Recently Max and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Rose to talk about his new album under the Robust Worlds moniker. Also at the interview was Neil Weir, the engineer behind the Robust Worlds record. Neil and Chris have been playing together lately in Sativa Flats, and Neil is even engineering the new Heavy Deeds album. Base SG readers might remember Heavy Deeds as the band that features three of the four members of Vampire Hands. There was much to discuss, but this interview will focus primarily on Robust Worlds. We’ll keep you updated on when the record is set to be released.
Around Me and You Cherry Red [second Vampire Hands full length] you were writing lyrics for Chris [Bierden] to sing, is that right?
Chris: Yeah, I probably wrote half of the lyrics Chris sang. I didn’t want to sing at that point, so I was like, “Why doesn’t this guy with an awesome voice sing it?” I’ve always liked writing lyrics. It’s hard to get over your own voice sometimes, but people don’t seem to hate it [group laughter]. Neil hasn’t been like, “I’m singing this show.”
Neil: There’s a different version of the record where it has good vocals [group laughter].
Do you remember at what point you started feeling comfortable singing?
Chris: There’s different points, but I think after I did the Robust Worlds album here with Neil– this [album] was a lot more work vocally. After that I noticed that I had more control and I wasn’t being as pitchy as I was before.
Were the songs finished when you came in to record?
Chris: They were basically set in stone. I kept some of the songs loose as far as– sometimes I’d do three choruses, sometimes I’d do two when I played live. Sometimes I’d add a bridge in one or two songs. It was nice working with Neil in that respect, being solo you don’t have anyone to bounce your ideas off of. It was great when I was figuring this stuff out live and having Neil there in the crowd. Neil will tell me if I’m too crazy [group laughter].
Neil: I think there was something unique about it, in the sense that the songs were so finished when we started and I’d seen most of the Robust Worlds shows at that point. So [I] kind of knew how all the sounds fit together and had this distinct impression of what worked well sonically. Whereas with a lot of solo projects, it’s somebody working on stuff that they haven’t even really finished. You’re not able to hear the sounds or parts in any sort of context, it’s against this blank slate and you’re trying to make these decisions to commit to sounds without really knowing what else is happening. So the decision making process can be pretty tiring, it ends up being a lot of trial and error to get things to work. With this, having things pretty much figured out ahead of time, the decision making seemed to be, “Yeah, that works, let’s try doing a little more of that.” It was all minor stuff, there wasn’t anything structurally weird about it where we had to tear stuff apart and build them back up. It was really engaging for me all the way through. I didn’t get burned out on it.
Chris: I think the initial idea with Robust Worlds was to have it be a live thing, I wanted it to be organic. I’d seen a lot of solo projects where there was a lot of prerecorded stuff and just one instrument. I think there’s one part where I doubled up guitar, but other than that it’s just as I play it live.
Neil: What I think is really interesting about it is the way that there is this synthetic element, but also a very loose-live element too. The way those two things intersect is part of what’s aesthetically interesting about it.
Chris: I just wanted something that I could have and work on, and it would always be under my control. It gets frustrating sometimes being in bands and you feel like you have momentum, and then life happens.
Neil: Even when everyone is going in the same direction with things, it seems like there’s always a lot of work just getting everyone to meet up at the same time and all that kind of stuff. With the bands that I’m in, I think I end up spending about half my time trying to get a hold of the other people in the band. From an outside perspective that’s what seems really appealing about what you’re doing. You’re not asking a lot from an audience, as far as filling in the blanks, the way a person would with more stripped-down solo things. It’s not something that’s heavy on backing tracks; it has this atmospheric, engaging quality to it.
Chris: Sometimes you show up [to practice] and you’re not always in the best mood to be creative. I like having all the elements that are going to be there when you’re working on something. Heavy Deeds has been practicing without [Chris] Bierden a couple times, y’know no bass guitar, and you can’t really settle on things. It feels like you’re missing something and it’s hard to make decisions.
Neil: If I was in that situation, I’m sure I’d be reacting like, “Does this seem like it’s not quite working because this part isn’t working or is it because there’s no bass right now?” [Group laughter.] Then you get into this kind of in between thing where people are going, “I think so, right? I think so.” [More laughter.]
Do you find that performing solo is more intimidating? Does having drum machine and loops make it seem like there’s less pressure on you?
Chris: It is a lot more nerve wracking as far as the singing goes. The nature of Robust Worlds is a little more emotional and open, which can be weird sometimes to do in a bar setting.
Neil: It seems like the stuff is more existential themed and not the kind of stuff that’s gonna make you want to jump around or something. You’re asking for a room full of people, at least the ones who haven’t seen it before, to radically change their mood and state of mind. This kind of contradicts what I was saying earlier, but Robust Worlds is kind of asking more of people is some ways as far as mood. It’s being presented in a way that’s very engaging, it’s not lacking in things that a band would have–
If you want to engage with it, it’s there. If you don’t, you’re like “Oh great.”
Neil: “Who’s this Leonard Cohen spaceman-guy?” [Group laughter.]