Robin Trower Interview / “Trying to improve all the time, that’s the goal”

Robin Trower has just released his 27th album, No More Worlds To Conquer. A guitarist whose career began in the mid-1960s, he spent five years with Procol Harum before moving on to form The Robin Trower Band and then his own solo albums. He’s worked with a host of high-quality musicians, and his latest album ranks amongst his best work.

Metal Talk’s Paul Hutchings caught a quick 30 minutes with the man whose Fender and Marshall combo have been delivering the goods for six decades.

Robin is doing well, and with some fantastic reviews coming in on No More Worlds To Conquer, it’s great to hear that he still takes pride in receiving positive reviews of his work. “The reception has been good,” Robin says. “It’s important to have the reviews, especially not going out on the road, you don’t get to meet people you know, and you can get a good feel for what the general feeling is about the album.”

With 27 albums now completed, what drives Robin to still write new music and continue on this musical journey? “I think the main thing is that I love to play guitar,” he says, “so I pick up the guitar to play every day, and from those ideas will come. It keeps moving forward all the time, always new material, and once you’ve got new material, you want to get in the studio and put it down.”

Inevitably, the pandemic has impacted Robin like every other musician. Even with his experience, the last two years have not been something that Robin has ever experienced. He is measured in his response. “It’s a bit of a blow not to be able to go out and perform live,” Robin says, “because, you know, that’s the other thing that I love to do.

“Obviously, we get to play guitar for a couple of hours, and that is great fun, so that’s been difficult. But on the other side, I’ve had more time to work on new material and finish that album that’s out now. I’m halfway through recording a new album at the moment, so I’ve got plenty of material.”

It’s been three years since Robin last played live, which was when he had just released Coming Closer To The Day. So when he does finally get out on the road, he’s got not one but two albums worth of material to promote. “Yeah, that would be the hard choice,” he says, “because you can’t play too much new material”.

Sandwiched in between the two releases, Trower also collaborated with Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown for United State Of Mind. Robin doesn’t think that this will feature on the setlist, though. “I think it’s too different from what I do live, really, but I’m glad you like it.”

Robin Trower
Robin Trower: “I gave up smoking a long time ago.” Photo: Rob Blackham

He is still in excellent shape, so what keeps Robin Trower in 2022 fit enough to keep performing. He’s quite honest about it. “Seems a lot of it is the genes that you’re born with,” he says. “I gave up smoking a long time ago. The last 20 years or so, it’s been no alcohol, no tobacco, no drugs, a sensible diet, a little bit of exercise and a lot of prayer.”

The way we access music has changed dramatically since those days when Robin first heard the likes of James Brown and Elvis Presley. “It was the radio in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Robin says of those early listening days. “But when I was young, I’d say about nine, ten or 11, my older brother used to bring records home, and I got exposed to a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll early. From listening to those records, Elvis’s guitar player stood out.

“Then, when I was maybe 16 or 17, in the group that used to hang out together, there was a friend who used to import 45s from the US, so we got to hear some stuff that wouldn’t have been available in Britain. And then I’d hunt down other music by the artists I liked, such as James Brown.”

Although Robin is renowned as a guitarist, he can also sing very well. Was it the guitar that captured the imagination first? “I think I’m just as mad about singers,” he says. “That’s why I say James Brown, yeah, so singers as well, but the main guitar players were BB King, Albert Lee and Hendrix, they set the standard, and that’s something I’m always trying for.”

Robin has described his playing on the new album as some of the best for many years. He also had the opportunity to live with the album for some time. “It was an album that was finished and was going to come out in the spring of the pandemic,” he says.

“By that time, I was already working on a lot of new material for another album. So, it was put on the shelf for a while and then I listened to it again and decided that I could improve on it. I dropped four songs and put in some new ones that I had written. I also redid a lot of the lead work on the stuff that already existed, so I felt like it was upgrading it all around.”

Trower describes the opportunity to live with the record and then edit it as a once in a lifetime thing, really. “Usually, we produce the album, and that’s the end of it, really.”

It’s interesting that Robin added new songs after originally completing the album. “Trying to improve all the time, that’s the goal,” he says. “Trying to get it to be the best you can be.”

The personnel on the album are all seasoned Trower musicians, with Chris Taggart once again solid on drums and Richard Watts adding vocals. He’s a great fit for the songs. “He’s been playing bass and vocals live with me for seven or eight years now,” Robin says. “I’ve known him a long time. And I play bass on seven or eight of the songs, and we got Livingston Brown to play on three.”

Videos of Robin on social media made the creation of the album look very organic. Robin explains that he usually builds his music with computer drum patterns, adding guitar and then a guide vocal. On this album, he did the bass as well, which added to the strength of the songs.

“There are a couple of tracks where Chris and I put down the guitar and drums together,” he says. “The Razor’s Edge was one of them. I think we played in the room together, but usually, I do it as I said, and that’s the way I’ve been working now for three or four albums. But part of the real effort is to do what you can to recreate the feeling of a live performance, so the performance is key, even though we’re not actually all playing together. I think having myself on bass as well I, I think that helps.”

No More Worlds To Conquer has some interesting lyrical themes, and Robin is surprisingly honest about his lyrics. “You know, I don’t really know where the ideas for the lyrics come from. I think it’s just one of those things that’s part of the creative process. I do take a little time on lyrics. I do get the guitar part and the top line vocal part quickly, usually, and then the lyrics could take three days nonstop working.

“But a lot of that is tightening up the detail of it. For instance, the song No More Worlds To Conquer came from a documentary I saw about Alexander the Great, so you get inspiration from all places.”

Robin is unsurprisingly cited as an influence by hundreds of guitarists over the last many years, but does he keep abreast of the new talent that is around today? Again, he’s candid and honest.

“No, I can’t say that I do,” he says. “I know that there are a lot of great musicians out there, but their music isn’t my cup of tea. The music must be something special. Once you’ve seen someone like Albert Lee, who, by the way, is the best example I’ve ever seen in my life, then if I want to listen to someone, then I’m gonna put them on.”

It wouldn’t be an interview with Robin without a mention of Bridge Of Sighs, and in the same week that his new album was released, Ann Wilson [Heart] brought out her new record, Fierce Bliss, which features a version of Bridge Of Sighs.

Was Robin aware of it? “I haven’t heard it, but somebody told me that that it was on there,” he says. “Somebody sent me a copy of Steve Lukather’s version from his last album. That was very good, I thought. The thing is, it’s a very good song.”

As a final question, what is next for Robin? A tour? “I think it’s too soon to think about it at the moment,” he says, “I mean, I’d love to get out and play live again before it’s too late. I’m very happy to be, working on this new album. That’s taking my attention for now.”

We can but hope that Robin is able to get back on stage soon. His music deserves to be heard in the live arena. In the meantime, we can enjoy No More Worlds To Conquer, one of his best albums and one that should really be appreciated.

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