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A Conversation With Bruce and Charlie Robison
by Rayanna Barker
February 9, 2002

Bruce and Charlie Robison
Bruce and Charlie Robison

Rayanna Barker: So, is the tour going well so far?

Charlie Robison: Yes. It's great.

Rayanna: Has the turnout been good?

Charlie: Every show has been sold out. We're talking about doing more since the turnout has been so great.

Rayanna: Have you had to add any extra dates to the tour to accommodate the demand?

Charlie: Well, the Houston date. We had two shows here. We added on a second night of two shows here, because they sold out so fast. We were going to do it in some other places, but couldn't. We'll probably go back and do them in a month or so.

Rayanna: How long have you two been out on this tour?

Bruce Robison: About 5 days? Something like that. It's a really short thing. We're only doing 6 cities in 7 days or something like that. It's just a little short run. Charlie is going back out on the road with his band, and I'll go home and write some more songs.

Rayanna: (to Bruce) Have you been touring much, or have you been staying around home?

Bruce: A little. I put a record out in September and I've done a few trips, but I don't really travel much.

Rayanna: So you and Kelly (Willis, Bruce's wife) have to split up time on who can travel?

Bruce: Well, neither one of us really travel right now.

Rayanna: Trying to spend time with the baby?

Bruce: Yeah, we're trying to enjoy this time before he gets into too much trouble.

Rayanna: (to Charlie) Is it difficult to keep your ranch up when you're out on the road so much?

Charlie: Yeah, it very much is. But there is something about my nature where if I'm not playing catch up, I'm not really happy. If everything is done, and all my ducks are in row, I just go nuts. I like to stay overly busy; it's part of my personality. But yeah, it is hard to keep everything going. I was on the phone half of today trying to take care of ranch stuff, so it takes time, but I love it.

Rayanna: So does Emily (Robison, Charlie's wife) hold down to fort when you're out on the road?

Charlie: Yeah, she does. There are certain things she can't do, but she's gotten better at taking care of certain facets, shall we say.

Rayanna: Have you guys had any guests play with you?

Charlie: Nope. When we first started talking about it, Bruce was talking about learning 2 or 3 songs that other people do, but when we realized how many songs we do that people want to hear, we decided against it. Sure enough, we play an hour and a half set and end up doing two hours and fifteen minutes and still not play all the songs we wanted to get to. So, if guests did show up, it'd be great, but we wouldn't have a lot of time to put in the stuff they do.

Rayanna: Well, I know Kelly sang with Bruce on Country Sunshine, so I didn't know if she was making it to any of the shows.

Bruce: She's been watching the baby when I'm not home. She had a show here on Saturday night, and we had a show, so we got a sitter.

Charlie: I think with most folks, especially with out family, when you get some time to be at home and relax, the last thing you want to do is go out. It also gives him a good excuse to not have to come see us as often, too.

Rayanna: (to Charlie) Your album has been out close to a year now, have you been happy with its progress thus far?

Charlie: It's been out about 8 months, it's been doing great. I'm super happy with it. I just recorded a live album and Bruce and I are talking about recording an album together, possibly in the springtime.

Rayanna: (to Bruce) What about Country Sunshine, I know you released it on your own record label, are you handling distribution and all of that?

Bruce: No, I have a distributor. I have people I work with who help me do everything. Saying you put it out yourself is a little misleading because I do have a lot of people I work with who help out.

Rayanna: Are you planning on releasing any other artists on your label?

Bruce: I'd like to, but that's all in the wishing stages right now. The next step for me is to be doing some producing work for some other acts. Again, that all takes a lot of time. Right now I'm just trying to write new songs while I'm doing everything else. Really, I'm a songwriter first, the other stuff is, I don't want to call it a distraction, but it's not what I make my living at. My bread and butter is my songwriting career.

Rayanna: Do you prefer the songwriting over the performing?

Bruce: Well, I like it all, but I have to do songwriting, because it's the engine that turns everything I do. I wouldn't have a recording career if I hadn't writing the songs, I wouldn't have anything I have now if I hadn't generated the interest in my songs. You know, people didnít come see me and say "He looks like Bruce Springsteen on stage, he's electric." They don't do that. They may say, "I heard he has some pretty good songs." Then they'll say, "He has some pretty good records too." So it all comes from there. I like it too, because it's my lifestyle.

Rayanna: What are each of your influences? You each have a unique twist on songwriting. Charlie, you have a more narrative-like approach, while Bruce, you have a more poetic feel.

Charlie: It's weird to me. We've been right next to each other since we were babies. We had basically the same influences growing up. I think with someone like Jackson Brown, who we were both fans of, he may have leaned a little more towards one way Jackson wrote and I may have swayed a little more to the other way. I think a lot of it has to do with our personalities. Our personalities come out a lot in what we write. Bruce is a lot more subtle and I tend to go for the big, in-your-face themes. We're both very...I don't know how to say it, but I know sometimes I'd like to write more like him and I think sometimes he'd like to write more like me. It's just our personalities coming out.

Rayanna: Honestly, how often do you upset family members with your songs? Like with the Wedding Song, I'd have killed you if you'd written something like that about me.

Charlie: The way we grew up, it was a very, I can't think of a family like it, but the only way you knew if someone liked you was by how much shit they gave you. It's kinda like that. I write about the family and it's a bit more veiled, but Bruce is a little more open. I think most people in our family don't have any idea we write about them. Like 'The Wedding Song,' it was about my little sister's wedding but it was also about some other friends' weddings. A lot of the stories you tell before the songs are just for effect.

Rayanna: When we saw you play at the Satellite, you had Slaid Cleaves open for you and you went on quite a bit about what an influence he was on you.

Charlie: Yeah, his record had just come out at the time and I went out of my way to get my manager to have him open for me there. Sometimes opening for me isn't that easy. People can get very rowdy. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I just hope it helped him out. At this point, I don't think he needs any help. He's doing really well.

Rayanna: Who are some of your peers in this area that you enjoy a great deal and draw inspiration from?

Charlie: The guys we have been lucky enough to become friends with, like Doug Sahm, who passed away a few years ago, Guy Clarke, Gary Allan.

Bruce: I think of a really good songwriter from Austin named Davey Brammett. He's someone who is really great. Sadly enough, I don't get to hear enough music these days. That's one of the things I really regret is not being able to hear a lot of the stuff I'd like to hear. I get inspired by different people all the time.

Rayanna: (to Bruce) When people record you songs, do you have any say-so as to who records them?

Bruce: No, not really. Whoever wants to, that's great. You just hope that they're huge stars or that they do a good version of it. I'm thrilled when anyone records my songs. I have people who I work with, who are specifically are out there to get the songs out. That's my living, getting people to record the songs. It really helps to get people with commercial appeal to record them. I figured if I got a lot of smaller stuff over the years I'd get some big songs in my later years, but it's been nice to have something with some commercial success. From Charlie to Lee Ann Womack to Tim McGraw.

Rayanna: Did you get any feedback from Willie Nelson about 'What Would Willie Do?'

Bruce: I have not talked to him about it. I have dinner with him right after Gary Allan had cut it, and I started to bring it up, but chickened out. I haven't talked to him about it. Hopefully, if he even care about it, he doesn't dislike it.

Rayanna: When did you two decide to start playing music?

Charlie: We had a neighbor of ours who played guitar in junior high. He was a really good guitar player, he was probably 12, he started playing real young. Him and Bruce were best friends and he'd spend the night and Bruce decided to start playing. He was about 12 or 13 and he talked my dad into getting him a bass. So he started a band and needed a drummer, so I got my grandmother to buy me a set of drums. It was always like that with us. It was back and forth like that from then on. He'd do something I thought was cool, so I'd follow it, and I'd do something he thought was cool and he'd follow it. I don't think without the other one that either of us would be doing what we're doing now.

Bruce: I think that too. We were having a great time and accomplishing a lot of great things as a family. It makes you go out and see everything that is possible and get inspired and get challenged. I look back and think that I didn't know how we accomplished everything.

Rayanna: I know both of you went to college on sports scholarships, do either of you regret not having sports careers?

Bruce: I was never into it.

Charlie: No, I still have problems with my knees and stuff like that because of it. I played college football for two years and couldn't imagine how bad it'd have been if I had gone any further. I kinda wish that I had given this my full attention then, because I'd be able to walk a little easier than I do now.

Bruce: When I was playing college basketball, I was sitting on the edge of my bed playing guitar. I can still remember the coach telling me at one point, "What are you doing? You don't want to do this." I hadn't admitted that to myself, but when I looked around I saw the other guys were living and breathing playing basketball. There was a time when I did that, but not since high school had I felt that way. I realized in that moment that I wasn't really into it anymore.

Rayanna: I thought it was interesting that both of you went to college to play sports and ended up here.

Charlie: Well, the thing about Bandera is that there are limited opportunities. Not a lot of people got a chance to go to college, so when someone said, "Here's a scholarship," whether you wanted it or not, you felt obligated to take it. It was that way for the both of us.

Bruce: Our father was a coach, so we always played sports. So, in hindsight, it was the only avenue open. I don't know if I ever really liked it. I don't know if I may have been doing it for lack of a better idea. It wasn't like at 18 years old I thought I was going to grow up and be a songwriter. People from Bandera didn't do that kind of thing. Those people were from another planet in my estimation, so it took a long time before I thought about that.

Rayanna: Well, you two definitely put Bandera on the map.

Charlie: Yeah, it did need a lot of help.

Bruce: Charlie is an ambassador, what a royal or imperial ambassador? His highness, the ambassador of goodwill. I donít know if you need to call him sir or what.

Charlie: I left my scepter back at the hotel.

Rayanna: Your songs deal with a lot of working people problems rather than just love sick banter, like most country now days, how much of an impact did growing up in Bandera have on that?

Charlie: My wife, when she moved to Bandera, was like "Now I know where all these people in your songs came from." It's not a normal small town. It was like the Las Vegas of Texas for a long time, there were so many honky tonks and rodeos around there that people came from all over. And then in the mid-60s it all died out, but all the characters were left there and they procreated, and their kids are characters, so it became a country Twin Peaks or something. It's a very odd place.

Rayanna: 'I Want You Bad' was an old rock n' roll song, was it something you've always wanted to do, to make older songs into newer country tunes?

Charlie: Yeah, I'm not really anti-Nashville, but I never really write that much commercial, I write more character driven songs. When I need something for mainstream radio, I got through those songs and find some old songs that I can use. It's a good time to add another flavor. There are plenty of people doing your cookie cutter-Nashville songs, so I'd rather do a song that Bruce has written that has more substance or a song that I think will spice up radio a bit. I don't really like doing the same old thing.

Bruce: Like with the people we grew up listening to, like Willie Nelson was a big influence on me, and he always played other people's songs. He is what I consider to be one of the greatest American songwriters in history, in my opinion. Here is a guy who did a lot of great country songs and was a person who liked all types of music. I know as a songwriter I won't say, "I can only play my songs." There are many great songs writers out there and it's always fun to play something, change it up, and make it your own.

Rayanna Barker is a contributing writer. Contact her at rayanna@rockzone.com.

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