Pittsburgh: Part II Robin Trower Interview by Monica Yasher

Posted on 11/27/2009 by Monica Yasher

"Albums don't get finished, they escape."

I played some serious mind games on myself with interviewing Robin Trower. I mean, what do I know about a guitar, when Robin knows everything about a guitar?! He has been on the cover of every major guitarist magazine in the USA and Europe. So, when I sought out some questions to ask Robin, I read all that I could about guitars, asked my friends about guitars, and I was prepping like it was a final exam and I was one point away from having an A. And I wanted that A bad!

As I said, my last interview was all about guitars for Robin. What am I? I am a songwriter. I try to write the best songs that I can. I love to talk about songs, the production, and anything and everything about THE SONG. Let’s face it. It all starts with a song! I also like to talk about the final product of the masterpiece-the making of an album. So at the end of my last interview with Robin, I asked Robin what else he would like to talk about. He said You didn’t talk about my CD! I felt incredibly bad because I would have loved to talk about THAT more than anything in the world! Why? Because it makes me a better songwriter hearing the stories of other songwriters. It creates ideas for me. You also realize the challenges every songwriter goes through, so when you hit that brick wall, you don’t give up because you realize it’s all part of the process.

Now Robin presented a Eureka moment for me, because during that interview I also asked Robin what it meant to be a professional. He told me, and all you readers, that you have to be true to yourself. Well I felt that I really let my readers down, Robin down, and myself down. I was not true to who I am with the last interview that Robin and I had. I asked him about a bunch of guitar stuff, when I am all about songs. So, I have to thank Robin Trower for keeping me grounded to who I am, which is a songwriter who likes to interview other artists to know about their songs and a would be performer who likes to know about the energy and excitement of putting on a show. So today, I am true to myself and did the interview I should have done the first time around But, I have to say, the first interview was pretty good too, huh? I mean did you really know about those six strings being different sizes? Oh com’n now! Tell the truth! Here is a bit about Robin’s new work of art!

Monica: Today we are going to talk about your CD, “What Lies Beneath”. Robin, I have to tell you, I love that you made a journal on creating your CD. And, it looks like this took a good deal of time to create. You appear to have worked on this from September to March. But, I know that the songwriting came so far ahead of March. So, let’s talk about the songwriting. How many songs did you write for this CD? How did the song selection come about?

Robin: The thing is..I suppose it really started when I started writing instrumentals. I came up with a few instrumentals and started to think about maybe doing an instrumental album. Then after I had about six or seven instrumentals, I thought…No…I’m going to do a mixture. I had some songs that I was writing at the same time. There are a couple of a songs that I have had a while. Three of the songs actually, I had for a very long time. I wanted to see if I could change them around enough to see if I could make them fit the overall vibe of what I was doing with the instrumentals. And, I wrote about three or four new songs as well. It was a combination of many things, really, but it all evolved around…I started to make some copies…just tape copies on this Sony recorder and I would just play ideas into it instrumentally or sing them myself. And, that is where it really started to all come together.

Monica: When I read the journal. It seems you were creating as you go. What do you go into the studio with. With the clips? Or, do you have some rough recordings of the whole song? I was curious…

Robin: I went in with the songs all completed. Apart from one that I wrote during that period, which was ‘Find a Place‘. To record…the process was…we would put down guitar, bass and drums. I would sing. I would sing the instrumental melody or sing the vocal while we were recording the guitar, bass and drums. That is where it starts in the studio.

Monica: Do you try out your songs in concert prior to recording them to see how they are received?

Robin: No. It takes so long to put it all together from the record process. Even once I’ve recorded them, you just keep refining them.

Monica: When I read your journal, I related your thoughts to a painter that wants to paint a landscape. Landscapes can take on many forms. As I read your journal, it seemed to me that you had a picture of what you wanted to create and you were doing bush strokes as you went along. Did you have the vision of your title, “What Lies Beneath” with your artwork and the whole package before you went in? Or did the ideas come a bit at a time as you created?

Robin: Oh No. Not at all. I just think that what the whole thing is about, if you want to sum it up, is this is where I’m at at this moment. This is what I am feeling music should be. This is what I feel lyrics should be. This is what my guitar playing should be. In those few months that’s where I was at then. Now having said that. I have since gone on and moved on. I’m writing stuff that is a little bit different now. That’s all part of the creative process. In other words, it’s an on going work. Albums don’t get finished, they escape. In other words you just go on working on it. But, you don’t stop you just have to put it out.

Monica: Did you give yourself a deadline?

Robin: No. Not really. It’s just that you don’t want to spend fortunes and fortunes on it cause you know it’s not going to sale that many. You have to come to the end of it. Plus by that time, I’m already working on the next album.

Monica: If you feel you’re not going to sale very many, how do you put your heart and soul into the effort? I think I read that your days were long and you noted a few times that you ran out of steam.

Robin: Yes. That’s right. I mean. We worked about nine hours a day in the studio. Sometimes more. You have to have a cutoff point or you come in below par the next day. So, yes. We worked hard during those nine hours and this is a lot of work to do an album. With me it is something I gotta do. You hope. You wish. You dream that it will be heard by a lot of people. In reality it won’t. You know that doesn’t change it. You still got to do it. As you said, it’s a canvas and the paints. You have to make the CD.

Monica: Looks like you brought on a new drummer for this effort, Sam VenEssen.

Robin: Somebody I worked with recommended him to me. So, I basically I tried him out and we used him on a few things. Getting drums right for the song is important. That’s why I was determined to sing. However badly, I was going to sing so the drummer was playing to the song and not the guitar part.

Monica: As a drummer did he have freedom to create or you really had the vision and had to articulate it?

Robin: Yeah. I would give him the feel that I wanted. He would go from there.

Monica: You said this was something you had to do. What is your family life like when you do the CD.

Robin: Obviously my wife doesn’t see much of me when I’m in the studio. In fact, I tend to stay away even though it’s not very far from where I live. I tend to book into a hotel so that I’m totally focused on what I’m doing.We only did a week here and there.

Monica: So when you leave the studio you haven’t really left the work?

Robin: No. I’d be thinking about…Wake up thinking about it. But that’s what you need to do. You need to be really focused.

Monica: You talked about one song in your writing and where that track sat on your CD. Can you tell me how you determine how to organize your tracks? Best practices based on keys? Telling a story?

Robin: First thing is keys. I try not to have two of the same keys following each other. Then you got tempos. That’s basically it, really. You know your track that you want to open up with. You probably think I want this one second. Your favorites tend to come out on top.

Monica: Do they?

Robin: Yeah. Then if you have other favorites, then you try to place them strategically as it where. My two favorites are the first and last songs.

Monica: Why?

Robin: It’s just that I think they are the two most successful that came off from what I had in my head when I wrote it to how it came out.

Monica: How much do they change when they are in head to the final product?

Robin: If….well…it should come out like it was in your head, basically. (He laughed.) It should have that feeling and be pretty close to your demo.

Monica: I always look at music as riding down a river and sometimes you never know where the music will take you.

Robin: Yes, that can be true. Over the years I’ve learned that if you are sitting and singing a song to yourself or playing an instrumental to yourself, that’s what it is. If you go away from it too far, you may end up with nothing at all. In other words, if you really love your song that you are singing to yourself, that’s what it’s going to be.

Monica: Is one easier for you to do than another? Is an instrumental easier for you?

Robin: No. I think instrumentals have to be doubly strong because they do not have words.

Monica: This was the first time you used strings. Would you do that again? It seems you liked the outcome.

Robin: It was right for the song. I spoke to Livingstone before we actually went in and recorded, and I said there was a couple of songs I’d like to try strings on. Of course, it gave Livingston a chance at that. He strived. He is absolutely amazing.

Monica: You do the mixing and final production too?

Robin: I was involved with the mixing to a certain point. Then Livingstone had days on his own where he did all the finalizing of the mixing, tidying up, and whatever he need to basically experiment with. I would have the final say on the final mixes.

Monica: So, he would give you some choices?

Robin: Well, you are actually mixing as you go along. You’re trying stuff and mixing as you go along.

Monica: Now that you created a CD, how hard is it to create on stage what you have done in the studio?

Robin: Well I actually play….there’s only one thing that I included in the set this time. That’s the instrumental and ‘Time and Emotion‘. I’ve actually got off ‘Find a Place‘. But, I can’t find a place for it in the set! So, it just…what you have to realize is that most people out in the audience have not heard that CD.

Monica: It’s really nice music and I wish they would.

Robin: You want to give them the songs that they come to hear basically which are the classics. The sets got to work in the terms of the CD running order. It’s got to work one after another. You just can’t plunk songs in there. It’s got to be an even flow.

Monica: You stated that this was fun yet you seem to have been challenge with this work. What was fun?

Robin: Well. Playing the guitar for me is fun. That’s all that it is. Fun. I pick up the guitar because I enjoy playing and it’s never work for me. I just love to play the guitar. That’s the engine that drives the whole thing.

Monica: As you said earlier, you eventually have to say that you are happy with the CD. Is there still something on your mind where you are saying, Gee I wish I would have?

Robin: I think there are always a few bits and pieces however long you work on something. But, no. I’m fine. I’m really happy about it. What I like is that it’s got an overall vibe.

Monica: Yes it does.

Robin: I don’t think that I have ever achieved before on a whole album. Part of that is that I think I am singing. In other words the vibe of the voice is the same as the vibe of the guitar so there is no conflict there.

Monica: I agree. You definitely set out and achieved what you wanted to do. Not that I want to compare you to other artists, but it reminded me of Pink Floyd and the Wall and how that CD had that movie flow going on where every song told a story to a bigger picture. I could hear that same vibe in your CD. I was surprised when you said that you worked on keys and tempos. I really thought you were going to tell me you wanted to tell a story and that’s how you selected the songs.

Robin: Right. Very Much. The lyrics all come from the same place and they were all connected from my psyche. They are all…that’s maybe what connects all the tracks. the fact that I believe my lyrics. I’m not just making up words that rhyme.

Monica: Why did you select your artwork on your cover? As I said earlier, I thought your music was very soothing yet you have a very dark picture on your cover.

Robin: Yeah. I just came across the artist, Bruer Tidman. There was a gallery near the studio. Livingston’s studio. Walking past I was waiting for Livingstone to come from somewhere and I looked in the window of this gallery. They had an exhibition of this guy’s work and I loved it. Immediately I said, that’s an album cover right there. In actual fact, the first one I chose is not the actual one on the album. There was another one that I liked a lot at first. But, when I found out what the title was, I thought no I can’t let it go with that. And, the other one that I liked as well IS the cover. But, you know, sometimes you can see a painting and you don’t know why and you just go yeah. Right. You are touched by it. I just loved this guys work. Everything there, and there were several paintings by him, that were huge. That painting is HUGE by the way. Big Big like five foot. I loved them all!

Monica: Thank you Robin. Well, anything you want to cover that I didn’t?

Robin: I think you got it.

Monica: Thank you for your time Robin.

Robin: It has been a pleasure.

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

If you enjoyed reading about Robin, who has a guitar developed with his name in mind, you may also like to read about GE Smith, who also has a guitar manufactured in his name. 

Copyright © 2009 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery