Posted On 14 May 2018
Meet the talented multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Robbie Gennet. His music is super original and different from the norm. It’s multi-dimensional, progressive, piano-driven pop/rock. To compare his sound to well-known artists, think Father John Misty, Arcade Fire, Rush and The Killers, with Elton John-esque piano, and even a string section replacing expected guitar parts throughout.
Robbie is releasing a 7-song album of all original songs, Gleams, on May 24. Having previously been a sideman on keyboards, vocals, guitar and bass for other artists, including Fuel, Lisa Marie Presley, Nick Lachey, Everclear and many others, he’s excited to release his own original musical creation.
The first video from the album is “The Camera’s On” which was released on April 27. This is a frenetic, multi-layered piece of music that reflects the constant state of surveillance we all live in now, while also connecting with the recent anti-patriarchy movement. It’s really wild…sort of “Eyes Wide Shut-meets-Reservoir Dogs.”
Learn more about Robbie Gennet in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Thank you! Just got done with a busy day working on the video launch, going body-boarding to catch some chilly waves. I’m a huge supporter of the sport of body-boarding and try to get in the ocean as often as I can.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
2017 was an interesting year! I was buckled down writing and recording, which takes a lot of focus and time. I write and demo many more songs than I release, and I’ve been on a roll lately. So I was just keeping my head down and going with it while the flow was flowing. Conceptualizing this new sound that you’ll hear on Gleams was part of the journey. I had never added live strings to my music, and it was a revelation on many levels. The one big goal for 2018 is to have people hear my music farther and wider than ever before. I’m also deep into the follow up albums, which I hope to finish in a timely fashion.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
I don’t think I could have predicted any of this path, but in hindsight, it all happened for a reason. I was always interested in music and took basic home lessons growing up, but it wasn’t until after high school that I really realized I was pursuing music for life. My earliest musical memory is probably singing “American Pie” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which were the first two songs that stuck in my head. Besides that, we had an old jukebox in the house that my dad stacked with old ‘45s. That was basically my soundtrack, growing up.
How do you think that your hometown has influenced the kind of artist that you are today and the kind of music that you make?
That’s a great question. I came up in the South Florida music scene, which has a really fertile and unique scene of venues, musicians and bands. Since we were so geographically isolated, bands developed really unique flavors, as opposed to the scene having a “sound” like the Orlando scene did with 7Mary3 and Matchbox20 and all those bands. Our scene birthed bands like Marilyn Manson, Saigon Kick, the Mavericks and many, many other greats you may not have heard of outside of Florida. The geographic difficulties were hard to overcome unless you were able to tour out of the state, and it was a long way to the border from where we were. So, a lot of bands never really lifted off. Though I’m settled in LA now, I still look back fondly on that time and keep up with a lot of the bands and musicians from there, many who are still making music and playing. I can also definitely say that soaking up all the Miami music growing up was crucial, too. Lots of Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, plus the Latin elements that threaded throughout.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming 7-song album called “Gleams” that you will be releasing next month. What was it like making this collection? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? Were there any unexpected challenges to it all?
This was an incredible album to create, from the demo stage to the finished product. I had been writing these really complex pop/rock songs and had demoed the basic band/vocal arrangements, which I brought to Fernando Perdomo, who is an exceptional producer and artist in his own right. My long-time drummer Ryan Brown, who tours with Dweezil Zappa these days, cut the drum tracks upon which we built the songs. I recorded the piano at my studio, then cut all the bass parts to the piano and drums. When I was tracking piano to the drums, the opening song “Feel” was the hardest because it had to be one single take, no edits. I had played a bunch of takes to Ryan’s track but somehow couldn’t capture the magic. On this particular song, Fernando had taken a stab at it on drums when I initially came in to the studio so I had his single pass through the song. When I played piano to those tracks, I got the final take you hear on the record. So we kept Fernando’s drums on that song and built it off of that. The biggest surprise was creating this new sound with the string parts and big harmonies. There is no guitar on the record because the strings and vocals made for such a compelling experience. Whatever was challenging about making the record was far outweighed by the exuberance of creating something so new and distinct. It will be the sound for the next albums I’m working on and it’s thrilling to work with creatively.
How do you think your already released single prepares listeners for more music from you? What was it like making the music video for it that will soon be out?
“The Camera’s On” is actually not as indicative of the rest of the album; it’s more of an outlier in a way. The song is darker in tone and subject, which wound up fitting thematically with the flow of the album. There is a progressive enlightening as the songs unfold but the first half is quite tense. That being said, once you hear the rest of the album, it hangs with the other songs perfectly. But nothing could prepare you for them, not even my past work. It is a new sound in so many ways and these songs are really rich and intricate, like gems that each gleam in their own way.
The video was meant to bring the song’s lyrical content and meaning to life into a cinematic short film. The idea that we are all being constantly surveilled in both public and private space and often surveil ourselves in this Big Brother tech environment. But we, with all our recording devices can be a Bigger Brother when united. The video incorporates the tables turning on surveillance with the underlying theme of the death of patriarchy. Men who are so comfortable in their positions of power and control, yet are also susceptible to their own weaknesses and obliviousness. The power of patriarchy is an illusion to those who live by it and a false morality to those who see right through it. My role in the video is as a distractor to help the female protagonist turn the tables on power and break the illusion of her adversary’s control. My two lead actors Chriselda Pacheco and Danny Shorago both killed in their roles and I couldn’t be happier with the finished product! Kudos to director Andrew Aidman, who took my visions off the page and gave my creation life.
What finally convinced you to make a solo record after having performed with so many musicians over the years, including Fuel, Lisa Marie Presley, Nick Lachey and Everclear?
Quite frankly, sideman work has never been my career choice as an artist, more of taking opportunities to make a living doing what I do and potentially opening doors to places where I could spread my own music and art. I had fun on every tour I did, but it does take your eye off your own ball…so at the end of it, you have to restart momentum and try to get traction back. Aside from the recent Australia and New Zealand tour playing bass for Fuel, I haven’t done much touring in these past years. I’m focused on my music and art wholly and completely. I released my first solo album a few years ago called “Green Tea and Blueberry Pie,” which was more of a catchy pop rock piano trio album. “Gleams” is huge evolutionary step from that album, as will the next albums in line, which will feature this new sound.
What do you think you learned from performing with all of these varied artists? Who really took the time to teach you about performing and being a performer?
I learned a lot from each artist I toured with, but much of it was by watching how they acted offstage; how they treated fans or spoke about other people. How they conducted themselves in business, how they took things for granted at the height of fame, how egos that clash when there is a lot of attention tend to deflate when the attention is gone. I learned how to serve the music, how to play without ego or pretense, how to have a great time and not get bored with the material. How not to get arrested for public indecency, get in trouble with the venue or locals, and how to avoid trouble that others readily got into. I also learned more about what I wanted in band mates for my own music and how an organization like a band should and shouldn’t be run. Invaluable stuff! As to learning about performing, so much of it came from experience, such as what to do when equipment goes down during a live performance. That’s a biggie if you are not calm and prepared! I did notice who seemed obsessed with songwriting. Jason Ross from 7Mary3 was always in the back lounge with an acoustic guitar working on songs while I never saw Art from Everclear with a guitar offstage once. From Nick Lachey, I saw professionalism and steadiness during a time of great celebrity attention. That was one of the best tours I ever did for sure!
What has been your favorite performance so far? What do you think makes an ideal show for you?
With the tours I’ve done, there are some standouts for sure. Playing a sold-out Madison Square Garden with Nick Lachey was amazing, while playing an intimate set in the Jungle Room at Graceland with Lisa Marie Presley was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. As to an ideal show, asses in seats is a great thing to start with! I suppose beyond a packed house, we’d all enjoy an attentive and enthralled audience who is really listening and absorbing the words and music. And cleans out the merch booth!
Do you have any upcoming live shows you would like to tell our readers about?
I’ve booked a big record release show at the Hotel Café in Hollywood on Saturday May 26 at 7pm. This will be the biggest musical production I will have staged to date, as I’ll be on piano and lead vocals accompanied by my rhythm section plus two-harmony vocalist and a two-person string section. I painted a big picture and now I have to create the lineup to reproduce it live. No small feat in Los Angeles but it is a city of dreamers and doers, so we are doing it and bringing my dreams to life!
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
Great question. These are certainly the oddest times I’ve ever experienced on a political and societal level. Plus, the Internet and big data and public surveillance have created a new paradigm that we are grasping to integrate in our lives as it evolves around us. I think art can play a great role in speaking truth not just to power, but also to people. Before Bob Marley wrote “Get up, stand up for your rights” into song, people didn’t just go around saying that out loud to each other and themselves. Great art can carry a message, even an implication or suggestion that can be amplified by the artistic delivery, in this case musical and lyrical.
I think that most of the issues we face are symptoms of larger underlying issues. Most of the worst are driven by fear, especially xenophobia, racism and all things hate-driven. Looking back, I’ve found a lot of my recent lyrics have dealt with aspects of fear, especially the self-examination and hard interrogation that is necessary in breaking the cycles that fear drives. People need to acknowledge the automatic mechanisms they operate by and question why they were put there in the first place, as well as their allegiance to keeping them going. And yet so many people seem to lack the ability to ask themselves the hard questions, perhaps in part because they don’t want to acknowledge hard answers. Putting questions in lyrics is often effective at encouraging the listeners’ ability to question themselves. It’s a beautiful part of working in the realm of lyrics and touching on the metaphysical, philosophical and existential side of things, sometimes in stealthy and surreptitious ways.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I just saw one of my top three all time favorite bands, Sloan, on their most recent tour and was inspired on so many levels. Their music has grown more and more important and influential to me and their 2006 record “Never Heard the End of It” is one of my desert island discs for sure. It’s a perfectly sequenced mix of four great individual songwriters in their prime. I would put Rush and Phish up there in my top bands as well and will always carry a torch for both. Early on, I would have said I was aiming to be a modern Elton John, but music has taken me on a farther and wider path than I ever dreamed. Not that I don’t still occupy the role of piano man in my band but the scope of my influences and the kinds of music I make casts a really wide net. When I listen to the early Elton stuff like Tumbleweed Connection, 11-17-70 and Honky Chateau, they still hold up tremendously well. Elton and Billy Joel left a great mark on me, as they do with most piano players.
At this point, more so than working with musicians, I am interested in working with producers and engineers to achieve a higher level of what I am doing. It was wonderful working with producer Fernando Perdomo on my latest album. He is an artist and multi-instrumentalist in his own right, with a great mind for melody and a phonographic memory for music and sounds. I have always needed the George Martin to my McCartney, though I do my best in the chair. That being said, I would love to jam with Lenny Kravitz, and would love to make a record with Chris and Andrew from Sloan!
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I would like them interested to check out more of my music and become lifelong fans! As to what they’d take away, as long as they find something they dig in the music, I’m happy.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers about yourself or your music?
This is the first time I’ve released music that I cannot seem to categorize, which feels like a victory artistically while making it a wee bit harder to find it’s place in the world. If you dig the video and the song “The Camera’s On,” you’ll dig the rest of the album, though I’d say that song is the least indicative of what the rest of the album sounds like. I’m so very curious about what people will hear in this music and where it will lead me. Thank you for being along on the journey! I look forward to sharing it with you.