Producing Eye and Storm was kind of like going to a garage sale at Leonard Cohen’s or Bruce Springsteen’s house. Nearly every box of tapes Robin gave me had musical gems hiding inside. Some were songs that she had completely forgotten about. Others were so personal (Robin thinks of them as “diaries”) they were never really intended for people to hear. But they all aged really well. Even Robin, who never boasts about her talent (and never drops names like I do), could see the quality as the new mixes and new tracks took shape. “I like her, the way she sings,” she’d say about herself, back then, hundreds of songs ago.
That’s one reason why the album took almost two years to create. The shape of it kept changing. New songs would appear and open up new possibilities. Shall we add drums? No drums. Yes, some drums. Robin’s vocal chants? No, lets put them on a separate record. Then, about one year into it, the Gretsch arrived. My life-long wish for a White Falcon came true as the heavens parted and the Angels of rock and roll descended with a white, shiny present (complete with orange-sparkle inlay). Now, we had some pickin’ and grinnin’ to work with. “Body Run Down” became something you sing along to after you’ve put the top down (as Mike puts it). “Looking for Daniel (Two)” sounds like the Velvet Underground backing Laura Nyro. And the feedback—gorgeous, warm, hollow-body tube-shaking feedback. It revs the engines in “Mobile” and screams in frustration at the end of “So Good.”
Robin says “Monday” is her favorite because of the way her voice sits within the acoustic guitars. This song magically mixed itself, it’s true. But it also evolved when Steve contributed his vintage Guild acoustic. I added a third guitar track and remixed the whole thing around the guitars and Robin’s singing. Now you can hear the floor creaking under the ghost of Mama Cass while Robin’s heart beats in anticipation of Monday. Yes, it was all she hoped it could be. (I had to ask.)
As we neared the end, Shawn’s album design and, especially, his rainy, road-side photographs put a frame around the whole project and let me see it more clearly. That was a surprise, because Shawn is fascinated by perceptual ambiguity and the uncertainty that comes with it (think Rothko photographing a sunset)—kind of like the things Robin sings about: lust joined to trepidation. Attraction to the very qualities someone is out to destroy in themselves. Letting go of things when you simply can’t. His landscapes are obscure and metaphysical. They make you ask, “What’s really there?” or “What did I just drive past?” Robin doesn’t scratch her chin—she pulls over and gets out of the car. Sometimes it’s the turbulence of pure ecstasy (“When You’re Talking”) or mind-bending frustration (“So Good”); sometimes she finds the calm and watches the storm all around (“10th Avenue”) and puts her trust in faith that, in the end, eye and storm are really one (“Maysong”).
Now that the record’s done, it’s Joe’s video for “L.O.V.E. Love (This Part Is Over)” that’s making me see the whole thing with fresh eyes. We brainstormed about the lyric “...scratchy back, I heard it lately on a 45” and then, one early one morning in March, trucked our groovy 1960s record player and Eames lounge chair out to the Chicago lakefront. With the sculptural furniture set against the sunrise, it was beautiful (and really, friggin cold—as you can see in Robin’s rosy cheeks.) But when I saw Joe’s rough cut, several months and many mixes later, I knew the Angels of rock and roll had again been at it again. We had no rehearsal at all and (if I remember) nothing but a cup of coffee about 20 minutes before the shoot. But it all came together: The pink and purple sunrise, the seagulls that sang and soared around Robin at the perfect moments, the dawn light glinting off the gold knobs of the White Falcon. And, at the center of it all, Robin, who moves and sings and plays the song so gracefully and easily.
That 45 must have The Byrds. Maybe “Eight Miles High.” Everything takes flight, proving just how big and beautiful these songs really are. Don’t take it from me and don’t take it from reviewers (like the one who compared Robin’s earlier Luxotone EP to Liz Phair and Lucinda Williams). Take it from Robin herself in this video. She’s not performing the song to sell it or prove anything. In a way, the song is not even hers. With kids in college, the new millennium, she’s way down the road from the woman who wrote it. But the song has only grown bigger. It grabbed her that cold morning just like it grabs everyone else and makes them feel the emotional textures glowing inside it. And it will keep on growing long after these past two years have come to seem like a blink. Which is why, I figure, the Angels of rock and roll were paying attention in the first place.