustainable. In between those two things, people need find that balance, because if you just put yourself out there all the time and you’re not making something of substance and something that’s just going to trend in some fleeting way, then it’s going to be a really hard thing to sustain when you come down from that.”
Returning to work with his former Lucius band member Dan Molad, who co-produced and mixed Strange World and his upcoming album, Robertson—who was also in Lucius 2010 through 2011—says working together is always a natural union.
“Dan and I, we struck up a great relationship, and he’s always left an impression on me as one of the great producers,” says Robertson. “I just love the way he approaches things sonically, so that’s part of this transition.”
Initially Robertson had the concept of the A side of the album being something soul-country-indie, and the B side fused in funk, but realized that Strange World was a collection of songs meant to stand on its own.
“In trying to contextualize and package things to an audience, I started to think my record should be more of a cohesive next step from The Fool, The Friend, and there were 10 songs that kind of just felt like that, while these other four I just decided to put aside as its own funky EP,” says Robertson. ”So rather than trying do everything on one record, I wanted to instead get into a certain mood. When tracks are too different, and it’s going way all over the place, it’s hard to listen to the whole thing through.”
In the end, Strange World is its own piece of art. “If The Fool, The Friend falls on one end of the spectrum, then Strange World is in the other,” he says. “This record is truly in the middle.”
Still in cast and creating daily, Robertson is content in his creations and ready to open up his Strange World.
“I’m feeling honest and creative with myself and enjoying what what I’m creating in the moment,” says Robertson. “I just finished making this movie, so that it doesn’t really matter what the medium is to convey the message. I believe that whatever energy you’re experiencing when you create something, it doesn’t really matter what you make of it.”