Melbourne-based singer/songwriter Toby Robinson released his debut solo album in June – immediately receiving national airplay, inclusion on the ABC Local playlist. Two years in the making, Toby’s self-titled album was created in collaboration with his great friends and bandmates, Rob Kidd and Craig Hadlow, and producer Nick Huggins.
How did starting out as a busker help hone your onstage act?
Busking was such a great way to have an introduction to performing. The best thing about busking is not only are you getting your ‘chops’ up; I really learned to feel comfortable in front of an audience. By the time I was 14 I was at home onstage and had an ability to read a crowd. This all really only came about to up my pocket money!
How important was your family in seeding your love of music?
I grew up around music. My dad was a real folky back in the 60s and 70s. He taught me how to play guitar and gave me an education in bluegrass, blues, ragtime and folk music, which he still does today. Mum was a talented singer; when she was younger she was very passionate about opera. Between the two of them they were very encouraging when I started to show a real interest in music. Dad was also my first band manager!
Who are the artists that have influenced you the most?
It’s always a hard question and one that changes like the seasons. I really admire great songwriters such as Mark Knopfler, Ry Cooder, and George Harrison. These guys had, and still do have, such a broad outlook on life and an ability to blend different cultural music together; it’s what it’s all about. I also love bands such as The Cure and The Shins. A lot can be said for beautiful moody grooves.
What is it about the banjo do you think that adds that point of difference to what you bring to the stage or studio?
I think the banjo gives me an opportunity to be more intimate on stage; the songs I write on banjo are much softer. Having said that it’s also a great instrument to jam out and improvise on. I guess too it’s the old sound of the banjo that people have a real connection with.
What’s your songwriting practice involve?
My songwriting inspiration comes in waves. Normally when I either have a lot of mental space or am going through change, songs come to the surface. I’m always mucking around on a guitar and if a chord pattern sticks I’ll record it, come back to it and start to play and develop it further. When I have more of a stable form to it I’ll record a demo and listen to it for a few weeks and make changes that come to mind. I think songwriting really takes persistence and work. I seem to get about five good songs out of every 15 that I write. It really helps to surround yourself with other songwriters too.
What should we expect for your show at the Hotel Great Northern?
I’ll be joined by my good pals Rob Kidd (bass, keys) and Steve Robin (drums) to play two sets of great material I’ve written over the last five years. A mix of alt-country folk and pop, and lots of jamming out! Should be a great night! And it’s free!
Toby Robinson plays Urban Tales with a Folk Heart at the Hotel Great Northern on Wednesday 14 October and at the Treehouse in Belongil on Thursday.