Amanda Carr sits down with singer-songwriter, Robin Lane.
Sometimes I have the luxury of interviewing artists I’ve been a fan of for a long time and this entry features one of them: ROBIN LANE!
Amanda: I became acquainted with your music back in the 80’s. I was a young, rock/pop musician in Boston area dance clubs, not really noticing who was the trailblazer behind some of my favorite songs like “When Things Go Wrong”. You were a tour-de-force in the punk/new wave music movement in Boston and you were also making your mark on the national music scene: spotlighted by MTV as one of the top 10 bands of 1980 while on Warner Bros. Records. Do you think your musical evolution would have been the same if you stayed in California?
Robin: Absolutely not. In California I felt like a little speck in a big pond of people who were already good to go. I needed the opportunity to hone myself as a performer. I’d been writing songs for years before I moved East. But there are a million people in California all trying to do the same thing … even back then. There is only so much to go around.
Amanda: What originally brought you to Boston?
Robin: I had moved back to Bucks County PA. A friend lived there and he became my boyfriend for a few years. We spent a lot of time in Manhattan where his family lived. We were also a singer-songwriter duo and played some cafes and clubs in Bucks County and in New York. I had friends who were from Boston and at some point I moved up here. I fell in love with Cambridge at first, then Boston. The city reciprocated and that was enough for me. I found the love I’d always been looking for. Boston had so many colleges and I played them all before I put my band together. This was the great opportunity that had been lacking for me in “La La Land” … a chance to grow and develop in front of an audience who you didn ’ t have to be perfect for right off the bat. I grew up in LA but it wasn’t my town, like Boston.
Amanda: Watching the trailer for the Documentary of your musical journey (www.whenthingsgowrongmovie.com), which is really also about your personal journey, I am struck by how many videos and photographs there are of you at a time where there wasn’t a lot of ‘live’ film being taken of band performances. Do you feel having this library of media was essential in telling your complete story?
Robin: Maybe, I’m not sure and of course, my whole story isn’t told in the film. It would take a few films and lots of different approaches to tell all of it! There was some very crazy stuff that happened in my life... “lucky to be alive” kind of stuff that wasn’t chronicled in the film, although you do get a glimpse of it. I’d have to write a book to capture everything, but that’s a lonely endeavor and I definitely need help with it. (i.e. Woody Allen’s “Zelig”).
Amanda: As you look back on your own life and career, it’s amazing how much you are part of a globally documented music history. Your father, Ken Lane, played and wrote for Sinatra and Dean Martin, you were married to Andy Summers and had a creative partnership with Neil Young . How do these relationships and events put your own musical contributions in perspective? Are you surprised by how much of a mark you and the people you have been associated with have made on the American music scene?
Robin: Again … the movie “Zelig” comes to mind. Yes, some people’s success is a surprise and it’s also a surprise that other people with extreme talent aren ’ t able to get very far with their musical life. In a way it ’ s really a crapshoot, or the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get associated with legitimate managers who believe in you and will go the distance for you. I’ve known so many people who are now movers and shakers. How do they validate my contributions? I’m not sure … and I’m not really sure how much of an impact I’ve made. I probably did get a little notice because I sang with Neil Young, but only a few people knew about that when I moved to Boston and started Robin Lane & The Chartbusters. The fact that I was married to Andy Summers? I’m not sure that’s a validation of my impact or not … but it certainly was interesting!
Amanda: You helped shape Boston ’ s music landscape (noting ‘ The Rat’ ) with your band “the Chartbusters” offering your unique brand of bold songwriting and renegade performances. Do you still have that unbridled spirit and passion in your current musical endeavors?
Robin: I think I do, although some would disagree, because I’m not jumping all over the stage and screaming. I’ve gone back to singing, but my boldness and renegade nature come out in other ways like improvisation or lyrics written by the audience. Add in the fact that I’m not afraid of looking like a fool and laughing at my own insanity and you get the picture. I embrace all that I am instead of running from the parts I don ’ t think will be accepted in a particular genre. I genuinely like who I am now and don’t hide behind the music and am
unbridled in expressing my true self. These days, the music and I are one. All things: high, low, love, sad, mad, angry, glad, hopeful, dreamy, down, up, big, small, positive, negative … everything we humans are made of is merged inside me and I think that’s culminated in my music.
Amanda: Some artists reinvent themselves, but you have the wisdom to ‘evolve’ , taking the culmination of your experiences and the lessons you ’ ve learned to empower and support others. Your work with women through your non-profit Songbird Sings ( www.SongbirdSings.org ) is a remarkable demonstration of your continuing contribution to community and culture. What is your ultimate goal for this organization and what can people do to become more aware of your mission?
Robin: They can go to the website and read up on what we are doing. Watch The Ballad of Robin Lane on Chronicle TV which is under video’s … (The entire 20-minute program can be viewed there) . Our mission is to be able to produce healing programs through songwriting for survivors of trauma under the banner of Songbird Sings and anywhere there are organizations that help women and young girls in need. This also includes women who are incarcerated. I love working with women in prison. Being in a community of others with a shared history of trauma, telling their stories through lyrics and poems in a song format,.. then singing them, recording them, having them on a CD of their very own. That ’ s powerful! Giving survivors a jumping off spot to get their voices back, their lives back and get back or find their self esteem. Another mission of Songbird Sings is to teach the teachers. We are in the process of developing a trauma informed workbook for other musicians and therapists to get them under the Songbird Sings banner of Healing Trauma one song at a time.
And of course, donations are always welcome. We need more publicity and we need people who are knowledgeable about fundraising. So, anyone with these skills, please get in touch with me. A personal goal (or wish) is to introduce this concept to Ellen DeGenerous and get on the “Ellen” show.
Amanda: Being a child of the 60’s as a budding musician on California ’ s Topanga Canyon/Sunset Strip music scene, your musical ideals and experiences were formed alongside the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Doors and Buffalo Springfield. Do you feel that this infused your songwriting with a sense that music and lyrics could be a powerful art form to evoke change and bring some semblance of peace to social chaos?
Robin: Indeed. That was the goal of everyone I knew. We were all a part of something bigger than ourselves and we thought we could change the world. Even though the drugs and some of the “hippie ” ideology was a bit crazed, the basic premise of “love is all there is and it can not be denied” is still true in my mind. In the end (now) I am glad I was part of such a movement. I was lost in it for a while, but then, as the lyrics say, finally found.
Amanda: They say that pregnancy and rock n roll don’t mix. Do you think having a baby brought your career to a halt? Do you think this perception has changed much in that a successful singer in a provocative musical genre can have a baby and still ‘rock’ ???
Robin: It’s just bullshit that they don’t mix. But there were (stupid..yeah there I said it) guys in the music business at that time, and I’m sure they’re still out there, who believe that pregnancy and rock no roll don’t mix. Maybe you don’t want to be belting things out when you’re 7 to 9 months pregnant and maybe you do need to be with your baby 24/7 for the first few months of their lives, but you can still be in the studio, writing and, by all standards, “a rocker” . My baby was born in May and I was back performing (rocking) in August. Had my manager been more insightful and not also working for the publisher (conflict of interest) he might have gone to bat for me . I didn’t have to stay a rocker I could have morphed back into a singer songwriter which is exactly what I did anyway. My so called “career” was over because a small minded manager discarded me and moved on to the next money making focus. There are definitely a few good people in the music business but I’m guessing they identify with being a human’ rather than a ‘music bizsomebody’ .
Perceptions have changed because there are now moms who totally rock and industry magazines have grown to embrace it, but if you have some guy who wants to squeeze all he can out of you as an artist, then he might not be too hip to his client having a child and being a mother and a performer simultaneously. Teeny Tiny Thinking .
Amanda: Are either of your children musical?
Robin: I gave up my son for adoption many, many years ago. We found each other in 2007. He is a musician, great guitar player and played bass in a well known band. My daughter was raised by me. I dragged her around to my gigs, not making that much money at the time
(having been dropped by the record company, publisher, manager). She fell asleep in front of amplifiers. I struggled alot and she experienced it all. From this perspective music didn’t seem too appealing to her. She is an artist though, a photographer and she’s soooo very good and unique. evangelinelane.com , if you’re getting married.
Amanda: What would you like our readers to know about you that isn’t chronicled in the media? What advice can you give young musical artists today?
Robin: I try not to give advice unless I’m asked and I really know the person. However, do what brings you joy and be smart about it. Take care of yourself and don’t put your complete trust in others. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Don’t just think that everything is always going to go your way just because it’s going your way at the moment. Depend on yourself and learn about the business as well as the craft/art, of songwriting . It takes a village, but it ’ s still up to you to choose which doors you are going to walk through. I would love people to be aware of my organization, because it’s my passion: please visit and share songbirdsings.org . We’re committed to healing the world one song at a time.
Amanda: Your ability to be self-effacing and honest about who you are and where you’ve been seems to be an essential part of your creative process. Do you feel that ego can be a detriment to creativity? What do you feel are the main pitfalls of the music business and do they still exist today?
Robin: I’m not quick witted, I don’t even understand The New Yorker cartoons. I’ve never considered myself normal or like other people. When I was young, my best friend was the moon and I named him John. We would talk whenever the moon was full and he ’ d talk back to me. He helped me understand life. Do I sound wigged out? That’s okay, this is who I am. I put that creativity into all aspects of my life. I think you need a healthy ego to be creative. Isn’t ego how you feel or think about yourself? Some people get too prideful and then you can say they have a big ego which usually takes the place of a healthy ego. I think of a person with a good ego as someone who is comfortable in their own skin.
The main pitfalls of the music business are people who don’t know what they ’ re doing and liars. There’s a famous quote by Hunter H. Thompson that goes like this: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”