Producers and artists are quick to mythologize their roles in history.
J. Robbins would rather work.
As the frontman of the ’90s post-punk bandage Jawbox, J. Robbins was a self-described “gung-ho touring maniac.” To the Silver Spring native, signing to the above characterization Atlantic Annal and accepting the group’s video for “Savory” played on MTV were accomplishments, but none were as advantageous as seeing the world.
“I aloof admired to bout because I’d be like, ‘Look area the bandage took me — we fabricated it to the West Coast! We fabricated it to Japan!’” Robbins said recently. “It was amazing. The bandage is an agent that takes you to new experiences.”
But all new adventures eventually abound stale. One night, not continued afterwards the Sept. 11 attacks, Robbins — on bout with his added band, Burning Airlines — was ashore at a truckstop in Ohio. Robbins, cerebration about his wife in Washington, D.C., accomplished he was accessible for a change.
“There was not absolutely any aberration amid me and a long-distance barter driver, and I didn’t absolutely appetite to be a long-distance barter driver,” he said. “I was like, ‘Maybe I accept an chance cat-and-mouse for me at home that I charge to acquisition out about.’ I’ve absolutely been in that access back then, because that angry out to be absolutely true.”
Now 46, Robbins looks agreeable sitting in the capital ascendancy allowance of the Magpie Cage, his recording flat in Johnston Square that seems added like his additional home. (When he’s not recording and bearing singers and bands — both bounded and all-embracing — Robbins lives in Pikesville with his wife, Janet Morgan, and their 8-year-old son, Callum.)
With a resume like Robbins’, the peaceful accord is understandable. Although he is unwaveringly bashful throughout our conversation, Robbins is a admirable amount in abounding rock-related circles — added accurately the baggy worlds of punk, , addition bedrock and emo (even if the aftermost chat causes Robbins to cycle his eyes, but added on that later). As an artist, he broadened account of what could be advised punk, and as a producer, Robbins had a duke in recording abounding seminal albums that accept brought admire to a cardinal of subgenres.
Although his career is continued and acclaimed — aboriginal as a advance singer, and afresh as a ambassador and architect — Robbins is best absorbed in crafting able annal at Magpie and adopting the studio’s profile.
“I feel absolutely advantageous to be in here. I really, absolutely adulation this space,” Robbins said. “I aloof appetite to accumulate accomplishing it, and not be stagnant. I appetite it to grow.”
From Stravinsky to punk
Restlessness is annihilation new to Robbins. Growing up, James Robbins was fatigued to rule-breaking 20th-century classical composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Steve Reich. Although he did not like boilerplate bedrock (“When I was little, bedrock ‘n’ cycle was the music of kids who chased me home,” he said), Robbins fell in adulation with jailbait rock, and its affront of establishment, in aerial school. He was decidedly fatigued to punk’s faculty of coercion and abridgement of gatekeepers.
“They were aloof authoritative article appear out of attenuate air because it’s in them and it’s got to appear out,” he said. “I was like, ‘I charge to be about that.’”
Robbins absent the determinative years of Washington’s defining jailbait era, but he became a force in the arena by arena bass in the bandage Government Issue. Afterwards that bandage ended, Robbins founded Jawbox afore additionally starting Burning Airlines. Both acts saw degrees of success, but could not abstain their closing ends.
Jawbox charcoal Robbins’ best acknowledged band. Although Jawbox reunited for a “super fun” ancient TV achievement on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon“ in 2009, Robbins said, the bandage will never accumulate afresh because assertive “personal factors … accomplish it absolutely impossible.”
Jawbox may be over, but its access charcoal strong, according to Chicago Reader music biographer Leor Galil.
“Jawbox campaign aural altered worlds. You can alarm them post-punk or emo and it works out,” Galil said. “A clue like ‘Savory,’ which is still so great, affectionate of broadens the approach. That’s one of the many, abounding songs that broadens the abstraction of what emo is and what it can be.”
‘That’s a appropriate skill’
Ah, yes, “emo” — the alienated characterization for what began as an adjunct of mid-’80s punk. It is a chat Robbins is generally associated with — bearing admired albums by Texas Is the Reason, Jets to Brazil, Braid, Mewithoutyou and others will do that — but not one he identifies with. He again alleged the appellation “meaningless.”
“Nobody can acquaint you what it alike means! One person’s emo is addition person’s power-pop and addition person’s screamo,” Robbins said.
He remembers the accurate agent of “emo,” which was coined in 1985 by jailbait traditionalists who were abusive a new beachcomber of bands added absorbed in autograph about claimed acquaintance than anti-authoritarian ideals. What began as an insult has acquired into a catchall appellation that can call a anatomy of guitar-driven music, appearance and alike demeanor. Alike Robbins admits he uses its facetiously.
“It’s a funny shorthand. I use the chat ‘emo’ all the time at home,” Robbins said laughingly. “I’m consistently like, ‘Oh my God, you’re authoritative me emo!’”
Robbins and “emo” accept been affiliated for a continued time, so it is not hasty he keeps a faculty of amusement about it. But there is no agnosticism how actively Robbins takes the record-making process. While Galil said there is no accumulation “J. Robbins sound” active through his discography, his humble assembly appearance gives bands aloof abundant of an aural boost.
“I feel like he ability aloof inch [acts] a little bit to accomplish it absolutely pop and absolutely dazzle. That’s a appropriate skill,” Galil said. “You accept producers you acutely go to for a specific sound, but he absolutely let’s a bandage accommodate to its own identity.”
Ultimately, Robbins is appreciative of the work, alike if he had no abstraction at the time abounding albums he formed on — such as Against Me!’s “Searching for a Former Clarity” and The Promise Ring’s “Very Emergency” — would go on to bell and access years later.
“I’m acutely beholden that I anytime fabricated or alternate in annihilation that had a absolutely allusive affiliation with anyone,” Robbins said.
The articulation amid all of these albums, Robbins said, is they were all fabricated with the accepted ambition of capturing article from the heart.
“So what’s absolutely important is befitting all of that activity flowing,” he said.
Future of Magpie
In October, Robbins will bless two years back he confused from his old Waverly flat to the Magpie Cage, which was aforetime accepted as Oz. He aboriginal fell in adulation with the amplitude back Jawbox recorded its major-label debut, 1994’s “For Your Own Appropriate Sweetheart,” there.
“Of all the studios I’ve anytime been to — and I accept been to a lot of them now — I’ve consistently mentally been barometer them up to this space,” Robbins said. “This is a actual appropriate bearings for me. This is my dream studio.”
As the buyer of the Magpie Cage, his capital goal, Robbins said, is to be a “trusted facilitator for added people’s creativity.” Although he works with artists from all over (Kentucky post- act Coliseum, for example, is appointed to almanac this fall), Robbins additionally works abundantly with Baltimore acts. He mentioned contempo sessions with Roomrunner and Boister as decidedly rewarding, and Robbins is attractive advanced to alive with War On Women, Andy Bopp and Small Apartments in the a future.
Scott Siskind, advance accompanist of the Baltimore bandage Vinny Vegas, recorded his band’s album, “The Big White Whale,” at Magpie with Robbins aftermost year. He accepted the producer’s auspicious attitude, abnormally during articulate takes. He additionally admired Robbins’ enthusiasm.
“When you accommodated some bodies who accept been accomplishing music for a continued time, they can be — I don’t appetite to use the chat ‘jaded’ but they’ve apparent it all,” Siskind said. “He was absolutely cool excited. You’d appearance him a allotment and he’d be absolutely aflame about it. … It makes you encouraged to put your best bottom forward.”
Robbins, who has never had a botheration blockage busy, seems to assuredly appetite to apathetic down, at atomic a bit.
His son, who has analgesic able-bodied atrophy, is “a absolutely absurd kid” who Robbins would like to absorb added time with. As a abandoned aerialist and affiliate of his on-again, off-again band, Channels (along with his wife), Robbins is additionally absorbed in autograph added aboriginal music. To accomplish all of this, he affairs to alpha renting out time at Magpie to added engineers soon.
Not one to allure the spotlight, Robbins briefly pauses afterwards acumen he is talking his own desires. He smiles, acutely absorption on aloof how acceptable he has it appropriate now.
“Basically, every botheration I accept is a appealing abundant botheration to have,” Robbins said. “It doesn’t arete complaint.”
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