Check out my interview with Rob Drabkin to see how his infectious personality comes through in his music.
How would you describe your genre or style of music?
Rob Drabkin: It's kind of this mix of rock and folk and singer/songwriter and I put in jam-band also. I mean, all those genres kind of have their own little, you know, immediate assumptions, but [the music] does have a lot of each of those elements.
What got you interested in all those different genres?
Hmm, well, I think that's more of like what just seems to come out. It seems like it's more of a natural thing than trying to, you know, go for one style or another. There's certainly influences in all of those realms; there's just music I love in all of those genres and they all seem to come out in one way or another. It's not like I sit down and I'm like "I'm gonna make this a blend of folk/rock and improvisation and singer/songwriter all in one" so it's just kind of the music I love. If I'm writing music I love I think it will probably have some of those elements in there.
So your approach to songwriting is just sort of organic?
It is. It's usually the music that comes first, opposed to lyrics and, you know, I mean it's usually something that I'm having a fun time playing. It's like a little riff I stumbled upon or a chord progression and you kind of have to love that element of the music first and that's kind of what drives me to write the songs; there's some idea that I'm really excited about and I wanna bring it into a complete form. That's kind of my approach but, yeah, I guess it's like one percent for free and then I have to work to get ninety-nine percent of the song.
Little Steps was released in 2013; do you have plans for another album?
We're going to put out a live album probably in October. It's already been recorded and it was actually this past January that we did a nice recording of it and then, yes, we will go right back to the studio and start just dishing them out. It's just been a crazy promotion for this past year with Little Steps; it came out - it might have actually been exactly a year ago, I think, from the second it was released on iTunes - but we never actually really started to promote it and really push it out there until 2014. We've been kind of going strong on that; it still feels new, it still feels fresh to me it's just, in this day and age, you just have to keep one thing after another; there's not much of a rest time. I don't get to have three years before I put out another album, it's kinda got to be right away.
We'll do the live one; I love the doing the live ones cause it's just, I don't know, we put out a live album in 2012 and it did better than all my prior studio albums - this new album has done better than the live one - but it's just a nice treat and people seem to dig it. It definitely showcases the improv sections and the improv side of the band and I love it; I love live albums.
What's your favorite part about the album making process?
I think it is, when you, as soon as you finish a day in the studio or you finish a song or you've got kind of the basic structure and you go back and listen to it and you're really proud of how it sounds and it sounds new and it sounds fresh, that's the most fun to me. I mean, that's the gratifying part of it, when you're the first one to hear it, the first one to take it to your headphones and, when you're excited about it then I think that is, you know, you feel like you have something. It's cool in that it works. It's a bit of a scary process: you go in to the studio cause you don't know what it's going to sound like and you don't know how it's going to turn out - if we record it right or we're prepared to go in there - and then, when you get it back and you listen to it, I think that's my favorite part of the studio.
Do you have a least favorite part?
Um, a least favorite part.. There really isn't a least favorite part of it. I mean, I like being involved in every part from getting the sounds on the drums to, you know, recording all the parts that have nothing to do with me are totally the ones that I'm still involved with, you know. So I mean, I'm hands-on with every element of every beat and rhythm that is played: there really isn't a least favorite part. Sometimes singing can be the least favorite part. Sometimes there are songs that we get in one take or two takes and then there's song that I probably sang twenty times before we picked out the right part. I would say singing; I don't know why that is. I mean, I still love it too, but that can be a bit of a gruesome part - but not my least favorite in any way.
Were there any tracks that were cut from this last album that you hope to bring back?
You know, no, actually. The way we did this album we recorded this one song at a time over the course of maybe eight or nine months and that was kind of unintentional; like, we go and record a new song, we go and record a new song, you know I wasn't about to record a song and then not use it. There were certainly ideas, things that we kind of started to record and just didn't go with it, but we never did a full on production and then just put these songs in the holding pen. That was a cool thing too; you sing one song at a time and it was really hands-on with my fans, as well; I would always release that version for friends on social media and whatnot and it was a good way to kind of keep your name out there and keep buzz going and building, doing it that way, it's harder to hold a track back once you're already kind of put it out there.
There actually is one song, there's a song called "Don't Worry About Me" on the album and that one actually appeared on an earlier album so, the exact opposite. It was a song that, you know, I had this kind of intention and it kind of insisted on being a solo kind of haunting, electric track with nothing else. Then, my bass player, he works with a lot of the folks at the symphony here in Colorado, and he just wrote this gorgeous string arrangement for it and it just had to be redone. I'm so glad we did it; I go back and to the older versions now and that was the only one we did twice.
What prompted that track?
You know, that was a guitar that I actually wrote in college and I used to play that lead guitar line but like ten times as fast. It was kind of a really upbeat jam-y acoustic track and I could never sing over it; I could sing over it, but it just wasn't coming across, it just wasn't quite feeling the way it needed to feel and so I think, one day while practicing - it was at these practice rooms at the University of Denver; I would always go there and record stuff there and write stuff and practice there - and I think I just started to slow it down and then I wrote the lyrics in a log cabin in the mountains, as cliché as that sounds, I totally did. When I go back and listen to that song, it does have that little bit of a haunting, lonely vibe to it and I wonder if I didn't do it in a log cabin in the middle of the woods in winter it would have a little different feel but it does have that. It's a bit dark and a bit haunting; it has those elements but also it's a happy song, as well. It does have that element in there and I always wondered if that came from me deciding to sing it and write the lyrics for it in the middle of nowhere. That was kind of unintentional but that element seems to be throughout the track.
I'm sure a lot of people ask about "Don't Worry About Me" specifically, so are there any others from the album that you want to shine the spotlight on?
Yeah, well, what's funny: that song is kind of like, it's the outlier of the album in that it is the slowest and the quietest song on the whole album and there's a bunch of raging - well, not 'raging' raging - but there's definitely a lot of up-tempo rock songs on there. The video for ["Don't Worry About Me"] was directed by Dillon Novak who I've known for a long time and that was a song that he just really felt connected with and thought he could do a great video to so we just decided to do that. We have three more videos coming out for some of the more head-bobbing, rock in your face songs but, yeah, there's a song called "Little Steps" and "Down To Fate"; those are the two singles that we've been doing for radio and those are both, you know, "Down To Fate" is a bit of a more introspective song and then "Little Steps" is an upbeat, party song, I guess, is a way to put it.
Any new releases from other artists you can't stop listening to or feel inspired by?
I have this little Spotify playlist that is just like new songs I like. Um, trying to think what I have in there right now... You know, I just discovered - I think I found this band through Shazam, everyone else knows the band - there's a band called Beach House that I had never heard of before and there's a song called "Zebra" that I have kind of on repeat and it's just a beautiful song. It's got this amazing melody and I have no idea, I don't even know what the lyrics are in the entire song - I can't understand a word he's singing - but I love it. I think I'm going to need like another dozen listens before I try to pick apart the lyrics.
And then, another song I've been liking these days, hmm, I think I should go back and look at that playlist. You know, I just saw the band Lake Street Dive - I like them a lot - but I looked on their new discovery list and there was a band called Lake Street Dive and there was a band called London Grammar I like a lot. And then I like this performance by the band Bahamas.
"A Bird Lost" might be favorite off the album; what was the inspiration behind that track?
You know, that one started with a guitar riff and then it started with.. I kept envisioning this photograph. I can't find this dang photo anymore - it was on my old computer - but, it was this black and white photo of, just from the legs down, of this kind of wandering woman through a field and it was one of those things. I kept that picture in the back of my mind and there was nothing about the photo that evoked a bird, in any which way, but, you know, that photograph was in my mind the entire time; I need to go back and find that picture. I mean, I know exactly what it looks like but it was just this beautiful black and white photo and it was just the legs of this woman were clearly wandering, but with such a presence, such a force, and then it was just in this field where the winds were blowing and it certainly inspired me and certainly I definitely kept that image in the back of my head while I was foraging through lyrics. Yeah, I think that's where it came from, and when I think of the chorus I think that that photograph still resonate. It was one of those few photos that really just stopped me in my tracks. I think I just took a screenshot of it, that's all I had of it, and then one day I spilled some juice on my laptop and I lost my computer but it's still, like, I still have the drive so I think I can still check it out. I remember telling this photographer how much I loved this photograph but then she took the photograph away and I don't know where it went! I think it was just on Facebook, like in this Facebook photo album, but, yeah, at least for the chorus, that is certainly where that photo just still resonates.
What do you want listeners to take away from your music?
I hope people take away that there's definitely a lot of joy in it. It is certainly like a journey if you listen to the album from songs one through nine all the way through. It kind of starts in this dark place and then there's moments of joy and it feels like it's a very circular album; it always kind of comes back to a joyous place. It ends with the song "Feeling Good Again" and that was just a good way to kind of end the album; it just felt very circular. For listening to it, you know, I say dark, but really every song does have kind of an inherent joy to it and all the songs are so much fun to play live. I don't want people to take away the sad bastard songwriter thing from it, that's, you know, when people ask the genre I'm always like "it's upbeat! It's upbeat and it's happy and it's exciting". It's certainly joyous and that's what I hope people take away.