Music News & Reviews

Indie musician Rocky Votolato reveals his lighter side

Rocky Votolato
Rocky Votolato

Even though he lives in typically dreary Seattle, Rocky Votolato’s dark clouds have parted.

Having dealt with depression and anxiety for much of his life, the folkie singer-songwriter says his new music is lighter than his recent work, reflecting happier times.

The native Texan, whose work includes “Suicide Medicine” and “Wait Out the Days,” will perform at Downtown Brew on Sunday.

After fronting a punk band called WaxWing, Votolato became a solo act, known for writing songs that blended autobiographical information with fiction — his tunes sometimes reflecting his moods.

His most recent effort, “True Devotion,” is a stripped-down, moody-sounding album reflecting his past and some of the books he’d recently read, including James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces.”

We spoke to him by phone as he traveled to a gig in Austin, Texas.

Q: You’ve said it was a fallacy that you need to suffer to be creative.

A: I feel like when I was younger that was definitely more of what I bought into — you’ve got to starve from your art, you have to be kind of screwed up and depressed and all this. But I don’t necessarily think it’s true. I think you can tap into creativity in different ways. I just don’t want to buy into that any more.

Q: You have had depression yourself.

A: Yeah, it’s true. And I feel like I’ve been able to make good art and be creative without that necessarily being the main driving factor. Especially since the last album and moving on to the next one. I’ve been working on it for about a year now. And most of the writing is done.

My life is great, and I feel good. And I’m not su- per depressed any more, like I was. I’ve definitely moved into a much lighter head space. And I think that’s good.

Q: With all that grayness, it seems like Seattle would be a tough place to be when you’re depressed.

A: It’s true, but I tour so much that I can get enough sun. But I want to get down to California more frequently. I just want to move down to San Luis Obispo or somewhere like that on the coast and live on the beach for a while.

Q: Some of your fans have covered your songs and posted them on YouTube. Do you ever listen to those?

A: I think that’s totally flattering. I don’t watch very many of them, unless somebody shows me one that’s very good. But I think that’s cool. If anybody’s affected by what I’m doing and is excited about it, I’m totally flattered and humbled by that.

Q: What’s the overall quality of the ones you’ve seen?

A: Oh, they’re usually not very good. I just think, “Oh, look — they tried.” Maybe they just learned how to play guitar.

YouTube wasn’t around when I was in the stage of being that inspired by artists. But I was definitely learning songs and playing them for people. So who knows, maybe I could have been one of those kids doing that kind of thing.

Q: I saw you had the living room tour a little while back.

A: That was a really cool idea. I didn’t come up with it so I can’t take credit for it. It was my buddy David Bazan — we share a management team. They came up with the idea together and thought it would be good for me to try out. It’s really cool because it makes it more intimate and brings it back to the music.

The way it works is we figure out where we want to go and then post that to our fans. Then they can send in a photo of their living room if they want to host one of the shows. And then we sort of pick from all the submissions we get the places that will work best for the shows and then put a little routing together.

My management’s awesome — they just take care of stuff and tell me where to go. We sell tickets on my website. There’s no promotion for it — it’s all underground— and I’ve done hundreds of them now, all across the country.

Q. It had to be kind of awkward when it first started. Did you purposely show up a little late to make sure there were people there?

A: Well, yeah. The first time I did it, I was super nervous. I didn’t know what I was getting into at all. You’re going to show up at some random person’s house, and I’m nervous that there’s just going to be a couple of people there, and I’m going to end up locked in a basement or something. But, no, it’s been great every time.

Q: And they’re hosting a bunch of strangers in their house. It’s not like a bunch of their buddies at a party.

A: But it almost always ends up feeling that way. It’s like it brings a community of people together around something that they’re all interested in. It’s cool because, as I’ve gone back out on club tours — like, for instance, on this tour, I was in Philadelphia, and the host from one of the house shows was there along with some of the people who had attended, and they had become really close friends — and actually started a band together.