Her second album, “Water Dreams“, is one of the most fascinating records of the beginning of this year. It can be considered the record of maturity, the one of a new personal and artistic life, of Robin Bacior, talented young songwriter that recently moved from New York to Portland. Here’s her talking about her inward yet deeply emotional approach to songwriting.
How did you started playing music and writing songs?
Everyone in my family plays music, and I started at 7. It was gymnastics or piano lessons, so I went for the piano. I think I wrote my first song when I was about 14, and it was really terrible, but I remember it being a great emotional release, which I guess never changes.
And when did you feel you were ready to play it on stage or to release a record?
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready, but it’s something I’m continually drawn to. I started playing my songs when I was 18, but I was so mortified that I said they were all written by a woman named Rhonda James. I still have these conflicting urges of wanting to run from a mic or throw all these songs in a lock box, but I also feel something completely sublime from playing music, and that keeps outweighing the fear.
Can you describe your writing process? How important are in it your personal feelings and experience?
I’m a very inward person, so all my songs are incredibly personal, based completely off my own real experiences. I wish I could write stories, but unfortunately that’s just not what comes out. Like I mentioned before, the very first song I wrote was me trying to process an overwhelming emotion, and I think that stuck.
Is there any artist you consider important in your musical training or at least someone you feel close to your sensibility?
So many artists! My fiance is a songwriter and plays under the name Grand Lake Islands, and he’s constantly inspiring me with new approaches to instrumentation. Joni Mitchell taught me that form comes second to fluidity and connection, and that you can take room to lyrically speak. Fiona Apple was the first artist that helped me understand pop music on piano. Bill Callahan helped me understand the beauty of space. Debussy, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, and Vince Guaraldi have all helped me to understand phrasing and how gentle and tactfully emotive the piano can be. Last night I was in a bar taking notes on how Stevie Wonder and Beach House were showing me the art of melodic restraint. This answer is chaotic, but I feel that’s how inspiration works, it’s this kaleidoscope showing you something that’s constantly changing your understanding.
Piano plays a key role in your recent songs, and so the cello played by Dan Bindschedler, yet they don’t seem definitely “classic”: at which point of your songwriting process do you choose the instruments?
I always write the songs with the piano or guitar in hand, then later bring the cello into the mix. Dan has been my bandmate for nearly five years now, so I wrote this more recent album, “Water Dreams”, with his parts in mind, leaving room for him to fit in the song rather than be layered.
Do you feel there is any substantial difference between your records and EP’s?
They’re all separate reflections, and I feel like my music has gone through a huge transformation from my first EP, “Aimed For Night”, to my most recent album, “Water Dreams”. I still appreciate those older recordings, but for me personally, the newer music sounds more grounded. I think that’s how every artist feels when they look at their timeline.
I’ve been first impressed by your “I Left You, Still In Love” EP, mostly for its immediate and vulnerable feeling. Are there some personal stories behind that title and those songs?
Thank you. The title is about the general mood of the EP and what I was going through at the time. I recorded it a couple days before I moved away from New York, and it was a time where I felt like a lot was slipping out of my hands, like I was letting go of things I was still completely attached to. “Rabbit” specifically is these personal implosions, holding on to these memories or circumstances, and the loud choruses are supposed to be those thoughts becoming overwhelming, and finally letting them fully go. It’s a sad collection, but I think it was also a strong turning point of me changing my writing style.
You recently moved from New York to Portland and I read that much of your latest album, “Water Dreams”, is about this change: can you tell how you’ve lived this change and which differences have you noticed between the two cities?
I miss New York, but I feel like Portland is one of the most healing places to be. I feel calm, and very grateful to be close to the ocean and right by the mountains, surrounded by thick forests and clear rivers, with plenty of cleansing rain. Being nurtured by this environment has had a profound effect on me personally, and on the level of patience I give to music.
Portland has become a kind of U.S. “indie-folk capital”: have you already got into the local music scene?
More and more. New York was a much more outward community, whereas Portland takes a while. I’ve met a lot of musicians and befriended some very talented people, but I still wouldn’t say I’m ‘in’ anything.
What kind of music do you like best as a listener?
Something that feels sincere and simple. I listen to a lot of jazz at home. I love its classic nature and moodiness.
It seems that folk music is growing and spreading widely among independent artists in recent years: what do you think about this return to simplicity and to (generally speaking) folk language?
I think there’s a little too much going on in this world, and folk is a good way to clear the head. It can get a little kitschy, but overall I like a lot of the folk music I’m hearing in this revival.
You released your records on your personal label Consonants & Vowels: how has it been for you to run your own label and how important is to be truly independent?
Well, I actually shut the label down, though I did self-release the record. I’ve never worked with a label so I can’t say much, but having complete control is a free wielding sword. A little great, a little dangerous.
What do you think about the way music spreads nowadays through the web? Do you think it is helpful for a young independent artist like you?
A majority of the folks who support my music don’t live in the US, so the web’s had a giant positive impact on my music.
You’re not only a musician but also a music journalist: is there a connection between these two sides of your personality? Which question would you ask yourself as a journalist?
Music journalism is a nice balance to my own music. It gives me a chance to hear varied perspectives and reaffirm that there is no one way to be an artist. I ask myself too many questions already, mostly about what I hear next, and that’s new instrumental arrangements.
And, finally, what else can we expect from you in the near future, and what do you expect from music?
I’m hoping to get overseas to tour later this year, and until then will be touring around the US, and working on new songs.