When I first started writing the record I knew that I was good at writing Americana singer/songwriter songs, but I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and try to do what I’ve always inspired to do and make an alternative indie/rock record. But I didn’t stray too far away from my roots really and I decided to mix both genres. I felt like it was going to be this Americanasinger/songwriter record, but it’s hard to produce an Americana singer/songwriter album when all you’re doing all day is listening to Radiohead. It was defiantly very difficult.
It was exactly how I wanted it to turn out. It was never really a compromise. I was only trying to push the next level of production. To add something that was much more strange and unique that singer/songwriters aren’t doing right now: A lot of synthesizers or very complicated string parts. I didn’t want the record to be simple, because most singer/songwriters are going out there and putting out a simple record. For my debut record I wanted it to come out as this very, very well thought out rich music; rich instrumentally pretty record.
There’s certain instruments that portray certain feelings better than others. If you were to play a boson and try to play an Olivia Newton John song, it just wouldn’t make sense. If you were to play some Britney Spears song on a bassoon, it wouldn’t make sense. Bassoon has this warm, rich, introspective sound to it that it’s just like inexplicable. Having these kinds of sounds, that I love, these warm, introspective beautiful, rich interests on my record defiantly added to the sound and to the meaning of the songs. I think one of the most interesting things is to listen to a record and – for instance a Bon Iver record – and the whole entire song is just, you think it’s about love and it’s happy and you play it with your girlfriend because it’s so happy and so filled with love, but really the song is about the girl killing herself, or something. Because you don’t really know the lyrics, I guess. Music and instruments have a way of telling the story in their own way, and I think that we chose the instruments with a lot of purpose.
I think that song, “Dress,” is about a wedding dress and how the idea of marriage and commitments can just make people go crazy and can bring out the worst parts of people. I’ve just seen it – I’m not anti marriage at all. It’s about fighting against himself; whether he is in love with someone, whether he needs them for his life. Everyone grows up and they dream of being married. At least for me, I didn’t want to grow up and be a fireman. All I wanted to be was a husband and a father. I think there’s that longing in every man. That song is about how finally finding that is really, really difficult. I found myself in a depressive state and thinking that love really wasn’t for me. I guess my life without the color of love and without the color of marriage and all these passions and wonderful fruits of life, they aren’t really going to be happening for my life, so there’s defiantly a lot of questioning.
I don’t really plan music out that systematically. I think I might have just been jamming with my friends and we started doing that and it just got more interesting. It really did bring a cool closure to that song where you don’t really know, it’s almost like you’re kind of giving up at the end. I don’t know. You’re wondering if all this stuff is ever going to come to fruition, and then, finally at the end you’re just giving up. I don’t know.
I’d say I grew up listening to Ray LaMontagne. Ray LaMontagne is the reason that I sing. I guess I had overheard him playing on a television that was accidently left on – he was on the PBS network of something. I was 14-years-old and I just wanted to take it back when he sang the song Jolene. I wanted to be able to sound like that; to be able to sing with so much soul. It’s so wonderful how the production level on his record can be so simple and it can be so absent from instrumentation. It can just be his voice and it’s so beautiful. I took a lot of inspiration from him, and I really inspired to be that good of a singer. I’m not sure I ever will be.
I listed to a lot of Bon Iver, which definitely taught me to learn how to sing in my falsetto, so that influenced me to sing higher, for sure.
As far as instrumentation I love listening to Eisley and Sleeping At Last. Eisley and Sleeping At Last are really pretty big influences on me. I also take a lot of from my producer’s band Copeland while growing up because they’re the same sound as me.
It was a great time. I got to be a part of the building of his studio. We became friends before we were working together, doing business together. He’s just a great friend. A great hang out man, and he’s been there for me through thick and thin – through the harshest times of my life as a friend. And he’s been there for the best times of my life as a friend, as well. He’s a wonderful friend and he’s really brilliant. I’m astounded by the stuff he comes up with. I’ll walk in to the studio and he’ll just be writing something or producing somebody else’s track and he’ll have all these explanations for why he’s mixing that song like this, or like that, and it’s so over and beyond my head. He really is brilliant. He’s not been schooled or trained by anyone, or any of that. It just comes naturally to him.
So it really was a big blessing to work with such a natural talent for sound. It really was.
I think that our personalities are really similar in the fact that we are friends, we listen to similar music. Very rarely did we ever come across something that we disagreed 100 percent on. There might be one part on “Black and White.” There’s this guitar part that has a triplet solliet on it. And it goes throughout the song, and it’s kind of similar to a guitar part that you would hear on a Police record. I never listened to Police growing up. That was never iconic for me. When I first heard it, it was his idea and I was like, ‘Uhhh I don’t know, I don’t know if I like it. It’s so not what I meant to, not like anything I’ve heard,’ and then he just told me to sit on it. It was one of the few things we weren’t 100 percent on. After I listened to it, it just became one of my favorite parts about the record. He has a way of even seeing what I will like when we’re writing together.
I think I was in the studio for something entirely different, I think he was mixing another record, and I was just sitting at the studio practicing on the piano in the main room, and I started writing a melody to that song and soon enough my friend Steve Powell, who plays drums, came over and started playing drums to it, and then Aaron investigated what we were doing, and he really enjoyed it. We were just jamming all together, and Aaron went in there and played and we decided to do just a quick track of it. So we put a room mic in there, so we could remember what the song sounded like, so that we could maybe record it and put it on the record in the future. When we were recording he was like, ‘Yo, do you mind if I sing on this record?’ And I was like, ‘I’d love for you to sing on this record. That would be amazing.’ And he was like, ‘Cause I want it to be this song.’ He really enjoyed that song.
My favorite Copeland record, Eat, Sleep, Repeat, she’s on that pretty heavily, and I’ve always loved her voice. I actually saw her play a show inLakeland while I was in college and I sat in the front row and I was right next to her the whole time. I just had butterflies because I though she was so pretty. And now she’s like older and married and has kids, and everything. But she walked in to the studio and she just happened to be in town, just passing a couple of days to see some friends. She walked in to say hi to Aaron and I just asked her if she wanted to sing on it. She agreed. I was still nervous and had butterflies the whole time. It was pretty cool.
She was in town shooting a music video and I knew that I needed a girl vocal on this one song, which is my favorite song that I’d written. I really wanted a good girl vocal and I’m pretty picky when it comes to girl vocals, like I rarely listen to girl singers. But I love Holly Ann and I love her record. She just happened to be in town. She was here for a weekend and we asked her to sing on it. It took 30 minutes. It literally took nothing. It was a no brainer. It was absolutely perfect. I’d love to work with her and maybe do a split in the future.
I think there’s just like the grandest story. I think that song summarizes the whole record and it completes it. It’s like the best conclusion to all of my writing really. All of my writing was about the hopes for love, or heartbreak – I know that’s very common, but I like to do it in my own way. I think that love is the most powerful emotion, so it definitely deserves to be written about. I was in Israel for a couple of months doing a study, and I had just gone through extreme heartbreak. I had lost my mother and I had also lost someone who I thought I was going to marry. So it was just these two huge things of grieving that really struck me when I was there. And while I was there I wrote one song, it’s called “Broken Sling” and it was just about me and how I finally found hope when I was in Israel. It was all really going to come to conclusion. I was going to be granted a wife with the hope of being granted love. I finally became confident that I would be granted love in my life. And that I would be granted comfort and home all over again. It took me living in Israel for a little while to come up with something like that.
I was in Lakewood and I’d already tracked a lot with Aaron, and I asked him what he thought of this song, I wanted to show him really quick. So we decided just to track it live, really quick. As soon as I walked back in to the control room he was just like, ‘Fuck Yeah, that’s the greatest song I’ve ever heard.’ He was so excited about it. I’m absolutely in love with how it came out. It’s very simple, yet rich.
That song’s definitely, if I were to have songs that I want to be remembered by, that would definitely be one of them.
My mother had passed and a month later I was in college, I was a freshman in college and I was in Nashville. All my roommates were gone, and I just walked in my room just completely heart stricken, just so sad over my mother. The only thing that could come to my mind was not my upbringing or any of the love, the mother-to-child relationship, none of that. What came to my mind was there was so much about my mom that I never knew. I never knew who she was when she was my age. I never knew all of that. All I knew was the 18 years that I had. I wanted to know so much more about her. But I wrote a song about some of the interesting things that she told me. The song really isn’t perfectly biographical. It’s definitely chopped up and has little pieces here and there, but it’s what I wrote in the moment of creating. I sent it to all my brothers and sisters and all of them called me crying, and they all loved it. So, it’s just a really important song for me.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO GET FROM IT
I was just thinking about this last night. I think that there are two real types of music; there are songs that people listen to that make them forget about the pain in their life and they can forget about the complications in their life. And then there’s music that directly speaks to that pain and directly speaks to those complications in their life. I would like for my record to be that speaking to them and what helps them to become whole. There’s something so interesting and inexplicable about music. How it can attack all of that, and you feel sad listening to it. But there’s this bitter sweetness to it. I would love for people to have this bittersweet fondness to my record.
Joshua Michael Robinson
By Bianca Montes