Over the course of the last 15 years, Rocky Votolato has produced some of the most powerful music to come out of Seattle, an impressive canon anchored by earnest, lyrical songwriting, and delivered in a unique indie-folk-punk style that has evolved out of the Pacific Northwest music scene he was raised in. He has matured over the course of seven increasingly accomplished solo albums, and writes songs that seem to have been scratched into a boxcar wall by a worn-out and lonesome ghost. He has recently finished work on his eighth solo album with producer Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) and has plans to release the new album on No Sleep Records in the spring of 2015 with extensive touring to follow.
But this isn't just another album. The new full length, Hospital Handshakes, will mark a turning point in Rocky's career, the end result of a tumultuous transition that began with the songwriter second-guessing his gift and even considering retiring from music.
Those doubts began to creep in shortly after the release of his seventh album, Television of Saints, in 2012. The wellspring of songs that had flowed out of him since his days in post-punk group Waxwing and through six critically acclaimed solo albums had stopped. "It became painful for me to make music," Votolato recalls. "I was hemmed in by the construct of who I thought I was supposed to be and I stopped believing in myself as a writer. On the surface I looked like a functioning artist, but behind the scenes I was completely blocked creatively, fighting a battle with severe depression, and struggling to keep my sanity."
By the time he had finished the cycle for that album—culminating with a tour with mewithoutYou—Rocky had not written a new song in more than a year.
Frustrated, he decided to get off the road for a while and sought therapy for his deteriorating mental health. It was then, in the summer of 2014, that the creative floodgates finally opened and he recommitted himself to his music with a renewed passion and sense of purpose.
In the following 3 months alone, Rocky wrote more than 25 new songs. In October he took the new batch of songs into the Hall of Justice studio in Seattle, working in the same room where he created one of his most beloved albums, 2003's Suicide Medicine. There he collaborated with Chris Walla, an old friend who is going through his own transition after recently retiring from his longtime role as guitarist and producer for Death Cab for Cutie. Speaking on his own involvement, Walla says, "This collection of songs hit me really hard, and at a really good time. It's shaping up to be a visceral and tactile album; the band is incredible, and Rocky's writing is spring tight right now. This is a good one."
Hospital Handshakes, is a surprisingly positive exploration that examines themes of healing from trauma, overcoming depression, spiritual longing and finding true meaning in life. "I feel like this record was all about pushing the boundaries of what I'm capable of creatively, experimenting with collaboration, and finding a new environment for the kind of lyric focused songwriting that I've always loved," Votolato explains. "To stay on the path of a life in music I knew I was gonna have to find a new direction and step outside of my comfort zone. It wasn't always easy but I'm so excited about the energy this album captures and can't wait to share these songs with people."
Teaming up with a standout cast of Seattle musicians, including his brother Cody Votolato on electric guitar (The Blood Brothers), Eric Corson on bass (The Long Winters), Andy Lum on drums (Craft Spells/My Goodness), and Casey Foubert contributing Aux instrumentation (Sufjan Stevens), the album that will emerge promises to be unlike anything Rocky has released before. At the core of Rocky's new music is the same earnest, impassioned, seeking voice, but now with a little more perspective, the product of self-realization hard-earned from a period of darkness and doubt. "I'm writing about trauma," Votolato says. "A lot of the material I'm working with is dark and scary, but I know there is light and healing coming through in the process, and I hope that will show up in the music as well."