Interview: Bruce Robison Goes DIY for ‘Organic and Vibe-y’ New Album
A singer, songwriter and producer, Bruce Robison has released multiple albums, penned songs for other artists -- including "Wrapped" for George Strait and the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill duet "Angry All the Time," among others -- and become a touring sensation in and around his home state of Texas. But when Robison turned 50 in 2016, he realized that he was unsatisfied with the way music -- his and that of others -- was being created and released.
So, Robison set out to do something different. The result is his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, released Friday (April 28) on his innovative The Next Waltz platform.
"It’s a little bit of a response to the way the music is these days, and then, in another way, it was just me figuring out how to make music that feels organic," Robison tells The Boot. "The recordings that just blew my mind when I was a kid were like ¡Viva Terlingua! by Jerry Jeff Walker or Red-Headed Stranger from Willie Nelson -- they felt so organic and simple and just not slick. That’s always what was in my head, and when I would get in a recording situation, it didn’t ever really feel right, once we got out."
Fueled by the idea that there was a better way, at least for him, Robison decided to DIY it; he wanted to emulate those who inspire him.
"I didn’t really want to build a studio or do any of these things. My wife [Kelly Willis] definitely did not want me to build a studio," Robison admits. "But it was a necessity; I knew that I wanted the music to feel a certain way, and that the way that people recorded these days, they didn’t end up feeling that way at all.
"A lot of it has to do with the process," Robison adds. "And so, we’re all in the same room, and we get the songs and we just kind of start fleshing it out and singing it and figuring out where it sits right. It feels like people just hanging out on the porch playing music. That was the vibe that I wanted, both with how the recordings and then how the band sounds live; that was what I was wanting to do."
Robison only wrote or co-wrote three of the nine songs on Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, but he started by considering more than 30 songs. From the rocking "Honky Tonk Ramblin' Man" to the tender "Sweet Dreams," each tune fits into the vision that Robison had from the beginning.
"It was impossible to see which one was going to work. They were all surprises, honestly. And they were all recorded in different kinds of ways," Robison notes. "I had this real vision -- I still do, even with the other songs that I’m producing -- of wanting to be a place for really organic and vibe-y recordings, that just don’t feel digital at all, pretty much."
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That vision also inspired Robison to create The Next Waltz, a new web series and multi-platform music delivery concept. Through The Next Waltz, artists can share music, studio sessions, live performances, videos, conversations and much, much more.
"I feel like it’s the ‘50s again, like there’s going to be a new way of putting music out," Robison muses. "When you listen to that music that inspired me so much, they were trying to be so creative -- you had to have a song that was undeniable, that would find its way. People would hear it and go, ‘Oh, I gotta play that,’ whether it was Stax [Records] music or Muscle Shoals or whatever it was. The music just sounded so creative, but it’s simple at the same time. The song had to be so good, and the vibe had to be so good that was undeniable, rather than some big hype thing.
"So that’s the exciting thing for me," Robison continues. "That was what, at this point in my life -- I turned 50, and it made me want to make music in a new kind of way."
Having The Next Waltz also helped Robison determine which songs he would put on Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band. He imagined how fans would react to each song.
"That’s the way I want to listen to music, where it’s not demanding every part of your attention. It’s not music for a rave or something like that," Robison shares. "I come from Willie Nelson and George Strait and Jerry Jeff Walker, where the songs tell a story and they feel good. That’s always where the music that I love came from, and where the music that other people cut of mine -- the songs that I love to record and to play in my shows, are like that. They’re this traditional storytelling."
Robison has already been playing songs from Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band during shows around the Lone Star State. In Texas, he remains an in-demand performer, in venues of varying sizes -- and, as Robison says, "There's tons of places to play in Texas."
"My kids aren’t babies anymore. It’s more fun playing live now, to feel so lucky that this is my job and to go out to all the different kind of crazy different kinds of places that I get to play," he confesses. "It’s a cool job."
So, did Robison accomplish the goal he had in mind when he began working on what became Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band? The record, the tunesmith says, became exactly what he hoped it would be.
"It's organic and vibe-y, and like sitting on a back porch -- collaborative," Robison says. "It’s really -- the people, the players and the songs are front and center; they really are. And so, I really felt like we did a good job of stripping away all the extras and just letting the vibe show through. I was really proud of that. That was my goal."
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