Luke Roberts has lived quite a life up to this point; chockfull of moments and experiences that have allowed him to define his own definition of freedom. Train-hopping alongside the Tennessee valley as a kid. Bouncing around from coast to coast. Living in the remote areas of Cambodia, Thailand, and Kenya for an extended period of time. Now residing in Nashville, Roberts has the fortune of being around his mother, sister and her children.
All hasn’t been easy for the singer/songwriter; the price of being able to go about seeing the world on his terms has come with a cost. A far from picture-perfect childhood, living in his car for a short period of time, and dealing with bouts of devastating heartbreak. One constant through all the highs and lows for Roberts has been music.
Sunlit Cross is a “lullaby that pits darkness, disenchantment, and the ugly side of life against levity, love, and childhood”, according to Roberts regarding his new album. Having written most of the lyrics during his time in Kenya, Roberts was blessed to record with John Neff (Drive-By Truckers) and Creston Spiers (Harvey Milk). Kurt Vile, who had Roberts join him on previous tours, lends his vocals and banjo on “Silver Chain.” Under the supervision of Kyle Spence, Sunlit Cross is sonically richer than previous efforts. In some aspects, Roberts considers his third album to be a rebirth for his music career. He jokingly did mention that he would like to have someone handle most of the social media responsibilities. “I don’t mess with any of them except for Instagram, because I really enjoy photography,” Roberts said.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Roberts to talk about a variety of topics. When we spoke, Roberts had just concluded a morning full of running errands with his son: “we did some banking and bought some Lego’s”.
What made you go about train hopping as a young kid?
For some reason, I think it been the first movie I ever saw Oliver Twist. I haven’t seen it since but I still remember the kids living in the streets; doing a pick pocketing thing, hustling in the streets. That was everything to me. That was I wanted to do from then on-run away from home; living in the streets and hustle.
I started running away from home when I was 11. I went to juvenile for stealing beer when I was 11. I left home forever a few years later, when I was at the age of 14.
Looking back on it, do you wish that you didn’t run away?
There are times that I wish my life was different, but I don’t regret it. I can honestly say that I didn’t go too introspective about it when I was young. I was literally living in the moment.
You lived in Kenya for a little bit. How did that come about?
It was after I toured. I got a record out on Thrill Jockey and they sent me to Europe; I left the country for the first time ever. I was just like, ‘Oh shit! This is what I want to do-see the rest of the world’. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I wanted to that. I met this woman who had been to a lot of places and was down to travel with me. We didn’t really know where to go exactly…we picked Kenya at random. I can’t remember how we picked it now. We were just spinning a globe, looking and researching places.
What got you into playing music?
It’s all I ever wanted to do as a teenager…I got really obsessed. I was really into hardcore then. I went to Olympia, Washington and wanted to join bands like Bikini Kill, Unwound. I stayed there for five years; it was the first time that I got a job and an apartment, grew up a little bit. I ended up playing in bands with people from Bikini Kill and Unwound.
I stopped caring about music so much for a little while and really got interested in visual arts. I tried to move to New York a few times and it felt a little overwhelming, so I bounced around the country. Giving myself an education about art, I got back into music accidentally because of that. I started listening to tons of old roots, old American folk music. Remembered that I could play the guitar and started playing again. That replaced my obsession with trying to become an artist. I said, ‘I’m going to make this my art project. I’m going to write my own folk songs.’
You have been fortunate enough to play music with some amazing musicians, including Kurt Vile on the new album. How did you two meet?
A friend that we have in common said that I should reach out and play shows together. I sent him my first album before it came out. He liked it and he would love to play shows with me. After that, (Spencer) plays drums for me ended up being Vile’s drummer. It got us reconnected again.
Sunlit Cross was recorded at Ronniejone$ound in Georgia. What was that experience like?
The scenery was influential. I can tell you that I’m really lucky doing what I do is in part to those guys. Things wouldn’t have worked out the way that they did with anyone else, musically.
Sunlit Cross is out now via Thrill Jockey Records. To order the album, click here.