Over the Wires : Chip Robinson

I always point to 1997 as the year. My thirst for music, combined with a 12-month period that saw one stellar release after another, changed everything for me. Like an addict, music took precedent over everything else. I skipped a good friend's wedding to go see a Whiskeytown show at Tramps (she stopped speaking to me). I arrived to my girlfriend's own party at about 2am after seeing Richard Buckner at the Mercury (we survived a few more months), and these were only a few of the times I'd chosen music over other life responsibilities. I really couldn't help myself. I'd see Wilco in town and then drive to Boston to see them the next night. There was no end.

And then in 1999, I booked my first trip to South By Southwest. I mean, I was seeing a few shows a week as it was, why not just jam about 60 or 70 into four days. I will never forget walking into my first show, Lullaby for the Working Class, at Liberty Lunch, and feeling the spirit of it all. But there was one band that I simply couldn't wait to see: The Backsliders. Sharing the bill with Joe Henry, it was this Raleigh, North Carolina outfit that represented the rock n' roll that this first trip to Austin was all about. And boy did they put on a show. Fronted by Chip Robinson, a guy who looked straight out of a Larry Brown novel, and hell, may have been the basis of one had Brown surived a little longer, Chip played the guitar and yelled as if nothing else in the world mattered, and that night at the Liberty Lunch, well, nothing else did (above photo is from that gig).

The Backsliders released two fantastic records, Throwing Rocks at the Moon (1997) and Southern Lines (1999) before disbanding in the wake of the still yet to be resolved overhaul of the music industry. And until just a few months ago, Chip Robinson was out of music. Oh, he'd spring up at the Lakeside Lounge in New York from time-to-time, or maybe a benefit down in Raleigh, but Chip was no longer making records. And then very quietly, earlier this year, he completed Mylow. His buddy Eric "Roscoe" Ambel produced, and it is honestly as if he hasn't skipped a beat. Actually, Mylow is as good, if not better, than his two records fronting The Backsliders.

After all this time away, I recently caught up with Chip. Following my first installment a few months back with Matthew Ryan, here's round two.

Over the Wires : Chip Robinson

It's been ten years since the release of The Backsliders' "Southern Lines." What have you been up to?

Whoa!! 10 years, a breath and a blink of an eye. After Disney dropped most of the roster (including The Backsliders) from Mammoth Records, non-chronologically, I worked as a doorman, a bartender, got evicted, lived in a borrowed truck for a couple of months, worked for a company doing custom print framing, moved to NYC, was a bike messenger for a while, was a bike mechanic for a few years, moved back to North Carolina twice only to find no work and am back in NYC working at a bicycle shop in Brooklyn. Brought another son into the world, spent some time in a downward spiral, lost some close friends, found some close friends, rode in a pick up truck for 3 weeks from Tela, Honduras to Raleigh, North Carolina with my friend Van Alston, played a lot of gigs. Sometimes I just gotta laugh when I think to myself that I have lived a life that would've killed a lesser man.

How do you look back at the Raleigh music scene of the mid-to-late 90's? You had The Backsliders, Whiskeytown, 6 String Drag and a slew of bands that were instrumental in the "alt.country" movement.

It was exciting, crazy, fun. The music scene in North Carolina was really thriving. Between Raleigh and Chapel Hill, a lot of bands got record deals. Saturday nights would be going to see some friends' band play (if we weren't gigging). Sundays would be hungover softball with guys from C.O.C, Cry of Love, DAG etc. It was a completely different climate, business wise, than it is today. There's still a bunch of great bands down there working and touring.

What led you back into the studio after the long hiatus?

Roscoe (Eric Ambel) had been bugging me to do a record since he produced Southern Lines. The intersection of scheduling and cash (or lack of) finally happened last year when I had moved back to New York. Roscoe was rehabbing from wrist surgery after getting doored by a cab on his bicycle and we started recording in his apartment. Basic acoustic guitar and vocals.

How was it working with Roscoe?

Like getting a root canal? Just kidding. Actually, it was very relaxed and productive. A lot of good coffee and excellent sandwiches. We would do the basic tracks in the afternoon, and Roscoe would do guitar and keyboard parts at night, which couldn't have been an easy task with a cast on his arm. We'd send mixes via email to Rob Arthur, and he would send back these great keyboard parts for the songs. In the past, I've got to admit that the whole idea of digital recording just did not appeal to me. But I got thinking that these days most people listen to music on an iPod or their computer. Not exactly Hi-Fi. The average person doesn't listen to vinyl through a vacuum tube stereo. And yet, the technology for D/A conversion has improved enormously. Sonically though, I can still hear the difference between an analog and a digital recording, digital has gotten pretty damn listenable. The software available now are great tools. At the end of the day, we made a pretty damn fine record, if I say so myself.

I'd argue that this record just might be your best. The Backsliders were signed to the now-defunct Mammoth Records. How do you see this record getting out there? Can people buy it now?

Chris, Thanks, those are mighty kind words. We have been shopping Mylow for a while. The crazy state of the music industry hasn't brought us any takers. Oh to be a 17-year-old girl with big knockers and minimal talent. But I digress. Right now we are putting together a limited release package, signed and numbered. Something for the fans, you know. Skillet Gilmore (Whiskeytown's original drummer) and photographer Raymond Goodman are getting the artwork together as we speak. Info on how to pre-order a copy is on my blog, Bicycle Skeletons.

What are your general thoughts on music distribution during these times? On that note, would you mind if I put a song up?

It's an exciting time when when an artist can have control, at least digitally, via iTunes, Tunecore, Orchard etc. Really speeds up the money pipeline. As far as filesharing, the anarchist in me screams that music isn't created, it's channeled, therefore no one has a right to sell it. But the writers and singers have to pay the rent and feed their families, that's the reality. A buck a pop for a song isn't greed, you know? Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and others have started the redefining of the business and that is exciting. We have the power to re-write the book now. Finally, yes sir, you may post any song of mine you see fit for human consumption.


roscoe said...

more coffee!

Anonymous said...

I listened to Mylow, Fences and Started. Sound great! I'm going to the website to preorder right now. I'll be pissed if the rest of the album sucks :) I'm not too worried. If it does, I'll pull out Throwin Rocks and put it on!

Campbell said...

Mr. Anonymous: I can assure you, if you like those three tracks, you will love the entire record.

Peter said...

Hey thanks for the mention! Hope more people choose us, I think we're the best, though I admit I'm biased. ;)

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

I am one heckava FORTUNATE person. not only did the infamous Chip Robinson play my wedding (with the heavy beat outfit)at the Local 506 Music Club in chapel hill NC (AWESOME BTW), BUT we got an advance copy of Mylow by traveling from NC to NYC to catch a lakeside gig. the most expensive CD we ever bought--haha. it is a GREAT CD -- I think his best yet (and I was the biggest Backsliders fan in the world). you won't even know how great til you hear every last song. i already ordered 5 copies, so better get em while ya can. steph