Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Remembering his Roots

It’s always exciting when someone with Madison ties makes a name for himself—whether inside or beyond the limits of our city.

Robby Hecht is doing that with his music. The UW alum—he graduated in 2001 with degrees in English and history, not to mention some good experience under his belt, having played local coffee shops, the Union and the stairwell outside his downtown apartment—is releasing his first album, Late Last Night, on May 6.

Read on to get to know this soulful, humorous artist.

Where did you grow up and how did you wind up in Madison?

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, but I was born in Ann Arbor, where my parents both went to U of M, so I grew up a diehard Michigan fan with an internal longing to return to the Midwest. I had a friend who went to UW, and after visiting him, I was hooked, even though it was one of the coldest days I can remember. It only got better, of course. Now I’m a diehard Badger fan.

When and why did you start playing?

I decided that I was going to be a singer/songwriter when I was eighteen, during the summer between high school and college. I was moving pretty far away from home, and it made me really think about who I wanted to be. However, I barely knew how to play the guitar, so I spent a large part of my freshman year scouring the internet for the chords to songs that I wanted to learn. I was the guy sitting in the stairwell of the Statesider, keeping you awake at night with clumsy renditions of Jewel and Counting Crows songs.

What kind of music have you always been drawn to?

I grew up listening to my mom’s music, stuff like John Denver, Paul Simon, Dan Fogelberg. By the time I was writing, I was listening to a lot of Dylan, Otis Redding, and all that nineties acoustic pop like The Wallflowers and Ben Folds. I’ve been through a lot of songwriting phases. I spent most of my senior year learning Tom Waits songs—and then trying them out in Library Mall.

How would you describe the music you create?

There’s a lot of finger-picking and a lot of lyrics. Ultimately, I’m trying to help the listener feel and understand something. The most common comparisons I get these days are probably James Taylor, Amos Lee and M. Ward.

What impact did Madison have on your sound?

The first time I ever played in public was at the Steep N Brew on State Street. I never really tried to be a professional musician when I was in school; I was more into learning how to write songs at the time. I'd always save the back section of my 5 Star notebook for songs so that I could work on them in class when I was bored. I used to play at the Catacombs on-campus coffee shop, the Memorial Union open mic, on the street, stuff like that.

What did you do after college?

After college I lived in Madison for another semester working in the UW survey center, and then went over to Europe with my best friend Todd for what were probably the best five months of my life. After that, I went back home for a year or so to save some money, and then moved out to San Francisco where I spent all the money in about a year and a half. Toward the end of my time out there, I started writing songs with a musician/songwriter named Jason Jurzak, and we decided to move to Nashville as a band/writing team. Jason ended up moving down to New Orleans to play the sousaphone, and I made a home in Nashville.

What were your goals in putting together Late Last Night

Some of the songs on Late Last Night, including the title track, are ones that I wrote in college eight or nine years ago, so the record’s been a long time coming. There are no filler songs at all. I was also waiting to find the right producer, and I definitely did so with Lex Price. He’s unbelievably talented, and I got the chance to work with so many great musicians whose own work I respect like Mindy Smith and Jeff Coffin. It really is everything that I wanted it to be. My friends tell me it’s a great album to listen to while you’re in the kitchen cooking.

What’s next for you? Any plans to visit Madison?

I’m working on putting a Midwest tour together, and when I do I’ll definitely be playing in Madison. I have a ton of friends who either stayed or moved back to town, so I’ve got a lot of people bugging me to come soon. I’m shooting for early August.

For more info and to listen to tracks, visit and

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

The twice-annual Gallery Night is Friday at museums, galleries and businesses across Madison.

Learn how to live the good green life at the Going Green Wisconsin Expo Friday through Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center.

Madison Repertory Theatre offers The Nerd, a comedy running Friday through May 25. Also starting Friday is Broom Street Theater’s “most sexually charged play,” Multiple O; it runs through June 8.

And the UW School of Music welcomes pianist Jeffrey Siegel on Tuesday for a Keyboard Conversations installment on music from Austria-Hungary.

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