With Reed Robins
Damion Wolfe, May 2004
Though my mother and I didn't always see eye to eye
during my teenage years, one thing I must credit her
for was her knack of instinctually guiding to me to
the right people in life. You know, those kind of
people who leave you with a positive imprint that
guides you later through aspects of your life. Well,
Reed Robins was one of those people for me.
me up for guitar lessons at the Virginia
University School of Music when I was 13 years old.
teacher was Reed. He was one of the best teachers an
angst-ridden teenager could have. He was this laid
back, long-haired guy who was always nice and never
spoke an unkind word. He firmly guided me, but
too much pressure and sort of let me set the pace.
Fortunately I was more enthusiastic about learning
guitar than almost anything I had ever done in my
life, so I was very studious and disciplined for a
couple of years. As we came upon my 3rd year Reed
began speaking of moving to New York City, and
eventually the lessons became less and less until he
was finally gone. I thought of him often and went
a brief visit once years later.
I didn't see him
until the release of my first CD. He told me once
when he first received my CD, he was reluctant
he remembers me as a student struggling to learn
chords and other various guitar endeavors, which I'm
sure I was slopping through. I sent him a copy and
seemed to be impressed enough to come out and catch
first NYC show. It was great to see him again and
we've remained in touch ever since.
Later I worked
with Reed on my latest CD, "Here There And That
Reed was responsible for recording and co-producing
majority of this CD, as well as performing bass
on it. To this day Reed is still like a
to me. He definitely won't hesitate to tell me if my
timing is bad or make a musical suggestion. But he's
just as sure to tell me when there's a song he
to encourage an idea and to be a voice of reason
I lose creative perspective.
Reed is one of the most well rounded musicians I've
ever known. He is a great guitarist, bassist,
composer, vocalist, recording engineer, pianist,
etc. He's composed orchestral pieces, he's recorded
CD of Jimi Hendrix tunes for jazz-piano, he's scored
several films, he does recording and mastering work
his own studio, he's played in rock bands, and the
list goes on and on. And, he does it all very well!!
He's one of those guys that many musicians only
of becoming. In addition, he's a super nice guy.
Like many of us Reed has had his fair share of
struggles as an artist, whether it's trying to break
into the Film Industry or just the initial
of finding employment after moving to a city like
York. He will be talking about such subjects and
others in our interview this month.
Reed lives in downtown Manhattan with his wife
and their dog, Tito. He has a small studio right
the hall from his apartment. The studio is MacIntyre
Music Recording (writer's note: Reed and Sevgi
graciously let me sleep in the studio several times
during our recording sessions). For more information
about Reed and his multiple projects check out
www.changingtones.com and www.macintyremusic.com. If
you would like to get in touch with Reed, just drop
him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you
enjoy the time Reed took with us to share some of
thoughts. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Reed Robins!!
you've covered a vast array of musical territory in your lifetime.
I want to go back to your
earlier days for a bit of initial perspective. Briefly
chat with us about how you first became interested in
playing the guitar and the evolution of your desire to
become a composer and pianist.
Briefly?! OK, two words...Jimi Hendrix!
Well, I first got a guitar the Christmas after my father died, I was
about 8. I was a massive Jimi Hendrix fan even then, and while on
the family vacation in Virginia Beach, Va, I happened to notice that
Jimi was going to be in concert there while we were going to be in
town. My mother took a family friend and I to the concert, and from
then on I was hooked on the idea of being a musician! WOW! I still
remember it vividly. He did the whole bit, a wall of amps, burning
his guitar, playing with his teeth...Incredible showmanship. I was
completely and utterly blown away.
As time passed, I played in bands around Richmond Va. where I'm from,
and I was always the youngest person in the band, particularly in the
beginning. I was always in a power trio, with just bass and drums,
so a lot of melodic and harmonic responsibility was on me. That gave
me some good practice.
Later on, I decided I wasn't comfortable not knowing
how music was
put together in terms of music theory, and so at about age 16 I
started studying jazz guitar with a man named Jerry Fields, who was
somewhat of a Richmond celebrity, at least among the guitar players I
knew. A lot of the other players were going to study with him as
well. He has passed on now, but I still remember him very fondly, he
was very supportive to me.
When I went to college, I started studying
classical guitar, which is
a whole different thing - the way you hold it, the finger style as
opposed to pick - it was daunting. I did finish as a
guitar/composition major, but I decided after a while that I really
wanted to learn how to play piano, because I was getting into
composing, and realized that the piano was a good instrument to learn
in light of that. Also, the piano is capable of a loud, full-bodied
sound, and the classical guitar, while very beautiful, never really
gets there. After playing in a power trio, loud was not going to be
drained from my blood that easily!
By my last year there, I was writing orchestral music and having it
performed by the school's orchestra, and I had begun writing music
for dance. I had gotten introduced to the dance department by
playing piano in ballet and modern classes. That was important for
me, because I learned a lot about how to support a visual image, and
what kind of music complements a particular motion, or physical idea.
The feedback was immediate, because if they didn't like what you were
improvising, they'd stop and tell you to make something else up.
And...in fact, my work in the dance world is what led me to New York
in the first place, which was the undisputed dance capital of the
world, at least when I arrived in 1984, if not still.
Well, so much for being brief!
done alot of scoring and recording for film and stage. Do you forsee
continuing to do this, or are
your creative interests currently focused elsewhere?
I always love to
score for picture and theater.
there's only so much of that work around. You can always do it for
free, but I'm not really interested in that. You'd be surprised how
many filmmakers and directors want you to, though. You can tell them
"I know you don't have a big budget...I'll do your film...if your
budget is $10, I only want a dollar." They'll run away to look for
someone who doesn't want even that...and they'll find them!
Everyone I know who has become really successful (and I do know or
have met some very successful composers) have gotten into the big
time world of scoring by some sort of total fluke, usually by working
with an unknown filmmaker who becomes known overnight. I'm into
that, but I also feel that one shouldn't completely undervalue
In spite of the above rant, I recently finished a film called
"Squeeze Play" about the goings on in a lesbian football match.
In addition to writing the original underscore music, I also arranged
two well known songs. The first for what is known as "source music,"
meaning the actors (or I should say the characters) are actually
hearing it as they are in the scene. That was "Suspicious Minds"
(the Elvis song). The other which functions as underscore was "She's
a Lady" (Tom Jones).
I'm also working right now on an animated piece which is loosely
based on "The Little Prince." It's a musical, brought up to
with hip styles. Right now, we're working on a Gospel number in that
In the 1980s you left Richmond, Virginia for
Manhattan, where you still reside. How has living in
New York City affected your musical perspective as a
composer and performer?
I guess I've found it inspiring because of the amount of energy and
talent I've found here, and humbling for the same reason. The
musicians that you get to work with here are the world's finest.
On the other hand, I've also had to learn how to moderate my ideas
because of the costs of getting talent. You can't write for a 100
piece orchestra unless you've got some serious connections!
That has taught me to use only what I need, which has been an amazing
lesson in itself.
In 1995 you released "Songs of Jimi Hendrix For
Solo Jazz Piano". This was such a brilliant concept
and production. Would you mind sharing how you became
inspired to do this?
I was studying jazz piano with a fabulous teacher
named Mike Longo.
Mike had worked as pianist and arranger for Dizzy Gillespie, and is
an amazing talent. He originally studied with Oscar Peterson. I
strongly recommend him to any serious student who's not looking to be
glad handed, because he rides you pretty hard. I was with him for 7
years. Mike was the person who first taught me about touch, and had
me doing nothing but Hanon #1 (a basic 5 finger exercise for piano)
at every lesson for a year at least. This was a serious step back to
the basics for someone who had already learned "Rhapsody in Blue",
"Pictures at an Exhibition," etc., but well worth the excursion.
Anyway, at a point in the course of our study we were working on
arranging, and he asked me to bring in a "contemporary" (not
called "standard") song for us to look at. I choose "Angel" by
Hendrix. It seemed to have a reflective calm beauty and interesting
chord changes that would lend itself well to jazz, so that's why I
As we analyzed the music, chord structures, and rhythm, I became
excited by the amount of underlying musical interest that was
involved. I had always thought of Hendrix as the greatest guitarist
of his genre with a charisma that didn't let his music die, but I
started realizing the extent to which his genius lays in his writing
As we sat together in this lesson on this particular day, I remember
Mike saying "See, this idea comes from Gospel music," and
different spot: "This is really a substitute for a iii-iv-II-V
progression." In the second case I'm sure Hendrix didn't think of
that way, but his intuitive use of techniques like harmonic
substitution was far, far beyond that of his contemporaries. It was
really exciting for me to experience my old hero in this new way!
At that point I started looking for other Hendrix songs that had
similar possibilities. Before long, I had discovered that a vast
number of them could work. So I assembled 20 tunes from 4 different
seminal Hendrix albums and went about the process of arranging and
recording them for my CD release.
One of the recurring themes of
the Artist Profile
Series is having each artist discuss how they balance
making a living with making their art. To the best of
my knowledge you've always managed to "earn your keep" through some
musical endeavor, whether it be as a performer, composer, recording engineer,
teacher, etc. Can you describe the dedication and
perserverance it's taken for you to maintain and
balance this without having to work another job
outside of the music field?
Now I run my own recording studio here in
It started when I decided I would use a tape as an element in an
orchestral piece I was writing back in 1984 ... basically as one of
the instruments in the orchestra. I had an old (even then) reel to
reel 4 track. I created a kind of sound collage for that piece, and
I started using things like outboard gear, delay, reverb,
compression, etc. in that realm. I took a 10 hour RIAA recording
course at Alpha Audio, a recording studio in Richmond Va. to hone my
skills. Later when I came to NY, along with using recordings in my
own work, I began recording the music of others, making demos and
recording what I had composed, since I didn't really know a lot of
musicians. Also coming to NY tends to take you down a few notches --
at least it did me.
Fast forward (pun intended) to now. At this point I've been writing
music for a variety of things. I've written for plays, films, dance,
and other media, and I record and mix here at the studio. Most
recently, with most of my time I've been doing the recording and
mixing for an orchestral work called Merregnon 2, which is a CD
release of the work of several different composers in the video game
field. Video games are getting music which is more and more
sophisticated and the producer we're working with, Thomas Boecher, is
one of the driving forces behind that trend. I've been lucky enough
to work with Andy Brick, a very successful and talented composer who
in addition to contributing 3 tracks to this 21 track CD is also
music director of the Merregnon project. He is another driving force
for this orchestral trend in the game world.
With the Merregnon project, the strings were recorded on 10 tracks in
Prague by the Prague symphony strings, and then we brought those
tracks back to New York, and recorded the winds and brass here at my
place, with some of the top players that are here in the USA.
Composers supplied the rest (percussion, synths, etc.). We also did
the mixes here as well. It will soon be released on a Sony
Also I did some mixes for The Sims "Rush Hour 4" recently, which
is a large
orchestral score as well. It is actually, at present, the largest
selling video game in history.
I also do a good bit of mastering here, voice overs, anything that
needs to be done.
As a composer, what do you draw upon for
A job! Inspiration is the most difficult thing for me, because
gotten a foothold in so many different styles that I have a fear of
rambling. I'm an all or nothing kind of person - and I want to make
a big difference - so not being Beethoven...or Hendrix...bugs me in a
big way. I'm trying to work on that though.
A job forces me to put my fears aside and just do it. I've learned
that's the single most important thing in life, facing your fears...
1. What was your favorite childhood toy?
The box the toy came in. There's actually a childhood picture of me,
having fallen asleep - in the box - after some vigorous play making a
train out of a group of boxes.
2. Who are your top 3 film composers?
I would say John Williams, for his incredibly skillful counterpoint.
Elliot Goldenthal for his balls to the wall style (plus he's a heck
of a nice guy), and Hans Zimmer, because he has been very effective
in combining the old and new schools. I am #4, but I know you only asked for
3. Do you think Hendrix perhaps didn't really die, but instead was abducted by
aliens from the Pleiades?
Well, I would say...
Oh excuse me, my cell is ringing...
What's that? Yes...Yes...could you hold a minute, Jimi?...
I'm sorry I've got to take this, it's the mothership calling.
What was the question again?
What artist and/or composer would you most like to collaborate
I'm drawing a blank on this one, is that bad?
5. Spelling Question. Spell the word "olfactory."
Boy, that was easy...next question.
6. Although a city dweller for most of your life, you were once a country
boy growing up in Virginia. Do you ever wish you owned a big-ass truck so you
4-Wheel around the city at 3 a.m. in the morning?
AND HOW! The truth is I
used to have a Chevy Surburban here in NY
(it's like a van with a car's hood) that I would take out for a drive
real early in the morning.
That car had so much rust that it looked like it wasn't in great
shape, and it had a chain that I put in to lock the engine in order
to keep the battery from being stolen. I just drilled into the hood
with a hole saw. It looked like a nose ring on the truck.
When people saw that thing coming they'd move out of the way!
Anyway, the whole truck was stolen one day, and that was it for my
7. What advice would you dispense to musicians and > composers who want
to move to NYC to pursue their art?
Have your head examined. If there's really nothing they can do for
you. Then welcome...
Seriously though, get help!
8. What artist, dead or alive, would you most like to > share conversation
and sushi with?
Shakespeare....Fred Shakespeare. What was his brother's name again?
9. Have you ever considered just giving it all up and
hitting the travelling karaoke circuit?
Believe me, you don't want that...
10. What inspires you most in life?
Sevgi, Tito, traffic jams, pastoral vistas, sound, frets and keys, knobs
and dials, yin and yang, and a really good water feature.