Ball of confusion – the crazy world of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson

June 2, 2009

The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

MOST musicians are thrilled and excited to talk about the release of their debut album, but for the prolific Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, the situation is a source of befuddlement.

His as-yet unreleased ‘second’ album was actually meant to come out before his eponymous ‘first’ record – which was released this month.

“I’ve recorded the second album. That was done in December of 2007. I thought it was going to be my debut album,” says a bemused Robinson.

“The album I wanted to release as my debut has now been around for 16 months, while another one has snuck out of the gates and caused me all sorts of dizziness.”

Meanwhile, a third record is already written, too…

“The third one’s all written, but now I feel strange, because people are gong to look at the second album as a follow-up to the first one – whereas it really wasn’t,” protests Robinson.

Confused yet?

Chaos seems to have stuck to this 26-year old Brooklyn resident ever since he arrived in New York City with a desire to make music, but a college scholarship to make movies.

“I was a film major [at the prestigious NYU art school], but after three months I had no interest in making films,” he explains.

“They had a music recording studio that no one ever used, so I stayed around for that.  I recorded seven albums while I was there – really, my life was an incredible privilege to be able to do that.”

Of course, this rarefied lifestyle came at a premium.

“I’m in just the absolute depths of debt. Last I checked it was $80,000, but God knows what’s happened over the last couple of years… if there was a debtor’s prison, I would be in it”, Robinson admits, ruefully.

Not that such an eye-watering personal deficit bothers this singular songwriter too much.

“I doubt they’d come chasing me – I don’t own anything, so you know, there’s nothing to take. It’s like, ‘fine, take everything I have.  Would you like my used records? Cigarette butts?’”

This ‘let it happen’ approach to life is written all over Robinson’s debut album.

Nice album.  Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

Nice album. Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

It’s a sprawling affair, with touches of the acutely personal Elliott Smith brand of songcraft and echoes of the raw, scrappy sonic beauty of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

And it was recorded in a suitably unconventional style by a man seemingly incapable of doing anything by the book.

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear)

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear, superbly photographed by Samantha West - http://www.samanthawest.net)

“With the first album, I paid my housemate’s rent for a month. We turned his bedroom into a control room and set up the drums and everything in my living room; we basically recorded the album in my living room.”

Not that Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson was likely to sound ramshackle, when the studious and highly-talented Chris Taylor – of world-class New York indie quartet Grizzly Bear – was on hand to produce the album.

“We had been playing shows together all the time, becoming great friends in the process,” explains Robinson.

“I hoped that [Grizzly Bear drummer] Chris Bear and Chris Taylor could lend their talents to some songs I was writing. I was about to ask Chris Taylor, when he said, ‘I really feel like you should do a solo record, I feel like that’s your strength. I’d love to produce’. So I gave him a bunch of demos.”

So you never intended to be a solo artist, it just, sort of, happened?

“My last band broke up because everyone started having infidelities with the other people in the band. I decided to quit bands forever,” reveals Robinson.

“The touring band I have at the moment are fantastic; if they didn’t already have obligations, I would love to call them my band forever, but I’ve learned my lesson with that. Everyone always leaves. We all die alone…”

A slightly spooked, bruised and emotional worldview comes across in Robinson’s lyrics.

Doozies like ‘I’m not sure that I want to stay alive / It’s so expensive…’ (from the suitably-titled ‘The Debtor’) rub shoulders with stark tales of drug addiction and its attendant malaise (“Met a girl who said ‘hey boy, you’re a death-head / I bet you’d be alright in bed / still, I’ll take sleep instead’”, from the excellent, stomping ‘Woodfriend’).

Then there’s a weirdly affirmative scream of ‘Believe me, I wish that I was dead’ on the grandiose and superficially joyous album opener ‘Buriedfed’.

There are contradictions all the time with Robinson – his music generates genuine vitality despite the constant shadow of depression. A wicked sense of humour emerges from the murky depths, whilst unbearable pangs of dissatisfaction emanate from a situation of genuine privilege.

But then, since when have people been logical?

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

Fortunately for a clearly volatile and mercurial young talent, a ‘big brother’ figure is on the scene, in the imposing figure of Kyp Malone.

Malone, instantly recognisable by his spectacles, monster Afro and equally impressive beard, sings in one of New York’s most celebrated bands, TV On The Radio.

And after Taylor introduced Malone to Robinson’s music, they struck up a lasting friendship.

“He lent me five CDs the first time I met him. And he’s become one of my best friends – like an older brother taking care of me at weird times in my life,” gushes Robinson.

“Kyp’s not actually related to me, he doesn’t have that obligation – yet he’s taken care of me like family for years. It’s amazing.”

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is out now on Transgressive Records.

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3 Responses to “Ball of confusion – the crazy world of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson”

  1. mich said

    he’s quite fantastic. I much prefer his whimsical yet sardonic melodies/lyrics over some of the more upbeat and “peace, love, and [insert favorite utopian word here]” lyrics and songs of jack johnson, jason mraz, and co. miles is fantastic. here’s hoping he never sells out.

  2. Alex said

    I see thsi was written awhile ago but this is the best article I’ve read on Miles. I’m basically obsessed with him and get so frustrated that I don’t know what he is up to these days. Please write another article and tell us when we’ll get more albums or tour dates!

  3. Pat said

    Does anyone know where the skeleton picture on the album cover comes from?

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