Bobby Long is one of the most dynamic singer-songwriters of the last five years, and as his world gets bigger, so does his music. He puts everything he has into each song, giving very personal experiences in veiled, metaphorical phrases. Hearing his lyrics or reading his poetry is like having a conversation with the man, and he’s so prolific at such a young age that it may seem he’s already said everything that can be said. That didn’t stop me from talking to him when I had the chance, and I learned Long has a lot more to share.
The leap from songwriter to poet doesn’t seem a large one, yet only a handful have ventured to publish collections in book form. Long didn’t set out at first to publish his poetry, but once he began the journey, he grew very serious about it. “It was actually quite a spur of the moment thing… I was on the road and writing, and I wanted to do something else other than write songs. I was looking at other creative things to do. I’d always written a little bit and was really interested in poetry. A lot of my favorite artists—people like Leonard Cohen, who I really love—had done one [poetry collection].”
When he was ready to make the move, he didn’t slow down. “I put my mind to it and was like, you know, I’m going to do this. And it was a really nice experience. It took my mind away from songs, which is good sometimes. I try and write every day and sometimes get a bit hard on myself.” His desire was to tackle something different from songwriting, which he says he’s constantly doing on the road. A poetry collection had been at the back of his mind for several years, but the poems in the book are all new, written specifically for Losing My Brotherhood. “It was a quick thing, but I guess it was a few years in the making in terms of…I always kind of wanted to do it, and all of a sudden, I put my mind to it and was like ‘let’s go; let’s do it.’ Some people I work with were very supportive and really happy to help out.”
However strong the correlation between lyrics and poetry may seem, Long says he approaches each in very different ways. “When I write new songs, I tend to be a little wild, in terms of what I’m doing at the time. I don’t prepare; I just stumble out of bed and get stuck in. There’s not any kind of structure to what I’m doing.” He wanted there to be something different about the way he approached his poetry. “I gave myself a structured time, like a nine to five job almost with it. I set my day up around it.” It makes sense that he’d want to keep things separate so as not to blur the lines between the two. To him, the book was also something of a vacation from music. “By the time I came back to writing songs, it was almost like I’d been away from it.”
The structure he imposed upon his days isn’t evident in the writing, he says. “There’s a lot more freedom to it… You’d imagine it would be the other way around…” And I did assume the opposite would be true, since so much more in involved with songwriting. He claims he approaches his music in a freefall, and yet his chord structures, rhythm, and rhyme are always tight and neat. Long explains that it wasn’t his approach to the material that was so structured, but rather the time and attention he gave it. “The difference in the two isn’t that it’s there from the technical side. It’s more of the process than anything. Just giving me the separation so that I didn’t end up just writing songs for three months. I wanted there to be a different part of my brain opened up to a new way of writing.”
The finished product is, of course, a solid work that plumbs the depths of his emotion and history. He claims to be a very “in the moment” writer, whether he’s working on songs or poems. “If I don’t get it straightaway, I start over. I like the experience to come from one sitting. It’s either there, or it’s not.” Long wonders if this might be a lack of discipline—if perhaps he’ll some day be able to keep his focus on one particular work longer. “As of right now, I just kind of like the spontaneity. If I’m going to write a song, I’m going to do it right now.”
His progression as a musician and wordsmith is impressive, and any future work is already greatly anticipated. Long claims he never stops learning, never stops seeking out people from whom to learn, and the self-education is evident in his work. To have his formidable talent shared in various forms is quite a treat. You can find his book, Losing My Brotherhood, on Amazon or through his website. He also tweets updates regularly, including a recent announcement about a new writing project. If you’re interested in keeping up with him, these are the places to find him.
Part two of the interview will focus on his musical influences, his fascination with murder ballads, and his forthcoming album, so be sure to stay tuned.