An Interview with The Robbie Boyd Band

15 Mar

As Mumford & Sons shared the stage with Bob Dylan at the Grammys, Noah and the Whale re-entered the Top 40 and Laura Marling, albeit awkwardly, accepted her Brit award, one thing seemed obvious: pop just got posh. By grouping these three acts together, I’m committing a crime that the media partakes in and one that I found hugely irritating. Yes they all share a Pop/Folk tendency (and romantic links to Marling) to different degrees but the constant comparison, and subsequent competition seems hugely irritating. Any reviews that I have read lately of Noah and the Whale’s latest album have started with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling comparisons which seem incongruent to the scope of the review. Reviews of Rihanna don’t start with comparisons to every single American, R&B/Pop artists so why are these three be pitted against each other.

Rant over, this leads to my introduction of a great band that will inevitably be compared to Mumford et al. The Robbie Boyd Band is headed up by (unsurprisingly) Robbie Boyd who just like Mumford & Sons’ Winston Marshall, Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink and all of Can You Hear This’s staff team went to St. Paul’s School. When their album arrived in the post, there was an exciting feeling attached to the CD. This feels like a band with huge potential, great song writing and some commercial kudos to their catalogue. They’ve also won the backing of music gold, Sir Tim Rice selected one of their songs for a BBC Radio 2 programme and referred to Robbie as ‘a singer of considerable talent with the ability to create original songs without losing the commercial touch.’ That’s quite some praise. Just below this, the statement that the band ‘are carving a niche into the Folk/Pop/Rock genre of the moment with a twist of their own,’ instils suspicion in my mind, already overloaded with so many of the Folk artists  ‘with a twist’ de jour.

And yet such suspicions were premature. Robbie tells me that, although the band has hugely different interests, his influences vary from The Beatles, Arcade Fire and The Kinks. So far so good, and it’s clear that their music is a culmination of different musical genres. In the album, I found a sensitively crafted and impressively varied piece of music.  I interviewed Robbie to delve a bit deeper into how he created his sound:

Your band dynamic seems really interesting. How does it work with regards to the song-making process and are there any points of conflict that occur?
The way it usually works is that I will bring a song that I have written to the band either in acoustic form or it’s already been produced. When it starts off acoustically, it’s not long before everyone has created a part of their own and it becomes a full band song! The result is normally fantastic.  I am a firm believer of trying everything out once and if it works then keep it in and if not then either try something new or leave it out. There’s not usually any conflict, it’s a pretty good democracy.
It strikes me that (whether good or bad) you guys will be compared to the recent onslaught of popular Folk acts. Does the success of bands like Mumford & Sons give you hope or worry you that the public will have had enough of the genre?
Hope. I think it’s really great what Mumford & Sons have achieved. They have created an open mindedness towards what constitutes Folk and are one of the main bands leading a resurgence in its popularity. I think it’s wonderful that it’s still relevant to a modern audience that is just discovering the genre. Their recent success shows that people will admire and appreciate whatever you do, as long as you do it well and are passionate about it. Every industry is competitive, the whole point is finding something fresh and interesting; for them it’s Folk n Roll, for us it’s Funky Folk! We don’t want to live in anyone else’s shadow. The Folk/Pop/Rock genres that we cross over will always be expanding, so hopefully the public will never get tired and more importantly, it’s up to us to keep them interested.
One my favourite songs of the album was Oh Alaska, which I asked Robbie about:
How did you come up with Oh Alaska? It seems like one of the standout songs from the album and definitely a single in its own right.
Sir Tim Rice has been running a programme on BBC Radio 2 since last July called American Pie, all about the music of the American states. In one of his first shows he mentioned that there wasn’t much music from the state of Alaska and if any songwriters wanted to write a song and send it in he might feature it. I came up with Oh Alaska in about half an hour. I produced it on my computer, put it on a CD and hand delivered the track to Sir Tim’s producer at the BBC. Three months later he called me on my mobile saying “Hello, this is Tim Rice, I have chosen your track Oh Alaska to feature on my Radio 2 Programme American Pie…” I was gobsmacked. I taught it to the band that night, played it during our gig the following night and have kept it in the set ever since! It has become a lot of people’s favourite song and may well be the first single. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my life listening to it on Radio 2 with the band gathered around the dining room table.
Orion’s Belt has a really infectious beat and a wonderful chorus, were you conscious of commercial aspects and a ‘sellability’ when creating records?
Thank you! Orion’s Belt was the first happy love song that I ever wrote, so maybe it’s the feel good factor that people can relate to?! I wouldn’t say that I consciously aim for making something sellable when writing. From what I’ve discovered it’s partly about getting lots of memorable “hooks” into a song. I started writing music because it was the best way that I found to truly express myself, and if other people like it then that’s an added bonus. I know it’s cliche but writing from the heart really is the most important thing, as there needs to be a truth and integrity behind the song rather than trying to write something that I think might be popular. For me it’s just about doing what feels right.
Another favourite of my was Amsterdam, a cheery song with some great lyrics. I ask Robbie about any themes through his songs:
Alaska, London, Amsterdam. Any subtle geographical influences whether fantastical (Neverland) or extra-terrestrial (Orion’s Belt) that we should know about?
Ha! Quite possibly…the “place” theme does seem to pop up quite a lot in my songwriting. I take inspiration from all sorts of things. Amsterdam is a metaphor for my coming of age and independence, Never Never Land is about my desire to be a Peter Pan, and you know about Alaska, so I guess it’s just finding a vehicle through which to express my views on different topics.
Finally, what are the band’s next steps?
Once we’ve finished recording the first album and chosen the best songs to put on it, we’re going to release it, tour it, then move straight onto the next one! (probably slightly more acoustic focused but who knows). We are hoping to play at as many Festivals as possible this summer. We’re working on a couple of music videos at the moment and basically just want to keep gigging and reaching out to more and more people.
Oh, and a record/publishing deal would be nice too!
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