PREMIERE: Bob Hillman Release New Lyric Video For “Artificial Light”

Pic by Danny Rothenberg


Kicking off our exciting premiere week we have teamed up with Bob Hillman for the premiere of his new lyric video off his new album Lost Soul. The lauded San Francisco-based singer/songwriter and guitarist is back after a ten year break with a Peter Case-produced album which features special guest Joseph Arthur. Hillman’s literate, tuneful songwriting is on full display on Lost Soul but—with the help of Case and Arthur—he has tapped into a fresh, contemporary sonic landscape. The album was released on March 25th.   Bob will perform throughout the spring.

Artificial Light (Lyric Video)

Hillman’s literate, tuneful songwriting is on full display on Lost Soul but—with the help of Case and Arthur—he has tapped into a fresh, contemporary sonic landscape. Bob Hillman will perform throughout the U.S with a special showcase in San Francisco (5/20).

In addition to the premiere, we sit down with Bob for an exclusive interview on the album and more!


Hi Bob, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Very well, thank you!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Artificial Light”?

“Artifical Light” is about the difference between how a person appears when they are at their very best—for example, on a stage, dressed up, under flattering lights—and how they appear in real life, e.g. backstage after the show, when the makeup comes off (so to speak). It can be surprising and disappointing to discover that a hero is imperfect, physically or otherwise.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

Not really. I started with the title phrase—which is both evocative and singable, a nice combination—and imagined a scenario. I haven’t actually had disappointing experiences with heroes. Every hero I’ve met has been cool! Not that I’ve met that many…

The single comes off your new album Lost Soul – why taking so long releasing this album?

By 2003, I’d had a good run—releasing two albums and touring all over the U.S. and Europe, often as the opening act for Suzanne Vega—but it wasn’t clear that there was a path to sustainability. I wanted to become “employable,” so I went to business school and worked in marketing for about ten years. Once I had a good sense for what it was like to be “employed,” I felt compelled to dip my toes back into music.

What’s the story behind the title?

The title sums up the album, in the sense that it’s about different “lost souls.” More specifically, it refers to people who have many of the markers of contentment—jobs, houses, families, etc.—but are not as settled as they seem. People deal with that restlessness in different ways, from stepping out of their lives for a moment (Big Sur) to having extra-marital affairs (Overnight Failure, Bad Business). 

How was the recording and writing process?

The writing process spanned the years since my last album was recorded in the early 2000s, although we chose many of the more recent songs. The recording process was a lot of fun, and not as hard as it might have been because we worked with great people who are also easy to get along with. I made a bunch of new friends—engineers, musicians, etc.—and enjoyed recording live, though it was the first time I’ve worked that way. I wondered if I could pull off the vocals, actually! They’re not perfect, but they’re also not bad considering there were never more than five or so takes and we didn’t punch anything in.

What was it like to work with Peter Case and how did that relationship develop?

I was a Plimsouls fan in Los Angeles in the 80s, loved his first two solo albums, and was blown away by a show at McCabe’s in 1989. Peter had gone acoustic, but still put out rock energy, which spoke to me. In the early-mid 90s, I sent my first batch of demos to an address on the back of one of his albums, and he called me on the phone. We’ve connected regularly since then—Peter’s unusually generous when it comes to mentoring aspiring songwriters—but it wasn’t until he relocated from L.A. to San Francisco a few years ago that we started talking about working together. He seemed interested from the beginning, but it took some time to finalize our plans. That was fine with me, since I didn’t have a timetable and relished the ongoing conversation.

How much did he get to influence the album?

Peter had a huge influence on the album, from top to bottom. He narrowed down the songs from the original twenty-five I gave him—an arduous undertaking—and in some cases suggested re-write opportunities and specific musical and/or lyrical changes. We spent a fair amount of time discussing the overarching vision, based on which he chose the studio and hired the musicians. In the studio, he made all the decisions, which was fine with me: I wanted a different sound from my previous albums, and I trusted him to get it. Also, we were recording live, and I couldn’t listen for the “big picture” because I had to concentrate on my own singing and playing. After recording and mixing, Peter stayed involved in mastering, artwork, etc. He’s not one of those producers who shows up late and leaves early, which worked well for me artistically. Not only that, but we got to hang out a lot, which was satisfying on a personal level.

Does San Francisco plays a role in your music?

San Francisco—where I’ve lived for the last eight or so years—was not a big factor on this album, except insofar as some of the things that happen in the songs happened here. It’s the energy of the place, more than its specific geography. The one major exception is Big Sur, which was inspired by a couple of peaceful days I spent in that extraordinary place.

How much did life inspire the lyrics on this album?

Most songwriters will tell you that their lyrics have some basis in reality, even if they’re not direct translations. It’s certainly true in my case. “I Think I’ve Taken Enough Shit From You This Year,” for example, derives from the darker side of my experience in the corporate world, and “Lost Soul” revisits an old relationship with the benefit of hindsight. “Overnight Failure” and “Bad Business” are ripped from the lives of my friends, though many of the details have been altered for artistic reasons.    

Will you be performing more dates this year?

I have one more big one—this Friday, May 20th at Amnesia in San Francisco—and then the New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival on Memorial Day Weekend. After that, the calendar’s wide open! I need to figure out how to get in front of people—especially in the Northeast and up and down the West Coast—at least a couple of times a year. We have the internet and social media now, but personal appearances are still the best way to connect with listeners.

What else is happening next in Bob Hillman’s world?

I have young kids—7 and 9 year-old boys—which consumers a lot of my time and energy. When Spring soccer and baseball season end, there will be more time for songwriting and other reflective endeavors.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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