Midwestern rock and twang band The Blind Robins take time off from live performance to put the finishing touches on their debut album The Origins of the Wasteland, due for release later this summer. Referred to on one web site as An American Roots Original, The Blind Robins possess a unique sound stemming from the combination of the bands artistic influences and musical backgrounds.
The praise and critical acclaim The Blind Robins receive surprises few fans who are familiar with the band members and their musical pasts. The line-up includes veterans of several local bands including Angie Crown, Aquavit, Pine Cone and Tools of Romance: Dave Fleming, drums; Bob Vodick, bass; Mike Whyte, lead vocals and guitar; and new to the flock, Adam Davis, pedal and lap steel.
With a musical style once billed as Muckraking countryfolkpunkrock, The Blind Robins repertoire reflects influences such as old school country, western swing, roots rock, Tex-Mex, punk and folk. The combination of genres, called American Roots, often earns The Blind Robins comparisons to acts like Merle Haggard, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Clash and Bob Dylan. According to Whyte; All of those are legitimate comparisons because they are all part of the music we do. Its a mixture of stuff, and its not a contrived mixture like were going to weld folk with bluegrass. To me, its the inspiration or the antecedent to Credence Clear Water Revival. Not because we necessarily sound like them, but because they wove all these different threads of American music. What was really cool is that they were speaking to a lot of different strata of people. Thats something to aim for. That is probably the main ploy of this band. We want to play to regular people. Anybody who wants to walk in and like us is fine with us. We dont really care about chasing any sort of preconceived audience.
As far as the relationship of their punk and country roots, Whyte adds: Theres a healthy dose of The Clash in this band too. Im not the first one to say it. Ive heard other people talk about the connection between real country music and punk. Because what was cool about both was that both were really working-class sort of expressions. Thats what we are. Were all blue-collar kids from Rockford.
After 10 years of performing together in both the country-tinged rock band Pine Cone and the pop-laden Aquavit, Fleming, Vodick and Whyte welcome Adam Davis into the fold and appreciate the creative edge he brings to the music. According to Fleming: We all worked together as a band previously, and to add Adam brings a whole different perspective. We still tend to play off of somewhat of what we did before, but Adam comes to join that.
In addition, Whyte explains: Adam fits into it like a glove. Adam also brings a younger perspective. Hes much younger than we are, but at the same time he is kind of an old soul. I will throw out some obscure reference to a Western swing band from the 40s, and he will know who played the steel guitar. Hell know who wrote the songs, and hell know who the drummer was. Hes incredible. Hes like a music computer. Thats really fun and nice to have someone who has those touchstones. Its really helping shape the newer songs Im writing.
As the main songwriter, Whyte tends to flesh out a song and then bring it to the band to listen to and add their parts to the mix. Giving some insight how the band creates a song, Vodick explains, Mike comes in with the idea of the song and somewhat of the structure of the song. We know by the time we start playing and playing around with it, its going to create its own form, but its in something thats recognizable for what we do. Ill throw in some bass line from some 1960s album and throw that in and see if it fits. There is a consistency there because were in it from when Mike brings in the stuff. We like what he writes. We know what hes trying to do with a lot of this stuff. We take it from there.
According to Fleming: I think the music has changed a lot. In the old Pine Cone days you knew which direction the songs were going to go. Now, Mike will bring it in, and we dont know what will happen to it by the end. Its really nice.
Later this summer, when the Blind Robins release their first album, The Origin of the Wasteland, they also celebrate the debut of their record label, Rolling Blackout Records. Engineered and mixed by Vodick in his home studio, The Origin of the Wasteland brings the band closer to their goal of being a self-contained unit. According to Whyte: Bobs been doing what film editors do when they shoot a movie the right way. They start assembling the scenes immediately. Bobs mixing the songs and experimenting with the mixes right away. Its great, we can hear the stuff in some context. Once the label is up and running, the band members and the band directly has an impact on the fate of the band and the band members. Then were not worried about what if we get matched with the wrong engineer or the wrong producer? We dont have to worry about his doing something we dont want to do.
Vodick adds: The fact that slowly over a few years I was able to build a studio. I put money together to build a studio to work this way. Being able to have that control over the music. Its nice to be able to do that without worrying about it too much.
Peppered with caustic political observations, the songs on The Origin of the Wasteland delve into historical events and modern folklore and give a voice to the struggles and divisions faced by every person in every strata of society. As Whyte explains: We do address political stuff. Like the first song on the album That God—- Herbert Hoover. You can say if you get rid of one guy, stuff is going to change. But its not. Things are never as rosy as they seem. Youve got to be realistic about stuff. We take everything from real peoples points of view. Its not necessarily about any political party of affiliation. Its about living without powers and without the power to make much difference in your life. Thats what the songs are about. Like Buy Sell Pawn and The Ruthless Phase, there are people who have legitimate points of view on both sides. There are different characters telling us different stories. What we are trying to do with the band is talk to people at a level they understand but still flex our artistic muscles just a bit. You cant talk to people in any fashion unless you talk to them in terms they understand.
Wanting to make challenging music, both to the band and to their listeners, plans are already in the works for a follow-up album. According to Whyte: This CD is overtly political, but I dont see the next one being that way. I see it being more like a Buddy Holly kind of thing. Strip it down more to the essence. But then I would be happy to be in a band that puts out a CD and gets to make another one.
For more information about The Blind Robins, check out their Web site at www.theblindrobins.com.