Category Archives: robin renee
Wrapping things up here on the Robin Renee Blog Tour, and I want to thank everyone involved. Special thanks goes out to all the folks who participated and helped with to tour, including, and not limited to, Shelley Szajner, Marie Gilbert, Becca Butcher, Patti O’Brien, Fran Metzman, Ray Cornwall, Andy Burns, the South Jersey Writers, the GAR! Podcast, Biff Bam Pop!, and especially to Robin Renee herself. You all rock, very hard! Thank you!
Here is a breakdown of the stops on the Blog Tour.
Robin Renee is interviewed by Shelley Szajner here about inspiration, Kirtan, and This..
Marie Gilbert runs down some of the places where Robin can be found on the internet here.
Becca Butcher gives her thoughts on the This. release here.
Here, I give a song by song review of This., along with Robin adding her thoughts and observations as well.
Patti O’Brien talks about Robin’s music, and then interviews her about her travels here.
We return to Welcome to Hell, where guest blogger Fran Metzman interviews Robin about her influences, inspirations, and creative process. See it here.
Over on the South Jersey Writers blog, Marie Gilbert returns to interview Robin about encouragement, inspiration, and the ups and downs of a music career.
Robin was a guest on The GAR! Podcast where discussion included DEVO, David Bowie, Saturday Night Live music moments, and the creative process. You can listen to the episode here.
Thank you, everyone!
Hi folks, it’s been a long journey the past week and a half on the Robin Renee Blog Tour. Tonight, I wanted to share a few odds and ends that had to be edited for space in yesterday’s interview with Robin at Biff Bam Pop!. Here you go, enjoy!
Robin on Covers
We both have a deep love of covers, and I wanted to say that your quiet subtle version of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind” is beautiful. What made you decide to do this song?
Robin Renee: Well, there’s a funny story. When I was in junior high school, I had a Ouija board. When my parents found out, they got all mad and took it away, thinking something evil would come through it or something. After that, I was pissed off and determined to have a Ouija board. I decided to make one by writing out all the letters on a chalkboard I had (in heavy pencil or some kind of ink). Next, I needed an indicator. I had the 45 record of “Cruel to be Kind.” I loved that song, but wasn’t crazy about whatever song was on the B-side, so I wound up using the record as the Ouija indicator with the B-side scratching against the board.
Wacky story, right? But unforgettable. So first, “Cruel to be Kind” is just a quintessentially great pop song. I was also a rather precocious person and was a bit interested in BDSM, so I liked the song title for that possible construed meaning. And finally, the song will forever be linked to that funny Ouija board memory for me. I guess when I made the All Six Senses album, it was just time to record a new take on this classic tune.
Robin on Devo Dan
Now you have done other covers of another type. Do you want to talk about Devo Dan?
Robin Renee: Devo Dan… Strange you should ask me about Devo Dan. From time to time, some people have told me I kind of look like him and some think I sound like him. I don’t really get it. But I finally looked him up and I like it a lot! It’s kind of synth pop meets the smooth sounds of the 70’s, or something like that. I found his story here and my favorite Devo Dan song is here.
Robin on the Mutant Mountain Boys
How about the Mutant Mountain Boys?
Robin Renee: I absolutely love being part of the Mutant Mountain Boys! We come from all over the country, so we get together when we can. The band is the brainchild of Samantha, whose musical favorites are Devo and Charlie Poole. She put the two together, added some Church of the Subgenius, and Presto! You’ve got a Devo-gone-bluegrass, SubG gospel band! We have so much fun, and I really hope we can figure out a way to get together and play more often. We need some nerds and geeks to invite us to play their favorite venues and conventions (hint, hint).
Check out “Look Away from the Pinks” and a few other Mutant Mountain Boys tunes.
Robin on the Holidays
You have also released a couple terrific and unique holiday songs over the years, “(Almost Had A) Holiday,” “The Yule Song,” and “Hare Krishna Christmas.” What can you tell us about these great tunes, and especially the video for that last one?
Robin Renee: I know, I didn’t set out to have a tradition of releasing holiday songs, but it seems a trend has started! Who knows – maybe there’ll be a holiday album one of these days that includes the tunes already recorded plus some more from various traditions. “The Yule Song” is to the tune of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” and it kind of serves the same humorous and serious function for those of us who celebrate Yule, or Winter Solstice in the Pagan traditions. “(Almost Had A) Holiday” is actually an original song I first recorded with a band I used to be in called The Loved Ones. It is upbeat, but about planning a perfect holiday with a partner only to have a breakup and wind up somewhere far away. It’s a fairly true-to-life song, and the cool thing about it is it’s come full circle – After many years apart, I have started spending Christmas Eves with that ex and his family. It’s a nice shift.
I wrote “Hare Krishna Christmas” (“Holly Jolly Christmas” parody) around the time I was first getting deeply into kirtan and bhakti. It was Christmastime and I was just in this really intense place of diving into something new while trying to uphold all the traditional stuff and holiday obligations. So, I was kind of laughing at myself and that song just came out while I was doing my holiday decorating. For the video, I asked friends to send me all kinds of holiday pictures, I had a few, and we used some royalty-free images, too, to come up with something kind of funny and also clearly embracing all winter holiday traditions.
Robin on Her Background
If I’m not intruding, could you tell us about your upbringing?
But seriously, folks… you aren’t intruding at all. It is a ginormous question, though. I grew up in Southern New Jersey and I was lucky in that my interest in music showed up pretty early and my parents were very supportive of that. They also encouraged my interest in science and I got to travel since I was fairly young, which I really appreciate. My parents are (were, actually – they are both deceased) my maternal grandmother and her second husband, who raised me from the beginning and adopted me when I was about five. She was black and he was white, so I had a completely biracial upbringing, though it took me a long time to recognize that as a big part of my identity. I’m really happy I understand that now. They had an interracial marriage several years before Loving v. Virginia, and while it was not illegal in New Jersey, I think it was courageous of them and probably wasn’t always easy early on.
There was always a lot of music in the house, and my parents were pretty metaphysical in their outlook. They were Christian, and also into Edgar Cayce, so I learned about meditation and other broad and alternative spiritual perspectives early on. My brother was there, then off at college & other travels, but we grew to have certain things in common like some musical tastes and love of cartoons. My grandmother (i.e. biological great-grandmother) lived with us, too, and she really was the overriding mother figure. I have often reflected that I think my relationship to Grandmom has been the purest of my life – there was just so much love without complication. My mom was pretty political, so I probably inherited the activist gene from her. Of course there is so much more, but I’m not sure what else I could say without writing a book here.
Robin on Wigheads
Tell us about Wigheads.
Robin Renee: I kinda have no idea. I love them. I find mannequins in general to be strangely compelling and beautiful – maybe that’s the New Wave/Gary Wilson aesthetic. Somewhere along the line, something moved me and I discovered that wig display heads are my canvas for now. I love making 3-D collages with them, and as I work it’s as if they start to tell me their story. Songs and other writings do that, too – they change and grow in the process. I’d like to make more wigheads, and to make photographs from them. I have a lot of other practical and artistic projects that seem to be ahead in line, but I haven’t forgotten them. One day, I’d love to do commissioned wighead works, like create them for clubs and other interesting spaces.
More to come!
|Robin Renee with Spy Gods at Deiner Park, New Brunswick, NJ
Photo by Joel Primer
In the interview, Robin discusses her music, her musical past (including Spy Gods, pictured), labels, and features some great performance video. Do not miss.
Tomorrow, be back here at Welcome to Hell, as the Blog Tour winds down for a wrap-up and unseen excerpts of interviews from the tour.
“Jocko Homo” by DEVO
Over on The GAR! Podcast, as part of the Robin Renee Blog Tour, Ray and I interviewed Robin for about a half-hour or so. One of the things that came up in conversation was transformative moments in music on “Saturday Night Live.”
In those early seasons of the program I was exposed to many new musical experiences that shaped and influenced how I perceived music, and in the growing punk and new wave atmosphere of the late 1970s, “SNL” was full of new musical experiences. Both Robin and I were affected by an appearance by David Bowie. Ray talked about seeing Fishbone, although much later. I remember being amazed by Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, The Specials, The Clash, the B-52s, Gary Numan, and yes, DEVO.
I wouldn’t be as hardcore into the band as I was later in the Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists years, but the visuals and sounds stayed with me. I was especially drawn to their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and that it did what all covers should seek to do, overtake the original. I still to this day feel the DEVO version is superior to the Stones’.
Just a reminder, today’s stop on the Robin Renee Blog Tour is at the South Jersey Writers blog, Tall Tales and Short Stories, you can check out regular site blogger Marie Gilbert‘s interview with Robin there.
On Friday, be sure to check out the Robin Renee interview at Biff Bam Pop!, then come back here on Saturday for the close of the tour.
Fran Metzman: What inspires you?
Robin Renee: I am inspired by so many things – Every time I am asked this question, it feels entirely new. The strange rituals and pitfalls and triumphs of human interaction fascinate me, and make for good things to learn from and write about. Artists who show us the deep and sometimes bizarre bits of their minds inspire me (Salvador Dalí and Gary Wilson come to mind). People like that show me how it’s always possible to dig deeper and to talk about what’s real, what’s primal. I am inspired by dancing, costumes, laughter, and people who allow fun and joy to move through them without reservation. I am completely in love with the ocean. I strive to be my best self, so anyone I see who is pushing their own boundaries through what may be scary in order to get to something stronger and more powerful on the other side –they are inspirations to me all the time.
Fran Metzman: What instruments do you play, what are your favorites, and why?
Robin Renee: I play guitar, harmonium, piano and keyboards, and I kind of fake it on percussion at times. It is hard to say what a favorite instrument is, because in a sense, the best instrument is the one you need to make the sound for a song in that particular moment. Nothing has that amazing drone quite like a harmonium. So many sounds can come from a guitar – harmonic, percussive… All that said, I seem to have a very deep resonance with the piano. It is my first instrument, which may be why playing piano is so close to my heart. I am also a huge fan of electronic music, and I love the sounds that synths can make. I most often play guitar when I am performing out and about these days. The guitar is a more portable instrument, which is why I think I began to favor it, but lately I’ve had to wonder why I don’t spend more time playing and developing songs on keys. See response #1 re: pushing through boundaries and fears, perhaps. I predict more keyboard sounds in my future.
Robin Renee: I am not sure what you mean here, actually. There are some general things I could talk about. Harmonium gives a sense of Om – of well-being, acoustic guitar might invite tunefulness or singability – but I think you’d have to ask me about a specific song you’re curious about and I could talk about the roles of each instrument in it. What musical instruments do in any given moment isn’t really a static thing.
Fran Metzman: How many ways do you arrange a song before deciding on a final draft?
Robin Renee: There are no rules. I think sometimes it’s more about an incubation period where I can tell a song just doesn’t have the right melody or lyrics yet. When that happens, sometimes the thing to do is to sit down and work on it, but often enough it is more productive to let it float around in the back of my mind and when the missing pieces show up, I’ll know. During that time, the song needs to exist in the “I’m letting you percolate” zone rather than the “I’m avoiding you” zone. I’m getting better at keeping them in the former and not the latter.
Fran Metzman: Take us through your songwriting process, from start to finish, how do you do it?
Robin Renee: Again, there’s never really one way that this happens. Sometimes I am walking or driving and I’ll hear a trail of a piece of music that just sparks me to want to write. I might have a conversation with someone and a phrase will come out that screams “lyric.” Sometimes it doesn’t come from any prompt I can discern. When that spark happens, however it happens, it usually is like a few words, often with a melody, that show up very suddenly. I scribble it down or record a voice memo on my phone, or whatever, as soon as I can.
It might just go into a virtual pile of ideas for another time, but if there’s something pressing about it, I will take what I have and do some purposeful work on it. I like to write lyrics with an actual pen and paper- There is something about the tactile nature of it that seems to connect more readily to the creation of solid lines and meter. I may sit with pen and paper and guitar and just work freeform until the basics are there. Once the basic idea for verses and the structure of the song is there, it is less about the initial inspiration and more about the craft of writing. I’ll think logically about things like the progression of a story or where certain sounds will have the most impact.
A lot of the real formation of my songs happens in the recording. I will sometimes have some pretty strong ideas of what the full production should sound like, but it isn’t until I start adding sounds that what is really needed starts to reveal itself. At that point, when we’re adding voices, samples, and other sounds, it feels like sculpting.
Fran Metzman: How does kirtan influence your pop music and vice versa?
Robin Renee: Kirtan, has influenced me overall because of its effect on the mind and mental/emotional health. Like silent meditation, I think, it changes the brain and consciousness in positive ways. In regard to how my pop music has influenced the kirtan – pop, rock, and folk rock form the basis of how I play. So, I think it is natural that the kirtans that show up for me have those influences. I like that about the way kirtan is developing. The backgrounds and influences of kirtan artists can be very evident, so if you groove on rock, jazz, raga, simple melodies, or complex orchestrations, there are probably some kirtan sounds somewhere that will be a way into the experience for you.
How kirtan has influenced my pop music: It basically “insisted” on being part of it! There are a couple of songs like “I’m Coming Down” and “Holy River” that really seemed to cry out for mantra. I like the sound that has emerged from the integration.
In another sense, kirtan has held back some of my pop music interest. There were several years when I was so consumed with mantra that I really wasn’t writing, per se. It feels to me that this was a natural response to a practice that can make the stories of life seem insignificant in relation to the whole, the drive toward Oneness. It has taken some time for me to discover where I am now and relearn how to present what I do. I think the media loves a simplistic story, and for a while it felt like adding this overtly spiritual piece to what I do made it more difficult to make a clear presentation about who I am. I’m glad to be figuring that out now. Writing has reemerged for me and I have discovered that my message was hidden within the challenge all along – It is to insist upon being all that I am. That is the singular intention and image, and my work stands for those who are taking on a similar journey.
Fran Metzman: Where do you see yourself in the future musically?
Robin Renee: I don’t want to predict too far into the future, but right now I am interested in electronica and ambient music. As I mentioned, I have always been big into synth sounds and sometimes haven’t reflected that in my own music as much as I would like. I hope to retain the kind of singer/songwriter craft that feels natural to me while bringing in more electronic sounds and see where that takes it. I’m very open to collaboration these days, so I am looking forward to finding out what’s next, too.
Thank you Fran, and Robin.
I love Robin Renee. I love her as a friend, a fellow creative, and especially as a musician. The girl can rock, and I love that, but some of her musical journeys go beyond my horizons. But then, I guess that’s all part of the mantra pop mystique.
Robin’s latest album is This., it features call-and-response chanting, soulful voices, and a rich soundscape of organic instrumentation blended seamlessly with light, heart-opening electronic ambience.
I must admit my ignorance. I am unfamiliar Eastern spiritual music, kirtan, yoga, meditation – it all remains a mystery as much as I have tried. It is impenetrable. Or perhaps it isn’t. This. is perhaps a gateway drug to understanding, as I like it. Maybe I just need to understand it.
What follows is my track by track impression of the album, followed by Robin’s thoughts on what the songs are really about. Enjoy.
Glenn: The origins of this title come from, I believe, an aspect of Vishnu that is venerated to avoid bad luck or achieve good luck. It is a gentle start to the album, blending pop flavor and sensibility with the call and response method. Like many of the songs on the CD it has a subtle and wonderful build that I love. It is proof, as with much of This., that I can enjoy the music without knowing what it is about – but I am sure learning is the real joy of the journey.
Robin: My first order of business here is to try to dissuade you from taking This. as an intellectual exercise. From my perspective, kirtan is most essentially an experience meant to take us out of the chattering mind. Sanskrit has been called a language of energy or vibration, one that evokes peace, deepened consciousness, and infinite subtle expressions of love. What is most important is to allow yourself the experience of being still enough to just sing, or just listen and notice the experiences that come up for you in the process. By moving through whatever emotions and thoughts that come up in the practice of kirtan, you eventually get to a quieter place – the place that we all have somewhere inside where one encounters what some may call inner peace, awakening, God, Goddess, No-Self, or any other term (or no term at all) that most resonates with you.
Of course there are many stories that come out of the spiritual traditions that inform This. While it can be useful and interesting to study those, Sanskrit chants still aren’t really “about” anything. The words may have multi-layered translations, but the true “meaning” can’t really be stated. The intention of the music is to help bring about an experience beyond the mind rather than the experience of being caught in the mind. But since you asked:
Keshava is one of the names of Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu, who is called the Preserver of the Universe. The aspects of Krishna that show up for me while singing “Keshava” are the Universal Love that connects and runs through all, as well as the childlike playfulness and divine beauty that is associated with Krishna. The other names in the verses call out to some of those who appear in stories of Krishna’s life (mother, caretaker, lover, wife, Goddess of the Ganges River) as a way of conveying the many faces and many ways one can connect to the Sacred.
If any of that explanation feels directly important to listeners, that’s great. If not, that’s great as well. I don’t really know about the good luck/bad luck thing.
Glenn: I’m learning. I had to look it up, but it makes the music make more sense. ‘om namo bhagavate vasudevaya’ is a twelve syllable mantra used to attain freedom. The song is truth in advertising. It’s the chant, the mantra, set to a groove. I dig it.
Robin: Yes, all of these mantras, really, point toward moksha, or freedom from ego and the beliefs that keep us limited. Om is the primordial sound, the All-That-Is, and it is chanted by itself and as part of many mantras. Namo is usually translated as “I bow to.” One way to think of Om Namo Bhgavate Vasudevaya is “I bow to the God of the Heart” or “I bow to the indwelling Divine.” It is recognizing and connecting to the inner essence, allowing space for the untruths and limitations to fall away.
Kali Ma Potluck Singalong
Glenn: Much of Robin’s work renders itself to singalong, whether by intent as a call and response song, or as just a great tune that pulls you in and you find yourself humming and singing along in the car. This is how this one strikes me. It’s both, and I’ve found myself doing exactly that. And much like the above, there’s a subtle groove to this one. Another winner.
Robin: This song originated during one Friday evening when three women friends and I met at my place for dinner and chanting. We had our “Kirtan Intensives” fairly frequently then. They could be quite intense, indeed, and also a lot of fun. The melody and words to this one just sort of popped up during our singing and hangout time. Songs to the goddess Kali are often more minor-key and somber – Her energy is about the “tough love” of destroying what one no longer needs or what stands in the way of growth. I enjoy celebrating the energy that facilitates even that kind of often painful, jarring, but ultimately positive experience with an upbeat song.
Jaya Jaya Shiva Shambho
Glenn: As the song begins I am hypnotized by the drums and their depth, and then, at first slowly, then quickly, the song builds and speeds up. I really dig this song as well. What I did not know in my several dozen listenings of the tune, before I moved to research what it really meant, is that this is a cover. And ancient cover perhaps, but a cover of a chant used to praise the joyous aspects of Shiva. Beautiful song, and beautiful rendition, Robin.
Robin: I don’t remember where I first heard this melody – It may well have been when I first encountered the music of Krishna Das. Shiva is the Lord of the Dance, turning the wheel from death and dissolution to rebirth and renewal. I do like how the drums are prominent and so evoke movement and dancing in this one.
Blessed Be, Namaste
Glenn: This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a multilayered lullaby. From what I understand, ‘namaste’ is a greeting or salutation in the East when meeting and parting. As I said, I like this one a lot, from its many layers to its slow subtle build, it is terrific.
Robin: Namaste is a greeting in everyday use, but it also has a deeper meaning. It really is saying “the divine in me honors the divine in you,” so it is a recognition of the still center where we are all One. “Blessed Be” is a common Wiccan/Pagan blessing from the Western mystic traditions, and “Namaste” is from the Eastern, so this song brings those together and recognizes the synergy among varied paths. It does feel like a lullaby, or Irish blessing song. It is my favorite, too.
Glenn: This song makes me smile. “Leaving Space” is a song of bells, liberally spaced bells with silence that might make you think you have a problem with your iPod if you’re not paying attention. It reminds me crazily of a song on the most recent Eminem album where he lowers the volume and yells at you, the listener, for falling for his trick and turning up your device’s volume. Other than my crazed comparison, this is beautiful in its way, as well as thoughtful and relaxing.
Robin: That’s a funny comparison – I like that. “Blessed Be, Namaste” is kind of an ending song. I often will sing it at the end of a concert or kirtan. The next one, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” really is an ending song, too. When finishing up the recording of This., I realized I literally had to “leave space” somehow in order to have both of these songs appear. And “leaving space” in one’s life and mind for transformation, awakening, healing, love – that’s basically what kirtan and other spiritual music helps us do. Those were the concepts in mind as producer Jack Walker and I composed this ambient track.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Glenn: The slowly rushing water is both a relaxant, and an irritant if you need to go to the bathroom. I kid, but I am sure this would be excellent meditation music. There is a definite movement toward center here that I like. While the water reminds me of environmental vibes meant to put one to sleep in those sound machines, it’s accompanied by sounds to clear one’s mind and give focus. The combination works well.
Robin: The rainstick is convincing! The Buddhist mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, roughly, is “the jewel in the lotus” – our center or True Nature. If this track brings you closer to center, allows for more focus, relaxes you, or brings a peaceful sleep, I’d say it’s done something right.
Glenn: Thank you, Robin, for taking the time to give your thoughts on my impressions and your work. I have to confess that having This. on my iPod these last few months, and especially more recently delving deeper to write this, I have just liked it more and more.
This. is going to be followed up in 2014 by the singer-songwriter genre album …and Everything Else. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about that when it arrives. Thank you, Robin!