The right Note
Singer-songwriter Robbie Gil recently raised $50,000 via crowdfunding to record his next album, Happy? It will blend old songs with new. Styles range from blues to rock to techno. And backed by “the exact right band at the exact right time,” the love-laden voice Robbie’s fans adore will guide one story to the next in a double vinyl album he promises will be the “best album I ever make.”
It’s a huge amount of pressure. But Robbie simply wants to sing stories for those who want to hear them.
As a child, his parents blasted the likes of Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles while little Robbie banged out the rhythm on pots and pans. In adolescence, he had an amplifier and guitar but couldn’t play, so he cranked Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison to emulate their raw vocal emotion until it was his own. Eventually, he started to write his own story-driven lyrics and transport them through his distinctly intimate voice.
As a young artist, Robbie aspired to touring and recording success. But when he moved to New York City at the dawn of 2000, the record world “had changed into a different thing” than it had been for the crooners before him. Highly produced pop artists got recording deals. The emotional drain of his weekly performances had him not fully proactive in seeking out more regular gigs. Consumers were buying more albums digitally, and artists started recording with home equipment. Licensing a song to a commercial or television show became the best way to “rise above the din of the gazillion other artists out there making songs on their laptops.”
Adjusting took time and growth. His first full record, Stumble Inn, came out in 2006. It wasn’t until seven years later that he put out Save Yourself. “A lot of things changed in the world,” he says. For the most part, he followed his instinct when choosing partnerships and projects. He’s relied on many of the same musicians for years and mostly played at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side. He’s only just started harnessing the powers of social media, playing from his home (now in upstate New York) on Facebook Live. And he licensed a song to a Fox Sports feature. “I’ll use any tool at my disposal to help get my music out to as many people as I can,” he says. “But there is a mourning process of, ‘This isn’t how I thought this was going to go down.’”
Throughout this process, Robbie’s storytelling – and the passionate vulnerability in which he presents his music – has kept his fans loyal.
One night on a Vermont porch, pine trees swaying in the wind, brought him the song Big Picture. “It was a turning point in my life, where I recognized that sharing my gift and the expression of my feelings through music was more important than any other goals or dreams or visions I had,” he says. “I let it all go with that one song.” The weight of that fundamental moment transports that experience to audiences when he blasts, “and the trees are swaying like they can’t hear me praying and they know something I don’t.” And when he feels their energy coming back to him, he feels himself with them back on that porch. “It’s the best kind of church,” he says. “It’s a transcendent experience.”
Looking forward, he expects Happy? to be his most uplifting album because that’s where he is now, making music and living upstate with his wife and daughter. The crowd-funded budget affords his team the time to layer more instruments and intricate sound than he’s been able to in the past. “But not for bells and whistles sake,” he promises. “They drive the emotional intent home harder. To have more colors on the painting, as it were. To make it more interesting.”
Robbie doesn’t seem bothered that he hasn’t achieved the notoriety of Dylan or Joplin or Cocker – artists with whom the heart, skill, and intricacy of his songs rival. Instead, he continues to focus on writing songs, recording them with other artists he respects, and sharing them with fans who get his music and his message.
“The weird through line is that the meaning hasn’t changed that much,” he finishes. “The act of writing something and being able to share it communally is an incredibly powerful experience. It’s cathartic. It gets pulled from the ether. Maybe it wasn’t enough then. That’s enough right now.”