I have a friend at work who stutters, stumbles, fumbles, and sidesteps his way through conversations with Spanish-speakers on the phone, though he doesnâ€™t know a lick of Spanish himself. And for the most part, he is successful at clearly conveying his message to the caller. He leaves the stranger-cum-friend with a comforted sense that, though there were communication barriers and difficulties throughout the conversation, he has completely grasped both the magnitude and the minutia of their concerns. He will address them. The problem will be solved. End of story. Listening in on just his end of the call is absolutely hilarious. With good humor and naivety he moves his mouth through the punctuated paces of some mangled form of remedial Spanglish. Basically, he takes an English sentence and omits all articles, adjectives, or adverbs. Then he adds the vowel â€œOâ€ to the end of any words left. (â€You need-o assistance-o?â€ or â€œTurn-o off-o computer-o.â€) I cringe and laugh at every single instance where he cooks up such a strange cocktail combination of condescension, genuine caring, innocence, and arrogance. I canâ€™t imagine the caller would be anything less than offended and pissed. But noâ€¦ Time and time again, the Spanish speaker is calmed and cared for without my friend ever really knowing what the hell is going on. He doesnâ€™t â€œknowâ€ what heâ€™s doing or where heâ€™s going with it, but he intuits the proper moves. And in the end itâ€™s really less important that he know whatâ€™s going on than it is to convince the caller he knows what is going on. As far as they know itâ€™s the careful craftsmanship of a competent man with horrible grammar and vocabulary. It often feels to me that playing shows is similar to making those phone calls, especially on tour when youâ€™re on unfamiliar ground. I lack the language of natural performance. My body is overloaded with sensations, sounds, and thoughts. Remember all the lyrics? Remember all the right melodies? Remember when to breathe? Remember the right chords? The right strumming pattern? The right time to step on that stomp box? Where is the mic? Where and how am I moving? Is the soundguy on top of his shit? Is the band together? My glasses are sliding down my nose. When is a good chance to push them back up? Can I get to the harmonica in time? Probably didnâ€™t need that last beer. How long can I hold in this belch? Oh no, what were the lyrics again? Singing my own songs in front of an audience is a most terrifying and amazing thing. The hyper-awareness, stress and strain, and utter commitment that those moments require canâ€™t help but leave me stupefied and dumb. I never feel prepared. I never feel comfortable. I never feel ready. I never feel confident. It takes so much out of me that I never really get the chance to feel much of anything at all. Iâ€™m afraid the audience will see through all this. Itâ€™s a sham. Iâ€™m a phony. I donâ€™t speak the language. I donâ€™t talk the talk. But its all just unfounded fear, foolâ€™s folly. I donâ€™t have to know what, where, when, and why I do every little thing in a performance. I just have to convince the audience that I know. Or maybe I donâ€™t even have to do that much. Maybe its enough for the audience to know that Iâ€™m open to intuiting the next move. The problem will be solved. End of story. All I have to do is pick up the phone and start adding Oâ€™s to the ends of words, and Iâ€™ll be easing on down the roadâ€¦Sacrament-Oâ€¦Modest-Oâ€¦ -Chris Another reminder that weâ€™re not in the Pacific Northwest anymore: sparse attendance at the Queen Bean because it rained earlier that day. The regulars swear to us that the back patio where we played is usually full for live music, but it rained today and cooled things off and kept folks in. Theyâ€™re used to it being 80 and sunny. When we started playing there were four people (if you count dogs as people), but that number soon swelled to nine. And they were appreciative, wanting CDs and signatures on posters, and encouraging us to come back when the weatherâ€™s better. Next we head toward Barst-O, and possibly beyond. No show Wednesday night, so today is for travel and recovery. Rachelâ€™s got a sore throat, Johnâ€™s got allergies, and when Chris woke up this morning he made a noise like a car with a loose belt. Iâ€™m thinking we should put him up on blocks and pick him up on the way home. -Arthur Links: Chris Robley & the Fear of Heights on Myspace President Bush pretending to understand SpanishÂ (David Letterman clip). Chris Robley dot com! Photo by Rachel Taylor Brown
March 22nd, 2007 [10:00AM]
A healthy crowd of bingo players greeted us (well, ignored us) as we entered Diabloâ€™s Downtown Lounge Monday night. Weâ€™re now considering running a bingo game simultaneously with our set if weâ€™re ever back because, sadly, the bingo players outnumbered our audience. Thatâ€™s all for good, though, since weâ€™re in agreement that Chrisâ€™s songs could be greatly enhanced by bingo. Barring some squealing feedback from Chrisâ€™s mic, it was a decent night. I could tell by Chrisâ€™s face afterward that he was not happy, though. It was hard to hear on stage and we had no idea what it sounded like â€œout thereâ€ (except for the squealing which, for the duration of the tour, weâ€™re also planning on just incorporating into Chrisâ€™s songsâ€“preemptive action). Iâ€™ve never heard Chris do a bad show but I think I understand the feeling. I think when youâ€™re up front and center and kind of ultimately responsible for everything, itâ€™s sometimes harder to judge the â€œcrowdâ€ (i.e., booth of four) reaction; mainly because youâ€™re so damned busy the whole time. From my slackerâ€™s position, though, the reaction seemed good. We got a lot of nice comments afterward. I think it mightâ€™ve been better than we all thoughtâ€”but who ever knows? -Rachel I donâ€™t think it was â€œbetter than we all thoughtâ€, but I do get paid to be the paranoid one. Its a strange and sudden jolt to play one night to a packed house and to an empty bar the next. Every city seems to have its own way of demonstrating public appreciation, too. Some listeners cackle and caw like hungry crows. Some stare at you in between songs, silently judging without an utterance, lest they appear to be the least bit enthused. They quietly approach afterwards and make uncertain nodding gestures and ask if they can â€œscore a CD.â€ You have to read each â€œcrowdâ€ differently, adjust accordingly, and then as soon as you get the hang of it, fill up the van and leave town for the next series of confusions. It really messes with your gigging equilibrium. So Iâ€™m willing to accept that my disappointment might not have had anything whatsoever to do with the quality of that nightâ€™s particular performance. Still, itâ€™s tough to work up any kind of convincing bravado when the band nearly outnumbers the audience. Itâ€™s probably impossible (for me) to get self-hyped into authentic bravado under such circumstances. I knew we were in trouble when I began to seriously consider integrating bingo callout numbers into the lyrics so that the large table would stay longer. I think Iâ€™ll just write this one off as the first bad gig of the tour. Check! The Eugene Weekly wrote a really nice article about us (and printed a huuuuuge picture of my head, which was quite frightening to behold). It apparently had no convincing power-of-persuasion with the locals, though. They had better things to do with their Monday evenings. We did not. Of course, press coverage is an interesting beast. When I send notices to papers and weeklies they never write anything. When I donâ€™t, they do. And either way, it never seems to effect the draw up or down, so sometimes I wonder if the only people who read that stuff is other musicians. Who are you that is reading this right now? What is your band called? Oh, yeah? Cool. Oh, sorry. Iâ€™ve got practice that night. But next time, for sure. Holocene? I love that club. Yeah? You should totally have DoublePlusGood open up for you next time you play there. Its like Magnetic Fields singing songs by Postal Service. Yeah. Totally. Heâ€™s the guy who booked the Fear of Heights down in Eugene at the Downtown Lounge and played after us. Oh, cool. Yeah. Youâ€™ll like him. No. You wonâ€™t regret it. -Chris Links: Chris Robley Chrisâ€™ Myspace Site The aforementionedÂ DoublePlusGood Chrisâ€™ other band,Â the Sort-Ofs Photo by Rachel Taylor Brown
Amplifier magazine had me pick some favorite songs last year. Hear goes...
Joe Henry - â€œOur Songâ€ (Civilians) The greatest lyrics I heard all year, the kind where you can't tell if they arrived fully formed in a flash of genius, or if they were painstakingly carved out of stone over the course of a lifetime. Personal, patriotic, barely-polemical, deeply wounded, defiantly hopeful. I don't need to include a Randy Newman song on this mix tape now because Joe Henry's song is so clearly influenced by Newman's brilliant, cynical-optimist tone. It makes me want to cry. Only someone who truly loves his country could sound this disgusted and heartbroken. Animal Collective - â€œWho Could Win a Rabbitâ€ (Sung Tongs) By contrast; I find it hard to imagine these lyrics mean anything at all. But that is OK. When these guys get down to the business of writing actual songs, they're hard to ignore. This particular track makes me curious about the personalities of the band. It conjures the image of a gaggle of mad children frolicking free in some hidden, government-funded, Technicolor romper room. As they dance and sing, plastic flowers grow in the wake of their movements. Giddy and menacing at the same time. Nilsson - â€œMiss Butter's Lamentâ€ (Aerial Pandemonium Ballet) Lately I've been obsessing over the dulcet tones of syrupy orchestral pop as well as the dark clank and clamor of junkyard Americana. Nilsson Vs. Tom Waits. For this mix, the former wins out, and probably always will. Virtuoso vocals, the hopeless arc of some sad Victorian tale, awesome rhythmic tension; but never taking itself too seriously, either. This a major compositional achievement, and I think in the end it was only included as a "bonus track". That is how good Nilsson was. Bastard! Rachel Taylor Brown - â€œOrmoluâ€ (Ormolu) A song about a fake golden baby from the perspective of a strained and ambivalent mother. Creepy, but entirely human. This whole album reminds me of PJ Harvey's beautiful "White Chalk," but with better lyrics and a more sophisticated use of chords and dissonance. Ormolu is a sparse and haunting "piano ballad" (though itâ€™s really more like Lieder) with tonality stretched to the Pop limits. And then there is that one crescendo of wailing vocals towards the end! Damn. Like if a Scottish Banshee took voice lessons from a Gospel singer. The Kinks - â€œThe Way Love Used to Beâ€ (The Great Lost Kinks) I love this one because it seems so uncharacteristically Kinks. Itâ€™s more like a Paul McCartney song about nostalgia and regret, but with Ray Davies' earnest vocals. The string arrangement is amazing, too. Not sure who scored it or who produced the session as a whole but this song demonstrates the craft and care I wish the Kinks employed with all their material. Another tear jerker. TV on the Radio - â€œI Was a Loverâ€ (Return to Cookie Mountain) Don't know if those are distorted trombones in the beginning, but I'm jealous as hell of whatever kind of thing created such a cacophony. I love how these guys manipulate sound and tension, but stay focused on melody and form at the same time. Pretty kick ass beats, too. They never condescend to the listener, and when the melody at the end rides atop an ambiguous flood of noise, the band is certain you're not lost, but floating along with them. TV on the Radio and Battles need to release an officially sanctioned mash-up album. Thelonious Monk - â€œBlue Monkâ€ (Monk's Blues) Once upon a time there was a musical element called "melody" and T. Monk was the king of its domain. I love that he was a Jazz guy who favored the tune above all else; above solos, feel, even skill. His use of chromaticism and syncopation is still unmatched. He was like America's Wagner, and only slightly more likeable a guy from what I've read. His "sloppy," angular piano style was pretty rad, too. He and Marc Ribot would have made a good pair. Emerson, Lake & Palmer - â€œTaste of My Loveâ€ (Love Beach) My friend Jeff put this song on a tour-mix he made for the Fear of Heights. He added the disclaimer that â€œTaste of My Loveâ€ is, hands down, the single worst Rock song of ALL time. His estimations did not disappoint. This colossally desperate mistake in musical history is filled with so many horrid audio assaults that your ears tingle with pleasure. Laughter soon follows. But unfortunately, the laughter will cause you to miss the next tasteless moment of classless come-ons. The lyrics border on sexual harassment. Here is a sampling: Call up room service, order peaches and cream I like my desert first - if you know what I mean. Yeah, taste it, taste it, taste it. Take all you need from the taste of my love. To be fair, this was their last album and they made it simply to fill their contractual obligation. But still, at that point, why even bother rhyming? Daft Punk - â€œDigital Loveâ€ (Discovery) My friend Dave introduced this song to me, saying that it has THE best synth solo of all time. He was correct. Itâ€™s so over the top and fun that you wonder how much further they can take it. And, of course, further it goes. This whole album guarantees a smile. The Keytar lives! Plus, that video with the hands is pretty sweet. John Vanderslice - â€œLunar Landscapesâ€ (Cellar Door) Out of all the albums I've heard since the new millennium, I've listened toÂ Cellar DoorÂ the most. Vanderslice is a really creative, terse arranger. His characters are always vivid and untrustworthy. His voice is always distressed. I like the song "Pale Horse" best, but â€œLunar Landscapesâ€ is a far better mix tape conclusion. Itâ€™s a soothing, melancholy lullaby, sung to a horse that is about to be put down. Its sound matches the lyric so fittingly that you can feel the gray shroud of sleep closing in from all around. Itâ€™s not frightening. Itâ€™s warm and full of love. ###
A Chat with Chris Robley, Chris Robley interview, The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love
11/14/2007The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love, in a list of albums that included better known talent such as Michelle Shocked and Iron and Wine. The name looked familiar to me. Was this the same guy I knew back in high school? After sending an email to Chris through his MySpace profile, sure enough, he confirmed that it was the same guy! Whatâ€™s more, as Chris was swinging through San Francisco on a brief tour in support of The Drunken Dance, I had the opportunity to speak with him, up close and personal, before his appearance at a unique venue called BrainWash. This promising new voice in music, who counts Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson among his influences, talks with Bullz-Eye about his musical journey from the state of Rhode Island to his current home base in Portland, Oregon, as well as the genesis of some of his new songs. He even asks our interviewer a few questions of his own and shares some hometown gossip! Bullz-Eye: So how did you find this current band, the Fear of Heights, that youâ€™re playing with? Chris Robley: The drummer and I actually went to college together in Richmond. We met in our first class of the first day of freshman year in a music theory class. Both said that we really just wanted to "rock" (laughs) and exchanged numbers. And then wemoved out to Portland after school. He and I started my other band, the Sort Ofs, too. As well as him playing in my solo band. And Rachel, I played a show with her a couple years back. Sheâ€™s a singer-songwriter herself, with a kind of creepy piano pop thing, so I really liked her style and tunes. And then we started opening for each other at gigs, and then we were like, â€œWell, why donâ€™t we play on each otherâ€™s recordings?â€ Then she knew all the songs. Time to go on tour. â€œCome with me!â€ And then Arthur, the bass player, one of my friends who plays saxophone and clarinet in my band. I was looking for an upright bass player and my friend Benny recommended Arthur. BE: There is a saxophone and clarinet in the Fear of Heights? CR: Yeah, although heâ€™s not here, of course. I couldn't afford to bring the whole nine-piece orchestra on the road. (laughs) So I met Arthur through that guy. And then it ended up that the show I was looking for him to play upright on, we realized there were going to be too many people onstage, so he just played electric bass to save some room. Yeah, thatâ€™s how I met them. And then the rest of the folks that are in the band when I play in Portlandâ€¦ all kinds of ways, you know, finding horns and strings, flutes, guitars, banjo, on and onâ€¦ mostly itâ€™s through playing with other bands I like and then stealing their players. Itâ€™s really incestuous. So lots of people play in each otherâ€™s bands in Portland too. Thatâ€™s how that worked out. BE: So why Portland? CR: Um, well we â€¦ at the time it was John and I and another guy who all moved out here together from Richmond right after September 11. Great timing! There were absolutely NO jobs. Anyways, I was from Rhode Island. The other guy was from Philly, and John was from Mississippi. So none of us wanted to live that close to home, which pretty much Xâ€™d-out the whole East coast. But we wanted to be near the ocean, so we drove around the country for like two months and looked at Seattle, Portland, here [San Francisco], L.A., San Diego and Austin. A big beach town. We narrowed it down to Austin and Portland. And pretty much, sad to say, it didnâ€™t have anything to do with music. When we went to Portland, it was early July, so the weather was 80 and sunny and beautiful. Then we went to Austin, and it was 112 the whole week we were there. So that made up our minds for us. BE: Have you been back to Austin since you moved to Portland?
(On the economic health of independent musicians and retailers) â€œâ€¦yeah, maybe Britney Spears is selling a lot less, but those sales are being picked up by lots of little people.â€CR: No. I keep meaning to go for South by Southwest, then lots of friends go and say itâ€™s a nightmare, soâ€¦ have you been? BE: No, not yet. Iâ€™ve been meaning to get down there though. Youâ€™ve got some East coast dates coming up, is that right? CR: I actually just took that off my MySpace â€˜cause it didnâ€™t work out. I started booking it too late. It would have been a tour of playing really crappy places and not very well plotted out as far as driving, Iâ€˜d be doing a lot of back and forth. So I just cancelled it. Iâ€™ll try and do it next year though. BE: Some of the places that you probably would have played are gone. Like the Met CafÃ© is gone. CR: Oh, right. Thatâ€™s the one that was attached to Lupoâ€™s, right? BE: Yeah. And thereâ€™s another one Iâ€™m thinking of that may be gone now. CR: AS220, are they still open? BE: I think theyâ€™re still there, yeah. CR: I donâ€™t remember if they were cool or not. BE: Yeah, itâ€™s a non-profit arts organization, so if you play there, youâ€™re probably pretty hip. CR: Interesting. Iâ€™ll have to get the hip endorsement from them! (laughs) Yeah, so anyway, I just cancelled that. But I am going to go home anyway, just to take a vacation, see my parents. BE: For the holidays? CR: Before the holidays. I work at, you know CD Baby? BE: Oh yeah! Iâ€™ve ordered from them before. CR: Okay. Yeah, I work there, and obviously it gets pretty crazy around the holidays, so I canâ€™t leave between like mid-November and mid-January. So Iâ€™ll just go home a little early. BE: Are they selling your CDs too? CR: Yep. BE: How are they doing sales-wise? CR: Good! Itâ€™s funny, because like, the owner makes our business reports public, and he loves little graphs and colored flowcharts and whatnot. So sales have, I think for the first 10 years it was just like this huge increase. And then over the past two years, itâ€™s a little leveled out but itâ€™s still growing each year. So like that, in comparison to the horrible fear-mongering major label crashing sales thingâ€¦ itâ€™s interesting because like, yeah, maybe Britney Spears is selling a lot less, but those sales are being picked up by lots of little people, you know. It seems like it at least, as far as we can tell. That whole Long Tail economic thing. BE: Are you selling your music on iTunes also? CR: Uh huh. CD Baby does digital distribution, so basically we sign it up with them, theyâ€™ll send it to iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, like 50 companies, eMusic, you know, those kinds of places. BE: How are the digital sales of your albums compared to the physical ones? CR: Um, money-wise, itâ€™s maybe like a fourth. I mean, Iâ€™m not doing huge sales or anything, butâ€¦ and CD Baby just started doing full album downloads off their site, which are a higher resolution, I think, than any download site. BE: Higher than 160? CR: I think itâ€™s 200. Itâ€™s variable? I donâ€™t really understand the technical stuff, but like, it goes between 240 and 160, depending on how much information, sonic information is going on? I donâ€™t know. But yeah, the average is 200. [editorâ€™s note: about 200kbps VBR] BE: Thatâ€™s better than iTunes! CR: Yeah. So, once they launched that, it was like a month or two ago, and I put my new album up on there. And, including download sales done directly from CDBaby.com, it was probably about half and half. So I guess people are going more for that route now. BE: Yeah, I mean, Radiohead certainly saw that. CR: I havenâ€™t gotten that yet. Have you heard it? Is it awesome? BE: If you liked the last album, Hail to the Thief, then youâ€™ll like this one too. They havenâ€™t really deviated too far from that sound. CR: Thatâ€™s cool though, because that album was sort of eclectic and had everything theyâ€™ve ever done in the course of an hour. BE: This oneâ€™s shorter though, itâ€™s only 10 songs, so itâ€™s easier to digest. CR: Nice. Yeah, thatâ€™s a cool idea, if youâ€™re at that level. If youâ€™re me, you probably donâ€™t gain too much from it. Exposure, sure. But I don't think folks would pay money for a lesser-known indie act's music if they're given the option to take it for free. I think Radiohead's fans felt a kind of duty to rise to the occasion since they're in the public eye with this thing. Humanity on trial. BE: How long have you been touring around now? CR: On this particular tour, you mean? BE: Yeah. CR: This is, like, 20 days, I think? Itâ€™s been great. Getting a ton of good ink thrown about and playing with good bands. Selling merch, of course. The Key! I made a merch display that resembles a junior high school science project. It conjurs up some kind of sympathetic nostalgia in people that makes them suddenly want CDs and t-shirts. We played at a private prep school in Ojai where the kids swarmed the merch booth after the show. Itâ€™s all about Prep schools for us now. Rich kids with credit cards. That is our target market now. Anyways, we go home tomorrow. So we hit San Francisco on the way down and played at the Make Out Room, and weâ€™re playinâ€™ at this place on the way back. Interesting club, by the way. (laughs) BE: Itâ€™s a really interesting concept, combining the Laundromat with the restaurant and bar, and then the internet portal. Iâ€™ve never seen anything like it. CR: Itâ€™s a good idea though, because then you get lots of different people in there for different reasons, and hopefully theyâ€™ll stick around for music. I donâ€™t know, weâ€™ll see! BE: We got at least one fan waiting in there. CR: Yeah, that was random. I havenâ€™t seen that guy in a while. But yeah, weâ€™re ready to go home. Three weeks is about the limit at this point. Weâ€™re all likeâ€¦ did you know I got married to Krissy Weseloh?
(On affecting a fanâ€™s major life change) â€œâ€¦he came up at another show and said that he and his wife were listening to it as they drove home that night â€¦ and realized that there was no point in continuing their marriage.â€BE: I did see that on your MySpace! CR: Oh, okay (laughs). Just thought Iâ€™d throw a little East Greenwich gossip into the conversation. BE: I hadnâ€™t thought of her name in years. It was maybe last year or so that I was hearing about Mike Weseloh again. I think he may have gotten in contact with Scott Goldis. You remember him? CR: Oh yeah. BE: Heâ€™s down in L.A. CR: Oh wow. Whatâ€™s he doinâ€™? BE: Thatâ€™s an offline conversation! (laughs) Weâ€™ll talk about that offline. CR: Interesting. BE: That may even be source material for new songs. CR: Okay, good. Youâ€™ll have to give it to me then. Nothing like exploiting other people for the sake of art. In fact, I've been filming this whole tour for a vidcast. I've been a little dictator. Demanding. I wanted to capture the sad goodbyes from the loved ones before leaving. No privacy. Just a camera in their faces as they kissed goodbye. My band grows weary of my damn camera. BE: Youâ€™ve got some really interesting characters in your songs. I was listening to â€œThe Love I Fakeâ€ on the way here. That was a really good song, one of the best songs Iâ€™ve heard about a prostitute. CR: (Laughs) Are there many? You have a whole iPod subcategory of prostitute songs? BE: Gonna make a prostitute mix! (laughs) CR: Iâ€™d like to hear that! BE: Where did that idea come from? CR: Um, I donâ€™t know. Someone else asked me that in an interview recently. I think that sometimes Iâ€™ll just come up with these little mental problems in my head that need solving, and like, it might have been a movie or a discussion or something where I was pondering, well, everyone at some low point in their life needs to feel empowered, and how could a prostitute feel empowered given the daily horrors? And the answer I came up with was by sort of having an air of superiority and making fun of the dude in her head while itâ€™s all going down. Quiet condescension. So, I thought that was an interesting thing to write about (laughs) For me, at least. I donâ€™t know if anyone else is interested! (laughs) BE: Well I certainly was. CR: Cool! BE: That, and the other one Iâ€™ve been listening to the most is â€œA Vague Notion of Nothing Much,â€ the couple thatâ€™s having the baby they donâ€™t want anymore and then the lesbian couple, you know, wants a baby. I bet there are a lot of folks in this town that could relate to that one. CR: I donâ€™t know where I came up with that one! (Laughs) I think I got that line "A vague notion of nothing much" in my head first. And then rather than the song being about an idea, it was about a person... or baby. "The baby in your belly is a vague notion of nothing much." Then I thought, God, what a terrible thing to say. But it'd be even more terrible if it were the father talking to the mother. So I guess I think of these things and then wonder how I can make them the most cruel. In fact, another Portland songwriter took one of my songs called "XMAS Card from NYC to Anyone Who'll Read It, 1946" [from The Sort Ofsâ€™ Anxiety on Parade], which is basically a depressing missive from a lady who doesn't like how life is turning out, and basically answered the letter in one of his own songs from the perspective of someone in love with the character. So I'd pretty much consigned the girl to her horrible fate, and out of nowhere this guy comes and writes this positive ending for her. It was really very touching, artistically and personally. He saved my character... from me. Ha! And it was tastefully done, too. Krissy thinks I should start a contest for people who want to write new songs to save my sad characters. Maybe someone will eventually save the deadbeat dad in "Vague Notion" and they'll end up a happy family. Or maybe just a functional family would be okay. BE: Iâ€™m listening to that one and Iâ€™m thinking, whoâ€™s having a baby that suddenly they donâ€™t want anymore? (laughs) CR: Iâ€™m sure lots of people. Not me though. BE: No kids in the future yet? CR: No, I donâ€™t know. A few years off, maybe. I wanna try and milk the touring, recording thing for a while without worrying about taking care of another life. Krissyâ€™s good about it, sheâ€™s totally supportive. Iâ€™d say three weeks is about my limit for touring at one time, though. But I can go and come back pretty often. And CD Babyâ€™s really understanding of the touring thing. This is kind of unrelated, but thereâ€™s this one song that I havenâ€™t officially released yet [editorâ€™s note: â€œMovie Theater Haiku,â€ fromShorthand vs. Shorthand: A Tour-Only Preview]. I put it out on this tour-only limited edition disc, and this guy bought it at a show. And he came up at another show and said that he and his wife were listening to it as they drove home that night, and they looked at each other and realized that there was no point in continuing their marriage. BE: (laughs hysterically) CR: Then he was basically blaming me for his failed marriage! Quite the musical moment. BE: Wow. Now thatâ€™s heavy! Iâ€™m hearing this and Iâ€™m remembering a story that Paul McCartney had told to some interviewer about a song he had written two albums ago that he ended up playing at someoneâ€™s wedding because the person heard it and loved it so much. Polar opposite. CR: Right, and I remember Sting, someone asking him to play â€œEvery Breath You Takeâ€ at a wedding. And heâ€™s like, â€œItâ€™s kind of a stalker song, itâ€™s a little creepy.â€ BE: Itâ€™s a very creepy song. (laughs) Did you get to see the Police? CR: I didnâ€™t. The drummer did, John, up in Seattle. He said it was kinda, too loose. They sounded bad. Did you see them? BE: I saw them twice, actually. I think they got the kinks out the way by the time they came to Oakland. They seemed like they were having a good time. CR: Thatâ€™s cool. Iâ€™d hate to go and be disappointed after paying that much money. Do you get to go to that stuff for free? BE: That one, no. Itâ€™s kinda hard to get into sold out shows comped. I tried to do that with Elvis Costello a couple of years ago, and they said absolutely no way. But Dylan, I was able to do that a couple years ago. CR: I just saw him last year, I think. Finally enjoyed it! Iâ€™d seen him like four times and hated it every time. Finally I saw a show where I was like, oh, sounds good! BE: I also really like the instrumentals on your disc too. Iâ€™ve been hearing a lot of independent discs this year, writing for â€œPerformer,â€ and every time I hear an instrumental, I single that out. CR: Cool. Yeah, I think itâ€™s a good palate cleanser, especially after the first three proper songs that are all kind of dense and poppy and fast, I thought it would be good to just, you know, pull in the reins a little bit. And then it gets kinda folky for a while. The acoustic guitar one called â€œ388 Hate Houseâ€ I just recorded on a four track at home. I liked how it came out, so I just threw it on the album. BE: Thereâ€™s something about those four-track recordings, it captures something you canâ€™t get on digital. CR: Right. We did most of the album on 24-track, two-inch tape in a proper studio, but I did that one at home, mistakes and all. Thereâ€™s a little squelched note in there! (Laughs)
BE: You know, all this time thatâ€™s gone by, Iâ€™ve only really known you as a jazz player. What was the road from jazz to singer-songwriter pop, when did that start? CR: I was wondering if you were going to ask that, â€˜cause you wrote, â€œis this the same guy that introduced me to We Want Miles?â€ I thought, oh no, heâ€™s gonna think I shouldâ€™ve been some, you know, John Scofield virtuoso type or something. I think late in high school I started writing songs on my acoustic guitar, kinda finger-style singer-songwriterly kinds of things that were probably terrible, I donâ€™t even remember them. But I was really shy about it and I wouldnâ€™t sing them for anyone, they were just kinda, my private tunes. And I went to college and played guitar in the jazz band at the University of Richmond, and started a sort of jazz fusion instrumental group that played funk, rock, prog, some sort of instrumental pop stuff all mixed in. And then we played the whole four years I was there. We did really well. Party music, ya know? Andâ€¦ I liked it, I thought it was fun, but it was never like "this is me," I donâ€™t know, I just like those quick succinct pop songs, so eventually I got up the nerve to sing tunes for a guy that was in the same dorm with me that was a musician, and he was playing guitar and singing too. So he liked the tunes, and I kinda got him to sing most of them, just â€˜cause I really wasnâ€™t that comfortable as a singer. So I wrote the songs and he sang, and we started a band with John, who still plays drums with me. But then, I was always a littleâ€¦ although I felt like he had a better voice technically, it never felt, like, honest, like he seemed like a faker, and when he sang it didnâ€™t seem honest in some way, which, I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s just in my imagination. He's really a good singer. Maybe I was just possessive of my songs. So I started to sing more and more, and then he left finally, and John and I started the Sort Ofs together at the same time as I was starting to make my first solo album, which Krissy kind of prodded me to do. So that was the transformation. I studied music at school too and did a lot of composition and theory stuff, so there was some string quartets, and a little art leider kind of songs that we had to write for class that I did, and hopefully some of that stayed with me. BE: And when you did the leider, were you writing in German? CR: No. (laughs) That language frightens me when itâ€™s sung. BE: Oh, but it sounds so funny! CR: Yeah, thatâ€™s true. No wait, actually I was taking, I forget who it was, Berryman I think, some poet, and setting his poems as the lyrics, so, yeah, slow slow transformation. But now I feel like Iâ€™m doing what I should be doing. I wish I had my jazz chops still, in some sense, but this is more me. Like, when Iâ€™m home alone, I want to be writing songs. BE: I wasnâ€™t hearing a lot of long-winded solos or anything. CR: (laughs) Thereâ€™s no guitar solos on it, are there? Maybe one. BE: I donâ€™t think so. CR: There are a few on the Sort Ofs record, but theyâ€™re like, theyâ€™re more sort of just noisy attack-y kind of things. Iâ€™d like to start an informal jazz group just to play every once in a while and exorcise those demons.
(On writing â€œThe Love I Fakeâ€)â€œâ€¦everyone at some low point in their life needs to feel empowered, and (I thought), how could a prostitute feel empowered given the daily horrors?â€BE: You always sounded good playing that stuff, and like you said, itâ€™s good to exorcise. CR: Itâ€™s weird, because this group the Fear of Heights is entirely acoustic guitar for me. The Sort Ofs is, Iâ€™d say 90 percent Iâ€™m on the keyboard, piano, or synths or whatever, Rhodes/Wurlitzer kinda stuff. And then I play in two other bands, Norfolk & Western and the Imprints, on electric guitar. So I get some compartmentalization, theyâ€™re all very regimented as far as instruments. BE: Their own little silos. CR: Yeah. Itâ€™d be cool to mix it all up at some point, but, that would require roadies! (Laughs) â€˜Cause Iâ€™m not carrying that much gear. BE: You gotta get that East Coast tour booked and try to build the fanbase up. CR: Yeah, totally. I donâ€™t know how that would go. I feel like thereâ€™s enough people I still know back there to wrangle them and their friends together and probably have a good tour. BE: Oh sure! And then those people probably know people, too. CR: True. This is the second time weâ€™ve done this, this year, here. On the west coast. And we noticed a lot of people coming back. Like, we played in Modesto last night, and there were maybe like 10 people who were at our last show that came back. And then they brought their friends, so, it seems to be working, slowly, bit by bit. BE: Itâ€™s a slow process, but if people really like you, theyâ€™ll keep coming back. CR: Itâ€™s fun too. I donâ€™t know anything else Iâ€™d rather be doing. BE: Weâ€™ve done 30 minutes, I think thatâ€™s good. CR: You got what you need. BE: Yes, and Iâ€™m looking forward to the show. CR: Is it going to be an interview piece? BE: Itâ€™s going to be a verbatim transcription. (Editorâ€™s note: more accurately, anedited verbatim transcription CR: Oh, sweet! (Laughs) BE: Itâ€™ll be up there with asides and all. CR: Awesome. In that case, letâ€™s start over! (Laughs) I didnâ€™t sound quite pompous enough. BE: We can plug in some pompous asides. CR: Yes, email it to me and I can put in all these huge words and stuff. BE: (Laughs) We could have a lot of fun with this. CR: Okay, good (laughs) [â€¦and from here, the recorder is turned as Chris runs off to join his bandmates, who are already setting up their gear for their performanceâ€¦]
ChrisÂ RobleyÂ Inside Track by antiMusic . With a CD calledÂ The Drunken Dance ofÂ Modern ManÂ In Love,Â and a nickname of "the Stephen King ofÂ Indie Pop,"Â ChrisÂ Robley caught our attention. He kept our attention with his moody yet intriguing music. His bio says that he writes songs out of pure obsession and intrigue withÂ the dark sideÂ of human relationships. So we wanted to delve a little deeper into those themes withÂ ChrisÂ and some of the songs on the CD. We were planning on just doing aÂ ChrisÂ Robley week with one song featured a day but he did such an incredible job with the five song stories that we couldn't wait until the new year to publish them. Here isÂ ChrisÂ with theÂ inside trackÂ on his five favorite tracks fromÂ The Drunken Dance ofÂ Modern ManÂ In Love. Faulkner's South This sad little number is a favorite of mine because I was able to almost entirely recreateÂ the soundÂ and mood I had in my mind when I first wrote it (a comparative description would read something like "Randy Newman lyrics with a Burt Bacharach melody performed by Harvest-era Neil Young). There is always some distance between intent and reality when it comes to the recording process. Some songs benefit from this distance. Some suffer. But rarely do they resemble the original idea in any recognizable way. So I'm proud that in this case I closed the distance near entirely. I remember being stuck in some awful traffic on the I-405 bridge in Portland for about 30 minutes and coming up with the lyrics while staring at the Willamette River below. I don't know what that has to do with the lyrics other than it being a vivid memory. But anyways. The story is basically a person addressing an abusive father on his death bed. The narrator's grief is a bit shielded by some protective ambivalence. They keep noticing the commonplace, everyday, mundane nature of this final farewell, and how it would be so much more heightened and romantic were they characters in a book by Faulkner. I put the acoustic guitar and vocals down first on 24 track tape, with Adam Selzer engineeringÂ at Type Foundry. Then I had Arthur Parker come in to play standup bass. Then drums. This is actually my favorite drum part on the whole album, played superbly, subtly, and softly byÂ John Stewart. Adam and I worked with John to strip away Everything from the drum part except the barest essentials so it has that ultra-dry snare and kick sound from the early 70's. Steve Keeley and Amanda Lawrence (of Loch Lomond) played the string arrangement (which we later looped in reverse to open the album). Paul Brainard played about 6 tracks of pedal steel which we left going all at once, drenched in reverb, to begin and end the song. I finished it off with a few spare touches of Wurlitzer and harmonica. Of course, no self-respecting Harvest homage would fly without harmonica! Centaurea The first time I ever kept a first vocal take in its entirety. Granted, the melody is lower and easy to sing. But still, I'm giving myself credit here. It was also one of the only times where acomplete lyricÂ came on so suddenly that I felt as if I were taking dictation. I woke up late one night, went out to the living room, and started scribbling fast. Besides some minor revisions, the words, imagery, and rhyme scheme is exactly what came spilling out. The nationalÂ flowerÂ of Germany belongs to the genus Centaurea. This is a song about that liminal twilight at the end of a war, where peace is coming over the horizon but no one can feel it yet. Things grow twisted from the rubble and ruin, growing, but most likely laying the foundation for the next conflict, too. The lyrics are specifically about WWII and the music is a kind of Mariachi/Tom Waits hybrid, so when someone told me this song made them feel like they were in Spain in 1936 I can't complain that they were too far off. I played guitars, timpanis, crash symbols, and sang all the vocals. Arthur Parker played upright bass. Steve Keeley played the eerie tremolo fiddles that dance in the background. Benny Morrison dusted off his clarinet for some sweet Parisian lines. Mike Danner played accordion. Adam Selzer played castanets. And most importantly, James Gregg came in to play trumpet dressed in his very best Desert-Rock shoes. The Love I Fake This song inspired a music journalist in San Francisco to start a whole iTunes mix for songs about prostitutes. I think The Love I Fake and Roxanne are the only ones in there so far. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the box. So why a song about a prostitute? Sometimes I'll just come up with these little mental problems in my head that need solving, and it could be anything that sets it off. It might have been a movie or a discussion or an undigested bit of mustard that made me go pondering. Start with the question, develop the answer. Everyone at some low point in their life needs to feel empowered amidst the chaos, and how could a prostitute feel empowered given the daily horrors? And the answer I came up with was by possessing or cultivating a kind of superior air about her and by making fun of the dude in her head while it's all going down. Quiet condescension. So hopefully the listener starts off feeling sorry for the girl, but ends up feeling sorry for the pathetic guys she emasculates with her barbed tongue. Recording-wise, I brought in the usualÂ cast of charactersÂ for this tune: Mike Danner on accordion and honkey-tonk piano, Benny Morrison on clarinet and Barritone sax. Steve Keeley on fiddle. Arthur Parker on upright and fuzz bass.Â John StewartÂ on Drums. I like how the feel keeps morphing in this song, too. The barroom vamp section is a nod to klezmer. The verses are some kind of slow western swing. The pre-chorus ramps into a 50's rock-motif and then launches into a chorus that always reminded me of Weezer. Then at the end I did my best Nilsson vocal-outro. After all, one can never have enough Nilsson. A Vague Notion of Nothing Much A cruel, cruel song. I always seem to have one tune on every album from the perspective of a despicable misogynist. This is a soon-to-be father who knows he won't be sticking around much longer, while a lesbian couple next door pines for their own child. I think I got that line "A vague notion of nothing much" in my head first, apropos of nothing. And then rather than the song being about an idea, which would be the obvious continuation of a "notion", it became about a person... or baby. "The baby in your belly is a vague notion of nothing much." Then I thought, God!, what a terrible thing to say. But it'd be even more terrible if it were the father talking to the mother. So I guess I think of these things first and then wonder how I can make them the most potently cruel. My friends think I should start a contest for folks who'd be willing to write new songs based on mine to save my sad characters. It happened once. Maybe someone will eventually save the deadbeat dad in "Vague Notion" and they'll end up a happy family one day. Or maybe just a functional family would be okay. You'd never know it from listening, but I was really inspired by Animal Collective on this song (particularly the claps and stomps). Then work in a littleÂ Neutral Milk Hotel, Byrds, and Beach Boys and I think that is close to the mark. The mildly dissonant acapella section at the end is a real bitch to pull off live, believe me. It's kind of like the raga Spinal Tap sings at Elvis' tomb. Little Love Affairs This is the closest thing to a "title track" since its got the album name (The Drunken Dance ofÂ Modern ManÂ in Love) in the lyric. On a side note, I always think its cool when albums are named after lyrics instead of song titles. My Aim is True, for example. Anyways, its a tune that charts the topography and limits of fidelity in an age of great unmet expectations. Up front, its probably the poppiest song on the album, although I like that its structured musically like a palindrome. ABCBA That is my small, silent revolution against the constraints of catchiness and form. I love the compressed and distressed acoustic guitar sound that John Vanderslice (and Neutral Milk Hotel before him) have trademarked and used that a bit on this recording. The drums had this really interesting room mic on them that we went with (instead of the close mics) because it had a giant, but distant sound. It seemed suggestive of something thunderous without actually being so obvious and sprawling. Benny Morrison played some Savoy Truffle Barritone sax parts and Paul Brainard played pedal steel. After listening to the song a couple times, Brainard went into the next room and played it note for note on the piano, chords, melody, everything. Its not prog-rock, but its not the blues either. He's a gifted one. Bastard. The high pitched percussion on the chorus is me banging on glass with two metal knives. It sounds like a gentle tinkling, but there was jagged bits of glass debris all over the studio floor and in my hair.
The new album is finally finished. It's called "Movie Theatre Haiku" Â and it's a collection of songs about measuring distances. The official release is in late March, but you can pick up a copy now by clicking here. Also, we've gotten some great advance press from local papers like the Portland Mercury, the Willamette Week, and the Oregonian. Also, keep an ear out. "User-Friendly Guide" from the upcoming album has been serving as the theme song for the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast. I've also contributed a brand new song to the compiliation (D)early Departed: True Lies in Song Unearthed from Lone Fir. Portland artists such as Storm Large, Ritchie Young, Nick Jaina, Pete Krebs, and mony others each wrote a tune about a real live dead person buried in the historic Lone Fir cemetery. It was a blast. My tune was about Capt. Jim Turk, a scoundrel and crime lord who introduced the practice of crimping to Oregon and even Shanghaied his own son. A live recording of "The Love I Fake" from Drunken Dance was included on Mississippi Studios Live: volume III alongside songs by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses, the Everybodfields, and Weinland. Lastly, whenever you see an AMC commercial for a horror movie, listen closely for my song "Mantra of a Melting American" (from this is the) playing in the background. Boo! Planning a Spring tour now. Stay tuned.