Robin Beck interview
by Vikkie Richmond
Soft rock supremo Robin Beck knows a thing or two about music and the business in general, having just released her eleventh studio album, “Love Is Coming”. As a prolific recording artist with a career that has spanned over four decades, she took time out of her busy schedule to share some thoughts on life.
Ever Metal: So, Robin, thank you for taking the time to talk to Ever Metal! Congratulations on studio album number eleven, “Love Is Coming”. Tell us more about it …
Robin Beck: Well, it’s the newest album, it’s on Frontiers Records and we’ve changed the dynamic around a little bit. Normally I write most of the material … my husband James Christian [from House of Lords] co-produced it with Clif Magness, completely did all the tracks and we embellished them. James played on it and Tommy [Denander] played on it. I co-wrote a couple of songs, “Crave The Touch” and “Girl Like Me” and we put our own feel on it. We did this album as three brains, in three different places coming together as one and it was brilliant.
You obviously enjoyed the whole process?
It was the easiest for me as I only had to interpret it, because the songs really mirrored who I am and meant as much to me as my own songs that I’ve been writing over the past couple of years. It was really easy for me, probably harder for them.
Will you be touring to promote the album?
I am planning a tour, if you gave me something to do right now I wold be jumping out of my skin but you know, with the way the world is shaped right now, it’s a little bit tilted, so we really have to organise ourselves very well so as not to get ourselves jammed up in a situation that we can’t pull out of. Europe is very unpredictable these days and I do most of my touring over there. When I do tour over here, lately the weather and the way the world is going, the US is also a bit dodgy. We’re pushing for spring, we were going to do October, but forces were not with us so we are rearranging.
Well, we are living in uncertain times. May I take things back to where you first started – you wrote your first song at around ten years of age, so what drew you into music? It seems like music is all you ever wanted to do?
That’s the answer right there in the question. All I ever wanted to do and all I really knew how to do was what came natural to me and I feel very fortunate that it worked out for me on so many different levels. All of my life I just kept stepping into situations that were real, as opposed to scams; a lot of kids get scammed these days by producers and by ads in magazines, then there is all the rigmarole with YouTube and a lot of – pardon me for saying – very untalented people competing with some very worthy and talented people, so it’s a big, fired-up mess. I feel really comfortable in saying that, from the era that I draw my inspiration from, with the Beatles, the Supremes, Joe Cocker and Janice Joplin, I had so much to draw from and such a colourful start that it was so much built on fantasy and thinking, I can do this. Nobody ever tried to stop me and I honestly never had any bad experiences. It just kept rolling and I kept pursuing and things were just, maybe rightfully or maybe magically, falling in my lap.
It’s a bit of a fairy tale, isn’t it? You knew what you wanted, you went for it and you got it?
Yeah, it took me thirty two years to make the goal, but … (laughs) I was always in the music business, either in a band or in a studio singing backgrounds, or trying to make a record or performing live, getting into commercials … I was always in the arts in one aspect or another, so I never felt the weight, if you know what I mean. I always felt like with every little experience, I was getting a break.
Do you feel that these days it’s a bit of a different ethos? There are a lot of hard workers out there, but there are those that just sit back and think it will happen for them?
Well, I didn’t know how not to put one foot in front of the other to do what I loved doing, it just came very natural. I don’t know if there’s a lot of people sitting out there waiting for it to come, I don’t know that that’s really the case. The way YouTube is and Facebook and all of the social media, I think it’s just a great big sensation that there are people that are deserving who don’t get their due and there are people that are really not deserving but somehow or another because of their social media skills, they get a lot more attention and go viral. I’m not 100% sure that people are sitting there waiting, unless we’re talking about the ‘entitled’ generation, but you know what, every generation goes through their judgement period. Now we have a world of social media and a lot of technology; this is the generation that maybe feels that they don’t have to beat the pavement the way that we did in the seventies, eighties and the nineties and even just recently, when you’ve come from my roots, we don’t know how to do anything other than put the hammer to the nail. We may know technology completely and be very versed at it, but it’s not in our blood to fabricate it through social media and to hype it that way as much as it is to create it and provide it and watch it spin out of control and straight onto the charts, if it’s possible.
Do you think that the proliferation of talent and reality shows fuels the fire, when people think it’s going to happen for them just like that?
Oh, there’s a lot of broken hearts. I’ve seen those crowds and I’ve seen the kids from my daughter, when she was in grade school and high school and all of her friends, they all went to art school and out for those sort of things. I’ve been to one or two where I’ve watched with friends and even with my own kid and said we’re not sitting through this and we’re not going through this with tens of thousands of people. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, come on, I mean look what happened for Kelly Clarkson and for Carrie Underwood. You know, what they say is the cream always rises to the top so no matter what vehicle that you have to take to get there, you have to own it, so if X Factor and American Idol are going to be out there and they’re gonna go through from the clowns to the crowns, then so be it. If the parents can handle it and the kids really want it – that may be their only way to get from Oklahoma to the stage, it’s not so easy. It’s a good thing, talent shows are always good – we’ve had them since the beginning of time.
Do you ever feel jaded by the music business – that you might want to hang up the microphone and not do this anymore?
(Laughs) Of course! When I had my daughter I was ready to hang up my tap shoes; I only wanted to be her Mom and I had made my greatest achievement; I created another life. My goal in life is always happiness and health over money and I was never trying to be famous, ever, maybe that’s why I’m not as well-known as I should be worldwide. It was never my goal, it’s not who I am and I never did it for that reason; I did it because I loved doing it. Occasionally it does wear your soul down, but the good news is that when inspiration comes knocking, you have someone like Clif Magness who comes [back] into your life after two decades and says, hey do you want to write a song with me or hey, I’ve got songs for you. It regenerates and the spark is ignited. If it’s in your blood and it’s real, it would be pretty hard to stop, unless your health stopped you.
If I may mention THE song (“First Time”, which was used in a Coca Cola advert in 1988) – that was massive for you and you stayed at number one for ages. How did you feel about the song at the time, because it kind of launched your mainstream career?
It’s absolutely true that it was my breakthrough as a recording artist because I couldn’t have gone as far as I did, I mean as far as I know, because that’s the way it happened, I can’t say it might have happened another way because it didn’t. Let’s face it, it started out as a commercial and the requests coming into the BBC and Radio 1 were astronomical. When the request came to me to come and sing it, I came in and I sang it as a job, if you will. It was like, I did the commercial, I’m thrilled to pieces that it’s doing so well, I’m thrilled that I have an audience because at the time I didn’t know if I would ever get any closer to being an artist than having people appreciate what I did for television commercials and actually recognising me by name was phenomenal enough as it was. Going in and singing the song and knowing that I could put my own spin on it, I could use my own voice, I could sing it will all of my heart and not be told how to sing it, that right there made it a pleasure to do. Wondering whether or not it was going to be a hit was the very furthest thing from my mind because I knew better than to put all my eggs in one basket. Four months later, [I got] a telephone call from John Watson from the label and it all began there – come to the UK and do Top of the Pops, I could not believe it was a real phone call.
TOTP was quite the thing over here.
Oh my God, I was on that show with The Bangles, I loved The Bangles! I think a couple of The Beegees were in the audience, I was like what the …? Are you kidding me? I was very shy, too; I’m much more outgoing now because I have a lot more confidence, but I was very scared and it was new territory for me. It was everything I ever dreamed of, happening literally overnight. After so many years of trying, you forget about what that goal is and you just love your music, you do it with all of your heart. There’s just so many times that you can send demos around saying here’s me as an artist and compete with the names that were out there at that point – don’t forget grunge was coming out so that was going to turn everything on its ear anyway. It cracked that door open for me and I have never looked back since.
You’ve worked with a legendary who’s who of musicians and songwriters. If you had to pick out the highlights, who would be the favourite people that you’ve worked with?
Oh boy, let’s hope no-one ever reads this! In many ways, it’s not so much about the actual artists that I was working with as much as it is the whole environment. The most fun that I ever had and what I appreciated the most was working with Arif Mardin; Arif had produced everyone from Aretha Franklin to Chaka Khan and every other artist in between. David Bowie, Chaka Khan and Leo Sayer … being in that environment, being even able to stand in the same room as someone like George Benson! In the old days, you went to the studio, sometimes there would be a full orchestra there and there’s the full band, the rhythm section, the background singers, the producers, the engineers … the party never ends and it’s intense. Aside from doing my own sessions and working with the singers and producers that I work with, it would be most difficult to say I enjoyed doing that project the most, because they are all equal in terms of the vibe that you get and then you separate that from the really bad ones you do, where they are really awful and you want to forget them and I’ve done hundreds of those.
Is there anyone that you haven’t collaborated with that you would really like to work with?
I think the list is really long! I always wanted to do something with Steven Tyler and wished I could do something with Bryan Adams and Steve Perry. I did get to do Rock Meets Classic and I got to share the stage with Ian Gillan and Jimi Jamison, who is one of my favourites. I feel lucky that I did. I did a duet with Clif Magness and he’s one of my favourite singer/songwriters and producers so that’s pretty cool. I’ve sung backgrounds for Michael Bolton and back in the day he was just too much. I do wish I could do a duet with him, I think we might have too much of a past history as friends to go there. I also dreamed about doing a duet with Julian Lennon; he’s also a dear friend of mine, but I don’t think that that is in the cards. I sure wouldn’t mind doing a duet with Ann Wilson but I think her sister would kick my ass!
Having listened to the new album, your voice is still sounding really good; how do you look after it and keep it healthy?
Just using it – it’s a muscle. If I’m over-singing, then of course I rest my voice, but in terms of doing scales and all that stuff, I was never into it and I’m far too lazy. If you don’t use it, it gets a bit rusty, you have to get back in there and exercise that muscle, so I would say the more I sing, the more in shape my vocal cords remain. Drink a lot of water!
If you had to introduce a new fan to your music, which album would you pick and why?
I think everybody should listen to the “Trouble Or Nothing” album, because everything that goes around, comes around; we’ve been in that phase with the resurgence of eighties rock music for a while now and it’s still going pretty strong. Some of my other albums are very sentimental and on the softer side. I’m going to have to say “Love Is Coming” is easily the best album I’ve ever done, from top to bottom, where there wasn’t a moment or a second of regret doing one single song. I don’t listen to it over and over and over again, but when I do listen to it, I go “I really do like it!” I think “Human Instinct” is also a really good album, although a bit dated sounding at this point. It would be really hard to differentiate them in terms of their quality.
What do you listen to when you’re chilling out? Do you have any recommendations for new music?
I’m always listening to mix tapes on my iPod. I listen to Aerosmith and Bonnie Raitt and I listen to people that I don’t sound like. I love jazz and I love all kinds of pop, but what I don’t love is rap [music]. I have to say it loud and proud, I am not a big fan of rap music, so you will never find that on my iPod. My recommendations are still old school, go back and listen to some old Joe Cocker records, go back and listen to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Go back and listen to Billie Holliday, you know? That’s where I always found my inspiration and the colours, the soulfulness and just the moods that were set. A lot of times with the music that we have now, there’s no real mood. I love some of the more modern pop singers of today, but I don’t spin them.
Your daughter, Olivia, has followed you into the business. Do you encourage her?
Olivia’s passions are with musical theatre, but she can sing anything from opera to metal and anything in between. Between me and her Dad [James], she just has it in her genes. She’s a very talented actress and she’s signed to two major agencies, she does commercials, she’s doing some film, she’s singing on record. At the age of 20, I was still going to Seven Eleven for dinner and she’s going to five star restaurants. I’m really happy for her that she’s working and beating the path. I encourage it, but if she didn’t love it, I wouldn’t say a word. I’m extremely proud of her.
The music business has always been and is still relatively male dominated. Do you feel it’s been hard going as a female artist?
I think being a woman is always an advantage. I’ve never felt threatened by men or by men running any business, so long as they don’t paint me into a corner and do something to me personally, it’s business. As far as singing is concerned, I take all my cues from guys who are the greatest singers ever, they’re who I follow, so it only made my life easier to listen to people like Steve Perry and Steven Tyler. It’s never been a problem for me, but it really isn’t a ‘man’s world’, that is such nonsense.
What advice would you give to any new singers or bands that are just starting out?
First of all, I would ask them to please not be full of themselves. Secondly, I’d tell them not to kid themselves. Thirdly, I would tell them that there’s a lot of bad elements in this business and it is not a walk in the park; you really do have to dig your heels in and you’re gonna have to fail a lot before you succeed, but don’t give up. If it’s your passion, just stick with it; if ever a day comes where it doesn’t make you happy and doesn’t bring happiness to the people around you, take on something else, but never give up your passion. Never. Okay, so get a day job and move along with it, but keep it going. Everybody that’s worth their salt that I’m friends with and that’s helped me throughout their career, they’re not making money out of it. The most beautiful thing about that is that they’re such terrific people. I’m a great collaborator and that’s also a piece of advice – collaborating is loads of fun and that’s the way you learn. A lot of inspiration will come from what you do with other people.
What’s next for Robin Beck?
I don’t think about it very much. If I thought about it, I might think I was missing out on something, I mean so many of my friends are going on cruises and they’re travelling the world, basically with their feet up. When I try to do those sort of things, I do love it, but for very short spurts. I get bored quickly and I really do think that for myself and also for James, we’re happiest and healthiest when we’re creating and I think we’re nicest when we’re happy with what we’re doing. Thinking forward, do I want to stop [doing this]? I haven’t given it any real thought and the music business may stop me before I stop it, but I have no plans to stop. I don’t know if I could do anything else, to be honest, and I certainly cannot sit and do nothing. I want to be on stage – that floats my boat.
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