Roger Street Friedman photo by Drew Reynolds
Finding Love Hope Trust with Roger Street Friedman
Singer/songwriter Roger Street Friedman released his album Love Hope Trust on November 4th, 2022; produced, like his previous album Rise, by Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson). Having released an EP that made use of his home studio in between the albums, Friedman was able to get back into the studio with Campbell and his band for Love Hope Trust, and channel a lot of his reflections from songwriting throughout the pandemic period.
Though this is already Friedman’s fourth album, his path to songwriting came later in life following a realization that his early interest in sound engineering and music had never been fulfilled. One benefit of that delay was a wealth of life experiences and observations to draw on, particularly as a parent and as someone who recognizes the significance of the passing of time. Friedman brings those perspectives to bear on several songs on Love Hope Trust, which, on the whole, stems from concern for the future of America and of humanity, in general. But Friedman is far from despairing as he looks for a different way forward. I spoke with Roger Street Friedman about his perspective as a songwriter, working with Larry Campbell, and handling divisive subjects in a welcoming way for Love Hope Trust.
Americana Highways: You’re very consistent with the release of your work for fans. You did an EP last year, and you had an album before that. I know that you came to making music later in life, so that may drive things along faster.
Roger Street Friedman: I think that coming to it later is good for the work ethic aspect of it and also from the “making up for lost time” aspect. I have a lot of music in me that hasn’t come out yet whereas a lot of artists my age already have 12 or 13 albums out already. I don’t have a quota, but I’m writing. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of topics to write about for me or a lack of inspiring chord changes and melodies. I just keep writing and as long as it’s pretty good, I want to keep putting it out there.
AH: Regardless of an artist’s age, and I’ve spoken to many artists from many different points in their lives, it seems like when an artist starts making music, they draw on their whole life up to that point as material. Starting later, does it feel like you have a pretty large field of life experiences to draw from?
RSF: I think that’s a great way to look at it, and for sure. Plus, if I were 20 and had no responsibilities, I would have a completely different perspective and probably, set of topics to write about. But we write what we know, so I write about what’s in front of me now. I don’t really write a lot of love songs, but any love songs I’ve written lately have been mostly to my kids, sort of disguised as love songs to someone else. I look at the world as a person who’s concerned what the future is going to be like for his children, looking back on the past and very aware about the passing of time. The perspective shifts.
I’ve often thought about going further back into my own childhood and trying to write from the perspective of that person. There are a lot of stories and situations that you forget about when you get older. I have a son, who is ten years old. I’d forgotten all of the stuff about being a little boy. My dad was a typical dad in those days who went to work in the morning and came home at night, so I hardly saw my dad for the first ten years of my life. But I had a very close relationship with my mother. Seeing my son with his mom brought back all of these memories for me. There’s a song called “Mother and Son” on this album that is starting to do that.
AH: Since you seem to enjoy taking a storytelling approach, I could see you going back and telling stories from that perspective.
RSF: Absolutely. And some of those would be nice memories and some of those would be not nice, but sometimes the not nice memories make for better songs!
AH: I noticed that your music gets compared to the folk rock of the 70s and I realized recently that one of the reasons that I like that music is because it was probably the first time that musicians were getting older and bringing in their life experiences in their songs. Rock was so new that it was the first generation aging up.
RSF: I think that’s a great way to look at it. The quality of the songwriting was also just so good. There were people like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Jackson Browne. 1972 was an incredible year for music and it’s the 50th anniversary this year. I think it was the combination with the fact that they were really learning how to use the studio also, so the records sounded so good.
Folk Rock singer/songwriters were also given the freedom to write whatever they wanted to. The record companies were not that controlling. The luxury that I have, having my own studio, and not having a label, and putting out my own music, is that I can write about whatever I want to write about. There’s no censorship. Those artists had that kind of freedom to develop over time.
AH: I listened to Cat Stevens/ Yusuf’s first two albums recently that are less known known. He hadn’t totally found his sound yet, but was being influenced by a label. It’s interesting to hear but you realize that he needed time to push back on that influence and figure things out. This is what it can take to find identity. You discover by doing.
RDF: Exactly, and I should have mentioned Cat Stevens/Yusuf. I was listening to Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman non-stop on vinyl last year. I just love them. There’s something so pure about his voice and his writing as well as the production on that which is so simple and beautiful.
AH: What went into the EP that you made? Was it very much a home-grown project? I noticed that you played a lot of the instruments for that one.
RST: That was all recorded during the pandemic, and it was hard to get people in a room. That was a four song EP with two originals and two covers. One was a response to our former president, “Big Truth.” The song “Come What May” almost made it onto the previous album, and I had a demo version, so I decided to finish that. The covers are very nostalgic, and “Come What May” is a nostalgic song, too, so it was a wistful EP made at a time when things were uncertain. It was good to keep pushing the envelope, so I wanted to put that out. I also released a couple of singles, including one about the Black Lives Matter protests called “Poison in the Cut.”
There was no touring, really, in 2020 or 2021 for me, so it was mostly writing. I wound up building a studio that’s in my home, but it’s kind of a level up from a home studio. The stars aligned since we had room in the basement for a control room, isolation booth, and a live room. I have a fantasy that when I get too old to write and record, maybe I’ll mix songs for other people, because that’s something I love to do. I love studio work and all of that as well.
AH: Given your track record with Larry [Campbell], you probably already knew that you’d do another album with him when the time was right and were stockpiling new songs for that time.
RST: Totally. A low number would be about thirty songs that I had ready as work tapes that I sent to him. Out of those, he suggested 16 of them for this record. Then, when we got together, we narrowed them down to 12. Some of the ones that got cut might have to go on the next one. He was very encouraging after he heard them and couldn’t wait to get back into the studio.
AH: He seems like a workhorse, too, so I’m sure he was glad to be working with people when he could.
RST: He’s the hardest working person in show business, in my opinion. In the last couple of months, he produced my album, then one for an Australian artist, interspersed with work as a musical director and playing on things. He was the artistic director for the Midnight Ramble Band band back in the day and he is brilliant. For this record, he not only produced it working with me and the band to figure out arrangements and parts, but he also did his own overdubs on guitar and figured out intricate parts and string arrangements. The guy is deep.
AH: I watched the short documentary of you all in the studio making the album, and it seemed like a lovely time. He seems like a very calm presence while being goal-oriented.
RST: For this record, the trust that we built making Rise only increased, and there was the comfort of this being the second one we’ve made together, as well as with my band. As you can see on the video, there’s a real sense of cooperation and admiration. Larry really sets the tone and everyone is looking to him as a fearless leader. The sessions are both laid back and all-business, but as you can see, everyone wants to give it their all. He gets the best performance out of everyone. One “Larry-ism” is that after a good take, though it may not necessarily be the final take, he says, “Gentlemen, if we all die tomorrow, we have it in the bag! But let’s do another one, just in case.”
AH: That is very reassuring.
RST: I think he’s raised my bar in terms of what I expect from myself in terms of my playing, writing, and singing. Working with him is like a master class in musicianship.
AH: On the title track, I felt like I could hear a connection with your EP, because you had a song there dealing with the divisions in the country. Then “Love Hope Trust” feels like the next stage of that process for me. It asks the question, “So here we are. What do we do?”
RST: That’s great that you made that connection. “Love Hope Trust” deals with the fact that we’re in some pretty strange times and everybody is afraid. The idea behind the song is that we’ve got to not live in fear, we’ve got to look over the edge of that fear and try to find trust in each other. We’ve got to try to rekindle our hope for the future. I guess I’m really talking to Americans. In the last verse, it talks about pulling on a whip saw. It feels like it’s always a tug of war with each other.
For me, that’s what that song is about. I tried to not be judgement at all in the song, not blaming any side. I just tried to say what we need to do if we’re going to get anywhere. Sometimes things have to get really bad before they get better, which is why there’s the line, “Love decomposes till it’s rotten, and the seeds of love get thrown again.”
AH: That’s very honest imagery. This seems like a very hard kind of song to write because the biggest danger is to be prescriptive, to say, “This is how to fix it, so do it!” But what does that actually do?
RST: You don’t want to be preachy. I just want to make people think a little bit or feel something.
AH: It might actually help a lot that you actually say in the song, “I don’t know where we’re going.” That undermines any tone of arrogance. Did it crystallize your feelings to write the song?
RST: Yes, because I’m as good at getting in fights on Facebook as anybody. But it’s the suggestion, “Maybe take a step back. Maybe try to see the other person’s fear, the other person’s experience.” It’s big to try to remind myself of that.
AH: By contrast, what about the song “Cut Your Losses”? Are those two scenarios related at all? I think it’s a very fair and balanced kind of song in many ways.
RST: That song may be more judgmental. That song is really a metaphor for what’s going on in the GOP. The Republican party was born out of the Civil War and ended slavery, so I had this image of an old house that was once beautiful but has now come into disrepair and has miscreants squatting in it. It was a song that I just needed to write.
AH: Something that’s helpful about it is that you’re giving a historical perspective over time. You’re talking about more than just what’s happening right now. There’s positive history there. You give things their due.
RST: I talk about how it was built on freedom. The line, “She will sink into this earth from not knowing what she’s standing for” feels like a really true thing.
AH: There’s also the human point that any idealistic enterprise could face these same conditions over time, including deterioration and hijacking. It’s almost like a fair warning to everyone.
Thank you for chatting with us, Roger Street Friedman. Find more music and tour dates here: https://www.rogerstreetfriedman.com