Interview by Barry Egan
It wasn’t an epiphany. It was much more powerful — and painful — than that. In fact the exact moment when Dubliner Stephen Robinson knew he “had to go solo” and leave his relatively hip alt-rock band The Laundry Shop was in the US in summer 2011 when the police — briefly — entered his life...
“I got pulled over and arrested in New Jersey driving a Dodge van full of my band's gear while I was on a first date. The vehicle was impounded with all our gear. My date had to bail me out of jail — and my time spent in New York chasing fame and fortune came hurtling towards a tragic end. It all happened when I was pulled over for breaking a red light.”
Them’s the breaks.
“After running my plates,” says Stephen (who looks like a ginger Jesus Christ and has a self-titled solo album out in April), “the police found there was a warrant out for my arrest. I’d driven six days straight from LA to New York with my band to make a record with a big producer.
“I wondered what the hell I had done driving cross-country to earn a warrant for my arrest. After being hauled downtown and much questioning, it turned out to be an unpaid parking ticket.
“I figured from then that an acoustic guitar was a better travelling companion. Much easier to explain to the cops and doesn’t require parking!”
Stephen Robinson was just 10 years old when Aileen (his grandmother from Kerry) left him some money.
“I decided to buy a guitar, and it changed my life. Just sitting in my room — strumming this exotic and magical thing — I found time stopped and my mind wandered into some other realm. I still get that same kick from music.
“Eventually I found my voice and started singing, and then it became about writing. I could create my own universe with words and melodies. My life very quickly became consumed by music.”
That much is obvious when you hear him sing — his version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come for the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie is blistering — or listen to him name his heroes: icons like Muddy Waters...
(“I remember thinking Muddy’s music was so sexual. Way before I ever had sex I just knew Muddy was defo getting loads of it.”)
...or Jimi Hendrix...
(“I remember hearing Voodoo Chile and knowing I had to play guitar.”)
...not forgetting other deities who will never die — like John Lennon.
“Lennon was always more important to me than McCartney,” Stephen says. “His songs just seem like they pulled out of somewhere deeper in his soul. Even recently when the Beatles’ entire catalogue was put on Spotify I found myself skipping the Macca tunes to get to the Lennon ones. Across the Universe has to be one of the greatest songs ever written.”
It would be almost sacrilegious for Stephen not to cite Bowie, and indeed he professes his love for the recently departed Thin White Duke.
“I cried my eyes out when I found out he died. He just always seemed like he was untouchable in every aspect. Like he was beyond mortality — and some ways he is.”
Why did he choose Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to cover for the Windmill Lane Sessions?
“I think the song is just as relevant now as it was at the time it was written. It’s a song of hope. It promises that there is something great just around the corner.
“In Sam’s world it was referring to racial prejudice — but the song has such a universal message that I think it can be applied to anybody who needs some encouragement to get through the tough times. It's probably the greatest reason why music is so important.”
You can also watch the sessions on TG4