Robbie Robertson believes limited editions are new model for music industry

By Patrick Prince

At the end of July, Robbie Robertson will release a beautifully arranged, limited edition, signed collector’s set of his latest album “How to Become Clairvoyant.” Music collectors will be quite amazed by it. It is truly a piece of art. The set features two CDs, three 180-gram clear vinyl LPs, one DVD, an art book, eight tarot cards, and five lithographs with exclusive artwork by renowned artist Richard Prince and photographer Anton Corbijn.

“How to Become Clairvoyant” already shows its own artistry in what is described as Robertson’s most personal album in years, with collaborations from the expected (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood) and the unexpected (Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Robert Randolph). The limited edition of “How to Become Clairvoyant” ups the ante, including contributions from magician/actor Ricky Jay, photographer Sante D’Orazio, designer David Jordon Williams, and photojournalist Maureen Lambray into a 13 x 13″ art book (below) with 50 pages of art (including a lithograph of Robertson’s very own Canadian stamp), photos and writings. Mostly, these are all pieces that tie-in specifically to the music on “How to Become Clairvoyant.”

Ten bonus tracks tell the story of how the music on “How to Become Clairvoyant” was created through various outtakes and early versions of the songs, and a DVD contains multi-track files of three songs so that the enthusiast can create new mixes of the music.

The editions will be signed, individually numbered and limited to 2,500 copies. Copies can be pre-ordered by clicking here.

Recently, Robbie Robertson spoke to Goldmine about his excitement for the limited edition release of “How to Become Clairvoyant.”

More artists should have limited collector’s editions like yours.
Robbie Robertson: What’s really encouraging in that area, for me, is that I’ve never done anything quite like this before — I’m not sure anybody has, come to think about it — just putting this kind of art and this kind of music all together. But what’s really encouraging is it is an example of the new model. And in music, for so many years now, ever since the internet and the bottom fell out, there’s been this view of the music business … that it’s dead, it’s a thing of the past and stuff like that. Which is absolutely not true and never will be. There are some things that we used to be able to do, that we don’t anymore but this is something we were never able to do. And that’s why I refer to it as part of the new model. And I like the idea of presenting something that really does have a fresh spin on it. It could be encouraging for artists. I mean, it’s for a particular kind of recording artist. It’s not just an across-the-board thing.

How did this collector’s edition come together?
Robertson: It probably got started with the artist Richard Prince. When I was finishing up my record he says to me ‘Can I hear some of this music? Because, if you want, I would like to do some art for it.’ At that point he was basing this [offer] on his appreciation for my work from the past. I sent him some music and he ended up doing what we have for this package, which is five pieces of art. So it’s because Richard Prince started leaning in that direction … of art that had to do with me and the music.

Then there’s this photographer who I thought of, being an artist himself. Anton Corbijn. We are old friends so we had done some things hanging out and he did this series of kind of film noir photographs. It’s his photographs that are on the cover of the CD ["How to Become Clairvoyant"]. So the pieces started fitting together.

There were some other photographers, too. A woman named Maureen Lambray. At one time in the film business, for all film directors, if someone was going to take their picture, it was Maureen Lambray. And Maureen took this photoshoot of Martin Scorsese and me— some pictures that nobody has ever seen before. But they are extremely candid, serious and funny. It’s just the kind of stuff that represents some of the reflections of the songs that I’m writing about and singing about. So Maureen comes into the fold.

And cause the record is called “How to Become Clairvoyant,” this guy [approaches me] that I think is the greatest magician there is: Ricky Jay. I met Ricky Jay through David Mamet. He is the sh*t. And it’s not that cheesey Las Vegas magic sh*t, where you saw a woman in half. Ricky Jay asks me if he can hear some of the music, he wants to contribute art from his archive, because I told him about this limited edition. And then we decided to do some original tarot cards (left) so Ricky Jay is very helpful in that, too.

In the meantime, when I got rolling, I had ten bonus tracks from this record and it’s something that I never ever done before but the opportunity on some of these bonus tracks — and it’s not any of the same thing at all — is that they take you right inside the music. Where these songs came from. Some of them are Eric Clapton and me sitting in front of one another with a couple guitars and just doing something on the fly and a song growing out of it right before our eyes. Other tracks from these bonus tracks [show] where I got some ideas from. There’s a thing in there that I did with Sly and Robbie, which was my first stab at the idea for “Straight Down the Line” which is something I talk about. There are also things I have written in this limited edition, too, which are insights into some of the background to the music. I got “Straight Down the Line” from the movie “Double Indemnity.” They say that line in the movie. And this movie that was made around the time I was born and saw years after — when Barbara Stanwyck says ‘Yeah baby, we’re gonna do it straight down the line.” There was something about it that gave me a little chill – and then later on in the movie Fred MacMurray says that —and it just always stuck with me. And to tell these stories, too, in these limited editions … they go with these bonus tracks that take you inside the music. It’s just something that I so enjoy doing and it’s something that years ago I would have hidden. And now I feel ‘Oh my God, we’re going to a deeper place here.’ For people who really care about music and want to go deeper in, this is how you do it. This is what you share.

Then we said ‘if we are going to do this, we’ve got to put out the music in this package on pure vinyl, clear vinyl —  the purest vinyl is clear vinyl because you can’t cheat on that. On black vinyl you can cheat. On clear vinyl you can’t. I just so appreciate people who care that much about the sonics, care that much about the feeling of the music that they appreciate vinyl. I wanted to do this the best that it could be done.

Do you collect vinyl yourself?
Robertson: I still have tons of it. And you know what everybody says about vinyl is true. It isn’t an illusion. You put it on and there is a warmth to it. And there is a different sonic feeling about it. And it’s not because of the noise and the impurity of that. There’s just something about putting a needle on music that just translates in the right way. I think it is a beautiful experience.

This album, I completely made it to be a musical journey, and I’ve always loved records that you put on at the beginning and you take a ride on that musical journey and you come out the other end and you think ‘Whoah, alright. Someone really put some passion, some real brainpower and soul into this experience.’ This is part of the joy that I’m feeling in this collector’s edition.

Don’t be surprised if certain collectors buy one to play and one to store away.
Robertson: I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that from some collectors, that they do that. And I understand that completely …. just because of the artwork involved in this thing, let alone the music and the rarity in that. This is a real collector’s piece of work just because of the artists involved. It’s gonna be really worth something.

It’s interesting that what is described as one of your most personal albums becomes a very personal collector’s edition.
Robertson: In today’s world, to be able to do something like this … I’ve done lots of box sets and things for the musical history of The Band. But I’ve never done anything like this. This is just so magnificent on the eye that my feet aren’t even touching the ground.

BTW, Trent Reznor and Tom Morello … there are some surprising guest contributions to the album, “How to Become Clairvoyant.”
Robertson: It’s just terrific. On this particular song “Axman” I didn’t want to go to the obvious place. For “Axman” I was really trying to think of a guitar player besides Eric [Clapton] — which was as natural as anything I’ve ever felt playing music. I needed to find a counterpoint to the guitar players I wanted to work with in finishing this record. Guitar players who do something the opposite of what I do — who play guitar in a way where I don’t even know what the f*ck they are doing. That is a complete beautiful mystery to me and that’s how Tom Morello came into play, and Robert Randolph. What these guys are doing … there is a real fun feeling to be able to stand in front of somebody like that, right in front of them while they’re playing, and have no idea what they’re doing. I just enjoy the mystery of that. And it means that I’m not falling into an obvious place.

You’ve worked with a lot of artists over the years. One of which is Neil Diamond. Were you happy to see him being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year?
Robertson: I’ve actually been pushing for that for years and not just because he’s someone that I’ve worked with in the past .. just because of his work. I was glad. And the fact that Neil got in at the same time as Tom Waits and Dr. John and Leon Russell … I thought this is cool. This is really lovely to have this kind of broad horizon in that area.

Are there any others artists who you really enjoyed working with?
Robertson: Angela McCluskey. I absolutely wanted to do something with her and for certain songs [on "How to Become Clairvoyant"] I thought she was the right sound to do this unsynchronized singing with me.

2 thoughts on “Robbie Robertson believes limited editions are new model for music industry

  1. An LP cover was always a great part of the LP before CD’s but in the end its about the music. I know I wouldn t pay and extra premium for extra’s like some more photographs or some cards in a box.

    The way to go is to make the CD box a little bigger but try and slash the price to a bear minimum. I believe bigger sales would result. Everybody prefers to own a beatiful CD rather than down loading.

    The answer is always in the price for the product.

  2. While I am a big fan of these deluxe editions when done properly (ie Springsteen for one example), it does piss me off a bit when the news of such editions breaks AFTER the regular release street day. You really have to be a savy buyer to stay ahead of it all. Its one thing if you are an avid fan of an artist and are tied in. However, less ardent fan will often make the mistake of buying a standard version and then learn of the deluxe later in time. The same scenario can be applied to vinyl versions. CD comes out, no word on a vinyl edition, and then two months later or so comes a vinyl version. Very frustrating and fans the flames of disgust the average consumer has for the record industry….and they wonder why sales are down.

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