art feature
 April 29, 2011

 

Singer/songwriter perfects his game
by Melissa Cowan

Chris Robbins was destined to be a basketball player. Easily passing six feet, he loved the sport, played in high school and hoped to continue through college — until he broke his wrist and his dad told him, “You’re gonna get more girls playing guitar than you are playing basketball.”

Now he just watches basketball and fronts two very different bands: O Giant Man and Miss Brown.

Robbins was about 15 when he started playing guitar and singing. Miss Brown, which formed in 2007 when Robbins was 18, was a solo project until late 2010, now, it’s a two-piece band.

In 2009, the four-piece O Giant Man formed and is a bit harder to define, as it encompasses seemingly every genre from blues-rock to pop rock.

Chris Robbins
Singer/songwriter Chris Robbins (photo courtesy Melissa Cowan)

“It’s (Miss Brown) a little more down tempo, loungey … we’ve (O Giant Man) kind of gone outside of that and picked it up a bit, so the softer stuff I write is always a Miss Brown thing,” he said. “At this point, I don’t even bring it to the table for O Giant Man.”

Miss Brown more personal, whereas O Giant Man is more playful, said Robbins. “Some of the stuff I write doesn’t work for O Giant Man so it’s (Miss Brown) an outlet for creativity.”

Robbins and a friend from high school originally created Miss Brown, but when his friend joined the Marines, Robbins decided to keep the name and make it a solo project. He released his first 5-song EP, This is a Birthday Song two years ago online. It was given to his girlfriend first as a Christmas present.

“Abby loved it,” he said. “She still loves it.”

This past January he released his second EP Like Buyin’ Stock, also online. But Miss Brown has gone through a transformation between that time with the addition of a new member, Michael Stout.

Through a friend of a friend, the unmixed tracks of O Giant Man’s first album, Everybody Knows I’m Just an Animal, ended up with Stout.
Stout, who was in Mississippi at the time working as an engineer for Rogue Wave and on the new Wavves album, decided to fly home to Missouri to hear the band live. Now he’s back in living in Missouri, engineering the new O Giant Man record and feeling he’s part of a family.

When Robbins and Stout went to the 100-year-old theater in Jamesport, MO, to record Miss Brown, they didn’t expect for Like Buyin’ Stock to turn out the way it did — no one else did either.

“Everyone thought we were going to go up there (to the studio) and make an acoustic guitar, singer record,” Stout said. “The singer-songwriter song was the one we spent the least amount of time on.”

They say they wrote the song “Conductor,” the only acoustic song on the EP, in a matter of minutes. Robbins was “just playing around on the guitar and singing” while Stout was editing. When Stout heard what Robbins was doing, he hit “record,” leaving finish product done in one take.

In recording Like Buyin’ Stock, Robbins and Stout took “a pile of instruments” into the studio.

“I didn’t even plan on being a part of it,” Stout said. “It turned into like full band stuff … even if we didn’t know how to play it and we wanted to use it, we figured it out.”

“We went up there just to have fun,” Robbins added.

Robbins only had one song written for Like Buyin’ Stock before he and Stout went into the studio. “Oh! (Snow Song)” which was on the first Miss Brown EP but was to be reworked for the second EP.

Over four days, Robbins and Stout collaborated to write both the music and lyrics for four more, new songs — and they recorded them within those four days, too.

“I’ll just start singing a melody with syllables and whatever the syllables sound like is what I’ll base it (a song) off of,” Robbins said.

While they didn’t push this EP to labels (or even make CDs to sell), they are sending Like Buyin’ Stock to publishing houses hoping to find their way to commercials. And they’ve already written and recorded three additional songs.

“Anytime Chris and I can get together, we’ll sit down and write a song,” Stout said.

Like Buyin’ Stock is pure Americana and folk storytelling. Robbins’ coffee-rich voice can hit a listener at the core with the singer/songwriter’s sincerity and openness. Consider the song “Conductor”:

Conductor, take me away from here/I’ve been here too long, seen too many days of the same thing/I’m all dried out, as dry as the desert.

Recording the atmosphere of a 100-year-old theater also lends an organic feel to the singing and songs.

Currently, Robbins is student teaching and finishing up his last semester at Northwest Missouri State University. He plans to take some time off after he graduates and really focus on music. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always teaching — or maybe basketball?

For a free download of Like Buyin’ Stock, go to www.missbrown.bandcamp.com

Melissa Cowan can be contacted  mrcgfd@mail.umkc.edu.