Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is a rare commodity at this moment in time; a singer/songwriter that I actually don't want to punch in the face. Having served his time in several going nowhere bands, this Brooklyn-based troubadour decided the best way to exercise his demons was to go it alone, and last year his eponymous debut album was released Stateside, to mass critical acclaim.
Now, with a UK licensing deal through Transgressive, this week finally saw the record hit the shops over here. DiS caught up with him prior to the first of his two shows at this year's Great Escape Festival, and found him in quite a jovial mood as we discussed rare Strokes bootlegs and "musical masturbation"...
Dom: Your music has been compared to the likes of Conor Oberst and Elliot Smith. How do you feel about that?
Miles: Hmmm...Elliot Smith I can take as a huge compliment. Conor Oberst? I'm not so sure. In mean, my music has a sense of humour running through it, whereas I just feel Bright Eyes takes itself so seriously. Funnily enough, I am actually going to be releasing my next record on Saddle Creek so I guess I shouldn't be too negative.
Your music could be classed as dark though, even with the humorous element. Songs like 'Buriedfed' for example...
Yeah but that's the whole point of a song like that. I think the whole lo-fi approach to recording is the only way I'd compare myself with Conor. Definitely not lyrically that's for sure, and even in terms of the recording process, with the next album I really want to make that sound much more professional too, if you know what I mean?
'Above The Sun' also has quite an autobiographical theme about it.
I guess every song is autobiographical in a way, because you're writing about yourself and your experiences, whether they be past, present or future. I would say 'Above The Sun' is about being distracted by people around you, sort of making you lose direction maybe...
The album is finally coming out in the UK via Transgressive Records. How did that come about?
I don't think it was a case of either party making the first approach as such. I made the album a couple of years ago, and things started happening late last year, with a few people taking interest and what have you. Its really weird talking about that record now because I actually recorded it in December 2007, so a lot of the songs on there don't have the same meaning to me now as they did back then.
Kyp Malone from TV On The Radio and both Chris Taylor and Chris Bear from Grizzly Bear contributed to the record. What was the story behind their involvement?
They're just friends I've known for a long, long time. I've played in bands around the Brooklyn area for many years, so relationships wit other bands and artists are bound to develop. I know that there will always be an element who probably see me gaining recognition as being off the back of their involvement but hey, you know, screw them...!
Singer/songwriters haven't exactly had the easiest of rides in recent years critically. Does it worry you that you may end up becoming typecast in a similar fashion?
I'm not worried. I've come to accept that it will happen, probably sooner rather than later as a matter of fact. I mean, the first record you make is like, giving someone a first impression of who you are, so I guess there will be some people who've already made their minds up about me. Its really odd because we're sat here talking about a record that has songs on it that are three years old and I've got a second album which I haven't been able to release yet because of it...
I guess UK audiences who are just discovering your music for the first time are going to be drawn in by those songs though...
They are, and that's the difficult part I guess. Its like when I play shows in the States, people expect to hear newer songs whereas here, every song I play is pretty much seen as being new! Its really hard to comprehend the differences in expectation levels now certain audiences have depending on where I'm playing.
Brooklyn, and the whole New York scene in general seems to be producing a diverse range of artists at the minute. To us over here it seems like the most vibrant place on earth. Would you agree?
Absolutely not! I moved there nine years ago when I was seventeen, and the first show I saw was by a then little-known band called The Strokes. It was really strange because nobody in New York gave a shit about them for a long time, and its the same with a lot of other artists I could mention. You know, a lot of these people have to come to Europe to gain any kind of recognition, so for that reason New York sucks. I mean, eventually, the wave of hype found them and the rest is history, but its sad that they had to go to London to gain that exposure.
I have a bootleg from the early New York days and it seems like they played pretty much that entire 'Is This It' set for years before being discovered.
They did, which makes the whole thing even more laughable. The same people who wouldn't give them the time of day back then basically spent the next twelve months kissing their asses once they became big.
In some ways, do you think the music industry expects too much from new artists?
I don't know. I mean, for me, I'm just starting to feel a sense of expectation when I see people actually turning up to my shows! I guess when....if the second record comes out there'll be a kind of expectation around it to do better than the first, but then that will also mean the first must have done reasonably well for the second to even have come out! I guess someone must have a copy of that second record on some fileshare site as we speak, probably analysing every last word...it's like when you see new bands come and go, and the first one may be influenced by, let's say, Joy Division, and so a whole load of second-hand Joy Division clones follow.
Video: 'Gangster Love'
But who's to blame? The industry or the artists themselves, for following such a hollow path?
Both. You can only blame the industry so much. The artists only go down a certain path because they want to be a part of the industry, so for me they have to take the lion's share of the blame. I mean, there is only so far you can go making original music for sure, but then once a band becomes successful and the marketing and sales people take over, its at that point when you tend to discover who's in it for the process of creating art and who's all about the money and the fame. The "difficult" sophomore album that both band and label agree to have canned because it doesn't quite fit in with the mood of the day. Man that kind of thing sucks...
We've spoke about the artists you've been compared to in the media, but who would you like to be compared with?
Wow, I guess in an ideal world I'd say Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Pavement, Prince, Eminem, Jay-Z, The Television Personalities....I guess that kind of explains why my head is all over the place at the minute!
The Television Personalities? How did you come to discover a band that even thirty years down the line still only hold cult status here in the UK?
I read about them via Pavement interviews and being cited as an influence by them, so I listened to their records and found them very interesting, lyrically quite funny...
Really? I have to say I can't hear their influence in your music at all.
No, not at all! I feel like I spend a lot of time grinding my ideas out. Its like I might start writing a song that I want to sound like first album Pavement but it ends up going in another direction entirely. I try to match the music with the vocal melody as early as possible; the actual content or theme of the song will be in my head already. Constructing a song for me is almost like sitting around masturbating!
That's it, musical masturbation! Put that Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson says "Musical Masturbation is the new genre, where jerking off loudly over your latest tune is the way forward!"
Seriously though, do you see yourself going in any particular new directions musically in the future?
I don't know to be honest. I have an open mind towards every genre you care to mention, although I do think my records could be more soulful in the future. I guess a lot of that comes from the fact I don't really like myself...I think it comes through in the lyrics...so I don't really know whether or not I could venture into that territory, successfully anyway.
Finally, do you ever see yourself becoming disillusioned with making music?
No, not at all. I've been through the bad times, slowly enjoying the good times, but if it all went "pop!" and no one wanted to release my next record it wouldn't stop me making music. In fact, I'd probably write a song about it! Can I tell you a joke?
September 11th Who?
You said you'd never forget...
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is currently in the UK and playing the following shows:-
21 London The Legion (Stag & Dagger festival)
22 Leeds The Packhorse (Stag & Dagger festival)
23 Glasgow Captain's Rest (Stag & Dagger festival)
26 London The Lexington
For more information on Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson visit his MySpace