Talks with Janet Robbins 

 

Janet Robbins

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Carrying the Bag of Hearts III

 

Carrying the Bag of
Hearts II

 

Carrying the Bag of Hearts I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrying the Bag of Hearts III:
Ambient Visions Talks with....Janet Robbins
©2009 Ambient Visions


AV
:  As with most of us who we are now tends to be a mix of situations  that we have encountered during our lives and the influences of family and friends growing up. Given your family history was it inevitable that you would end up in music of some sort or was there a point that it you remember realizing that this was something "you" wanted to do with your life? Tell me about it.
  

JR:  Actually I stayed away from music for the about the first half of my life...sort of. I reluctantly undertook studies in the piano. But the more you resist something sometimes, the more it persists. My relationship with music had all the earmarks of the betrayed, neglected, and sought after lover–where you dive in but then run because there are so many 'reasons' why you shouldn't be together! The reasons really not that valid, they just seemed like it at the time.

AV:  Early on was there a particular instrument that you were drawn to in expressing your musical inclinations?  

JR:  I think my exposure to the piano instilled strong melodic tendencies although I begged for a set of drums for my 12th birthday– I wanted to be the first girl drummer... I wouldn't have been though...maybe I wanted to hit things and be noisy. Ever see a drummer sit behind a kit and revert to being a three year old? All the time. Completely endearing and annoying...!

AV:  Do you remember when you composed your very first song or piece of music? What was it that inspired you to try and create that first song/music and how did that turn out for you?

JR:  Yea. I was in the first grade–it was a song about bacon. I was a piece of bacon in a frying pan...sizzle sizzle, watch me fry,...my friend Karen and I, would travel around the neighborhood and perform our pieces, complete with theatrical interpretations; I became one with bacon. I think it had something to do with my becoming a vegetarian later...

AV:  Were you encouraged at home in your musical efforts and were you encouraged to follow your heart in music no matter where it might lead?

JR:  Not exactly. I think my father's experience in the music business, and what it was like for women at that time, led to his extreme opinion that I should do anything BUT go into the business of music. I've really never fully gone into the music business, always stayed on the periphery. Just mostly like to write it, listen, and share it. I saw the business more as entrapment.

AV:  Tell me about some of the artists you listened to during your formative musical years and how those artists inspired you to reach inside and find your own "voice" of musical expression.

JR:  Yes, Genesis, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin...all these brits! Prog rock...classical; Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart and Dimitri Kabalevsky, The Cat in the Hat music book when I was five, then I re-discovered it as an adult and liked it even more...anything Dr. Seuss, listening to the Dr. Demento show, the theme to Perry Mason and Jackie Gleason, cheesy 70's television theme music, The Moody Blues, the Doors and Warner Brothers cartoons...it's all there. Even Dark Shadows and The Edge of Night...

AV:  Did you ever have any thoughts about following in your father's footsteps or was it always going to be about Janet's music and nothing else? Could you elaborate on that please.

JR:  No, not really. I loved his music and what he did, but it wasn't for me. If I'd wanted a career in music more than the music, I probably should have stayed in Nashville but can you see that? I don't think so. Now that's just about following in his footsteps musically--I did follow him, and was inspired by him, to keep trying to find my voice. That's what he did, he was a total pioneer in his field and really wanted the limelight as well. I like the process of creating more than anything.

AV:  So when did you start thinking that your sound was defined enough to take the leap into actually recording your music and trying to sell it?

JR:  Not much of a leap, I just put it out there.

AV:  In those first recordings did you have a "sound" or "style" of music that you were aiming for and how well did you succeed in hitting this target in your mind?

JR:  I had nothing in mind really, I just tried to put together what I was feeling and experiencing, into sound. It's true to my experience at the time.

AV:  Tell me about that first recording and how it made you felt/(feel) putting your music out there for the world to listen to and to potentially love or hate?

JR:  Oh, I don't know...I think I was glad to have just done it. It was more of an accomplishment for me to have given music some kind of form, whether or not it was up to my own critique or not, to just let it go and let it be recorded. I have so many pieces of music that I may think are better 'works', that will probably never see the light of day. My own internal demands to do things myself, led to a certain amount of isolation and tunnel vision, and just practically speaking, you shouldn't do it all yourself all the time, or at least I shouldn't--it has left a lot of backlogged material I haven't gotten to.

AV:  You have evolved as an artist over the years so tell me what was it about ambient music that first caught your attention and who were some of your introductions, in terms of ambient artists, to the genre?

JR:  Ambient artists? I was never really introduced to ambient artists before I started writing this current style of music. I completely fell into the world of ambient/space/soundscape music, it was never my intention to enter the genre. By the circumstances of my life in 2000, I ended up staying with my friend Kevin Bartlett for the summer. I had no studio and none of my things; I had to leave all my belongings in storage in CA while I moved to NY. Kevin's studio was fully digital, he was using Logic software to record with which was 180 degrees from my acoustic and tape deck approach. "Just go in the studio and teach yourself." was his suggestion, and while trying to get me out of his hair (ha!) he allowed me to spend hours and days in his studio, passing on technical advice when I'd ask. It was a completely challenging and exciting period of time--just the process of how you write in that kind of studio environment, is sooo different and without limitation. If I'd listened to ambient artists, I might have started writing more ambient music, I don't think that's what I do even though I love ambient atmospheres.

AV:  Is there a big difference for you in writing music that will for the most part be expressed instrumentally as opposed to writing music that you will express in lyrics and with your voice? Please explain.

JR:  Yea, but I don't know how to explain. The voice of instrumental music is more spread out, vocals with lyrics are more focused. I tend to write vocal melodies that are more like instrument--piano or string melodies which don't always mesh with my voice and then confuse the two somehow...I am actually writing vocal music now, some will be finished this year, but probably not recorded. I'd like to go out live with it first.

AV:  Tell me about the beginnings of Carrying the Bag of Hearts series and what that first volume meant to you in terms of what you were trying to express through your music?

JR:  I think that was sort of answered above, as I started the volume series when I moved to Woodstock NY in 2000. Again, the theme of inner and outer space for me--the living in deep personal internal and cosmic realities, which to me are really the same but sometimes seem very separate. Cosmic realities. Woodstock is a cosmic reality!

AV:  Was it harder or easier to compose Bag of Hearts as compared to your earlier work All the Worlds which was more of a standard vocal release?

JR:  Easier. Felt freer, like I could access more parts of my experience even though the recording was all new to me; the technical end of things I was just learning but I loved it.

AV:  Was Carrying the Bag of Hearts meant to be a multi part release from the very beginning? If so why and if not why did it turn into several albums as opposed to one?

JR:  No impressive marketing or artistic strategy here...! Because I was learning and exploring this approach, I was moving in a out of a variety of pieces of music, taking me forever to finish anything. I like doing things in threes. Why not do three short albums because I'll be ninety if I try to complete one full album! I would re-work things until they became something different, I had to stop myself. I'm glad I did it this way though.

AV:  How well was it received by your listeners and were you personally happy with the results?

JR:  I got a wide variety of responses! Visual artists seem to love it the most, a lot of painters I've spoken to enjoy painting to it. People who like to travel when they listen to music, enjoy being taken for the ride. People who want to hear hooks or repetition (which I think is really valid and an art form in it's own right) hate it. It can take you into some deep emotional spaces that if you don't want to visit, you may not like. I'm happy with it. Sonically, the third volume is superior just with the upgrades in equipment I made. Musically, I may still like the first one the best although, there are elements of the third I like more than any of them.

AV:  Are you a studio person or tech person who is involved with every aspect of recording your music from beginning to final CD?

JR:  Yes. I don't mind picking up the phone when I need tech advice and have been fortunate to have friends who still take my calls but there's no one else in the studio. I take it in at the end, for mastering.

AV:  Jumping ahead now to Carrying the Bag of Hearts Vol. III came out in December of 2008. Tell me about what your listeners can expect from this last volume of the series.

JR:  Well, it's certainly in the same sphere of music with some of the unexpected twists, musical turns that to me, are all the same thread...wide spaces, similar symphonic instrumentation, drums a bit more upfront--I started using RMX which is a frightfully damn good piece of drum software and again, just learning it as I was finishing up so...on the edge of my abilities and sound adventure...there's even a plucky squeaky guitar loop that I decided last minute to include and it's my favorite piece...Walking the Milky Way.

AV:  Will listeners of all three volumes see a growth in Janet Robbins musically over the course of the three albums? How would you describe this musical growth and has it been an easy change or more challenging? Why?

JR:  hmmm, I've probably touched on this above...I think there's a natural growth, no sudden changes but no moss either, ...I think maybe more musical influences are in the last volume. The challenge in the last CD was more about technical issues, even with the upgrades, malfunctions were ever present but that's part of it.

AV:  I guess I should have asked this up front when I started talking about this series of albums but what is the meaning you are trying to communicate via the titles of these albums?

JR:  Probably the interconnectedness of life. Cosmic, personal,...etc. Things that may seem so distant and far away, really being reachable and present here and now.

AV:  Did you work with anyone else in realizing these albums (producer, engineer etc)

JR:  No producer or engineer. Again, friends on the phone and Kevin offering his expertise when I would ask.

AV:  How pleased are you with this final part of the series (vol. 3) and how well do you think that the overall series holds up now that it is completed?

JR:  It sounds like the same album! I think it holds up, I'm pleased.

AV:  Do you perform your music live? If not do you have any plans to and if so do you enjoy being in front of an audience sharing your creations?

JR:  I would like to perform live but taking this music out has always seemed complicated...the dismantling of the studio every time you want to go out, I know there's a way to do it that wouldn't seem so daunting but I haven't done it yet. I've gone out a bit here and there with the guitar doing loop music--I'd like to go out live but I think with different music and a different set-up...and with people!

AV:  Judging from the feedback that your albums have received do you think that your listeners "got" your music and understood what it was you were going for?

JR:  People seem to get something different all the time, I like the variety of responses I get...usually very personal to them.

AV:  Seeing as how Vol. 3 was just released in December of 2008 this might be a bit premature but where are you headed next musically? Do you take a break once a project like this is created or are you the type that is always working on music even after just finishing something like Carrying the Bag of Hearts?

JR:  I'm on a sabbatical, involved in some non-musical projects but things are formulating in the background. I might do some work on a video project with John Wadsworth of Floating Worlds, will be writing atmospheres and music for a friend's book length poem that will be out on CD later this year...I'm going to the sacred music festival in Fez in May which I'm highly excited about, I'm sure the changes in some of the music will occur after that...

AV:  Any final thoughts on your music and the creative journey you have been on these last few years?

JR:  Just grateful for the opportunity to explore, experience and share music in the way I've been able to during this time.

AV:  Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Ambient Visions and whatever way your career takes you we wish you the best of
luck.