Quiet is the new loud for Norway’s Robert Post as recent album ‘Rhetoric’ reveals.
“I have never talked about that song! What do you want to hear about it?”
Sitting directly opposite over a hot cup of Joe eastside of Oslo is a man who is Norway’s answer to the songwriting prowess of Lennon & McCartney, with a side order of Neil Finn, when it comes to crafting intelligent pop music filled with moments of sweet addictiveness and genuine quirkiness. It hardly comes as a surprise that Robert Post has set up camp back in his native homeland after a somewhat botched major label signing overseas trying to pitch him as the next singer-songwriter armed with only an acoustic guitar for comfort. Clearly, the record company execs were taken in by the somewhat shiny pop exterior of debut album ‘Robert Post’, and in the process failed to recognise the more intricate layers at work that occasionally conjured up square pegs for round holes. This brings us nicely to the present conversation as such lingering ambiguity concerning one or two pop gems from said album is currently plaguing the thoughts of FLW.
“Well, yeah…lyric-wise I think it’s erm…not much…just speaks for itself somehow. It’s not autobiographical but some of it is self-experienced in some parts. It is a long time ago that I wrote it, and a long time since I played it. There was a period of time when I lived in Bergen and I felt perhaps that life was not so good [carefully chooses his words before hesitating again]…no, I‘m not sure what to say about it really. Perhaps you can help me?”
At this point, it is difficult to ascertain whether Robert simply does not want to talk about the song under the spotlight – ‘Silence Makes Him Sick’ due to the subject matter being too painful to recollect or simply a case of forgotten lyrics due to the aforementioned ‘not played it for a long time’ that he has genuinely forgotten the contents of the song. Shifting uneasily in my chair at this crossroads of whether to probe further or leave this (possible) sensitive subject matter alone, I decide to go with the former despite feeling uneasy due to the notion beginning to formulate in FLW’s cranium that in 3-2-1 I could be sitting alone pondering what might have been if we had managed to finish this interview. So I decide to throw Messer’s Robert a bone, and one of sincerity, concerning the constant uphill challenge of forging a life in a different cultural setting where the quietness is a negative factor; thus rendering ‘Silence Makes Him Sick’ a definite unwanted friend right now. Ducking down in the journalistic bunker in fearful anticipation of what the response might be, FLW is greatly relieved to see that this is one solo artist willing to remain the course.
“I have always felt drawn between the quiet life and the busy life. A lot my songs have that in them,” explains Robert pondering the meaning of the song in question. “Being a musician I wanted a lot of fuss, and playing to a lot of people and getting a lot of attention and all that, it’s something that you want but at the same time I don’t want. I grew up in a very quiet place, and I always tend to go back to that ‘silence’, but at the same time I can’t stand it being too quiet, so I’m a bit restless when it comes to that. I just moved back to Oslo – well, I didn’t move back because I’ve never lived here before – but I moved to Oslo because I wanted it to be busier. Perhaps it’s that in terms of the meaning of ‘Silence Makes Him Sick’? But it’s hard to say because, as I said, most of my songs just happen as I write them based on a feeling that I’ve had. It’s not always that I want to make it too personal or too obvious in terms of a meaning of a song.”
The transition from Låneborg on the outskirts of Ålesund, with approximately a population of 6,000 people for company, to the overpopulated yet vibrant streets of London must have been something of a wakeup call when Mercury Records acquired the services of Robert Post. Despite making a decent go of it with producer Mike Hedges (Manic Street Preachers) at the helm and supporting the likes of Aimee Mann, Texas, Ray LaMontagne to name but a few, the momentum of success simply wouldn’t sway for Robert. But this is not difficult to comprehend because despite possessing the aforementioned pop dressings, the songs found throughout ‘Robert Post’ are too idiosyncratic for the mainstream pop market.
“I think it [debut album] was written in a different way,” agrees Robert. “I think they [mainstream pop artists] sit down to actually write hit singles, and it’s never been like that with me as my songs just happen. I should be much more a touring artist rather than a Radio One single artist, that’s my take on it.”
Were you surprised though, at the lack of success of your debut album in the UK considering you had major record label backing?
“It’s hard to say, as I think it’s a tough one to break in the UK for a Norwegian artist and there could be many reasons,” ponders Robert. “Obviously, Mercury [Records] had a great belief that I could make it, and they put a lot of money behind it and it was… [trails off deep in thought]…let’s start again! I had a great team around me and we built it up very nicely. So all that was good and I think the single [‘Got None’] went up in the airplay charts at least. Maybe we marketed the album wrong or perhaps it was the way in which it was perceived.”
Can you elaborate further in terms of how you were marketed for this album?
“It was a different kind of marketing strategy for me. I was promoted as a singer- songwriter, but we didn’t promote my face or anything,” comments a slightly bemused Robert Post. “I think the whole James Blunt thing that happened in 2005, he became so big and they wanted to put me in the same bracket as him, and I don’t think I fitted in there but that became kind of like my nemesis because there was so much focus on him. As big major record companies go, they want to sell you as something and, at that time, perhaps James Blunt was the right fit as let’s say this is something similar to James Blunt that perhaps people will buy into. I thought that was a complete mistake to do it that way. I think they should have put me on smaller tours such as student venues to build it up. We also did a residency at the Enterprise in Camden and we did play all over London. I did a headline tour and we should have done much more of that, but the main focus of the record label was to get my first single to Number One. So it was all about playing these big radio festivals, which are all over Britain – it was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure I’m that type of artist to come across to that sort of audience.”
With a difficult marketing campaign failing to ruffle the feathers of the pop mainstream, Mercury Records decided to sever their ties with Robert who, in turn, decided to pack his musical bag of tricks and head back to the quietness of Norway. Several may have viewed this as a regressive step, considering the previously discussed ‘Silence Makes Him Sick’, but for Robert this was a chance to make amends for what really was a false start in promotional terms.
“Well, I don’t think that I ever thought about it as something I would do or not do because I would never quit. I feel that I was born to write and play songs, and I love to perform to an audience and I don’t need a major [record] label to do that,” says Robert confidently. “I would say that it was just a lucky coincidence that I got signed to such a big record company, and I never thought about calling it a day. I just thought that now I’m recording independently, I have to do it in a different way but keep on doing what I have always done as my day-to-day life was not like that before I signed.”
Such a strong show of defiance after the Mercury Record deal collapse resulted in the sometimes majestic, yet slightly muddled melting pot ‘Disarm & Let Go’. A real melange of songs, Robert’s second long offering was a combination of musical styles from the past meeting with the present with the clues definitely in the album’s title. With a slight lack of direction apparent (Robert discloses to FLW that ‘Disarm & Let Go’ was nearly a double album due to the vast amount of songs propping up his bed), all can be forgiven as here was an artist trying to make sense of what had just happened back in the UK. There are, however, sublime ‘Beatles inspired ‘Let it Be’-era moments with ‘She Knows What Boy She’s After’, to the desolate ‘No One Cares’ and ‘I Want You To Be Sad, I Want U To Be Happy’ echoing shades of Radiohead, Rufus Wainwright and, once more, the Fab Four due to the slightly tongue-in-cheek closing refrain, ‘Pain has gotta come’ reflecting Robert’s blues post Mercury Records fallout.
“Yeah, I think you said it right, as it is about that and I think some of the songs are about that,” acknowledges Robert regarding FLW’s interpretation of ‘Disarm & Let Go’. “My debut album was eponymously titled and it didn’t say anything about anything because it basically reflected me as a new artist with ten songs about my life. I had a lot of different titles for the album, but the record label wanted to keep it simple so as to not guide people. Therefore, I wanted my second album to have a title that was actually saying something about how I felt in terms of my state of mind.”
It must have been a welcome relief to gain back complete control and ownership of your music with your second album?
“Disarming was important for me because it felt disarming to do that [first] album and just letting go of everything,” reflects Robert. “I was based in my hometown area during the recording for the next album, and I didn’t have any contact with the music industry at all. It felt liberating, and that’s why the songs are so different as well, as I just did whatever I wanted. I spent a long time doing that album, so that’s perhaps why we ended up with so many different songs.”
Having teamed up with Rune Berg from the now sadly defunct ‘Margaret’s to help lend a hand with production duties on ‘Disarm & Let Go’, the decision to return to his homeland started to pay dividends, not only for the prolific manner in which Robert resumed his passion for songwriting but also, in his words, “I met a girl and just decided to stay”. Furthermore, the realisation that the quiet life was not such a bad idea after all, the only real stumbling block that remained was finding a means to whittle down the number of songs to something manageable so that ‘Disarm & Let Go’ would eventually see the light of day.
“It was difficult in terms of choosing the right songs for ‘Disarm & let Go’, but at the same time I think we just had to decide on ten songs because I had spent way too much money on it and time. A lot of people were saying that you have to put out something soon because everybody is just going to forget you if you wait for too long. So we had recorded fourteen songs, and I had wanted to make a double album, as mentioned earlier, but we just had to stop and put things together.”
Do you regret not doing a double album?
“Yeah, sort of, but I will do that, and perhaps a couple of them, as I have too many songs. I’m going to put out a deluxe version of ‘Disarm and Let Go’ this year, with five more songs I think. I am going to put that album out on vinyl, and I want to put my debut album out on vinyl as well, but then it’s the legal stuff with Mercury, so I will see.”
With fresh vigour, Robert Post established his own record label with the aptly titled Bobfloat Music and a third album, ‘Rhetoric’ surfaced during 2011. A more stripped- down affair compared to previous releases, ‘Rhetoric’ is not only impressive for the manner in which it was conceived (i.e. literally a one-man show of writer, producer and performer) but also for the compelling array of mainly acoustic-driven songs reflecting an intimate beauty musically, despite the sadness held lyrically. Cleary, this is a man finding his feet and form again, in the sense that Robert Post sounds at home with the songs making up ‘Rhetoric’.
“It was the easiest of the albums to make and that was because I decided to do it that way and strip it down,” comments Robert with a glowing enthusiasm. “I had written approximately 120 songs and therefore decided to pick from whatever I had without deciding what songs should make it on to the album. I just started recording it, and I even wrote some of the songs as I recorded them. I wanted to let it flow and be creative and playful. I didn’t want to rely on anyone else to make it. I also had some free time in the studio on Giske after playing at the Sommerfesten. So I put up some microphones with help of an engineer. I wanted to do it like Bob Dylan would have done when he recorded his first album. He went in the studio and he put up one or two microphones, and I wanted it to sound a bit like that but I wanted to make it live in the studio ,” he continues enthusiastically. “So I put up some microphones and I just started to record it, and I thought it sounded interesting and perhaps more closer to what’s really me. I mean, I love to have a rich, textured sound but there is something about the rawness of just an acoustic guitar and my voice. But of course, I ended up recording lots of different instruments and, as I said, it was the easiest album that I have made.”
The multitalented skills of Robert Post were acquired from a young age when being a member of the local brass band in Langevåg was seen as the norm. Without such early mentoring, coupled with a considerable dose of self–initiative, “I decided to play the guitar when I was nine-years-old and very soon I found out that I wanted to write songs,” the musical environment would be a poorer place without his input. Therefore, it is with great anticipation that FLW holds its breath to learn what the future has in store for Robert Post.
“My plan is to actually release two albums this year. I recorded parts of ‘Rhetoric: Season Two’ and that will be pretty similar to the one last year. I will probably do a little bit more drums on it, but it will still be a stripped-down acoustic album. I just recorded a single version of one of the songs called, ‘Without a Shield’. It won’t be like the first album, but it will contain a bigger sound with a full band. I plan to make the whole year a very busy one. Then I am going to try and get to the UK and do a few shows there. My plan is to play as many shows as possible, with hopefully more than a hundred.”
It is definitely safe to assume that Robert Post has let go of his past by disarming all of the negativity after the somewhat indifferent ride of the major label experience. Any lingering creases have been ironed out by way of ‘Disarm & Let Go’ and, in the process, paving the way for the clarity and cohesion found throughout the more recent ‘Rhetoric’. With a busy schedule right around the corner, including several album releases and plenty of live dates, Robert Post is beginning to navigate his way to more prosperous shores once more.
I have always felt drawn between the quiet life and the busy life. A lot my songs have that in them."
FLW - From the Tapes
Robert Post finally comes clean about the story surrounding his major label signing to Mercury Records.
“It is a great story but it’s not entirely true. I think a lot was written about it in terms of the press in Norway about the story not being true, but the A&R person did travel to Bergen and he took a cab to the airport with the taxi driver who put on his own music. The A&R guy had been at a showcase evening of mine and then, after the gig, he took a cab, as I mentioned, and the taxi driver played his own his demos but it was a black metal band! So he thought it was funny coming to Norway for the first time and experiencing a cab ride with a driver who actually did that. So when we wrote the whole press story about everything, it became quite funny because everyone wanted to talk about it and basically I lied for a year! It’s a bit embarrassing now, but nobody asked why the story wasn’t entirely true. So I just maintained the myth.”