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Tim Robbins: singer/songwriter

By Walter J. Lyng

It’s somehow unsurprising to find out that Tim Robbins is kind of a humble, regular guy. Sounding even more soft-spoken than usual on a recent long distance phone call, Robbins revealed that he was doing a load of laundry while chatting.

“If there’s a spin cycle in the background, don’t get confused,” he says.

What may be more confusing than the distant background noise of a washing machine is Robbins’s recent decision to launch a debut music album at age 51, in the midst of a still-active career in film, television and stage.

Far from being some half-baked vanity project, however, this new self-titled record by Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band is the culmination of a life spent surrounded by musicians and a long-simmering desire to make music himself.

The result is an album which is being heralded for its writing and composition, with liberal comparisons being made to Bruce Springsteen and even Bob Dylan.

“It’s a beautiful compliment,” he says. “I don’t know how true it is. You just want to believe what your experience has been live, one on one, playing the song for someone.”

Robbins will be bringing that very experience to Club Soda (1225 St. Laurent Blvd.), on Wednesday, July 13 where he will impart on those gathered the folk-heavy sensibilities bestowed upon him by past collaborative efforts with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora.

Although, as he points out, just as various musical influences in addition to folk could be heard in the recordings of Seeger, so too are hints of everything from rock to jazz present in Robbins’s songs.

“It’s all fair game,” he says. “Part of doing a show is having a variety.”

Having been framed in the past as the poster boy of Hollywood liberalism, it would seem to some that this new endeavor would provide a new forum for Robbins to spout the political views he’s supposedly been vocal about in the past. “I think that if I wanted to do it I would have done it but I didn’t,” he says.

Furthermore, he doesn’t consider his body of work all that political. “I’ve always approached things from a humanistic point of view and storyteller point of view. I don’t believe I’ve had a political agenda in the work I’ve done. I feel sometimes when I’m asked that question that it’s more a result of the way the media has characterized me than it is the truth.”

The nagging questions concerning political ideology have haunted Robbins especially since 2003 when he publicly questioned the logic of invading Iraq when the existence of weapons of mass destruction had yet to be demonstrated.

“All I did was ask a question as a citizen of the United States,” he says. “How that’s a radical statement, I’ll never know. Because there was such a massive movement towards war and because it had so many supporters in the mainstream media — not just FOX — basically no one was asking questions. Why was it up to actors? That’s a ridiculous state of affairs.”

One of only two of Robbins’s projects with a marked political angle was the 1992 satirical mockumentary Bob Roberts, which marked his directorial debut. Although he has sat in the director’s chair since then, it has been over 10 years since he last helmed a feature.

“I stopped directing because of something that my son said. He was seven at the time. He said, ‘I like it a lot better when you act.’ What that meant was that I was more present as a father [when I acted]. I know myself when I direct; I get obsessed, I become the project and I kind of check out as a father.”

While definitely passionate about his new album, he says the project wasn’t approached with the same kind of obsession.

“The best way to do this kind of stuff is with more of a Zen approach,” he says. “Nothing can be perfect. If you listen to some of the things you love the most, there’s mistakes in them. It’s kind of my whole problem with synthesizers and more with the idea of an artificial drum. It feels not human enough.”

For now, Robbins says he is having more fun touring than he ever did on a movie set and that this venture has allowed him to connect with his audience more directly than ever before.

“I don’t take any show lightly,” he says. “I respect an audience who’s made the choice to come see me.”

Tickets can be purchased over the phone by calling 514-286-1010, or online at


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