An Interview with Rich Robinson of The Magpie Salute (11/9/18)

The Magpie Salute
The Magpie Salute
Kicking off the new year, Rich Robinson will bring The Magpie Salute to the UC Theater in Berkeley on January 11th. Tickets for the show can be found here. Rich graciously lent us some time before heading out on the European leg of their tour, and you can find our interview with him below!

SFBayAreaConcerts: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about The Magpie Salute’s upcoming tour. 'High Water' is a phrase loaded with tension and dual meanings; high water and drowning tides contrasted with ‘high-water mark,’ or the pinnacle of something. How did the album name come together?

Rich Robinson: It’s funny because we were working in Nashville; as I was driving there’s this place near my house that said, “Caution: High Water.” As I was driving to the studio and saw it, it just hit me—that’s it. That’s what I wanted the record to be called. Basically, it covers all the reasons you mentioned. Water is cleansing, water takes away, it’s necessary. There’s so many paradoxical qualities to it.

SFBAC: If you think about some of the phrases on this album such as “we parted the sea” and “water is flowing,” there are all these references to liquid and fluidity. Even the vocals on "Walk on Water" are dripping with reverb.

Rich Robinson: The world is going through a tumultuous, tremendous time. As artists and musicians it’s our job to look at the world and express how we see it. We get to travel, we see the world. We bring these songs to people, and they bring their experiences to the music. There are so many things that I kind of feel that I’d be remiss as an artist if I didn’t express them. There’s so much energy that’s happening, but people are so scared to voice their opinion. You’ve gotta say something. You’ve got to put something in the ground. You have to say something about life, and there has to be some kind of discourse—conversations. That’s what being human is. That’s what having a human experience is about. To have someone like myself, from Georgia, with a specific background, work with someone like Marc Ford, from California, work with someone like John from London whose mom was African and dad was Swedish...these converging experiences. All these artists, these creative people bringing their take on what’s happening with these songs. The whole thing is fascinating to me.

SFBAC: The theme of self-expression, exploration comes through on the album. "For The Wind" gentle acoustic opening belies a song with a lot of tension. You can hear everyone pushing some new sounds.

Rich Robinson: There’s always a push and pull—always a light and dark. It’s one of the reasons I chose magpies. Crows are all dark—everything around them is mystery and darkness. Symbolically speaking, crows have a negative connotation. What I like about magpies is that they have more of a connotation that has to do with the balance of life; the light with the dark. From the start, the band came about as a balance between the light and dark—a give and take. It’s a circular thing, the yin and the yang logo that we have. We expand that out to this record, High Water (iTunes), these songs. It represents the interactions within the band. We’ve gone through a ton and recognize different elements that fuel us to be who we are.

SFBAC: Hearing the live album from last year, you synthesize some Crowes songs in a very different way. That really searing version of "Wizer Times" at the House of Blues last year has a very different approach through the lens of The Magpie Salute.

Rich Robinson: Yeah, exactly! I think that that’s because everyone’s bringing themselves to it. There’s also a reverence. With the Crows, with Chris, he didn’t want to be in that band. You could tell for the last four or five years. He wanted to do his own thing—that’s cool. It got to the point where no one was having fun and any, in my opinion, appreciation for what we created. The songs that Chris and I wrote, and what the band was playing. And so, what was really cool for me last year when we were on tour and paid homage to our past, present and each other, was that reverence of these songs. Everyone in this band was excited to play them. John was excited to sing them. And the crowd was excited to hear them. So in that sense it brings a renewed energy. Joe is not Steve Gorman—he’s a different drummer, he’s more musical and brings a whole other thing; Steve did what he did in the Crows and he was great, but Joe is totally different. John is totally different. Matt Slocum is totally different and he’s brilliant. So, to have all these different elements, but also the respect and the reverence; I think it gives these songs, like you said, a new life and a new focus.

SFBAC: Your recent live version of "What Is Home" seems to epitomize that strategy. There’s a lot of warmth there; a very different energy from the original version.

Rich Robinson: I’ve had fun playing these songs in this way. I think it’s so cool to be able to do this the way we are doing it. To watch it unfold, to start this band at this point in our lives—to do it for reasons other than money, or doing it just to do it. There’s a lot more to it than that.

SFBAC: One of the other tracks you released last year was that live version of [Pink Floyd’s] "Fearless". Your Spotify playlist has a bunch of very interesting songs raging from Terry Reid to Big Star. But what really stuck out to me was the "Grantchester Meadows" track off Ummagumma. I feel some of that warmth on the recent album.

Rich Robinson: Life is really part of the inspiration. The way we live, our families, love and loss, babies and travel—everything I believe goes into this filter, into the person who is writing a song’s head. It’s almost like a stained glass window; every time you have a new experience a new color comes in. It’s really cool. You throw that in a pot with a bunch of other dudes and, that’s what happens! To me everything really brings to the experience.

SFBAC: Looking to the Bay Area, you’ve got some deep history there. How do you currently approach your live sets? Is there something special when it comes to shows in San Francisco?

Rich Robinson: I love writing setlists—I just think it’s so cool. I love being able to change the whole mood of the evening; the mood of the building. Since last year was more about an homage, this year’s central point is this record. We really focus in on the new record. It’s cool, cool to bring in "My Morning Song" next to "High Water". Or, bring in a Big Star song like "Feel" next to "Walk on Water." You just get to play around and in a sense, the world is an oyster. It’s amazing. It’s cool to be able to bring in all these different influences. On High Water II we did a version of "The Killing Moon" by Echo & The Bunnymen. It’s a really cool version—it’s different. To be able to show up and do our thing; it’s such a cool feeling. That’s partially why we played so many shows last year. Why I love everyone in this band—we’re really agile. We’re able to play a Pink Floyd song, then play a Bob Marley song, and then jump in to an Echo & The Bunnymen song—maybe a Clash song.

SFBAC: Taking inspiration from all those places—it shows in your music. Is there anything right now that’s impacting your songwriting?

Rich Robinson: Heartless Bastards—I really like their stuff. There’s this guy named Eric D. Johnson from Fruit Bats—I think he’s really talented and makes great records. I was way in to Grizzly Bear, White Fence—there’s a lot of underground bands that are cool. I can appreciate what Greta Van Fleet are doing; it’ll be great when they step into their own. Right now they have some great tones, the singer is singing well. There’s a lot of stuff. In Europe, there are some bands that are very cool.

SFBAC: You guys are kicking off the new tour in Paris, right?

Rich Robinson: Yes, we kick it off in Paris and then we go to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland—and then up to Scandinavia where we play in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. We come back to the UK for eight or nine shows. It’s always great. The whole thing is going to be real cool. And then we get to head to Japan which should be great.

SFBAC: Both High Water I and the live album are available on vinyl as double LPs. Does that have something to do with how you want people to approach your music?

Rich Robinson: If you listen to vinyl, it’s a process. There can become a ritual to it for a lot of people. You have to take your time with it. You have to peel the plastic off, get up out of your seat and walk on over to the stereo. You have about fifteen minutes to listen until there’s that terrible noise at the end—you have to be vigilant! When there’s a process, we as humans respect it a bit more. That’s more difficult to do at the push of a button.

SFBAC: The vinyl experience demands attention.

Rich Robinson: Exactly—it’s a commitment, it’s like a movie.

SFBAC: For your upcoming shows in the Bay, are you looking forward to anything in particular?

Rich Robinson: Going to Amoeba is always great. We’d always end our tours in San Francisco and it’s always great to go there. My wife is from Sausalito and Ross, and being in the Bay is always great.

SFBAC: Good luck with the upcoming tour!

Rich Robinson: Thanks man!

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