Reviews

Summer Of Fear

Author: Lauren Hafley
02/19/2010 | Beyond Race | www.beyondrace.com | Feature
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson became a part of the New York City scene at age 17, after living in both Oregon and California. Since then, the singer/songwriter has come a long way from his self-titled debut album, where he reflected on his struggles with drugs, alcohol and even homelessness.

His sophomore LP, Summer of Fear on the other hand, conveys feelings that are equivalent in emotional depth, yet not as disheartening. Produced by Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio) and with the help of MBAR's friend Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear), Summer of Fear is a collection of mellow tracks that will keep listeners paying close attention. When I met up with Robinson at a Williamsburg café, he admitted that his emotions were not as stable on Summer of Fear as listeners might think. But in person, Robinson remained calm and composed, especially when reflecting on his past.

Since the October release of Summer of Fear, he has kept busy and is almost done writing his third album. Though down-to-earth, Robinson expressed the occasional, obvious excitement, particularly while discussing CMJ and his new band. After speaking with Robinson, it's safe to say that fear is not, in fact, something Robinson foresees in the near future.

BRM: I know your second album just came out, but you're already writing the third album.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson: Yeah actually the third album is pretty much done being written. Aside from that, I tried to move to Portland this summer but that didn't really work out. I feel like now I'm not trying quite so hard. I like it so much here. I've been here a while though so I was looking to try something else. I used to live in Oregon so I thought I'd try and move back now.

How is the music scene in Oregon compared to New York or if you want to be more specific, Brooklyn?

It's very, very different. There are so many 20 and 30-year-old creative people who have been moving to Portland for the past decade. Living on food stamps and living in these mellow, little houses. It's a really nice place. I thought I was ready to go move out of New York but I guess not. I moved here when I was 17 and I also lived in California…I was at the beach every week. But there's not much to do in Portland until you're 21.

How do you feel about the way you were perceived after your first album? It seems like people think Summer of Fear is uplifting in comparison to your debut which was seen as your breakdown album.

Yeah, absolutely you're very right about the perception because the truth is even different than that. I was going through a much bigger "breakdown" while making the second album. During the first album, I was in a great place. I cleaned up my act. I was really thinking about what I was going to do with my music. I was making a record with my really great friend in my apartment. My ex and I had a place together. But the second record was really the aftermath of all that.

Since you're currently finishing your third one, how do you feel emotionally?

The third one I wrote, it's great. I think it's funny the second one is coming out after the first one because I made it before I even signed the deal to have the first one recorded. I was writing with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and they were just taking off and I'm not a very good self-promoter so I just kind of carried my album around on the street. So it's sort of weird to me that I even have the opportunity to have made the second one.

A lot of what I wrote back then was about September 11th and a lot about that year's personal stuff and right after that, the first record got picked up. I was in a really weird place because I was all ready to give up. The third one I wrote while I was touring and I hadn't been playing for people and I wasn't enjoying that yet and all of the sudden I was getting all this energy. So, I really got into that and I think and hope the third album will be a big success.

Is music what helped you get through your tougher times after you moved to New York, or is it something you always pursued?

Music is probably what lead me into that rather than saved me. It showed me things that I shouldn't do. The first thing I ever wanted to do was be a conductor when I was a kid. Then, when I was in high school I got my first guitar but I never wanted to play with other people, but I always wrote my own songs. Even with most of my friends in high school… we would hang out and smoke trees and then I'd be like, "Alright, I'm gonna go home." I'd just go home and play music. Nobody really knew I sort of kept it a secret. But then I came out here when I was 17 to go to school and that changed.

I have heard people compare you to Bob Dylan and your blurred lyrics seem to portray the same type of feeling that he had.

Absolutely and I love Bob Dylan. I think he was this huge innovator. And when I think of music I think of Bob Dylan. He pioneered a kind of music and made it his own structure and was the first and foremost to really create folk rock music and made it his own.

You were actually going to ask Chris to record with you before Grizzly Bear picked up. Now that you're both pretty reputable, do you think you two will collaborate?

We actually talked about doing some stuff together recently. He just started a record label [Terrible Records] so we might do a few songs together and put them out. He was supposed to do the second record but he was just so busy and he was on tour. But when I played with TV on the Radio at McCarren Park Pool, he was like, "Hey, do you have enough songs for a second record? Do you want do another record?" and then we never got around to that together because he just had a lot of shit to do.

What has been your favorite venue or show that you have ever played?

The 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. I just played there five days ago and it was, by far, the most professional place I've played in my life. Everyone that worked there was super nice and good at their jobs. Even the sound guy, there were no bad attitudes. And the new band I have is by far the best band I have ever played with.

Who might people be surprised to know inspired you musically?

Jay-Z. And I'm not a big obscurest. I like a lot of mainstream '90s. I like hip-hop. I'm not only in the underground scene. Because when you hear a song on the radio, that's when you know you're heard and you stop and want to turn it up.

It seems like the underground music scene, especially in New York is getting pretty competitive. Do you ever feel that pressure?

I'm so far from that. I did that when I was a kid when I was 18 and I did it until I was like 21. I was in a band that I hated so much I was just drinking so much before every show. We recorded an EP and I was accusing people of recording my parts because I didn't remember doing them. I was just miserable when we were trying to make it. That band used to always play with a band, Fast Forward, which had the two guys from Grizzly Bear and when I stopped they were like, "You should just go solo." And then I was just writing on acoustic and Chris was like here and he made me play with electric guitar. So when I quit, I didn't really have any aspirations I just wanted to keep writing music. It's all I've done for most of my life so I wrote enough songs to record an album without a band and then recorded that album.

Obviously you get asked about your name all the time. But there are four names. Where did they come from?

My father was named after a member of our family who killed his brother and his brother's new wife. He didn't like the wife, so he got drunk, went to their wedding reception and pissed on their food and shot them both with a shotgun. This was back in like the '30s. My father's name is Miles Terry Anthony Robinson. But he didn't want me to be named after a shooter so he changed one name and says that I am named after Miles Davis. So I'm a mix of all those. I actually decided on using all four names for the project because Chris Taylor was like, "You can't just use Miles Benjamin, you should really think of something." So I was trying to be a pain in the ass and I just decided to use all four, just because I was fighting with Chris Taylor about it.

Are there any other fun, quirky facts that you want to share about your claim to fame?

Yeah, just recently, it was funny, I was talking to my dad and telling him how I had to play one show in my socks and he's like, "You got to do that. It can be your thing." And I started doing that again at the 9:30 Club in Washington.

I think having a great band is making a difference more than anything else. I'm just not allowed to wear boots on stage because they make me stand still so if I'm wearing boots to the show, I have to perform without shoes.

How do you prepare to write your albums? Do you go to shows or do you prefer to continually write and record?

At some point you run out of gas. I have like 25 songs for the third album that I've written so far. I used to go to a lot more shows [for inspiration] but then all this stuff started happening. There was September 11th and I watched people jumping off the roof of the World Trade Center and I was 18 and that's just one thing that affected me for years ahead and still does. The summer after that was when I stayed in New York and was homeless, but only because I was like, "I'm here now" and I was obsessed with just being here and writing music. The year ended and I just hadn't made any plans to stay anywhere and I had been selling hard drugs with my friend. We had been staying at his mom's house on Long Island and she kicked us out so I decided to clean up and crash on couches. My friend and I went our separate ways but the next year we started hanging out and guns started showing up so I decided to just focus on music. But that was a long time ago. It's just a part of my past and it really wasn't that tragic it was just a little unpretty. So, I prepare by writ[ing] obsessively in my journal.

Is there anything you're planning on doing in the near future that might not be expected?

I really want to write a memoir. I am thinking about doing that between maybe the third and fourth albums. I'd love to just do something different.
Summer Of Fear

Summer Of Fear

LP / CD / MP3




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Summer of Fear

Summer of Fear

LP / CD / MP3