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[Interview] Robbers On High Street

In advance of Thursday’s show at the Rock and Roll Hotel with openers The City Veins (doors at 8 p.m., buy tickets here!), I spoke with Robbers on High Street lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Ben Trokan about the group’s latest album, Grand Animals, and the band’s penchant for, among other things, choosing cover songs.
I wanted to start off talking about Grand Animals, which came out last year. It seems more varid than your debut record. I felt like your first record had this hurried feeling to it, while this one is more laid back.
Well, that one was recorded a lot more live than this record. I don’t know, with that one we just tried to make the best power pop record we could do with the songs we had. That was the plan. But with this one, we had talked about making this one have a mixed tape sort of feel.
Peter Katis produced your first record, but for this record you imported an Italian, Daniele Luppi, to man the boards.
Yeah, he did the cool string part on (Gnarls Barkley’s) “Crazy,” and all the bass arrangements.
How did you find him?
He had put out his own record, this really cool instrumental record he did with these 60 year old Roman guys that recorded all of the spaghetti westerns, they were like the house band. It’s a pretty interesting record actually. Well, we heard that record and then through a mutual contact, his name came up. It’s an unorthodox choice I guess, because he’d never recorded a rock band before. Peter’s sort of like, you let him deal with the sonics and you tell him if you like it or not. He stays out of your way in terms of the songs. This was more of a producer in a traditional role.
So if this was his first time recording a rock band, was it a learning curve for him as well?
It was. There were some grueling moments during tracking. He’s pretty thorough. And, of course, he’s Italian! So he sticks to his fucking guns. And we have some really strong ideas as well, so…

Your drummer left the band right before you started recording, right?
Yeah, which probably had a huge reason for the different pacings on the record. He was more energetic, like the drums were a physical release for him. It was a slow train coming for a while.
It happens…
It totally happens. It’s a band, you know. So I ended up playing on it.
Would you consider yourself a drummer?
Oh yeah, I have been playing since I was eight years old.
Were you stressed out by that at all? Or were you like “Fuck it, I’ll do it?”
I think we were really relaxed about it. Because if we had gone in there with him it could have been ugly. i had played drums on some demos of the songs I had done earlier. But yeah, we ran through it once and then we recorded it.
The record is very laid back and has a definite loose feeling.
Yeah, that’s one of the thing Daniele and I agreed on. We did spend a lot of time doing overdubs on the raw basic tracks as a trio, but we weren’t going to do more than three takes of anything unless we absolutely had to.
That’s a good way to go about it. I’ve seen bands in studios go over and over a particular part of a song for days and it kind of kills the creative process.
Sometimes we did get to that point, but we were less finicky about the performance than we were with Peter. Plus, we were super rehearsed.
Did Luppi produce The Fatalist EP?
That’s just two songs from the record, with one song we did with Peter and one with did with our buddy Don, a Paul McCartney cover.
You know, I had no idea that “Monkberry Moon Delight” was a McCartney track until a few days ago. It’s a great tune.
It’s on Ram, which is…Band on the Run and Ram are his best Wings work.
I have Band on the Run, but not Ram. I’ll have to pick that up. How do you get everyone in the band to agree on a song to cover?
There’s some back and forth between the band members. But there are so many songs. We are really into doing covers. We try and change it up and keep it interesting for us. We must know like 20 cover songs. We can easily play a wedding or something. But somethings just do not work. We’ve covered “Easy Lover” and sometimes it’s just the wrong night to do that.
[mp3] Robbers on High Street | Married Young
Robbers on High Street
w/ The City Veins
Thursday, April 3rd
Rock and Roll Hotel
8 p.m.
Buy tickets here

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