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Sharon Robinson: The Essence of Our Lives

By Published: August 14, 2012
AAJ: This collaboration has brought many memorable songs. Please describe the chemistry you and Cohen share.

SR: Things like this usually defy description, but we seem to have a creative and personal connection that is very comfortable. There is an unspoken understanding between us that sets up a great atmosphere for writing.

AAJ: What is your assessment of Cohen's Old Ideas, now that the album has been out for awhile, and how has that record been received?

SR: I think Old Ideas will ultimately be considered one of Leonard's most important albums. The almost spoken- word tone of it gives it a very personal quality and makes it seem even more deeply autobiographical than previous work, while at the same time being very musically and melodically satisfying. It has already been widely acclaimed, and for good reason.

AAJ: Could you please talk about the work you did on Old Ideas, in contrast to his previous two records, Dear Heather (Columbia, 2004) and Ten New Songs (Columbia, 2001), where you were credited for producing and co-writing the songs.

SR: Compared to my work on Ten New Songs, where I actually co-wrote the songs and produced the album, my work on Old Ideas consisted mostly of backing vocals and vocal arrangements, although I did do a little keyboard, drums and bass on one song. Even though I didn't write them, it's nice to play a part in bringing the songs to life.

AAJ: How do you feel, looking back, at your debut, Everybody Knows?

SR: I like how my record turned out. I think it contains some of my best songs. I think it's an album that will have a long life. Judging by the feedback I get, it seems to resonate deeply with people, which makes me very happy.

AAJ: What inspired you to release a solo album after many years of producing, collaborating and co -writing for others?

SR: The recording artist in me has been there from the beginning. I think it had less to do with inspiration than circumstance and timing. I've been fortunate enough to make my living exclusively through music for most of my career, and part of that is the ability to wear a lot of hats. So I kind of think of it as all part of the same thing. For audiences, however, it's different. But I'm enjoying the challenges of completely realizing Sharon Robinson, the artist.

AAJ: On that record you sing lead and backing vocals, as well as arranging and programming, and you play most of the instruments. What challenges did you face when creating the album?

SR: I think the question answers itself. When one person is doing everything, the biggest challenge is time. The other noticeable challenge was committing to a certain artistic direction. Having written so much for other artists, I had to ask myself, okay, what is it that I want to say?

AAJ: Please talk about the inspiration behind some of the album's key tracks as it is a very diverse collection both musically and lyrically. Please describe the elements you sought to weave together.

SR: First, I wanted the album to have integrity. I wanted every song and every performance to stand on its own. Second, I was looking for a cohesiveness of spirit. In other words, even though there are slightly different styles represented, all of the songs try to speak from the heart of the human experience. "Alexandra Leaving": loss and courage. "The High Road": personal pride. "Party for the Lonely": the pain of not being understood and the inherent aloneness we all feel at times. "Invisible Tattoo": the permanent effect we have on each other, for better or worse. "Summertime": looking for a way out of heartbreak. I love the song form and how it can catalyze emotion, and I'm always shooting for that.

AAJ: Beside the original material there are three new versions of songs you did with Cohen.

SR: Musically it didn't pose a problem, but it was an interesting challenge putting my lyrics in the same project with songs I'd written with Leonard. I had to approach it with a belief that there was a thread of continuity based on integrity, if not style. Leonard has always treated me like a peer in that respect, so I decided to go for it.

AAJ: What are some of the things you have learned regarding the art of songwriting from Cohen?

SR: I've been writing songs since I was a child, and wasn't really a novice. But working with Leonard has definitely deepened my understanding of the transmission of emotion through song. And I'm inspired by his uncompromising level of excellence. He works very hard at that and doesn't accept less. I guess that's the biggest lesson.

AAJ: "Everybody Knows" has taken on a life of its own. I read that even the hard rock band Guns N' Roses used to play that song on the PA system before the start of their concerts in the late '80s. The words are so fierce, with their razorblade irony. What is the story behind it? What inspired it?

SR: "Everybody Knows" has retained a sense of relevance over the years. The particulars change, but the knowledge that one is not in charge remains something we tend to forget on a day-to-day basis, but that we all know, and I think the way this song speaks to that actually offers some relief. A sense that we're all in the same boat.

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