By Sander Wolf
Recently a new label started by Bob Kempf, Ocean Music Company, released an album by pop/folk artist Robin Lane. Titled Catbird Seat, the album is strong and full of a maturity that few artists can achieve. The songs run the gamut from the comical (the playful romp of "Troubled Man" for which Lane's liner notes explain, "Of course he's troubled -- he's a Red Sox fan.") to the serious (the slow, dense "Sweet Candy" -- "What do you use to fix the holes when the rain gets in?"). It's fresh and modern, but also somewhat unique in the fact that Robin Lane is by no stretch of the imagination a new artist.
With a career began in 1969 singing with Neil Young and after signing to Warner Brothers and progressing to MTV as Robin Lane & The Chartbusters in the early eighties, Lane has, in a sense, already had her fifteen minutes. Her brief marriage to guitarist Andy Summers made her a footnote in Police history and her smooth soprano and distracted, but affectionate personality has made her forever one of Boston's musical darlings.
Since the break-up of the Chartbusters almost a decade ago, Lane has continued her performing and songwriting career. A track on former Bangle Susanna Hoffs' 1991 solo album, When You're A Boy ("Wishing On Telstar" a sanguine take on the perils of a long-distance relationship which is also reprised on Catbird Seat), has been her only official release since, although she's quietly let loose several demo tapes over the years.
Lane now lives with her daughter, Evangeline, and drummer (Barrence Whitfield's Savages), studio owner (Room Nine From Outer Space, Boston), producer, and husband, Ducky Carlisle. I spoke with Lane over the phone about her new album and the recent changes in her life in a conversation that was, well, very Robin...
"I just got in, so...oh brother, I'm sorry, this is unbelievable. I can't believe it. I'm looking at the biggest mess in my life. Look at this. I'm sorry, this is all over my phone book. It's soup that wasn't cleaned up and I just found it."
Sander Wolf: Sounds like somebody's about to get in trouble.
"Somebody's about to get in trouble, yep, you're right, unbelievable... Go ahead and ask questions and I'll answer them as I'm moaning and groaning..."
SW: Ok, umm, I remember hearing some songs on your demos that aren't on your new album. I don't know the titles for them, but a line in one of them was, "You resist me/But it might not be that bad at all."
"Oh yeah, that's actually how I met my husband, Ducky, 'cause we were recording it in his studio -- Room Nine From Outer Space which you should mention in your article 'cause he's great and he needs some people to produce who aren't just heavy metal."
SW: Well, you're not heavy metal.
"Now, Sander, tell me the truth. Do you think I'm rootsy blues?"
"I don't either, but somebody else said I was. So now the new name of the band is Rootsy Blue And Her All-Night Rocky Mountain Boogie Boys. I'm not Melissa Ethridge, please..."
SW: I always thought you were just straight-forward pop.
"Sort of, I've got a few things going 'cause I like all music. I mean, don't you? How can you just do one thing? It would be so boring. I didn't put opera in the album though."
SW: But I bet you could do it.
"Yeah, I'm actually writing a musical. I've been writing it for about ten years. One of these days I'll actually stage it. Then I've got my Bertolt Brecht adaptation and I've got my art-jazz. But I'll stick to this for a while."
SW: So is Catbird Seat your comeback attempt?
"Attempt? Well, whatever. I would have gladly made albums before this, but Bob [Kempf] has been the first one who got it going and believed in me enough to give me the opportunity and the platform that I needed. Bob's a great guy. We'd talked about this for about two years and then we actually got to do it. You never know how things are going to turn out, I mean, I think I made a pretty decent album but whatever happens with it remains to be seen."
SW: Well, I really liked your demos too which I think was the original question. Especially "Longest Thinnest Thread"...
"Yeah, I'll put it on the next CD if I get to make one. I haven't given it up or anything. There were already too many slow songs on the album."
SW: ..and "Passport To Paradise."
"That's a nice song too, but you know, it kinda gives me the heebie-geebies because it's so mambsy-pambsy. Doesn't mean I won't do it again though. I just wanted songs on the album that really meant something this time."
SW: So Catbird Seat is kinda where you've been these last two years?
"I've been making it sporadically. It didn't take two years to make -- don't print that! I mean I'm not one of those, I actually record very fast, we just had to wait for some money. So meanwhile we just recorded when Ducky's studio had some downtime. ...just a second...[Lane talks to her daughter]
Excuse me Sander, our little friend's doggie got stolen and we're just going crazy. Evangeline says she wants you to put that in the newspaper."
SW: Who would steal a dog? That's just mean.
"I know, it's a cute little dog, but geezz..."
SW: Are you going to tour behind Catbird Seat ?
"We'll see. It's being played all around the country. But I don't know about the Boston stations yet!" [laughing][Lane checks the other phone line then yells to her daughter]
SW: It sounds like you're very busy today.
"Yeah, but it's always like this. It's like a husband, two dogs, a teen-ager with an active social life, and then all my music stuff. Anyway, what else?"
SW: So they're playing your CD all over the country...?
"Oh, they're playing it in different cities: [Lane uses a different voice for each city] Houston; Eugene, OR; Raleigh, NC; somewhere in New York; it's supposed to be added in Philadelphia, Austin... I haven't mentioned every city..."
SW: So do you find that these people playing it are people who knew you before or are they just learning about you.
"They knew me before."
SW: I was just wondering if that helps or hurts.
"I think it's helpful at this point, except possibly around here 'cause I think people around here might think I'm too much of a folky."
SW: Who are some of your co-writers on this album?
"Well, Mary Dee Reynolds, who's in the band Chainsuck and David Doms from Universal You. And Ducky wrote some of the lyrics for some of jams we came up with like 'La La.'"
SW: What's Catbird Seat mean?
"Well, it kinda means like 'sitting pretty,' but my sister-in-law heard it the other day down south as, 'Oh, I'm under so much stress that I feel like I've been sitting in the catbird seat.' James Thurber even wrote a book called Catbird Seat."
SW: Which meaning did you intend?
"To me, I just always liked the phrase. You know how cats perch up on a seat and look out and survey the world -- kind of bird-like? So I'm kinda surveying the world (which I like to do anyway) but the catbird seat means you can look out at everything, but you can't be too cocky because you might fall off, you know? It's false security, but on the other hand you feel good while you're there. It's umm, I don't know... Whatever it means to umm, whoever looks at it, that's really what it means, I think.