Q&A with Rocky Votolato

Rocky Votolato plays Neumos June 9

Two years ago, Rocky Votolato emerged from his apartment after a long self-imposed exile and released True Devotion, an album that recounted the Seattle songwriter’s battle with depression and search for enlightenment. Votolato continues the search with the release of his latest full-length Television of Saints, a collection of subtle folk songs that replaces the angst of his prior work with metaphysical quandary.

Where does the expression “television of saints” come from?
There was a great yogi from India who used that phrase when he was teaching students. It was a novel expression trying to relate how everything is connected. Also, it looked good in print.

Lots of these songs involve a struggle with writing. Did you have trouble with this material?
I was really struggling to meet my own expectations for the songs. Honestly, I’m more satisfied with this album from an artistic perspective than anything I’ve made. It’s a pretty great feeling. I went through hell making this record. I made it, from start to finish, twice.

You sing a lot here about illusions. Why?
For me it’s very important to try and see through illusions because I’m always interested in finding the truth. That’s, I think, the highest goal of art, is to get past the bullshit, to get to something deeper. And, on whatever level people can relate to it, find some kind of universal essence or truth that’s tangible.

In “Writing Fiction,” you sing that life is all fiction. Aren’t you dabbling in nihilism if you start thinking that way?
Inside my own understanding, life is a dream, but it’s not our dream. It is very important what is happening, and it is real, as long as you believe it’s real. But much like a dream, when you wake up, it’s over. Your true reality is something separate from what’s happening here. It’s very metaphysical and I get the same internal cues to shut up when I start talking about this. In the Tao Te Ching, they say, “Those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know.” And I think that I’ve come to understand that. When you try to verbalize these ideas that it doesn’t go anywhere.

If you become one of “those who know,” will you stop making records?
That’s a question I’ve asked myself. It would be pretty hard for me to say that I’m going to stop making records because it’s been a part of my life for so long. I think that a lot of the goals I’ve wanted to achieve with my music I have achieved, especially with this record. Right now, though, I’m not making music. I’m kind of done, but that’s normal. I usually feel that way after making a record, especially one I put this much into.

Photo by Bjorn Lexius.