Most people react the same way to Robin O’Brien’s music. For years, whenever I’d put one of her cassettes in my deck and press play, they’d get that open, blank look of hearing something really good for the first time. Then, about 10 or 20 seconds into it, they'd recognize something and say, “Oh, OK. Yeah, I’ve heard this befo . . . .” But they stop and look puzzled. No, they’ve never heard Robin before. But they feel certain that they should have. “Really, she’s not signed?” Nope.
Being signed is not the point. Robin sings, plays guitar, and records songs the way most people watch TV or talk on the phone. It's how she works out her feelings, how she deals with her restless mind and all its creativity—by turning on her recorder writing a fresh batch of lyrics on new yellow notepads (the one’s that say “Evidence” at the top are the best, she once told me). And she’s been working this way for twenty five years. From Berklee in Boston, to major label demos in New York, to raising a family and moving from New Jersey to California, Robin has never stopped writing, singing and recording. I bet she never will.
Last year she passed through Chicago and we met for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other for a good ten or fifteen years, back when I played guitar on some of her tapes. That, plus the scotch and water her husband Don was buying put me in a pensive, middle-aged frame of mind. As we talked, I thought about BIG things. Like death (my father had recently died), change (how come I look like Santa Clause when Robin still looks like a model?) and, especially, time—the way beautiful, amazing things can sometimes pass away without a trace, without anyone in the future knowing anything about them.
Like Robin's fantastic 4-track recordings. Some of the best songs and recordings I know, despite the thirty-odd years of major label CDs and LPs in my collection, are Robin's. But they exist on creaky old cassettes that are soon going to magnetic tape heaven. When they do, they'll take the raw tracks of Robin's amazing performances with them. So I asked: “Robin, what happened to all your old Portastudio masters?” She said, “I’ve got them all, somewhere, but the Portastudio’s long gone.” Two weeks later, Robin was back in California and a box arrived. Her note said, “Hey George! I’m a little bit nervous and overwhelmed opening up these boxes of tapes. They are like diaries, except I can’t access them.”
I accessed them, and that’s where FORE came from—four songs sampling Robin’s immense back catalog of work. Digitized, cleaned up, with new guitars and synthesizers in a few places, they highlight Robin’s dense, layered vocals, her harmonic singing (heard near the end of “L.O.V.E. love”) and the simplicity and beauty of her songs. Yes, they are like looking at diaries, but they are less about Robin herself than the passions and the weird logics (“laughing, crying, I remember everything you said”) that everyone collides with some time or other. They make even strangers think, “Oh OK, I’ve heard these before.” You probably haven’t, but Robin and I hope you will enjoy hearing these songs again for the first time.