Chinadoll: The Nam Behind the Man
JAMRAG (Detroit) called them "techno pop masquerading as
art." I know because I stole a look at their web page. This
could be Webster's definition of this group/guy, if Webster
were indeed alive and at all cared. As it stands, I had a
vague chance of scoring an e-conflab with such a weird
commodity, and I jumped at it. If you want to know what I
think - read my review (I'm giving nothing away), or, join
all eyes on these Questions For Our Youth Of Today.
[Ben Ohmart] First of all, I
notice you do most everything yourself music-wise, so I've
got to ask: being so heavily reliant on yourself, what's the
good, the bad, and the ugly about being your own music all
the time? How do you stay inspired and awake?
[Robin] Staying awake is sometimes a problem, but
staying inspired rarely is. I've got a notebook full of
ideas, and dozens of cassette tapes with bits and pieces of
melodies and rhythms. But usually I don' t have to go back
to those tapes, 'cause I've almost always got a tune in my
head to work with. I've been in bands before, and it was fun
and I had a great time, but I just didn't feel that it was
creatively fulfilling. I think maybe I have the temperament
of a writer or a painter, since I usually do my best work
when I'm on my own.
[BO] I rooted around the bio
page of your very hip looking chinadoll.net but couldn't
find much on Robin the person. For instance, what Robin were
you named after? Hood, or the kid who had a Pooh Bear? Tell
me about life untouched by tunes.
[Robin] Well, the thing is, I think that Robin the
musician is far more interesting than Robin the person! And
I'd rather people focused on the music, anyways. I've never
included a photo of myself on any of the Chinadoll CDs,
'cuz I don't want "Robin" to be the product, I want the
music to be the product. But if you *really* want to know
what I'm up to when I'm not busy being the Chinadoll, I'm
usually spending time with friends, drinking coffee, reading
as much as I can and listening to as much music as I can. Oh
yeah, and I was named after Christopher Robin!
[BO] But you live for music,
I assume. Or is that an evil thought?
[Robin] Ahhh, no, not evil! But it's not always
constructive, either. It's very easy to get caught up in the
lifestyle of being a musician, and too much of that
lifestyle revolves around narcissism and ego, and I really
don't think that's helpful to a creative artist. I mean,
musicians who spend their life on the road tend to write
songs about life on the road, and I think we've all had
enough of that, haven't we? I think it's important for every
artist to maintain some sort of connection with the outside
world, 'cuz that's where the audience lives. Unless you want
to make art for other artists, or make music for other
musicians, but that doesn't interest me.
[BO] You're getting airplay
by the mini-van load, and racking up reviews by the review.
Are there A People who dig you more than most? To what
degree, if any, have fans played a part in what goes down in
your performances and compositions?
[Robin] A lot of Chinadoll fans wear black
lipstick! And a lot are in Australia, for some reason.
Chinadoll has kind of been adopted by the goth community,
which I find very flattering. I'm not one of those musicians
who doesn't care what anyone thinks. It's really important
to me to know that my work is appreciated, even if it's only
a small number of people. Chinadoll doesn't make a lot of
money for me, so it's really the fan mail and reviews and
college radio play that determine whether I stop or go.
Almost everyone who's heard my music seems to appreciate the
fact that I'm doing something different, that there's
something unique about the Chinadoll that they can't get
anywhere else. I'm not sure what that is, 'cuz I'm really
just trying to write a bunch of artsy pop songs. The
Chinadoll is just Velvet Underground with a sampler. But
maybe that is kind of unique...
[BO] You're signed up with
MP3.com (hey, isn't everyone?), so I was curious how that
and the web has helped you as an artist. Are you anything
like the poor, pathetic, interviewing poets of the world
(like me) who spend 90% of their time promoting, and the
other 10% inspiration/performing/recording?
[Robin] The greatest thing about the web is that
it makes communication a lot easier and a *lot* cheaper.
With my last CD I was spending almost $300 each month on
phone calls, trying to stay in touch with all the radio
stations and record stores and magazines. Now I can just
send an email and most of the time that's enough. Last time
I checked MP3.com I've had over two hundred downloads, so
that's extra exposure. But outside of that, I'm not sure
what kind of effect the MP3's have had. I've never met
anyone who has bought my CD 'cuz they heard it over the web.
Everyone I've asked has either heard the Chinadoll on
college radio or heard it from a friend.
I do spend a
lot of time on promotion, but I keep it low-key. I don't do
a hard sell, I try to work with people who are already
enthusiastic about my music. If I talk with someone who
doesn't like the Chinadoll, I just thank them for listening,
put down the phone and call someone else. I don't want to
get so caught up in the business that I can't separate it
from the music, 'cause then it just turns into another lousy
job and I've had enough of those!
[BO] If you could change
something(s) about the music biz you have Personally
touched, what would it be? And why the hell..?!?
[Robin] Jeez, I'm almost completely out of touch
with "the music industry." Occasionally I'll meet someone
from a major-league record label or radio station, but it's
like, they're from Mars and I'm from Venus. We're speaking
two different languages. I guess for them it's all about
hype and promotion, but I can't relate to any of that.
That's why I like dealing with college radio, 'cuz for them
it's all about the music, and Internet radio has been really
supportive of the new release. I guess it's kind of
pointless to talk about changing "the music industry," 'cuz
they're just going to follow the money, regardless of what
artists have to say about it. But hopefully artists can find
other outlets for their work, like the Internet and college
radio and hopefully soon we'll have low-power FM radio as
[BO] Okay, let's dream for a
moment. What's your ambition? Staying away from Mariah
Carey's pants, what is your ultimate goal in this wavy world
of vibrations and pitches?
[Robin] Um, Mariah Carey's pants wouldn't fit me
anyways! Someday I'd like to make a CD with a string
quartet, something orchestral... Or maybe something like
Roxy Music's "Avalon"... But really, I don't plan far ahead,
and I don't seem to have much of a goal or a focus. It just
seems that I see the world a little differently than most
people and the only way to express that is through words and
music. So every couple of years I'll put out a new CD and
that's a snapshot of what I'm seeing at that particular
moment. Right now I feel that I've got enough energy and
ideas to put out at least two more Chinadoll CDs. I've no
idea what I'll be doing after that.
[BO] You've produced several
CDs - good stuff. Would you consider yourself prolific? Does
that mean if you had the cash and patience you'd put out as
many CDs as Zappa? Or are you a performer at heart who'd
rather play for The 3 Tenors audiences?
[Robin] Nah, I'm much more Zappa than the Three
Tenors! Write me a check and I'll make a ten-disc box set...
Heck, if I had enough cash I'd make a movie! I'm not sure if
it would be any good, but I'd have fun trying. I'd do the
soundtrack of course...
[BO] I too like soundtracks
(I always write to them) and Prince. Can you describe a
future interview in which someone names you as a major
influence? Don't have the vanity for that? I'm amazed to
find Julie London as a favorite of yours. Care to comment
why I'm amazed?
[Robin] Me? A major influence? Wow, weird... But I
guess it's possible, I once stumbled onto a website that had
a quote from a song of mine, it said "even shadows dream of
life and color," which is from the song "Ever Even Touch" on
the Tango CD. And I wrote to the girl who did the website,
and she said she'd never heard of the Chinadoll, but that a
friend of hers had sent her the line in an email. So I guess
the Chinadoll is already having a small effect on the
Ahh, Julie London... well about two years ago a
friend made me a tape of Julie London, and I just loved the
orchestral arrangements, and her voice, of course. Wow, I
haven't listened to that one in a long time, thanks for
[BO] Vas ist das?
[Robin] Das ist ein Volkswagen!
[BO] Any parting shots to
all your competition out there?
[Robin] Get a phaser. I've got a cheap Roland
phaser effect pedal, and I can guarantee that everything
sounds good with a phaser. No matter how rotten of a
musician you are, no matter what you play, you'll sound cool
with a phaser. I think they come free with every box of
Visit Chinadoll's Website @ www.chinadoll.net