Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is a fledgling singer/songwriter from Brooklyn via Oregon. He’s created a lot of buzz lately with the news of his upcoming, self-titled Say Hey Records debut, featuring contributions from indie luminaries: Kyp Malone (TVOTR), Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear (Grizzly Bear). Like any reasonable singer-songwriter record, MBAR’s debut features songs that are gritty and honest. But what allows his to transcend the rest is the weighty subject matter he addresses.Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is a fledgling singer/songwriter from Brooklyn via Oregon. He’s created a lot of buzz lately with the news of his upcoming, self-titled Say Hey Records debut, featuring contributions from indie luminaries: Kyp Malone (TVOTR), Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear (Grizzly Bear). Like any reasonable singer-songwriter record, MBAR’s debut features songs that are gritty and honest. But what allows his to transcend the rest is the weighty subject matter he addresses. It’s often grim fare for anyone, much less someone who hasn’t even reached the age of 25. A few weeks ago, American Songwriter‘s Jay Steele caught up with MBAR on the Interweb to talk about-among other things-growing up with a traveling comedian father, breaking into NYU to write songs, creating the album and making sports bets with himself.
AS: Let’s begin. Your father was a comedian and you spent most of your early life on the road. What was that like?
Well, my mom and my dad divorced when I was two, so I kinda split time when we moved to Oregon. That was probably the weirdest aspect, just the contrast between being in cities and nightclubs all over the country, hanging out with comics all night, doing show business and then going back to school in Eugene. I had a little trouble relating…
Did that affect your decision to pursue music? If it didn’t, what did?
Well, both my father and grandfather were prodigal musicians, I was not. I guess there’s a certain degree of feeling like I entered the family business. But, mainly, I realized fairly early on that I don’t give much of a shit about anything else. I am a terrible employee; I lack the ability to focus on non-music related tasks. At a certain age I just passed the point of no return. (Which would be whatever age it became permanently inappropriate to still be living like a maladjusted 16-year-old pothead.)
Obviously, a lot of these songs on this debut are shaped by your time living on the streets of NYC. Talk about that experience.
Well, the songs are shaped by that only as much as anything else that I ever experienced: pizza, third grade crushes, September 11th, home assembly furniture, etc. It was also more specifically the boardwalk of Coney Island…which has a slightly less hard boiled sound to it.
Was it difficult to translate that period of your life into music?
I don’t take photographs so songs are kind of my only mementos and records of my life so I always just write about whatever is going or gone on. I don’t really differentiate. This album is really more like an epilogue to that time period for me….after the New York music gold rush of 2000-04. Putting a life together with my ex-fiancée and looking back at the shitty party wreckage of my youth.
How did the songs come together for the album? Talk about your song writing process.
I had recorded “Buriedfed” myself in 2003 and was part of a collection of demos I gave Chris Taylor. I wrote “The Debtor” on a piano at NYU-I would sneak in and use after I got off the nightshift at the Strand. I like to sit around and play music until a song happens. I usually know what it’s about and then I’ll write lyrics when it’s time to do vocals. Lyrics usually make sense to me a couple years later as a very obvious illustration of the error of my ways at the time.
What about collaborating with Kyp Malone from TVOTR and Chris Bear and Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear? How did that transpire?
I know them all from playing around the neighborhood. They said I had potential. They said they’d make me a star.
While working with them did you ever think, “Wow, I was living on the streets not long ago, and now here I am working with some of the most talented artists in music?”
Not really, the summer I was on the street was pretty far removed from that. Also, I had always interacted with those people as peers and family. I’ve made music in this city for the past eight years. Those people are also my family, when my ex left me and threw me out last summer those are the people whose couches I slept on when I wasn’t sleeping in the rehearsal space. I shy away from romanticizing my homelessness because I feel like it is easily misunderstood. I’m just not very good at things like leases and planning ahead.
This debut illustrates a lyrical prowess-songs like “Buriedfed,” “Boneindian,” “Who’s Laughing” and “The Debtor,” to name a few. Who are some of the writers that inspire you?
Thank you. I’m into the obvious ones: Dylan, Cohen, Reed, Jay-Z, Danzig, Eminem, Malkmus, Pynchon, Didion…
A number of these songs also deal with love, particularly lovers lost. Lines like in “Woodfriend,” “Bet you’d be alright in bed, still I’ll take sleep instead,” are extremely honest, but also easy for anyone to relate to. Do you feel like a lot of love songs these days miss the point?
A lot of love songs have always missed the point. But that’s the eternal scourge of relationships-missing the point. Otherwise we’d all have it figured out and wallow in romantic bliss for all eternity. Do people still write love songs? Everyone in New York is so post-love, post-relationship, it’s disgusting. One of these days a real rain is gonna come…
You were just on tour with White Rabbits. What was it like being on the road again?
I felt like I had my first job. My dad came to the show in L.A. and was so weirded out to be at MY show and to come sit in the greenroom with MY friends. White Rabbits were an absolute delight to tour with.
What are your plans for the rest of summer/ fall?
Trying to record a third record, get a label for the second and get out of Brooklyn and back on tour. If the Lakers win the finals I bet myself I’d move to L.A. for at least six months, so that might happen…