Friday, November 3, 2017

A Conversation with Robin Borneman

While millions of Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans know Dutch singer Robin Borneman from his naturally flowing curls and his gravelly voice on "Forget About the Blame" (from TSO's most recent album), there is another side to Robin where his creativity is bursting in the form of stories, songs, videos and more.  Since 2013, Borneman has spent two months of every year touring the eastern half of the USA with the Christmas spectacle that is TSO.  The rest of the year? Robin spends that writing, recording, and performing his own amazing solo releases.  In October of this year, Borneman released the stunning new album that constitutes the second in his Folklore trilogy: Folklore 2 - The Phantom Wail.  In between his Album Release Concert and his preparations for the 2017 TSO tour, I caught up with him to discuss the Folklore triumvirat, his work with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, his love of crows, and much more.

Dan Roth: · Robin, I want to start by asking about your musical background growing up in the Netherlands – or is it Holland?

Robin Borneman: Well, we say both here. They mean something different if you dive into the history but nowadays we use either.
Photo Courtesy of  Jos van den Broek

DR:  Got it. But you're Dutch.

RB:  I am very, very Dutch.  [Laughs] They call me the "Dutchie" on the TSO tour.  [Laughs]

DR:  Growing up, was there ever a significant moment or event that spurred you down the musical path? An album or artist perhaps?

RB:  There were a couple of influences but the one thing that stands out the most is Jesus Christ Superstar. That was probably my first encounter with music.  My mom used to play it a lot and I remember singing along with it even though I didn't know what it meant back then or what they were singing about. The theatrical aspect of it became a major influence on how I sing.  It also inspired the drama and the spiritual subjects that I sing about today.

DR:  The guitar is your instrument of choice.  What made you gravitate towards the guitar?

RB:  I got a guitar for Christmas one year when I was very young and never really used it.  When I was 15 years old or so, I discovered Nirvana, Metallica and other bands that were starting to appeal to me. From that point, I picked the guitar back up and started imitating my heroes.

DR:  Can you tell me some of the artists that have helped shape and influence your solo work?  I find it difficult to describe or easily categorize your music to others. There is some folk in there but so much more - blues, rock, country - but all identifiable as you.

RB:  Thanks, Dan. That is a compliment to me.  My booking agent often has the same problem and doesn't know what to do with me for that same reason.  I just do whatever it is I want to do. For example, if I end up creating a blues song, then it is a blues song. If I like it, it will be on the album.

Over the years, there have been artists like Genesis and Dire Straits - bands that my Dad was listening to that influenced me before I was really aware.  But once I became more aware and picked out my own artists, it was definitely Tom Waits who really became my idol. He is the one who taught me that it is OK to be crazy in music, do whatever I wanted to do and not be bound to a single genre. He really became a role model rebel to me. Even today, what he does can be so weird but at the same time, so poetic.

DR:  I have four of your studio albums and, while they are musically diverse, each one really tells such deep stories. Can you tell me about your songwriting process?

RB:  I like to write from my emotional side and it's always different.  Sometimes it will start with a single chord that I find on my guitar. Sometimes I find a melody and if it inspires me, then the lyrics just come out.  It is hard to explain. I wish I had a formula but it really comes from me just sitting on the couch, thinking about nothing and playing. If it is an interesting idea to me, I immediately know what the song is going to be like. If there is going to be a violin in it or a saxophone, all of those ideas just become obvious to me.  I know this sounds like some sort of magical process, but it is the only thing in life that I don't know how it works.

DR:  You recently posted the comment, “Songs just seem to come pouring out of me, it's actually quite ridiculous

RB:  [Laughs]  Yeah!  I know that may sound arrogant, but I did not mean it that way.  I just am able to write so easily. I often have a hundred songs in my head and there are times that I don't want to touch my guitar because I don't want to write another song.  [Laughs]  

DR:  Do you have a go-to guitar of choice?  Or do you play from a variety of them?

RB:  I play different ones, but there is my Gibson J-50 from 1959, which is my baby.  When I got off the first tour I did with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I gave myself the one gift of buying the one guitar that I always wanted. I went to the store and played hundreds of guitars, but came home with this one.  I am twice the guitar player than I would have been if not for this Gibson Acoustic.

DR:  You have released several solo albums now, leading up to the Folklore trilogy.  When did you start writing and recording?

RB:  Right when I first started playing guitar. I had already been writing lyrics - they were just poems. I started writing songs right away.  I never learned to play covers or figure things out from other players, which is something that I should have done. I really just started to write. I had so many lyrics already so it was obvious to me that I would put them to music.  The very first songs that I wrote are very similar to what I write today, actually. They were really the same melancholic, heavy style with the same elements of loneliness that I still use in my music today.  Hopefully the newer songs are better. [Laughs] 

DR:  We've talked a lot so far about your solo work.  I wanted to briefly touch on the band that you were in - Dearworld.  That seems light years from where you are at musically.

RB: Dearworld was an electro-rock sort of thing that became more electronic along the way.  I was 22 and started this band with my best friends. We would go to parties and see DJs turning knobs and we would think, "We could do that but use real instruments".  That's how it started and the radio picked us up.  Within a year or two, we had a full schedule of shows. The live shows were the best time; I was dancing around and it was a great way to express all of this energy in a very beautiful way.  The audiences were insane! I love to jump around on stage and be crazy and that is something I miss when performing my own music.

Dearworld was a lot of fun and lasted about six years. All during that period I was also writing and releasing my own music. When I started writing Folklore it became obvious to me that I was going to have to give up Dearworld.  My own music has always been closer to me than anything else.

DR:  Let's talk about that Folklore trilogy.  Being that it’s a trilogy of albums, do you already have the entire story mapped out or written out?

RB:  I do. The reason I wanted to do a trilogy is because I have so many songs and they all fit together in this one storyline. This is also something that I always had wanted to do.  I remember when I was 16 years old telling my buddies that someday I wanted to make a movie without images, like a radio play. When I started to write down the story and the songs, I realized that this is going to be way too long for a single album. No one wants to hear a double album from an unknown artist! [Laughs] I was also influenced by the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies.  I love those movies - they are like my Bible. So in the end I decided that it would be a trilogy.  When I first began working on this, I did not realize how much work it was going to be.  So far, it has been five years and when I finish with the last part, it will have been seven years of writing and recording.  It is fun, but a little ambitious. [Laughs]

DR:  The story itself seems to revolve around a man referred to only as "Ranger” and he is clearly on a lonely journey searching for something. What is he looking for? His reason for being? A spiritual path?

RB:  To me, it is a spiritual path - something that we all do in life. In the first part, he is losing his memory and his name, which is his identity really.  He then has to undergo all of these tests throughout the first two parts, but all done very metaphorically.  By the end of Part 2, he has regained or earned back his name.  In the end - and this is SPOILER ALERT [Laughs] - when we come to Part 3 the main realization will be that all that time he was looking for something but it really wasn't about that. It is really about "the road" itself, which is what we do. Part 3 will be more warm and about family and coming home.

DR:  Where are these stories coming from? Is any of it pulled from your own experiences? Are any of these songs autobiographical at all?

RB:  I got this question not long ago and it has been keeping me busy because my first answer was, "No, it's not autobiographical because it's a fantasy story". But, if I really think about it, it is really how I perceive life.  So, in a way it is autobiographical. I hardly ever use names of people that I know in my lyrics, so to me, the character Muriel is not a particular person that was in my life, but more a metaphor for love in general. That's how I usually write.  Everything I do in life finds its way into my songs, but in more of a helicopter-view kind of way.

DR: The listener first learns of Muriel in the title track "The Waving Days" where he is thinking of her and wishing he could love her more.  And then she gets her own song later in the album.

RB:  Around the time I started recording Folklore 1 The Waving Days, I had a girlfriend.  I broke up with her because I felt I needed to be alone to get into the story.  When I wrote and recorded Muriel, I was thinking about her.  She was the kind of girl that kept me grounded and when I lost her, Muriel became that person that would call for you when you are in dire need. She really became this sort of guiding angel kind of character.

DR:  There are a number of songs on these albums where he is questioning his faith – particularly on Folklore 2.  For example, in "The Crossroads", you write about the angels leading him astray and the Lord is not his God. In "O Faithful World", you seem to speak to the impact religion has on him, hopeless days and kneeling before "the Lord of None".  Where is this coming from?  Are you a religious person?

RB:  I am not a religious person but I am a very spiritual person. To me, spirituality and religion are two different things. The reason I write a lot about religion is because to me, religion to a lot of people is what spirituality is to me.  It's a way to translate my own experiences into something they are familiar with.  The reason religion is often criticized in my lyrics is because I look at religion as the hijacked version of spirituality. Spirituality does not require a person to kneel before anyone or get their morality from a book.  I'm not against religion but I feel like there is a missed opportunity for humanity here.

DR:  The first part of the trilogy is subtitled “The Waving Days” – I had never heard that phrase before. Can you describe what The Waving Days are?

RB:  When I think about The Waving Days in combination with the story and the Autumn-kind of vibe to the story, I see days waving by like leaves on a tree. Days are waving by as you live and grow older and those days are passing you by. It is a very sad and lonely kind of image.

DR:  Folklore 1 The Waving Days ends with Ranger journeying across the valley to find the giving Cradle Tree, whose branches will send you home. What does The Cradle Tree represent?

RB:  You are asking a really important question here.  The Cradle Tree is the end goal - it is a fantasy thing I came up with to be a tree in the shape of a hand. This is essentially the Tree of Life - it gives life and also takes it away.

DR:  In between The Waving Days and The Phantom Wail, you released an EP (Caught on Tape) of songs that you cut live in a studio that included songs from both of those albums as well as “Mercy” from your Home album. What led you to you record and release this?

RB: The way I recorded Folklore 1 and 2 was that I basically wrote all of these songs on my own and then recorded in the studio with some of my friends. I then did all of the editing and most of the mixing myself which results in a single person doing all of this work with his timing and his preferences.  I really started to miss the interaction of being in a band and playing together and mistakes that people make that turn out to be beautiful. I told the guys that we should go into the studio on a day and record a couple songs together. I never expected it to come out so, if I may say so, so great.  I am really proud of this. When I was mixing it, I just knew that I wanted to put this out and it became a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be.

DR:  The songs have a bit of a sparser feeling than on their studio albums, but a lot of the elements that made up the atmosphere of those songs were still there in a way.

RB:  I am really happy with how it came out.  It also proved to me that I could capture the soul of the album version with a four-piece band. It's not about the train in the distance or the sound of crows.  These songs have a certain texture or structure that stands.

DR:  You just released the second part of the trilogy, Folklore 2 The Phantom Wail. We first heard that phrase on “Sacred Curse of Change”, the opening song of The Waving Days. You wrote “Upon these lands they rove around the arid fields of corn, Sowing seeds of frozen tears, they’ll cry out once they’re grown, A false cry, A phantom wail dressed in rags and feathers of time”. Tell me about The Phantom Wail and why is it the name of the new album?

RB:  My meaning of The Phantom Wail is fear or evil.  It is the thing that holds us back from becoming who we really are. It can take on many shapes that represent this jealousy or evil.  In that particular poem, I look at it as some sort of a ghost. It's there and can be in the same room as you without you realizing that it's there. The reason why I chose the word "wail" is because it is like a cry that you don't want to hear because it is hurting you.  This was a very strong image that I had and felt that it was appropriate to make the title of the second part.

DR:  Folklore 2 feels more intense at times than the first part, particularly with songs like "O Faithful World", "The Crossroads" and "The Reckoning". Was this intentional to rock out a bit more or because the subject matter of this release is dealing more about such malevolent subjects?

RB:  It was intentional. The first part is more adventurous and I am trying out certain things. The second part was always going to be the loudest and the darkest, particularly as the themes on this album are more aggressive.

DR:  You created two music videos so far for this album.

RB:  Yes!  When I was editing the Caught on Tape videos, I just started to learn Adobe Premier, which I picked up pretty easily because of my graphic design background. Doing those live videos really inspired me to think about creating my own music videos. When I had an idea for "O Faithful World", I sat down with a photographer friend of mine, Ruud van de Wiel, and we just started shooting some shots and next thing I knew, music video number one was finished and that inspired me to make another.  The second one was much more ambitious.  I really like making these videos.  It helps unlock the same creative box that making music does.  I have the same sort of obsession when making these videos that I do when working on a song.  I really like doing it!

DR:  Was there a reason you picked those two particular songs to create videos for?

RB:  "O Faithful World" was a no-brainer because it's one of the few songs of mine that just takes off from the beginning.  Most of my songs start slow and build up and I liked the idea of doing something with this song.  I never thought I would make a video for "The Reckoning" just because it is so long. Once we sat down and started shooting though, we kept on having so many more ideas and we wound up shooting more than we needed.  It's funny, I am so proud of it but it came out so weird and there is so much of me in it; I can't look at it myself. [Laughs]  I had a good group of people that helped give me honest feedback when we were making it though because I couldn't keep looking at myself. [Laughs]  I don't even like to put myself on the album covers because I feel like it's more about the story and not about me so this was really scary but really fun at the same time.

DR: In "The Reckoning", there is a turning point and a voice asks him where he will go now

RB:  "The Reckoning", for me,  is a game changing moment for the Ranger. He learns that it is OK to let out your dark side.  He realizes that he is not that dark person and that it doesn't make you a devil because you have a dark side.  That voice he hears that asks him where he will go could be Muriel,; it could be a voice that is always with him and it calls him home in a way.

DR:  This album, like the previous, is really filled such such despair on his journey, but this album ends with two songs – “Dawn” and “Found”, which seem to be stories filled with hope – is the Ranger finding what he seeks?

RB:  That's the moment where he reclaims his name.  In this case, his name is a metaphor for his identity. "Found" is the last part where he is coming out of a really dark world that he was in.  Since Folklore 2 is so dark, I didn't want to end it with "The Reckoning" - I wanted there to be a bridge to the Part 3.

DR:  Musically, both of these albums are such a rich soundscape with the various ambient sounds that go along with the music, which really helps draw the listener in to the experience and the story. We didn't hear this on your previous albums - do you enjoy adding in that aspect of the piece?

RB:  I love doing that!  I might even love that more than adding actual instruments in.  [Laughs]  When I start off, I put my headphones on and it is just so silent!  I instantly want to add the sound of waves or wind or just experiment with the atmosphere.  I could listen to the sounds of rolling waves or the sound of crows for hours.  That's the way I like to dress up my songs.

DR:  There is a wide array of musicians on these albums.  Did you recruit them especially for this project?

RB:  I met my co-producer and drummer, Wouter Bude, when we were doing the Dearworld album.  I called on a lot of my friends who are musicians and can play much better than I do to play on the album also. For this album, the guitar player Roman Huijbreghs who is also in my band, really helped come up with a lot of the great guitar parts you hear.
Robin Borneman  Nijmegen, Netherlands  October 2017
Photo Courtesy of Rob Jansen/3voor12

DR:  You yourself are not listed in the liner notes other than writing and producing.  Do you also play guitar on the album?

RB:  Yeah.  I play acoustic and some of the electric parts, like the solo on "Talisman". And you know that third part in "The Reckoning", the solo with the feedback?  That's actually me and I am so proud of that!  But it felt so pointless to credit myself.  I don't mind not crediting myself.

DR:  I do see another Borneman listed in the credits - Mary?

RB:  She's my mom!  She plays accordion on both Folklore albums.  I asked her to come to my home studio and she recorded her parts and it was so much fun!  It is so great to have her on my albums.  I am really proud of her.

DR:  I understand Dustin Brayley helped with lyric translation on Folklore 2.

RB:  Yeah.  I am not a native speaker and often my lyrics are very poetic.  Sometimes I am not sure if they are correct so I always have someone check my lyrics and grammar before recording.  In this case, it was my good friend Dustin.

DR:  I wanted to ask about the cover art.  For both Folklore albums, the artwork is so striking and matches the mood of the albums.

RB:  Barbara Florczyk in Poland designed those.  For the first one, I was on my computer looking for pictures of trees and saw this picture, which became the cover of Folklore 1 and I immediately knew I wanted that to be on the cover of the album.  I reached out to her and we worked out a deal for the rights for me to use it as the cover.  Because I was so happy with the first one, I asked her to create the cover for the second one and I am so happy with how it came out. She will be creating the cover for the third one also.

DR:  What is the significance of the crow that is on in the trees on those covers?  There is also a crow on the back cover of your Home album and there is mention of crows in your lyrics.

RB:  Crows are my favorite bird.  They are so intelligent and are always around. They are just so dark and they really interest me.  In Folklore, the crow is what is leading you astray.

DR:  Let's shift gears a bit and talk about your involvement with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  You have been singing with them since 2013.  I understand it was a Tom Waits cover performance that got you noticed?

Robin With TSO  Uncasville, CT  November 2014
Photo Courtesy of Ken Bowser
RB: Yeah, it was.  It was a very early morning after a full weekend of recording with Dearworld and my voice was just shattered.  I decided to do a Tom Waits cover since my voice was already there and I put it up on YouTube.  About a year later, I got an email from [Talent Coordinator] Danielle Sample saying that she was with TSO and that she wanted me to do an audition for them.  I didn't know anything about them at all but my manager at the time told me to do the audition because he knew who TSO were.

DR:  I understand that they usually ask you to make an audition video first before coming to their studios.  Similar process with you?

RB:  Yes.  My first video was "Christmas Dreams" which was a hard one for me because it is a pretty intense song. After that, I got "Believe" - they sent me the TSO version with Tim Hockenberry on vocals.  I remember just being mesmerized by it and I asked them if I could do a guitar version of the song.  I really got familiar with the song and came up with my own version of it.  This is apparently what Paul heard that got me to the audition in Florida.

DR:  Had you been in the USA before?

RB:  No! This was the scariest day of my life.  [Laughs] This was my first time in the United States.  My first time meeting Paul O'Neill, Al Pitrelli, Derek Wieland, and Dave Wittman.    I had made a decision leading up to my trip not to find out anything about whom I was going to meet.  I didn't want to know anything about who Al Pitrelli was or who Paul O'Neill was - I was nervous enough already.  So, I got to the studio ready to focus on the songs, ready to do my best and ready to focus on what they expected me to do.   The way Paul worked was very fast - he would go from left to right, then he tells you a story and wants you to do it again but from a completely different angle.  I thought I was doing it all wrong. As the day went by, my confidence was gone and I was certain that I would not be hired.  Finally, Paul pulled me aside and told me that he was completely blown away and that he wanted me to be part of the tour. It was such a weird day but great at the same time.

DR: Performing on the TSO stage can involve lots of stage movement – running around that gigantic stage, interacting with other performers, swinging the hair of course and engaging with the audience. None of which you do during your solo live performances.  [Laughs]

RB:  [Laughs]

DR:  Was all of that stage presence and energy difficult to learn? Did it come naturally?  Or did it harken back to your Dearworld days?

RB:  Oh yeah!  If not for Dearworld, I would not have been able to pull that off.  On the one hand, I feel like I am that "poetic ballad" type guy. But I do have a lot of energy and I enjoy running around and jumping and screaming.  When I was doing "Sparks", my Dearworld energy was running through my veins and I was just feeling it.  Doing that song was originally an experiment and after I did it, Paul was like, "OK, you're doing Sparks now" [Laughs]. It was a lot of fun.  I learned so much from singing that song, both as a singer and a performer.

DR:  Was it intimidating being there and performing with such seasoned performers from Broadway and the rock world?

RB:  Hell yeah! Intimidating is really the right word.  As a European kid being in America for the first time, everyone is just so damn confident compared to most Europeans I know. My first two years, I had many moments where I would think, "What am I doing here?!".  The musicians are just on another level.  I was thrown into this pool and was just trying to swim. Everything is so much bigger - the cars, the roads, the distances, the personalities I was dealing with - people like Rob Evan and Russell Allen who I love, don't get me wrong.  But I was just so green.  I wasn't scared and I was confident enough to go out there and sing my songs, but I was just in awe of everything.

DR:  You have sung five different songs on the TSO stage thus far.  We already talked about "Sparks" - I'd like you to comment on the others, starting with "Believe". you mentioned that did that on your audition.  On your first tour with TSO in 2013, you were singing "Sparks", but you were singing "Believe" on the Morning Drive radio appearances that you would do.

RB:  I am not sure why they had me doing that.  It's a great song to sing at those radio appearances though.  I have never sung it in the United States during a Show.  We toured Europe in 2014 and I sang it at those Shows.

DR:  That had to have gone over so well in Europe with Savatage being so appreciated there.

RB:  It was so great. It was so amazing when we played Amsterdam. That was the best day of the year for me. I remember rolling in to the Netherlands with all of the stage trucks and buses just being so damn proud. I was feeling like, "Here I am, this Dutch guy with this amazing band!" [Laughs]  My parents, my bandmates from Dearworld, my girlfriend at the time were all there - it was great.

DR:  Did you get a special introduction that night, being the hometown kid?

RB:  Actually, Al gave me the microphone! [Laughs] I was able to thank the audience in Dutch and the crowd just went crazy.  Just by talking about this now, I can feel the excitement again.

DR:  You sang "Believe" again at the 2015 performance at Wacken where you split the song with Jon Oliva.

RB:  That was one of the best days of my life. We had been rehearsing for two weeks in Florida before we flew to Germany.  The whole thing was such an adrenaline rush. I was so honored to be singing "Believe" with Jon, I was so focused; I did not have much room to fuck up. [Laughs]  When the song started, it was still dark on my side of the stage.  I walked towards the mic while Jon was singing and when I started singing right after the drum break, the lights went on.  I saw this ocean of people all of a sudden out there and I remember thinking "What the fuck!" but I had to really focus on singing the song. It was such a profound experience to do a massive performance like that.  I wish now, when I look at footage, that I would have said something like, "Give it up for Jon Oliva!" but I was just so focused and maybe shy to say anything.

DR:  "Find our Way Home" is a song you have sung the last two years, though you changed outfits - In 2015 you were wearing a standard stage jacket but in 2016 you were wearing a sort of a trenchcoat.
Robin Borneman with TSO   Greensboro, NC  December 2016
Photo Courtesy of Ben Miller

RB:  Well the coat has everything to do with how it feels like it is the closing song. Wearing a winter coat almost is showing like I am ready to leave.  Paul really liked that so we kept it in.  I remember singing it one time when the band was playing it in rehearsals and I just grabbed the mic and started singing it.  Paul came in and stood behind me without me seeing him and when we were done, Paul told me that I would be singing that song! It is such a beautiful song and I can really relate to it. I really connect with this "Ranger", "Storyteller", kind of rider that tells you it's OK to go home now and find your way.

DR:  For the 2014 tour, you sang "Dream Child".  When I interviewed vocalist Bart Shatto - who sang it for the West tour - he told me how you and he rehearsed together side by side in this small studio with Paul, Jon, Al and Danielle.  You and he each had a different interpretation as you alternated takes.

RB:  I really loved performing that.  I actually had that song to learn in my first year because they were thinking of adding it to the set but they wound up leaving it out.  And Bart is right - I would sing it and then he would perform it and back and forth.  I liked Bart's approach and it was really interesting to sort of spar with each other and take certain elements out of his performance and add them to mine.

DR:  The last song I want to ask you about is the one you also recorded for TSO - "Forget About the Blame"

RB:  You know, we never intended to record that song. It was a song that Paul didn't write, but he had it sitting there for a long time. We were just listening to music one day and talking and all of a sudden he pulls it out and he tells me to listen to it and do a take.  I told him to give me an hour and I did a take of it. After he heard it, he told me that he decided to go ahead and record it.  I love that song and am so glad it found its way onto the album.

DR:  Since you were at the studio already, were you there to record something else?

RB:  I was.  Paul had me trying out a few different songs. I remember doing a take of "Not the Same" and doing it an octave lower which gave it sort of a Leonard Cohen kind of vibe to it.

DR:  When you were recording your vocals to "Forget About the Blame", what were you singing to?

RB:  That was the amazing Al Pitrelli, who recorded the whole backing track.  I had told Paul to give me an hour to work on my vocals and Al said, "Give me two hours" and he had the entire thing ready. Al is one of those amazing magicians who can grab a guitar and turn anything into everything.  He has really inspired me over the years.  So in a few hours, they had the whole backing track done. Later on they added the gospels and changed the drums up. It came together really fast.

DR:  For the TSO Shows, the singers learn multiple songs so you can fill in for someone if needed. Have you had to do that yet?
Robin Borneman with TSO  Reading, PA  January 2015
Photo Courtesy of Ben Miller

RB:  I haven't.  But when I have to, I am ready.  My backup songs are mostly Russ' songs, like "Christmas Nights in Blue". I also do "Christmas Dreams".  That's such a fun thing to do - we always sing each other's songs in the dressing rooms; it keeps things really fresh.

DR:  I wanted to get your thoughts on two people that were lost this year - Paul O'Neill and bassist David Z.

RB:  I've just been really sad and I miss them terribly.  They were both such big personalities.  Paul was such a mastermind and a teacher.  And with the way Dave laughed and the way he spoke and the way he was excited about stuff - he was such a big personality.  For someone like them to pass away so suddenly, it leaves such a large hole because of who they were. Whenever I see a picture of David or Paul, it's still just so fresh.  Being over here on the other side of the ocean, it is hard to share my sorrow because not many over here knew them.  I really just miss my friends.

DR: A few weeks back, you held an album release concert for Folklore 2.  When you performed "The Crossroads", I understand you did that on a guitar that Paul had given you?

RB:  That is correct.  I never told anyone about this.  Paul gave me a guitar last year that was built just for me. I have it right here in my hands right now. It was such an amazing gift.  It has a silver plate on the back that says, "To Robin Borneman from Paul O'Neill". This is such a sacred guitar to me and I will always have it with me. That was the first time I had that guitar on stage with me. I wanted to share it with the audience and talk about how he isn't with us anymore. Me standing there that night with that guitar around my neck was such a spiritual moment.

DR:  I just have a couple questions to wrap this up. Because your lyrics are so deep and tell such vivid stories, have you ever considered writing a book?

RB:  I have considered writing a book.  In fact, I have already started writing it. It's something I always wanted to do but right now, I am not patient enough.  To be a writer, you have to be patient because it takes such dedication.  If I am recording music and come up with eight songs, I can release an album. To write a book, you have to commit to the whole thing from top to bottom. I have an idea - it will be a fictional story but it's not fully shaped yet.

DR: What's the most curious record in your collection?

RB:  Ooh, that's a good question.  I am actually now gazing at my record collection.  I think I would have to say The Black Rider by Tom Waits. It is such a weird album but over time, I became so familiar with it.  When I listen to it now, it is so comforting and nostalgic. It is such a strange, avant-garde collection of songs but I really like the craziness of it.

DR:  This year you got to open for Kiefer Sutherland and also follow Eddie Vedder on his bill.  Which was the cooler experience?

RB: The cooler experience was opening for Kiefer Sutherland.  We didn't get to meet Eddie Vedder - that was the same week that his buddy Chris Cornell died and he was pretty unhappy.  The Kiefer Sutherland shows were great because they were close to sold out and I was there on my own. The room was quiet - you could hear a pin drop - but my music was really projecting and I could feel that people really liked it and understood what I was about. And also, Kiefer Sutherland is a really nice guy!

DR:  Robin, thank you for taking the time today and best wishes on the upcoming TSO tour.

RB:  Thank you, Dan! I appreciate you taking your time as well!

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