JR Robinson is an interesting dude. His band Wrekmeister Harmonies has seen guest appearances from just about everyone, from The Body to Godspeed! You Black Emperor. This band has broken all the rules and created something that makes you qustion what muic even is. But guess what? It’s glorious. Resplendent in tattoos, long hair and a beard that swallows most of his face, JR even looks like you would want him to. This is a dude who is changing the future of rock and roll, and he was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about everything from his upcoming material to Primo Levi.
So how has the road been treating you?
So far so good man. Some interesting times with tire blowouts. That was time consuming.
How does it feel to cross the nation in five days?
This is my third time since November. Esther and I moved to Astoria, Oregon from Chicago around then. Then immediately after we went all the way back on a tour with Bell Witch. Now we’re driving even further. You just get used to it. Everyone gets along really well. I don’t mind driving. It’s fun.
Part of the appeal of Wrekmeister is that it sounds so different; what kind of musical background do you have?
I never had any sort of musical training, everything I picked up on was just through my own research and discovering things on my own and trying to keep an open mind. One of my least favorite questions is “What’s your favorite band?” That’s inanswerable. There’s no type of music that I’ve come across that I can’t enjoy some aspect of. Some people can’t listen to specific genres, but I’ve never had that issue and I feel blessed. All of that is available and there, and if you just spend some time you can discover things and pick and choose. I’m not a rapper or anything like that, but I can appreciate production values and I can appreciate construction of tracks which is great. With classical music I can appreciate the absolute bombast. As far as free jazz or something – it’s so fucking out there and mind expanding, like, “Where are you going with this?” Pick a genre and we can talk about it!
How do you distill all of those influences into what you do?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing, but it definitely happens. The end result is a product of all these influences. I can’t give you a formula, it’s just a combination of many different facets of things from what I’m reading or researching at that particular time. You’ll be listening to a certain piece of music that makes you feel a certain way and you keep going back to it to recapture that feeling. That’s the closest I can get to distilling it.
What’s fascinated me about Wrekmeister is that you always have a ton of guests. Why?
I like to think that I want to get the best possible people to help me communicate my idea, and I’m fortunate to have access to so many people all over the world who are willing to take the time to listen to what I’m up to and work with me. Generally it’s well received. I can’t tell you why these people want to work with me, but they do. I’m not the best guitar player in the world, but I know some great guitar players. I’m not a really great drummer but I know a bunch of great drummers. I can’t play violin or synths really well, but I know people who do. I am able to communicate with them, and it ends up working out.
So it’s almost a God given thing?
I don’t know if it’s God given, I have a tough time with that. But it’s something like that. I’m only a capable musician, I’m just good at getting people wanting to take part. Like Bell Witch. I love their shit. I’m just so happy that they wanted to be my backing band and go on the road. I just recorded an album with some of the guys from Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and the fact that they are into collaborating blew me away. Can I tell you why people agree to work with me? I can’t. I’m just as shocked as anybody when people say they would be glad to play. It’s kind of cool, but I don’t know. People have asked me that before, I don’t know why they say yes, they must like the idea.
What’s it like working with band as legendary as Godspeed! You Black Emperor?
So good. They were really easy going, accommodating and pleasant. Their work ethic is insanely high. That’s good because it forces me to bring the best. They elevate everybody around them. They work really fucking hard. They could easily just show up, do some shitty song and leave, but it wasn’t like that at all. They were like, “I know a guy who has a recording studio in the middle of the woods in Quebec!” so they schlepped out a bunch of gear in a truck and spent a week with me on it. I was blown away. I thought we would maybe go to a studio in Montreal for maybe a day or two. They were wholeheartedly embracing what we were working on.
Obviously they are on a much higher level… is that still going to be sold as a Wrekmeister record?
Yeah! It’s not all the Godspeed guys, it’s three of them. It was Sophie Trudeau, Tim Herzog and Thierry Amar.
Is there any chance of you guys touring together?
That’s the plan! The record comes out in September, and then we will be doing some touring. That’s another thing – the fact that they are into touring. I feel pretty good!
You mentioned that a lot of your music comes from what you are researching and studying. What were you researching and studying during the recording of the record with Godspeed?
I was reading a lot of stuff by Primo Levi. I was reading that and it was just blowing my mind with this idea of how brutally inhumane people can be towards other people and the coldness and the alienation that is a part of that process of canceling out another race. What’s the mindset behind that? Like, I’m looking at you and you’re looking at me and you have to dehumanize me. What is that? What are the repercussions, mental health wise? That was the material I was working off of.
The nihilism in Levi is just brutal…
The interesting thing about Levi is that he doesn’t hold any hatred. It’s almost like he steps back and looks at it as a science. He was a chemist first. It’s like he is looking for the scientific rationale behind it and looking at it as a more universal thing. This hatred can clearly dominate your life, but that’s not where he went with any of that. As far as I can tell it’s more about trying to understand that. All of his work seemed to be trying to reconcile what happened and then realizing that there is no reconciliation. It was a complete aberration and the world spun out of control and there is no understanding.
Do you think in light of recent events we might be facing a similar crisis?
I think that, and I’m going to be careful how I word this… (hesitates) fundamentalist religion, be it Christian evangelicals, radical Muslims, hardcore Judaism, any religion, they’re all based on fables. Now it’s just gotten to the point where they are trying to annihilate each other in the name of God. But I don’t believe in God. I can’t get behind the people saying “You’re evil I need to cancel you out.” I can’t get behind any of that shit, it doesn’t make sense to me. When you’re driving through the country and see billboards saying “Jesus Will Save You” it’s like, I get it, they are good stories and have endured a long time. But to me, at a certain point we are going to have to grow beyond this and realize there is no God, there is no judgment system. It doesn’t happen. The only thing that we know is that we don’t know a lot. We barely understand our own universe. The only thing that we know is that there is so much out there that we don’t know. To sit here and think that there is some sort of God that makes decisions that affect you, I can’t get into that.
Are you a nihilist?
I’m not a nihilist. No one loves living more than me. It’s great. I’m maybe an atheist. I think that would be the only word that could describe me. I don’t think being an atheist is a bad thing. I just can’t accept any sort of structure or theism. I’m curious to see what that would be like.
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