After leaving music behind 25 years ago with a heavy heart, Roger Street Friedman has resurrected himself back into the music scene with his newest album, Love Hope Trust, officially out today November 4th.
The Americana singer-songwriter’s latest album sagely and sensitively snapshots moments of life in the modern era. It’s a sonic scrapbook that documents a divided world alongside exploring intimately personal journeys that evoke universal truths. The 12-song album is produced by Grammy-winning producer, guitarist, and songwriter Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson), furthering a multi-album artistic continuum between the two.
In his second act, Friedman has created this album as an artistic portrayal of his own personal journey these past decades with string-laden ballads and intimate lyricism that make day-to-day living sound pristine. As a seasoned artist, Friedman takes his listeners through his world of folk rock, Americana, and empathetic storytelling in his latest project.
We got to chat with Friedman about his new album, his 25-year music hiatus, and much more.
So how has the year treated you so far? (can’t believe it’s almost over…)
I know! It’s gone fast! It’s been a great year in so many ways. Larry and I started working on the song selection for the record in January, and then while getting ready for the sessions, in mid-March, I came down with a fairly mild case of Covid, got that over with. At the end of that month I had a great long weekend of slots opening for David Bromberg in the Northeast, which were really fun, and then came back home and spent April-July pretty much working full time on tracking the new album, and then mixing and mastering, and all of a sudden it’s OCTOBER!
I see where you took a 25-year hiatus from music-making. What led you to quit in the first place, and what re-ignited that passion once again?
Well – it’s a long story as to why I quit, there were some not so great experiences with certain people and situations… but I think in the end it really came down to fear and self-doubt. I was afraid of failing, which I now know is crazy, because if you never try, you will not have the opportunity to fail… or to succeed.
What led me back to music were a string of extremely emotional events… mainly the loss of my parents in 2004 and 2006, my marriage in 2005, and the birth of my daughter, also in 2006 (just two weeks after my mom died). The floodgates kind of opened, and I started writing again. Right around that time one of our babysitters told me her husband had a studio at their house and suggested I record some demos with him.
I took her up on it and – I’ll never forget this – as I was recording the very first scratch track, strumming the guitar and singing into the microphone, it was like one of those scenes from a movie where the world goes from black and white to color. I realized right then and there that I had left a very important part of my soul behind when I’d stopped making music 25 years before, and decided right then and there that I would never do that again… and I haven’t!
Let’s talk about your new album, Love Hope Trust. What’s the inspiration and back story behind it? Any overarching themes or motifs?
To me, Love Hope Trust is an album that is thematic in that is reflective of the experiences of living in the present day: with all the concerns of a citizen of this world and this country, and as a father and a person who is at that place in life where one experiences the sadness of losing friends and family, and is keenly aware of the passing of time and the ephemeral nature of everything, while trying to remember to feel grateful for all of it.
It really feels to me like it encompasses many of the myriad concerns, fears, joys and sorrows of everyday life in this crazy world during this extremely fraught time. The title track is really about trying to find a way as a country to come back, if not together, then at least to a place where we can talk to each other and realize that, although we may have different ideas and beliefs, we all love this country!
How might this new album compare or contrast to your 2020 album, Rise?
It compares in some ways and contrasts in others. Thematically there are similarities – for instance the title tracks “Love Hope Trust” and “Rise” both touch on trying to bridge divides. Larry’s production on both albums is stellar, while sonically this new album is really warm and sweet. I think there is a lot of gratitude on Love Hope Trust… and maybe a little less despair than on Rise (smiles) if that makes any sense.
Do you find determining the order of songs on an album like this to be a challenge, and how important is that to you?
Sequencing is always a challenge, although on this record it wasn’t quite so difficult. I’m not sure why that is, but I came up with an initial sequence and shared it with Larry, and he made one suggestion, and we had it! The order is important to me because I still think of an album as a complete work and hope that (some) people will listen to it start to finish. In fact, we still print lyric booklets and CDs because I think sitting down with an album and the lyrics is the best way to fully experience and appreciate the music.
Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?
“About You” is a song that wrote for my friend, and former producer, Edward (Felix) McTeigue, who passed away in 2020, and it was really hard emotionally for me. I was welling up at every stage of the recording of that song. The production on that track is especially poignant to me. It came out beautifully and I know he would have loved it. The album is dedicated to Felix.
How did you and Larry Campbell start working together, and what made him the right person to produce this album?
I first saw Larry play up at Levon Helm’s barn when he was the MD for Levon’s Midnight Ramble Band. I was completely blown away by the musicality of his playing not to mention his presence on-stage. When Felix, who produced my first (and second) album asked me if there were any musicians I’d like to have on the record, the first person that came to mind was Larry. I thought this was a crazy request but, lo and behold, a few months later we were in the studio together.
We did four songs in one long day and on the way down to his car, Larry said something to the effect of “you know I get called on a lot of sessions by producers who say you’re gonna love these songs, and it’s not usually true… you write really good songs and I think you should keep it up.” To hear that from him was something else.
When I was writing the songs for my third album Rise, my wife and I went to see a Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams show and afterwards I went up to the stage to say hello. I asked him during that conversation if he’d be interested in producing my next album and said he would. The rest as they say is history!
What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you these days?
For me, at this moment in time, the success is in doing the work. I’m very proud of all my records and this one in particular feels like a new level for me as a songwriter and an artist. The fact that people are streaming it in pretty good numbers and that I’m getting great feedback and comments on social media and in the press is a really nice bonus – but to me, the success is in feeling like I’ve given it everything I can possibly give.
What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist?
Well – working in the studio with Larry Campbell is definitely one of them. Not only is he a great musician and producer, but he’s also a genuinely good person. I feel like every day in the studio is a master class.
For the second, any time we get to play live is great, but there was one night opening for David (Bromberg) at a place called the Snow Pond Center in Maine that was very special. It’s a beautiful theater with great sound and very high ceilings… and it was a sold-out show. I played a solo acoustic set and for the last song I had the audience singing along to my song “Rise”. It felt very magical to have all of those voices singing that song on that night in that place.
What advice might you have for maybe younger artists (or any) who might feel burnt out from the stresses and uncertainties of the music industry?
Keep the faith, do the work, believe in yourself.