Robyn Hitchcock, following decades of making smart psychedelic-pop-folk-rock, has mostly left the rock world.
When he makes a rare New Orleans appearance Tuesday at One Eyed Jacks, Hitchcock will do so solo, accompanying himself with a quiet acoustic guitar. It’s likely that his girlfriend, Australian country singer Emma Swift, will add some vocal harmonies.
Hitchcock is the witty-to-romantic British singer-songwriter whose more than 500 songs include the rock ’n’ roll romps “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” and the dream-pop classic “Madonna of the Wasps.”
As for the loud electric guitars he won’t be playing during his latest American tour, he said, “I’ve got the load of them in storage, somewhere in the south of England. I don’t play them anymore.”
As a younger man, Hitchcock banged away on those deafening, amplified guitars.
“It’s probably a testosterone thing,” he said. “Young guys, they’re driven. They want to make a lot of noise and be seen with electric guitars. It’s all very noisy and phallic.”
In Cambridge during his pre-electric childhood and youth, Hitchcock was a folkie influenced by Bob Dylan. But Dylan infamously switched from acoustic guitar to electric.
“Even if Bob Dylan was the pied piper, he himself was led by the electric guitar,” Hitchcock said.
The British bands of the 1960s, from the sublime Beatles to the silly Freddie and the Dreamers, played electric guitars, too. But now, at 61, Hitchcock is happy to have spiraled backward into his acoustic folk roots.
“If you have a band, you have to sing three times louder than you do with an acoustic guitar,” he explained. “It wears my vocal cords out. I occasionally do one-off gigs with friends who put backing groups together for me, but it’s such an incredible noise.”
In addition to their lower volume, Hitchcock prefers the subtlety of acoustic instruments. He’s still discovering the way notes and chords flow beneath his fingers.
“I’m still messing about with different tunings,” he added. “And I can sing over the guitar without an amplifier, so I don’t need to rely on roadies.”
Hitchcock plays piano, too, but not well.
“So I hope they haven’t got a piano at One Eyed Jacks,” he said. “I play it enough to write songs on it, but I’m not a fluid piano player.”
The nearly 40 albums released by Hitchcock and his bands, the Soft Boys, the Egyptians and the all-star Venus 3, include his low-key, 2014 solo project, “The Man Upstairs.” Produced by music veteran Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, R.E.M., Fairport Convention), the album contains even halves of original Hitchcock songs and songs by others he wishes he’d written. Nonoriginal selections include The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On” and The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You.”
“I suppose they’re romantic,” he said of the latter choices. “There’s a sadness in them, a kind of resignation. They’re songs in which people know their fate and yet defy it but not in the inane way somebody says, ‘I’m going to live forever,’ not that kind of denial.”
“The Man Upstairs” mood is one of yearning, as autumn longs for spring.
“I’ve been doing autumnal records for about 30 years,” Hitchcock said. “I felt much more over the hill at 29 than I did at 60.”
Despite having retired his electric guitars, Hitchcock’s creative zeal remains undimmed.
“People keep saying, ‘You should be writing your memoirs now. You’ve been around.’ Inevitably, as time goes by, you’ve got more to look back on and less to look forward to. But, having said that, I’m more interested in writing new songs than writing my autobiography.”