California’s Oxbow have been creating a bizarre mixture of rock, avant garde jazz and musique concrète since 1989. Imagine if Captain Beefheart had grown up on a steady diet of Black Flag and the Birthday Party, and you still wouldn’t be anywhere near to describing the band’s unique sound. Eugene S. Robinson, the band’s infamous frontman and published author, spoke to M3 about record stores, free downloads, and Oxbow’s return to the studio…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Eugene – I am a man about town. A boulevardier. Eating in the finest eateries. And dashing into the most dashing of dining experiences. An epicure. So, if you please, allow me to introduce myself as a man of meager wealth and great tastes.
My books are international sensations. My music makes mad the weary and drowns the stage in tears. From stage to screen, the plays, the performances, the television, the movies, the musicals, I am IT ALL.
A humble servant and standard bearer of art and eros.
What inspired you to start Oxbow? What are your own musical backgrounds?
A weariness with both life and the fact that I was resonating with nothing, no one and thought I owed myself and the world one last ditch attempt at communicating something somehow that represented the sounds in my head and the constant thrum of this death drive which was in fact an urge to measure out creation.
But I have been obsessed with music as art since I was a kid. After dabbling with keyboards, sax, bass, violin I realized I should leave this to the pros, those being Niko, Greg, and Dan… all storied and decorated musicians.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
I think both. But I think there were two types of record stores: the ones that were staffed by hostile and arrogant fuckheads and the ones that were staffed by people who really loved music and whose love for music overcame whatever social inadequacies they might have had long enough for them to share some real love of musical art with you. The former group I enjoy seeing suffer. The latter group makes me sad to see go. Moreover this spells out very large difficulties for the bands who actually HAD their music sold in stores. Being routinely ignored by distribution sales staffs for acts that will actually afford them a lifestyle that involves food and shelter like we have it is all largely academic for us.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Quite a lot. I am on tour now and I can tell you, without a doubt, I am the number one seller of Oxbow and Eugene S. Robinson-related material in the WORLD right now.
Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
No. If prostitutes started having sex for free would this be a realistic solution to the problems that drove them to prostitution in the first place?
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Reel to reel tapes. Uninterrupted warm, clear sounding music that would look great on my book shelf right next to my etchings.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes. And as the lyricist, this pisses me off. Because as this has gone so have lyric sheets.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I hate the fact that no one notices that Kim Megaupload was living in a mansion and had a yacht.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Making music that does not do what it does because you can’t decide between this and a career in sales.
Finally, what does the future hold for Oxbow?
Great great things. Scion festival in June… Supersonic festival in the fall….recording in May….
Eugene S. Robinson’s first novel ‘A Long Slow Screw’ is still available via his website. For more information on Oxbow, you can visit their website, or follow them on Facebook. Their recent live album, ‘Stone & Towering Edifice: Live At The BAM’ is still available through Hydra Head Records.