Oh! You Pretty Things…
Performer Magazine premiered a video (and David Bowie song) that Tim Huggins and I recorded recently.
Here’s what I said about the track:
Every February I go to Kansas City for Folk Alliance International. It’s a really special event, and it’s always inspiring but after four days and nights of un-amplified acoustic music you kind of need a palette cleanser.
So for the past two years, on the last night of the festival, my buddy Tim and I have gone late-night to a local studio and recorded a bunch of 70’s pop and rock covers. We only have a handful of hours until dawn to get the takes, so we try to keep it un-fussy: put down the basics live, throw on some extra guitar, sing the vocals, mix the song, go eat breakfast. This year we did “Oh! You Pretty Things” and a swampy version of Badfinger/Nilsson/Mariah Carey staple “Without You.”
By next year we might have enough of these sloppy cover songs to release a whole record, but for now I at least wanted to put this video out there, since Bowie’s passing was still very heavy on our hearts when we went into the studio. It’s a song I’d covered live a few times, but we’d always done it the faithful way, with the drums only coming in on the choruses.
That night Tim got his friend Mike Patrum, who plays with Kerry Livgren, to come and record drums, and I figured if he’s gonna be here, we might as well have him play on the whole song… thus the bigger arrangement.
As for the song itself, the chords kill me. So good. Not sure Bowie gets enough credit for how genius his harmonic changes were. And the lyrics, so bizarre, with the Ubermensch starman stuff amidst the cozy domestic details…
I just watched the preview for Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” and started really obsessing over the obsolescence of mankind. Gotta make way for the Homo Superior!
The venerable PopMatters.com was kind to feature my new video for “1973” on their site.
Here’s what they said:
I’m firmly of the belief that a certain brand of nostalgia — that ever-present nag that music stopped being good when the ‘rents stopped being young enough to enjoy the new stuff — is toxic and has no place in our music community. Thankfully, Chris Robley’s “1973” is of the more pleasant sort, genially sepia-toned instead of acid-stained. It’s a self-admitted “fantasy”, a pleasant scene of how two folks met and made a kid that doesn’t actually exist in Robley’s true life, but oftentimes fantasy is compelling too. And “1973” certainly is compelling, charming wordless harmonies preceding a folk-rock stomp and killer psychedelic guitar solo. It might be a fictionalized portrait of the year it attempts to illustrate, but that fiction is a genuine joy—if a slightly depressing one—nonetheless.
And here’s what I said:
“‘1973’ is one of the songs on the record that has absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s complete fiction, a mix between ‘1941’ by Nilsson and ‘That Was Your Mother’ by Paul Simon,” says Robley. “It’s sung from the point of a view of a deadbeat dad returning after too long away to rationalize his absence. I have a great dad. I wasn’t born in 1973. But I had the chord changes, and when I started to write a melody those were the words that came.”
Ghettoblaster recently premiered the lyric video for “Silently.”
Here’s a few words about the song:
The first thing I always think to say about ‘Silently’ is that it features a guest choir of chickens. Well, not real chickens. Just… the band, doing our best chicken impressions. Because why not? Second, this was definitely my attempt to write something in the vein of the Great American Songbook, back when it was okay to use phrases like ‘quite remiss’ in a pop song. It was a ton of fun to record. Anders (the drummer on the rest of the album) had to leave early, so Rob Stroup, the producer, sat in for this last song, assembling a drum kit out of boxes and kitchen utensils. And the drunken barbershop call-and-response vocals were handled by Rob Stroup and Naomi Hooley hilariously holding their nostrils closed while they sang.
Chickens. Mouth trumpet. Kazoo. Nasal and inebriated backup singers. All fun ways to dress up a sad song about ‘How the heat of desire is akin to a warm winter fire that burns bright, then expires, silently.’ Even though I live in Maine now, I’m usually back in Portland, Oregon every three months or so. On my last trip I went up to Mt. Tabor — an old extinct volcano that overlooks Southeast Portland — and used Hyperlapse to shoot the sky at dusk for this video.
Wicked kind words about my song “Veterans Day” from Nooga.com, the website premiering the lyric video for the tune:
There’s something mercurial and surprising about the graceful ebb and flow that washes over you as the song progresses. It’s alternately comforting and riveting. He manages to instill a sense of momentum and weight to these experiences without sacrificing the ebullient swagger that clings to this kind of inclusive pop music.
Listening to “Veterans Day,” it’s easy to forget just how hard it is to fashion this specific pop aesthetic without losing a sense of your identity. But Robley easily draws back the sentiment to showcase the heart and earnest soul of his work. The song’s complexity is subtle—it doesn’t call attention to itself but merely expresses an ocean of feeling with the simplest rhythmic passages. As the song fades away, you’re left with the feeling of having fully lived within another person’s life, even if only for a short while.
Check out the video above.
Ah, sweet defeat. I submitted a book manuscript last year to Tupelo Press and just found out it was selected as one of seventeen finalists for their Dorset Prize by the rad poet Robert Pinsky, who said: ““Truth and music, or to put it another way, reality and real lines: those were the criteria I used to select (these 17) book manuscripts for a final, excellent batch.”
Finding out you were a finalist is, I suppose, the most encouraging way to receive the news “YOU LOSE,” so here I am with a happy #HumbleBrag. I’m at least taking this as a sign that I don’t need to start a new manuscript from scratch. And it really is an honor to have my poems so carefully considered by Robert Pinsky, whose work I adore, and by Tupelo Press, who publish outstanding writing year after year.
Psyched that NO DEPRESSION gave my new album a kind review today. I love that magazine (which is, once again, a print-and-paper magazine). Read the whole review HERE, but — spoiler alert — this is how it concludes:
“Given its spiraling emotions, The Great Make Believer makes for an enticing listen, and, its title disclaimer aside, suggests that Robley is indeed the very real deal.”
As part of an annual exchange of poems between The Poetry Society in the UK and The Poetry Foundation in the US, my poem “Nano” has been reprinted in the spring 2016 issue of The Poetry Review.
More details HERE.