Monday, January 24, 2011

Interview with Eugene S. Robinson/Oxbow - author - fighter

                                                  (Photo by Paul Trapani)

I got to see Eugene for a minute after our first night in San Francisco with Neurosis and Yob. He was having a good time but was seriously focused on his upcoming fight, which he discusses in this interview. He told me he enjoyed our set and I was glad to hear it. I have always enjoyed Eugene, he is a fascinating and talented person - and one of the most prolific artists I know. But I won't declare any kind of understanding here - Eugene is simply too complex to fully comprehend. Through his spoken word I have heard truly disturbing snippets of his past, enough to know how much I (or any other listener) could never really know about him. His approach to music is equally challenging. He never does what I think he might do, and even when I listen to Oxbow records I can never anticipate the next line. For all his intensity, in person he always seems calm, in control, and extremely polite. I once accidentally spilled a drink on him and it never occurred  to me to be afraid, one thing I do know is that Eugene isn't the kind of guy who is looking to prove himself all the time. He has already done that. He put a lot of time and thought into this interview, and I for one thoroughly enjoyed his answers. Thanks Eugene. Enjoy:

1 - First off, you said you are now in training for a fight. Can you talk some about that process? Is it in any way similar to preparing for a show/tour? And can you tell me the where/when info about this battle between you and the unfortunate other soul?

Well I welcome your curiosity. Though I imagine only about 3 or 4 people reading this will give a shit but the similarities are noteworthy as the goal in both in cases is to allow you to answer the dictates of your soul. Especially since there is nothing worse than being on stage and TRYING to express something but being physically incapable of doing so.

This is a certain kind of horror and one which is very akin to entering a ring or a cage or a mat and just NOT being ready. here again, the pain of being un-prepared makes getting prepared much easier.

Of course this is all philosophizing since as of this writing I am sitting here with an icepack on my back unsure of whether or not I will be able to fight this weekend because I injured myself training. which consists of flipping tractor tires, using sledgehammers, standing hops, sprints, pretty much all of the shit you hated from high school gym class with a few modern alterations.

But the fight is in Sacramento at the Urijah Faber Invitational...and I am hoping to still compete. The difference between this and music is that no matter what I go on with Oxbow...torn medial collateral ligament? Fuck you...duct tape it and play. The show goes on since no one gets paid for NOT playing. But with fighting competitively you can baby yourself as no one gives a shit if Eugene Robinson does not show up. Including the guy who I will be fighting.

but getting ready for a tour or oxbow shows is exactly the same and I can add, if i haven't bored you to tears already, that even with all of the fight training I do I am STILL wasted after an Oxbow show.

(Myself, Eugene, and Matt at the Milestone club in Charlotte, NC. Note the Bad Brains graffiti. Photo by Chris Thomas)

2 - I have been listening to the Oxbow record "An Evil Heat" lately, and your vocal approach on many of the songs, particularly on the final 30 minute track reminded me of something I saw recently describing the ways certain predators use infrasound. From our brief conversation the other night I know you are familiar with this, but others might not be. So in short, infrasound is low-frequency vibration/sound generated by certain predators (big cats mainly) to disorient and frighten prey animals. And while they are standing there trying to figure out what is going on, they become lunch. Although humans cannot physically make this sound, your vocal style on An Evil Heat and other Oxbow records has a similar effect. It often blends with the low-end and tricks the listener. It has an unsettling effect, and I think it is a really cool approach. It is hard to put into words, but I almost feel like I don't necessarily hear your vocals in a traditional sense, but rather I feel them. I like the idea of using music as a kind of weapon, and I wanted to ask what you think about this? Do you see your music as a type of sonic weapon?

HAH....well you know the Nazis had this idea of klang krieg....using sounds as weapons. and even today we bombard compounds with Metallica in order to disorient and probably given how much they suck now, depress, the "enemy." I even remember this guy I knew once had developed what he called the Feraliminal Lycanthropizer....supposedly based on a nazi blueprint..a machine that turned listeners into werewolves.

That all being said, I must disagree without being disagreeable but I don't think any of us in Oxbow view Oxbow from a weapons point of view. That sounds terribly Rollinsesque. I would say I feel about my voice maybe the way Picasso felt about the color Blue. Especially in how the vocal for that song you're speaking of "Shine [Glimmer]" came about. I mean I liked the idea of having the vocal space suggest itself, as you say, almost sub-sonically. Sort of the exact opposite of maybe someone like David Byrne. sub-sonic, sub-literal...just a presence to suggest a continued presence. I never thought that song would work and resisted putting it on the record but it consistently draws attention of the positive variety and so I guess the note that we were seeking has managed to be a note of interest.

3 - You recently released your second (correct me if I am wrong about that) book, "A Long Slow Screw", a crime novel. I know you have an extensive background as a writer and it seems like people now have many ways to know Eugene Robinson: Author, musician, journalist, fighter, radio host on KMBT, and spoken word performer. How do you handle all of these things? Do you have any other things cooking?

how do I handle all of these things? hahaha...poorly probably. Or what's that expression about "failing upward"? In any case I am not the first to do this but I am certainly the BEST to do it. So it rankles just a tad to still be looking at the front seat of my car as a viable living option because I am so poor but hey, at least I HAVE a car. In any case a friend of mine recently criticized my radio show and told me that it sucked because it lacked focus and I if I buckled down a bit and stopped cursing and focused and made it more "professional" I could actually "make it." and I had to say that the joy of doing all of what I do that you mention is that I can do so minus any careerist notions about "making it." You know I only think about money once a month: when it comes time to pay rent and bills. or when I want to buy a fur coat. or a hooker. (laughter) the rest of the time I don't think about it at all. or much. OK...wait. who am I fucking kidding? I think about it all the TIME but it only motivates me to do anything once a month. the rest of the time it's a true pleasure to do things withOUT thinking about using those things to MAKE IT. and they all coalesce around my long time interests and so...not a stretch at all.

but other things cooking? yeah...I would very much like to get back on TV. I had done TV commercials, and TV shows and movies and so on. I think I'd like to get back on TV for sure. The guys in The Residents got my head on straight about that. I had made a fair amount of money doing it but hated it and they told me at one point that MASS media was the only game in town and I should GET ON IT if I wanted to smear as much of myself as possible over the face of the world. just a shame we have to figure out how to get around people like Kim Kardashian to do it.

                                                                (Eugene's book. Buy it.)

4 - I saw you play with the Scottish band Black Sun at Roadburn a few years ago. How did you come to meet/work with those guys? Are you still working with them?

well these guys had just started emailing me and understood pretty quickly that I was not as much of an asshole as people have said. and moreover I have a pretty open ear and eye when it comes to tastes and willingness to collaborate. my requirements are thusly...

1] don't suck
2] fly me to where you are and feed me when I am there
3] a place to sleep works well too
4] let me write the lyrics and see the other lyrics and get a handle on your trip
5] don't be assholes

...that's it. I give extra points to guys who know the meaning of hustle too, since after having recorded TWO whole records for people who just shitcanned the whole project afterward I figured out that I was NOT indeed doing this shit for my health and really just wanted to see it actualized.

so they wrote me. we shared a sense of humor, I like their aesthetic and I love Glasgow. so off I went. I find it funny that neither them nor Oxbow has been invited BACK to [or in the case of Oxbow TO] Roadburn again. I guess buzz roaching is not on the stoner menu for Roadburn.

But the record came out...Twilight of the Gods I think it is called and I have done 2 songs on it and I'd do just about whatever those guys asked. but playing live with me is a bit more costly, I think we may be done. but I enjoy them. They are no strangers to car as domicile either.

5 - Oxbow recorded a track "Insylum" with Marianne Faithful, and I have always wanted to ask you how that came about? What was it like working with her?

it is hazy hazy...but I wrote her and asked. This was before she had done anything with anybody else. In fact I remember being very annoyed when they asked Metallica where they got the idea to work with her and they didn't very directly say what I know to be the truth: we got it from Oxbow. but whatever. I just wrote her and told her who we were [nobody] and what we wanted to do and she agreed. but it was amazing that we got it. she still has trouble getting into the states from all of her Keith Richards drug lunacy days and so she got held up and returned one time before we decided it would be easier to go to Dublin where she was living at the time to record there. which we did. in U2's studio. Which was not cheap. And when we went her phone was disconnected and we sat there in the studio not knowing if she was going to show up.

and when she finally did it was a weird funny meeting for us. I mean she might rightfully be considered to some sort of rock royalty and she really was. At one point when she discovered we didn't make enough money on the band to LIVE off of it, she asked what else we did and we said we had day jobs and she stomped her foot and looked at her manager at the time and said, "Francois! 'I' want a day job!" Very funny. But this went on for hours before we recorded a note. so I remember being very tense. And we started as a duet but when I came in with my first line I could see a few things happen. I could see I had freaked her out and I could also see that she knew at that point that we were not fucking around and so after I finished my lines she came in and just KILLED it. it was fantastic. She actually did two songs with us.

of course as with many things with Oxbowian it ended badly. she wanted to be involved in the mix and we tried to get her involved but she never returned calls and was not so big on email and we had a schedule and so when she got the final version I don't believe she was happy with it. I was not sure why until we tried to get Diamanda Galas on board for something and she said, "why? so you can do to me what you did to Marianne? no thanks." I asked her what she meant and she complained about the mix. well I like the song and don't hear what they might find upsetting and it has drawn good reviews but she never mentions it, and it never appears on her discographies, so whatever. I liked her. I think her voice is great, and think she's a great artist.

6 - I have seen your spoken word performance twice, and both times I was struck by the effect your words had on the audience. Both times people shut up and listened when you started speaking. No cell phone conversations, no chatter, nothing. I wanted to ask if people always react this way to your spoken word?

well you know...well, yes. but you know...I try to make it like a conversation you might have with me if you pulled up a barstool next to me. in boston recently I had some guy in the audience who took this too far but because what i do is only partially theater I could just stop and look at him and make mention of the fact that most people there had probably paid to listen to me...and not so much to watch me choke him out. so know, save it for another 10 minutes. Prick. and he did. but as usual alcohol was the problem here. but it's always necessary when you stand behind a microphone and start talking that people know that you are resisting the really unholy urge to "BE APPEALING." I mean laughs are nice. and the coming to an understanding between audience and performer can be nice too. but my goal is not necessary to be appealing or to make you like me or anything like that. I just want to speak and be understood as delivering a version of reality colored by an idea set or a belief system. so listening quietly makes sense. especially if there's a likelihood that you might miss something that could help you. or hurt you. or something. but I don't always get this and much like nina simone I have no problem, if people are voting with their mouths, of getting the fuck off of the stage and taking my money back to the hotel room and drinking alone. dharma gates are endless and here to I might find some sort of meaning.

     (Eugene with fellow Oxbowians Dan Adams and Niko Wenner. London.)

7 - Final question - What do you have in the works for 2011?

Well I will be teaching a residency at a university in france that will end with a show that will involve me, Oxbow's guitarist Niko Wenner, Pete Simonelli and Joe Goldring from The Enablers, then I have a few shows at festivals with a side project of mine with Philippe Petit. Then a few more bookshows.

Oxbow will be re-issuing King of the Jews with a bunch of extra shit on it. Plus the first installments of our next record the Thin Black Duke will start coming out...we're releasing this differently because of file sharing the days of releasing an 8 song record on Tuesday and having people steal it on weds are done. so the records will come out 2 songs at a time, on vinyl, in random order...only to come together as a full record much much later. fuck it. we got to try to do SOMETHING to get people interested in owning artifacts again. I mean a distributor friend of mine just told me "the only people buying CDs anymore are fans at the band's shows." stores are a non-factor, so is mail order...but labels really are dying, and so we got to try and do something to try to re-jigger the system from "download, download, download."