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10 Questions with Rob Dickinson, formerly of Catherine Wheel

Nancy Price co-founded SheKnows.com in 1999, and now serves as the site's Executive Editor. In the midst of growing several award-winning websites over the past decade, she also served as the editor-in-chief of two national print magazin...

Rob Dickinson Behind the Wheel

For every lousy band that clutters up the charts with disposable pop, there are ten musical artists more deserving of such success -- who, for whatever reason, just can't quite manage to get there. And for every hundred of those, there's one no-question, sure-thing, utterly brilliant group of musicians that still, for some unknown reason, just doesn't reach that all-important tipping point.

The Catherine Wheel was one such band.

And that's another thing that the band -- we were all rather precious about what we did. I think with good reason and with good results. But right now, I'm thinking about maybe producing some people.

So there's still lots of musical stuff going on, and I'm also going to start my own design company. I'm going to design, build and sell motorcycles and cars. It's something that's probably not going to happen for a while yet, but definitely, I'm going to push that one through. I really miss -- in these interim years after the band stopped -- I was always thoroughly immersed in everything in the car world and the motorcycle world. I think I'll do something with that again, and I think California is a great place to do that.

SK: What are your thoughts on the new era of music distribution -- tracks available online, marketing yourself on the Internet...

Rob Dickinson: I think every musician should be ready to give their music away before expecting people to buy it. The writing's on the wall. I think record stores have a limited life ahead of them and I think music is going to come from the Internet. It's going to be downloaded and they'll download the artwork if they choose to.

You realize it's perfect. It's a direct link to your audience, it's a direct link for remuneration -- it's immediate. And, of course, the record companies are terrified of this because the control is slipping out of their hands and there are young bands starting that have no idea that record companies used to be important because their significance is lessening almost every day.

It's a rush working with this guy BT, he is -- as you can imagine, a techie guy -- totally understanding of the powers of the Internet and the technology. He's got six interns working for him. He's got four studio stations in his house. It's just like this factory of people and networking and people doing this. So he just puts a record out, sells a quarter of a million records, immediately, overnight. It's just a question of who presses the button. Purely because of the work his minions have done and drawing attention to it. You do not need the record company. I mean a record company is good for helping you get on the Letterman show, and with that kind of gruntwork and with that kind of power and with getting on the world of the radio, those are some things that record companies still have a lot of influence in.

But in terms of really making a living out of making music, it's basically been good. And employing the right people to get your music out on the Internet is just a question of doing the right things and sitting someone down, paying them for three or four hours a day, and sending your music off to people for free. Hopefully they like it, keep coming back, and they'll buy it. It is just a war of attrition. You hope that if you do it long enough it will work, if what you have is good -- and that's certainly something I'm going to pursue.

SK: How do you feel about everything that happened with your previous musical career -- the critical success that just never quite got there? Now that you look back at it...

Rob Dickinson: I've said before that I considered it like an apprenticeship, really. It was hard at the time, 'cause you're so close to it and you see other bands that maybe you don't think are as good as you are doing better than you are. It's tough at the time, but we made records that are going to be discovered by people in the future, and I don't think the band is going to be forgotten about totally.

And we achieved a lot. We didn't sell a million records and we didn't become rock stars, but I'm not sure that's what the plan was. You get on the gravy train and other people start telling you that this is what is going to happen and at the time it's easy to start believing it. But, luckily nothing ever got in the way of the importance of the main thing, which is music. We weren't strangled by record company pressures to make certain types of records or repeat previous successes or anything like that. We operated rather unusually in that the band was on a major label having quite a lot of money thrown at it and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted to do, which doesn't really happen anymore. We were one of the last few album bands through the gate before they shut the doors on that kind of behavior. Bands who made expensive records with expensive tours -- and we didn't sell that many records, and we were still allowed to do it again. Because in some sense they were investing in the future, which they were. And we had a very good manager, and he was very persuasive.

Yes, the band made good records and people were always surprised that we didn't sell as many as they predicted. At the time, it was tricky for us all I think -- but at the same time, I don't think we allowed it to affect the music.

When I remember back to when the band started, I thought what I would be happy achieving was on a far lesser scale on what we ended up achieving. I think you have to put it into that kind of perspective. I would have been happy -- I was happy when the band started -- and was hoping we would do a UK tour and put a single out. You achieve these goals and you've never even registered that you have achieved them, and the next thing, and the next thing, and you are constantly looking forward. So it's all good. I think it's all good. The music is there.
 
SK: If you could go back to when Catherine Wheel first began in 1990 and give yourself some advice, is there something you'd like to tell yourself?

Rob Dickinson: Yes, I'd tell myself to enjoy it more and don't worry so much. Ten years of worrying tortured me to be honest, from doing doing what a lot of people want to do: touring the world in a rock band. I didn't really get much of a kick out of it. That's because I was very worried about writing the next record, and worried that the band wasn't doing as well as it should be. I was a big worrier.

It just became... lots of disappointments, and nothing was ever good enough for me. In hindsight, we did a lot and we did well. I just wish I enjoyed it more.

SK: Do you feel that you've learned from that now -- are you really trying to enjoy it? Love it, be present?

Rob Dickinson: Yes, absolutely. I think I need to. I think that part of the problem with the band was that there were a lot of expectations, and we sucked up a lot of the expectations of other people who were around the group I think. At the same time, the records are very selfish records -- I mean they're there to please ourselves, and we probably did please ourselves.

In spite of doing that, I would say I didn't get much enjoyment out of it. I think you have to do what you do and then put it out there and not worry about what happens to it. I mean obviously you have to draw as much attention to it as possible, and that's a healthy thing, but I think you just have to keep going. And if it is done from the right spirit, with the right intentions I think you will get what you deserve. You know what I mean? And maybe that is selling a million records, and maybe that isn't.

In other words, you just have to do things for the right reasons. If you are in this business to make lots of money, I'm certainly making the wrong kind of music. But this is the music I make. This is what I naturally do. This is what's honest and sincere for me to do, and it will be what it will be.

SK: Did you have any particular expectations for this, your first solo album?

Rob Dickinson: I tried not to, because I don't think it's necessarily the healthiest thing to have, but I knew it was a good record. Part of the reason it took so long is I made damn sure it was a good record.

I'm a big believer in things being discovered when they're meant to be discovered. So we'll see. I'm doing all I can to draw attention to it in modest ways that I have at my disposal. It will be what it will be, and I will be happy with it. I'm sure I had some expectations, but I was pretty realistic in knowing that it wouldn't happen overnight. It would be a slow kind of burn. I know it's not over yet, so we'll see.

Rob Dickinson Behind the Wheel Every time I play -- especially playing with an audience that doesn't necessarily know my satellite stuff, and may have heard of the band but aren't too aware of what I've done -- it's brilliant. I sold a thousand dollars worth of CDs last night to Church [the band] fans. (laughs) I sold the new record, and it was like -- you know you're on to something. It's not a question of flogging an average record or hanging onto a career by your fingernails because there's nothing else you can do.

If anything, after 15 years of doing this, I'm a fucking realist. And I know I have something to offer. I made a strong record, and what more to keep you buoyant and positive? That's all I need to know.

Once you've got that kind of confirmation each night, you know there really isn't something else you should be doing if you're sensible. I know this is what I should be doing. I know that there's nothing else that would get me out of bed in the morning other than doing this. And that's worth everything to me.

 

Rob Dickinson was interviewed in July 2006


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