Veteran Session Violinist
Flies High on Eclectic
Pop/Classical Indie Debut
For veteran film score and pop session violinist Robin Olson, choosing "Fly RRRRRRRRobin Fly"-an energetic instrumental reworking of the catchy mid-70s disco hit-as the lead track on his independently released debut album Passion was more than just a clever way to introduce his professional name to the world. Which, for those counting, has a total of seven R's. The title is truly a metaphor for the St. Paul native's incredible lifelong musical journey, culminating in the five year long labor of love that marks his emergence as a solo artist.
The incredible TV-movie like story (complete with, appropriately enough, a violin swelling happy ending) behind the making of Passion is nearly as inspiring as RRRRRRRobin's playing throughout the 14 tracks. The masterful blend of pop, classical, jazz, fusion and world music might never have happened at all, had RRRRRRRobin listened to the pessimistic surgeons who told him that he would never play again after a near fatal motorcycle crash in 1999. He was flying in a very different way then, off the back of his motorcycle in what he terms a "high side" crash at 80 mph on the winding Malibu Canyon road. A helmet saved his life, but he landed face first on the pavement, was knocked senseless and shattered his right clavicle and wrist.
"I woke up later in the hospital and told them I was a violinist," he recalls. "The surgeon came in, shook his head, clucked his tongue and said he was afraid those days were over. I knew immediately that he was wrong. I honestly didn't have a choice. I've always felt the violin has been my friend in times of need. It's taken me all over the world and has been my escape from and back to reality. It's my voice."
In the years before the accident, RRRRRRRobin had toyed with the idea of doing a solo project, but had been somewhat 'sidetracked' by his burgeoning career as a session player, which found him working with huge pop stars who only need one name (Madonna, Celine, Barbra, Clapton) and performing in string sections on hundreds of popular movie scores by masters like Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Being sidelined and unable to play, however, gave him time to compose some of the tunes and work on arrangements of legendary classical pieces that eventually were recorded for Passion.
"Thankfully, the session work enabled me to produce my album according to my dream, my voice, my own vision. I knew I had another voice inside me that people had to hear," he says. "I decided that once I recovered, I should finally do it. I was playing within six months and slowly but surely, the album started taking shape. The different tracks are basically a collection of snapshots of different life expressions, an adventurous journey expressed through music. A musical autobiography designed to take the listener to all the musical places I love."
Being an independent artist, RRRRRRRobin relished the great freedom he had in choosing and producing the songs and the top session players he worked with. The ensemble on Passion includes names familiar to anyone who knows about the Los Angeles session scene, including pianist Randy Kerber, bassists Leland Sklar and Bill Sewell, guitarist John Goux, drummer Bob Zimmitti and percussionist Luis Conte. 'Passion,' 'Fly' and 'Slap Me' feature 'RRRRRRRobin's Angels,' violinists Kathie Lenski, Sara Parkins, Rachel Stegeman and Josefina Vergara. Engineer Shawn Murphy has worked on famous records with legends like Itzhak Perlman and John Williams, who worked together-with RRRRRRRobin in the orchestra-on the classic score to Schindler's List.
The violinist's stream of consciousness description of many of the tracks reflects his ongoing boyish enthusiasm for the multi-faceted project: "The first song I wrote was 'Fly' and I recorded it first in my home studio...Puccini meets The Shirelles... 'Passion' was actually written for a USC film student who rejected it as 'Too emotional...' I turned around and made it my signature song...I wrote 'Slap Me' with its 70's styled guitar clicks poolside at The Bellagio in Vegas...Randy said the song made him want to slap me... kind of a Zappa influence, with a spontaneous tango in it that started as a joke... the 'Overture' that ends the album was a piece a neighbor challenged me to write off the first two minutes of Elfman's original Batman score... 'Love Inside' was inspired by a Brahms violin sonata... 'Egyptian Rave' is my little twist on Vitali's 1712 piece 'The Chaccone'... 'The Monster's Song' is my version of the 'Young Frankenstein' main title... I watched it while I was recovering...' 'Ave Maria' was my mother's favorite song... she died 20 years ago, but I always feel her with me..."
RRRRRRRobin is very proud of the fact that Charles Stegeman, head of the string department at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, chose to use his arrangement of 'Egyptian Rave' for his students to play. Aside from developing a career as a successful solo artist, one of RRRRRRRobin's goals is to show young people and particularly music students that the violin is a hip instrument to learn to play. He didn't have much of a choice; he gravitated towards drums but Uncle Bobby was a violin teacher, there was little money, and he was 'stuck' at age eight with the instrument that would come to define his life.
"I really want to make a difference in students' lives, helping to revitalize the music programs in schools, and show them what I do can be cool for them too," he says. "It's important that I perform in schools and share this with students. I'd really like to play a part in influencing the next generation of musicians. While seeking out opportunities with various educational programs, I'm also planning to release a version of the album with only the backing tracks, along with a songbook so people can learn my lead lines and play them. They didn't have such things when I was growing up, but I was doing the same thing, playing along with Jean-Luc Ponty records."
With the release of Passion and its accompanying live concert DVD, RRRRRRRobin is also very excited about getting out and doing more concert performances. Although he's played with some of the world's top orchestras-including the Caracas Philharmonic, the Orange County Pacific Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra-it took pop legend Olivia Newton-John to get him over his stage fright as a solo performer once and for all.
"Some time after I recovered from the accident, I met Olivia's sister Rona at a party and the next thing you know, Olivia asked me to play at one of her parties," he says. "She liked me and invited me to be the opening act on her 36 city 2001 tour. I was out there all alone playing along with pre-recorded tracks, and terrified at that first gig in Lake Tahoe. I struggled for their attention during the first two verses of the song 'Passion' (my first song of the set), but by the time I got to the fast and furious ending, the audience had risen to its feet! Nothing compares to the magic of a live performance. They really make me feel alive. For me, that's where the real passion is."
Check out the artist's website:
2. Fly RRRRRRRobin Fly
4. Sand Dune
7. Midnight After
8. The Monster's Song
10. Egyptian Rave
11. Slap Me
12. Love Inside
13. Ave Maria