A conversation with Neilson Hubbard about his latest album “Digging Up The Scars”
A very introspective record, Neilson Hubbard’s “Digging Up The Scars” follows “Cumberland Island”, which was released two years ago and was mainly based on the songwriter’s recent honeymoon. Once again, the main themes of his songs are love, the passing of time and the search for truth. The album is co-produced by Ben Glover, who also plays the acoustic guitar; Joshua Britt from the Orphan Brigade provides the mandolin, Danny Mitchell plays keyboards and horns, and the other musicians are Michael Rinne (bass), Flint McCullum (drums) and Juan Solorzano (lap steel guitar).
Recently, I have had the pleasure of asking a few questions to Neilson, mainly about the album artwork and the atmosphere of hope and acceptance which imbues the lyrics of the songs.
Hi Neilson, and welcome to my blog.
Many records published in the last months have been influenced, more or less, by the pandemic. The lyrics or the atmospheres of many songs are infused with melancholy or with the sense of seclusion and uneasiness provided by it. Anyway, listening to your record I have not received this impression, as there aren’t any noticeable references to this topic…
I actually wrote almost all of the record right before the pandemic hit the United States. So those themes weren’t really front and center in my thinking when I was writing the songs. We recorded the record during the summer of the pandemic and then released it this spring. I think the recording process and release felt the strangest to me. I wondered if the material would resonate in the current environment.
Even if scars, the memories of old wounds and pains, are mentioned, the general impression I receive is one of acceptance and healing. Do you agree?
Yes. I think that is the major theme of this record. We all live our lives and through that we find pain and beauty…. Hurt and healing. As we grow older, we are faced with how we’ve lived and what we want for our lives with the time we have left. I feel like that acceptance is so crucial to us having any kind of peace in our lives.
I am usually very interested in album artworks. I think that the cover, the choice of colours and the pictures of the internal booklet, especially if they have been taken or conceived by the songwriter himself, are particularly significant in conveying the message of the whole album. What about “Digging Up The Scars”? I see that you have taken the pictures… can you tell me more about them?
Over the last few years I have built up a video company with my partner Joshua Britt called Neighborhoods Apart. Through that I began to start shooting video and then photography. I began to expand my expression through a visual format. It’s been extremely fulfilling and helped me with my music as well. I think my biggest response to our fast paced overloaded digital world has been to find intimacy. Photography seems to be a very clear way to to do that for me. Whether meeting people and taking their portrait or finding abandoned buildings or dirty roads….
I think my goal is to always try to find the intimacy of the moment and the exchange. On my last record I did all the photography for Cumberland Island. It was an intimate day I spent with my wife on that island with wild horses and mansion ruins. I used a black and white with a kind of burned look to it. In “Scars” I wanted to keep that look and feel. Most of these shots are from the Mississippi delta close to my hometown. That is where I do so much of my photography. It seemed to fit the message of the record…..Finding beauty and a grounded truth in the midst of places with heavy scars and reality.
The central picture portrays a couple of lovers (is it you and your wife?) and this reinforces the idea that love is the main theme, or at least an important one. The other pictures represent details, fragments of everyday life spent in a rural environment and they are complementary to the lyrics… I have seen many beautiful photographs on your website, so I imagine that photography is, together with songwriting, one of your favourite means of expression.
That photograph is of me and my wife. I have another band with an artist named Matthew Ryan called Strays Don’t Sleep. We were doing some photos for that band. My wife was helping out and I had my camera set up with the setting and the look we were using. We had finished and Ryan snapped this one of us with my camera. I love this shot because it is an intimate moment. It does match the other pieces and theme of the record. At the core of our lives there is intimacy and it is who we really are… the things we can’t hide. That true self. This felt right because in all those songs that idea remains.
In 2017 you, with the Orphan Brigade, made a concept album after the visit to the Caves of Osimo in Italy. Where did this idea come from? Are there any other Italian places which have fascinated you?
After The Orphan Brigade made that first record I don’t think we thought we would make another. It felt like a singular idea and concept. When we first toured Italy for that album we were shown the caves of Osimo and told some of the history. We all came out of the caves with our first song… and knew we had found the next subject for a record. It was so inspiring. It had history, it had romance, it had ghosts, it had everything we love in music….Mystery! We were so excited to meet Simona and she was our guide and muse for that record. We were so thankful to Andrea Parodi and Appaloosa Records for bringing us over to explore this wild idea and location.
Thank you so much, Neilson, for being available to answer my questions, and for your time. I hope to see you in Italy again, maybe next summer.