Indie rock singer/songwriter Robi Mitch’s dreamy yet groovy sound is inspired by 70s psychedelia and 90s mixtapes, along with his experiences as a session musician in Taiwan. In 2021 he moved from his hometown of Bristol (UK) to Cornwall and is now based in Penryn. He released his debut album ‘Our Year’ in January 2020 as a limited edition vinyl. Most recently his ‘Dreamer / Loser’ EP was released and he’s already planning his next EP.
I spoke to Robi about his love for music, what he likes most about writing songs and the day he wrote ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’…in the desert.
Tell me a little bit about your musical background.
“My parents love folk music, I was named after a folk singer called Robin Williamson. Growing up we listened to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I started playing guitar aged 14 and got really into guitar music. Later I got into world music, electronica, jazz and hip-hop. Friends and family have passed all kinds of musical influences onto me, for which I am grateful. As a result I would say I have very diverse musical taste.”
Where does your love of music come from?
“Both of my parents are musical. My dad plays guitar, banjo, accordion and we used to jam together a lot. My older sister was a big influence on me too, we would sing together and make bands – she played drums and piano. On long car journeys I would plug into my walkman and listen to mixtapes for hours, gazing at the clouds. That’s probably where I developed a personal relationship with music, making soundtracks for my journeys and shaping narratives through song choices.”
How long have you been writing songs? Did your songwriting develop at the same time as your musicianship?
“I always loved singing and dancing to music, but I also loved to write stories and poems from a young age. When I realised that I could combine the two by putting anything into a song (thoughts, stories, feelings) it gave me a lot of freedom. Being self-taught and playing mostly by ear, it made a lot of sense to me to improvise and write my own music.”
Who would you say are some of your favourite or most influential musicians?
“My list of influences is pretty much endless. First time I heard Jeff Buckley I was enchanted. I wanted to sing like him, like an angel. One of the first bands I saw live was Calexico. From them I learned a love of percussion and world music flavours, the big ensemble band setup. The guy from Calexico has a really chilled out voice which made me realise I could be a singer.”
“Growing up in Bristol, the dreamy, downtempo sound of trip-hop influenced me too. I loved it in the 90s when guitar bands started using drum machines, a lot of those crossover records stay with me to this day. One of my favourite bands of recent years is the Taiwanese band Sunset Rollercoaster. Their sound is beautifully nostalgic but also fresh and energising.”
What was your first real taste of the music industry?
“I’ve been right on the fringes of the music industry for pretty much my whole career, so it’s hard to say. I’ve had a few experiences with managers, mostly not very positive. I’ve done some big tours as a session player that were a lot of fun. Maybe the first time playing big music festivals in China in 2013, being given a guitar, getting to choose from a lineup of sweet guitar amps, playing to thousands of people. I was buzzing.”
You previously worked as a session guitarist in Taiwan. How did you end up there? Has living on another continent influenced your music?
“Some dear friends of mine lived in Taiwan and their band was very successful there. I started working with them in 2012 and we toured pretty much every year from 2012 – 2018. I had never been to Asia before and everything was new, the food, the transport, the climate. I grew up a lot in that time, it taught me a lot about my craft as a guitarist too. More importantly, I found a whole new world of music and culture that I fell completely in love with.”
What do you like the most about writing songs?
“As they said in the recent Elvis movie, “If something’s too dangerous to say, sing it”. I am very honest in my songs, I like being unpredictable and provocative with my lyrics. I will pour my heart out one minute, and say something stupid or playful the next. It’s the best way I can express myself.”
How do you see the relationship between melody and lyrics?
“In school we learned about ‘mood painting’ where the melody reflects what’s going on with the lyric. But one of my favourite things is to subvert expectations: to write sad songs that sound happy, or happy songs that sound sad.”
How would you describe your songwriting process?
“I always have a notebook with me for lyrics and ideas. I also record a lot of voice notes. There are two main ways I write songs: one is that I write the lyric, hearing the melody and chord changes in my head as I go. The other way is that I build up a groove (drums, bass etc.) on my recording software, and then add the lyrics at the end.”
Are you also thinking about how songs might sound on stage when you’re writing and recording them?
“Definitely, and I write different songs when I’ve done lots of gigs compared to times when I’m chilling at home. Some gigs need songs which have a certain level of energy. It feels important for me to keep my songs grooving so that people can wiggle their hips if they want.”
What do you recall about the day you wrote ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’?
“I was in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan and we had stopped the jeep to have some lunch. Two guys were cooking lunch, everyone else lay down for a siesta. I had my ukulele out and the wind was blowing through it gently, making a sweet sound. I spend too much time thinking about philosophy, existentialism, time: In the desert that all made sense in some way. I put a lot of those feelings together in the simplest way that I could.”
What advice would you give to your younger (songwriting) self?
“Refine your work more, be more critical especially when shaping melodies. Get singing lessons!”
What’s your dream for the future?
“Play songs to people who want to listen. Travel the world. Stay in the sun.”
“I have a follow-up EP to ‘Dreamer / Loser’ which we are nearly done recording. The plan is to put them both out on vinyl, two sides of a record. Then I have about 180 other songs which are started, finished or midway through recording, and I need to work out what to do with them!”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?
“I used to listen to a fair bit of Los Campesinos! and I like ‘Dumb Luck’. I enjoyed encountering Joanna Sternberg for the first time, I hadn’t heard her stuff before. It’s great!”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“I love this track ‘All the Time’ by Skymachine, it has this sense of positivity but also dissatisfaction that I can really relate to. I have played a show with them in London, which is probably why this track came to mind.”
SOCIALS: @robi_mitch (IG / twitter), facebook.com/robimitchmusic, soundcloud.com/robimitchsounds, youtube.com/c/robimitch, robimitch.bandcamp.com or linktr.ee/robimitch
(cover photo by Francis Beaumier)