Charlie Robison goes for the good times – October 2004
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Charlie Robison goes for the good times  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2004

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"I went in there with the thought of making a '70s record. Whether it's a Jackson Browne or Eagles or Bad Company, these records of the '70s had these laid back bounces all through them instead of ballads and 4/4. I didn't really want any (of this) to be your straight ahead stuff. I wanted it to be a very groove oriented thing."

A key ingredient to making "Good Times" was working with Lloyd Maines again. Maines produced "Bandera," Robison's indie album from 1995, and he also was at the helm for 1998's "Life of the Party." But last time out, Robison co-produced with Blake Chancey of Sony.

Robison's comfort level seemed higher in the studio this time.

"It went down really cool," he says. "It was working with Lloyd again, and I think it also had to do with that got out of my contract with Sony and didn't have suits looking over my shoulder all the time (saying) 'we need a hit, or you can't say this word in a song'. It was nice being in there and the expectations being mine and no one else's."

While Robison says he was pleased overall with his stint on Sony's Lucky Dog imprint, he was not happy about being part of the big label machine and its influence on him as an artist and the need for hits.

"You couldn't help (it). They tell you that every day - we need a single. Here's some outside songs from outside writers. It was a constant struggle. It wasn't an implied thing. It was an implicit thing. It's nice having a big machine behind you, but in the end, the scales don't balance. It wasn't worth having that huge Sony machine when I would just argue with people all the time."

When Lucky Dog started, the intent was for Sony to have a boutique, alternative sounding type of country where folks like Robison, his brother Bruce (who also left Lucky Dog to release his own songs) and others would fit. There did not seem to be the pressure of needing to rack up big sales or radio hits.

"It started out that way," says Robison.

But then came "Life of the Party," which sold far more than expected at more than 100,000 units and had a single, "Barlight," on the charts for about eight months despite never being a hit.

"With that came now Sony is always going to be (pushing) a story about something (regarding me)," he says. "It can't be just the music. 'Okay, from out of nowhere, this indie guy is the next big thing'. They moved me to Columbia and then (told me) we need hits. You can still be artistic, and we still need three or four songs off the record we can push to country radio. I had a couple of singles that did pretty well, and then I was on these package tours with Billy Ray Cyrus and people like that. That's not what I had in mind."

"People are always looking for the major label and wanting to be on big tours, and I was just on the opposite. I wanted to go back to playing theatres and big clubs and playing my own shows."

As for touring with Cyrus, "that didn't last very long. I did a long time with Travis Tritt. He's looked at one of the cooler (artists), and he's a great guy. Other than the audience knowing the two songs from radio, (with) my other songs, you could see their jaws dropping. It definitely wasn't the right crowd to be in front of. I'm not a singles driven artist."

A fortuitous mistake by Sony enabled him to leave the label. When a new label head came on, apparently the label neglected to exercise its option at retaining Robison.

And Robison was quite happy to be a free agent. "I was trying to find some way to get out of there," he says.

"I really had a really good time for the most part," Robison says of his stint with Sony. "It wasn't anything personal like that. Sometimes in your life, it's time to move on."

Next stop was Dualtone.

"I wanted to be able to pick (my next label). I financed my record myself. I kind of listened to different people - their sales pitch. A lot of people wanted the record. Dualtone had the experience of getting stuff on the country chart. They had experience with AAA. That's the best of both worlds. Most boutique labels they're either very good at AAA or country or Americana. They had a handle because of everybody who had worked there. I felt like it would be the best."

Robison didn't bother trying to go the self-released route. "That's too much work. I had a ranch to run."

Ranching has been part of the Robison family in Texas since the 1840's. Robison lives with wife Emily and son Gus outside of San Antonio right next to his father's ranch Between the two, they have a 2,000-acre ranch of cattle, quarter horses and round bales of hay.

For Robison, the ranch is a welcome diversion from music.

"I definitely couldn't do one without the other. They're very symbiotic for me. I really get a lot of inspiration to ranch from music and to do music from ranching. The two things are so far apart, there's really not a bleedover. When you're working the ranch, you're not really thinking about music."

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