4: Musician Toby Robinson talks about experiencing the Ash Wednesday bush fires, the loss of his mother, learning to play the banjo in Ireland and why he one day quit his day job to be a full time singer & songwriter.
In the summer in Australia it can be brutally hot. I remember being woken up at night, it was red, the whole mountain was on fire. Trees exploding, houses burnt down. - Toby Robinson
In this episode I interviewed Toby Robinson, an Australian musician and song writer. Although he now is touring and doing something he totally loves, the road has been very long and it took him many years until he realised he had to one day walk away from his job and start doing what he was meant to do. Following his life path.
In this episode Toby tells us how it was to grow up in Kyneton, country Victoria with his brothers. To experience the Ash Wednesday Bush fires and be woken up one hot summer night by his mum to see everything around them being on fire. Moving to Queensland where the rain is warm, the loss of his mother, drugs and alcohol challenges, traveling to Europe to learn the banjo and meeting Carmen the flamenco dancer, to talking about his latest self titled album “Toby Robinson”. Make sure you listen to the end, where Toby will play his newly released single “Hold Me Close” (recorded in my kitchen)
In this Toby talks about:
Growing up as a kid in the country in Victoria.
Experience the tragic event Ash Wednesday Bush fires in Victoria 1983.
Learning to play the guitar by his dad.
Sneaking out as a child catching the train to Brisbane to listen to bands.
Moving to Ireland and totally falling in love with the Irish music.
How he finally broke free from alcohol and drug abuse.
How meditation and yoga helped him recover.
Toby’s music and lyrics. Why he writes and what it means to him.
Get in contact with Toby:
Thank you so much for listening to my episode today!
If you would like to email me some feedback and people or topics you would like to hear on my podcast please do so at: email@example.com
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A big THANKS to: Toby for joining me this week.
See you next time!
"Morning Sun" - Toby Robinson. Live @ Long Play (Thornbury, Melbourne), Samuel Marcus (harmonica)
Yenny: All right. Let's do it. Hello and welcome. I was wondering if you can tell us your name.
Toby: I'm Toby Robinson.
Yenny: And what do you do?
Toby: I'm a singer song writer.
Yenny: Thank you so much for coming to my show today. I really appreciate it. I was wondering if you can tell us a little bit. You're a musician now, but you have a lot of things that's happened in your life before that. And maybe you can take us back a little bit, where you grew up, where you're from, because you kind of grew up in Eumundi as well in Queensland, but also before that, where were your family from at the beginning so to speak?
Toby: Well, yeah. Well, I was born in a little hospital in Kyneton.
Yenny: Which is Victoria?
Toby: Which is, yeah, in the country Victoria. And we lived on a farm out there. And I lived in Victoria until I was about seven. We moved up to Queensland. And that time we were there, we were very close to the Ash Wednesday fires that swept through. And I think we'd, holidayed up here and dad really, they wanted the change. So we moved up to Eumundi in '84, and then I went to Eumundi Primary, the next year.
Yenny: So how was it moving to Victoria from the real, like out in the real countryside, because Eumundi is still just around the corner from the beach and holiday.
Toby: Yeah. That's 'cause... We grew up. We were on about 80,200 acres down there in Victoria.
Toby: It had shape and it's very nice, so that sort of wind swept grassland. But I was still quite young. All I really knew and mom used to say is when it rains, even the rain is warm. We moved to Queensland. And so the change was pretty... It was at that age group. You're still very young.
Yenny: So you must have appreciated the rain here as well because when you lived down there you talked about the Ash Wednesday. And that was a pretty big tragedy that happened.
Yenny: Do you remember anything about that?
Toby: Yeah. I was pretty young, but I remember being waken up at night. And from our farm, yes, we looked at Mount Macedon. Mom waked me up and pointed out. And it was just red. The whole mountain was on fire, trees exploding. And anyway, we had to go to the local school to evacuate the house and everything. And it was very eerie. And then driving, we went for a drive through Gibson and Mount Macedon a couple of days later. Just that memory of the houses being burnt down, all you could see was chimneys and the place just was charred. But it's something that doesn't leave you I think.
Yenny: No. And how was your family affected by it?
Toby: I mean, we were okay, 'cause we were down the bottom of the mountain. But dad was helping with the fire brigade there, as a volunteer. And it's a small community as well, so I think we were all affected by it. And it wasn't... There was a lot of fires too. It wasn't just that one. I remember people setting fire to the paddock and stuff out in the country in the summer. 'Cause in Victoria, the summers can be brutally hot.
Toby: Very hot. And those northerly winds when they come through, it's just pretty scary.
Yenny: It just happens. Yeah.
Toby: Yeah. It just happens. Yeah.
Yenny: So was that the reason why you moved up to Noosa or Noosa area?
Toby: That's what I was told, so I don't know.
Yenny: You were just a little...
Toby: Just the... Yeah, the kids. Put the kids in the back of the car and we're up to Noosa where the rain is warm. And then we ended up having our first meal at Joe's Waterhole.
Yenny: Oh, in one of the pubs.
Toby: Steak sandwich. And I said we're going to Joe's Waterhole for dinner. I thought we were going to a dam. I didn't know what they were talking about. So I didn't really know what was going on.
Yenny: Oh, that's awesome. So you also have mentioned before that your family went up quite often to Noosa to go on holidays?
Toby: Yeah, we had holiday on Noosa River.
Yenny: Yeah, and at the Caravan Park?
Toby: No. We had a little... We used to rent a little holiday house actually called "Wildore House", and it was quite different then. There's a disposal shop and there's just a little corner store and "Davos Bait & Tackle" was just down the road.
Yenny: "Davos", so Aussie.
Toby: It was lovely. We'd go holidaying there and swim on the river, and we'd always drive up from Victoria. There's four of us. I've got three brothers, and we'd all be in the same car.
Yenny: Oh, you got three?
Toby: Fighting over minties and sandwiches, yeah. Yeah.
Yenny: Oh wow! How was it growing up with three brothers?
Toby: It was great! Yeah.
Yenny: Were you close or were you arguing a lot and fighting or... ?
Toby: We're always fighting, yeah. But there's a big gap between my youngest brother. There's 18 months between us. And then there's 6 and a half year gap between the two older ones. And so, when you're in early teens, they seem so much older because they're almost 20 years old. But you know, we all get along. We still, to this day, get all really well.
Yenny: Anything that you used to do together, as the brothers?
Toby: Growing upon the farms, we did. Yeah.
Yenny: So what did you use to do?
Toby: Go exploring down train tracks and you know, riding motor bikes and all that sort of stuff. We used to have a lot of adventures on the property.
Yenny: Oh, awesome. Did you have a dam as well?
Toby: We did and we go “yabbying”.
Yenny: Oh! And how did you catch a yabbie?
Toby: With a bit of sausage or with a bit of steak. You tie it to a bit of string and you lower very gently into the water, and then you wait for it to hold on--
Yenny: For two hours?
Toby: Yeah, then you lift it up very slowly.
Yenny: Did it go fast or... ?
Toby: No, it's part of the slow process.
Yenny: Oh God!
Toby: And then you cook the nut fro the tiny little things.
Yenny: Like this 10 centimetres or something like that.
Toby: Yes, the size of them.
Yenny: Nice! And that was the dinner. Yes, with some sausage attached.
Toby: Yes, that's right. Yes, you have to keep the sausage.
Yenny: That's awesome. You're a musician now and you probably always been very artistic, and your brother Jolyon, he's an amazing painter, I think, and he draws. The rest of your family, where do he get that from, the artistic side?
Toby: I definitely think it's our parents, and it's also the influences of my parent's friends as well. When we lived out in the country in Victoria, there was a place where their friends would come over and they were painters and potters and musicians as well. So were always surrounded by artistic people. And from a very early age, I've always had artistic heroes around in the family, you know.
Yenny: And who were they?
Toby: Artists, you know, some of dad's old friends and there's a real style about them, you know.
Yenny: Yes, characteristics?
Toby: They're very charismatic and interesting, and we always had intellectual conversation and doing clever things. Making pottery or writing music and that's always been a lovely thing... I've actually just been in Sydney and I went to Brett Whiteley's Studio.
Yenny: I saw you posted a photo of the entrance.
Toby: Yes. You know, it was a beautiful thing, but it also reminded me of just the studio and his work space. I went through his music collection.They still got it there. It just reminded of where we grew up you know. And it was that sort of, those sort of people that we had around that are always inspired by art and been drawn to artistic people. And I know Joey, my oldest brother's the same, and it's something we share in common as well. Yeah, there's been creativity throughout the family. And even more so now, I'm really enjoying that, revisiting that, even more.
Yenny: So it wasn't much TV for you guys when you grew up, or...?
Toby: Not really, though I really don't mind. But dad, he taught me how to play guitar and he's...
Yenny: How old were you?
Toby: I was in Grade 3 I think. I remember watching the "Blues Brothers", and "Peter Gunn", the song came on in the movie and he was playing over the top, and I was, "Woah! What is that man? Far out!" And he taught me it, and then I'd learned it the next day and he taught me another one and I learned that and I picked it up very quickly. And then I had, you know. Then my brother learned the bass, Alexander, my younger brother and we had our first band by the time we were--
Yenny: And what was it called?
Toby: "The Dirty Deeds", after an A.C.D.C. song. Yeah, we had our first concert in Grade 4 in front of the school.
Yenny: Oh, at Eumandi?
Toby: Playing an A.C.D.C. song. That was, that was it.
Yenny: But that's kind of what started your journey, I guess, is that right?
Toby: Yeah, definitely.
Yenny: And through school, were you playing a lot then or were you exploring other things like sports and that, or was it mainly music?
Toby: Yeah, I was always good at sport as a teenager we used to go playing for the local footie club and played crickets and soccer and surfing. And I was good at track, running and all that kind of stuff as well. So I always love doing that, but there was always music. And i think, the more trouble I got into puberty, music, same turmoil too... It used to resonate with me more.
Yenny: Was it... did you like it because you could express yourself, or was it kind of a formal meditation or something like that?
Toby: I think back then, it was an expression.
Yenny: Or to pick up chicks?
Toby: It was definitely picking up chicks. No, it was...Yeah, I suppose it was self-expression, but you know, when you're 14, 15, you're not thinking about that.
Yenny: You just do something...
Toby: Yes, but it definitely was. I mean I was playing a lot of trash music back then, and you know big bands like “The Melvins”, all that were very famous. So we're playing all that sort of sounds. And it was also a way to get involved in a community, you know, that I really resonated with, and that was [inaudible]. Nothing has changed since, and that's been really great, yeah and I love that about music.
Yenny: So at what point did you decide to leave Eumundi, and why?
Toby: When I left school, I moved to Brisbane and went to music school down there.
Yenny: Oh okay.
Toby: Yeah. So I don't know. I've always...
Yenny: Journey or... ?
Toby: No, it's called "Rock and Roll School".
Yenny: Ah, even better.
Yenny: My mom and dad enrolled me into a Rock and Roll school.
Toby: Yeah. I think because, you know, we moved to Sunshine Beach. My mom passed away when I was 14, so we'd move up from Victoria, moved to Eumundi and then mom passed away. That was a huge shock and shift to the whole family.
Yenny: I'm sorry to hear that.
Toby: No, it was and that has been a big motivation and inspiration to play music again, today. But back then, I was 15, 16, and I'd just sit in my bedroom and listen to bands in Brisbane on the radio, and in Melbourne, and I'd listen to things like "The Smiths" and "The Cure", and what's going on in Sydney from "Triple J”(radio show). I'd just sit there. I'd dream and then sometimes I'd sneak out of home and catch the train to Brisbane and watch bands. And you know, when I was 15, 16, sneaking into clubs and I just fell in love with it. I just absolutely fell into it. Yeah, and so...
Yenny: Was it you moved there by yourself, you didn't know anyone?
Toby: To Brisbane?
Yenny: And Sydney as well?
Toby: Yeah, I moved to Brisbane and stayed with my brother. So, yeah, the soon as I could move out at home, I just had to get to a city, and that's where I went to "Rock and Roll School". I lived with my older brother and we got up to a lot of travel. But from the first day of that school, I met some lifelong friends, you know. They were doing the exact thing as me, and we lived together after a while and had a band and toured and just live this crazy, deborturous life where there's studio in the living room and mattresses around it... and that's just how we lived, and it was just so great.
Yenny: So where did you go in around Australia?
Toby: Many, up the east coast, yeah, you know. We did a few tours and did some recordings, played in a few band competitions and stuff like that. But then, I started travelling, outside of Brisbane, around 19 or 20.
Yenny: Okay. So what happened then? Tell me. Tell me.
Toby: I met a lovely girl, and she wasn't deborturous. I found that quite appealing, 'cause I needed a bit of a change. And I followed her to New Zealand. We lived in Queens Town and I played in a band there. That was great fun. And then, we ended up travelling through India, Asia and living in Scotland together, for years.
Yenny: And why did you live in Scotland?
Toby: It was either Earls Court in England, where all the Aussies go, or somewhere else. So it was somewhere else.
Yenny: Yeah. Was she from... she wasn't from Scotland?
Toby: No, she was from here.
Yenny: So what did you do in Scotland?
Yenny: Played in a band?
Toby: No, learned the banjo actually. I started a big love affair of Irish and Scottish folk music, and I always work in bars and running and getting paid 3 pounds 20 and hour.
Yenny: Free beers?
Toby: Well, the beer was 2.70 AUD. So I had three jobs, just to get a few pints a day. And yeah, lived over there in England and Ireland for a good three years. Especially in Ireland, I had a great time there learning songs. I lived in a little place called Doolin, which is in County Clare, and that really is the heart of Irish folk music. It's a beautiful tiny little village, two pubs, a post office and a music shop. I lived in an attic of a guest house there, and wash dishes and learn songs. That was a really, really great time.
Yenny: Yeah. I was thinking like you can't stop smiling when...
Yenny: You know, you felt very good I guess. You know, like did you wake up every morning like, "Wooho! This is lovely!"
Toby: Yeah, it was a wonderful experience. It really was, yeah.
Yenny: Yeah. So is there a... Your latest album that I've been listening to on and on. It has got a lot of that influence, like the Irish black [inaudible]. It's just wonderful and the banjo as well. But we'll get to that later, I guess. So what happened after that Scotland, what did you do then? Did you go back, to Australia?
Toby: No, I fell in love with a flamenco dancer.
Yenny: Of course.
Toby: I followed her in Europe for a while.
Yenny: What was her name?
Yenny: Oh Karen, I though Carmen.
Toby: No. She was actually German.
Yenny: Oh okay.
Toby: So I followed her around. We lived in Spain, and back in Scotland and... Then I came home, 'cause I just missed home and I've been away for quite a while. Three or four years.
Yenny: What is your family you missed or just... ?
Toby: Yeah, it was everything. It was the coast and Australia and my family, yeah. I remember my brother sending me a CD and some of a care package over there, and it had a... our favorite band. No, "Karma County" was our favorite band.
Yenny: What? Karma...?
Toby: "Karma County". Brendan Gallagher the song writer. I just heard that song "Sacred Country" and I just had to come home.
Yenny: Oh, yeah.
Toby: Yeah. So that was that.
Yenny: It suddenly presses the button in you, I guess. I don't know all about it but I feel very attached to this country as well. But yeah, so after that, what happened? Yeah, was that when you started like the music, and you mentioned before that you had a job.
Toby: Yeah, that was the beginning. I went back to school actually when I came back, to night school. 'Cause I spent a lot of my high school years in the music room wagging mess, in English learning the drums. So I went back to that school and I got a good grade and I went off to Uni. I was doing an Arts Degree. So that sort of started that journey of good of academia and doing different courses and finding my way in that world. Yeah, which continued on for about ten years, I think.
Yenny: 'Cause you said you had it like a joke for awhile and you weren't very happy in your soul.
Toby: No. When I went back to Melbourne... I moved to Melbourne when I was 30, and yeah, I got a job in a design office after studying. I did a Masters Degree in Design Anthropology. And the only joy we could get out of that was working in a design office, drafting and all that kind of stuff. And, yeah, I went mad.
Yenny: How long did you stay for?
Toby: In the jobs?
Toby: It was on and off for quite a few years.
Yenny: 'Cause I can relate to that myself. I think I'm pretty unemployable at the moment, because I just done different projects myself all the time. You know, being used to being my own boss and trying to find my path in life. So from that, you kind of one day decided you're gonna give music a go?
Toby: Look, I think it's...
Yenny: So like a revelation or like one of those like, "Ah! I'm going to..."
Toby: I've got a job. It was a long process and I've been trying to fit in the world of career and what...
Yenny: Which is not bad, you know. It's good for some people, but some people don't fit in there.
Toby: Yeah. And so I did that for quite a few years, and I work really hard at it too. Go to university and having part time jobs and getting my way through Uni. But it was a long process, and it's been a yearning for many years, to the point where I couldn't even go into a supermarket and hear a song that I know that resonate with me. And I'd burst into tears, you know, 'cause I just desperately wanted to be on a different path, my true path. It was really... It was quite painful and hard, and I just thought, "Man, screw it." I was sitting in a relationship that I really wasn't happy in, and a job that I wasn't happy in. And I just made a decision of, "Look, I'm just gonna take some baby steps towards this." And it's been amazing the amount of people that have come on board to help me. So I just started of by recording a couple of songs, because I have never stopped writing songs. So many songs of musical projects and things. My producer is my now producer Nick Huggins. He was just really naturally wonderful. And then a mentor and manager came on board, and she was quite amazing. She made me look at my past and look at my journey and look at why I'm here now. And we dug out photos of living in Ireland that I hadn't thought about in... You know, dating a Flamenco dancer and--
Yenny: The German.
Toby: Yeah, the German from... And you know, busking at the Eumundi markets when I was a kid, and all the stuff. And she would just pull out all these photos and put it all over the wall, and she started asking me all these big questions. You know like, "Who are you? Where do you want to go?" A thing I hadn't really, really though about too much and it gave me such a strong foundation to move on, and then just put myself on the line and record an album, and just connect with that project. It's been quite amazing.
Yenny: Has the project got a name?
Toby: Yeah. It's just Toby Robinson.
Yenny: Yeah. So it is that, you know, that's the start of...
Yenny: ...your music.
Toby: Yeah, and you also become the brand. You become everything, and it's quite confronting, you know. But you always... I think that's why I had to have that strong foundation about why I'm doing this and always come back to that.
Yenny: So why are you doing it?
Toby: 'Cause I can't not, I cannot do it and it's so strong in me at some... It moves me everyday and just so glad I got the motivation to, because I'd be miserable if I didn't. So yeah, that's why it's very strong. And the reason, I mean, it's quite a deep connection to my music and it's quite a deep connection to the journey I'm on, and also a deep connection to the past of losing my mother earlier and losing friends along the way, and, you know, feeling life's bumps. And the only way I can really connects through that is with music and without you know, I'm... So that's... maybe it's the only way I make sense out of the world really, without sounding too much like a big hippie, which I am.Yeah, so that's really strong in me, and that's working. Merilee, my first manager made me realise. So every decision I make, in my future, in my music, about anything that's going on, it always comes back down to that. It's not about trying to be famous or trying to do anything like that. It's just because I have to, and that's got to come from that right place. And I find a lot of people connect with the music that way. It's not uncommon for people to come up and thank me, 'cause of being going through grief for something... you know, and that's really, really beautiful.
Yenny: So what is your album called to share with the listeners?
Toby: Yeah, it's just a self-titled album, Toby Robinson. It's 10 tracks of songs that I'd always wanted to record.
Yenny: And are they all about your past or like... My favourite is... My God, I love this song, "Morning Sun". What is that one about, because it got the banjos?
Toby: Yeah. I wrote that. I was staying at my auntie's house, and I guess it's about... I've been through a few things in life that I'd have to walk away from. I got heavily involved with drugs and alcohol, so I had to walk away from that. I think Morning Sun's more about that and letting of the fear of everyday and trusting the path that the universe or whatever you choose to call it. So yes, it was just a beautiful moment sitting there in the sun and just thinking of... I'm really scared, but I'm still gonna move forward.
Yenny: And when was that?
Toby: It was in Melbourne.
Yenny: I'm crying.
Toby: I was surrounded by a lot of grief at the time, 'cause my uncle had just died, my dad's brother, and so I was staying at their house. Sort of helping around the house a bit. So grief was around a lot, and question of life and all that sort of stuff.
Yenny: Do you think without the music you wouldn't be able to deal with it as well? Like with your past, drugs and alcohol and the grief as well.
Toby: Yeah, probably not. I mean I would see more today that it's a way that I really do make sense out of my life. It's really creativity.
Yenny: Do you have a favourite track or song on your album?
Toby: I don't know. Look, I love the first track, "At Your Feet". I think that's... 'Cause it reminds me of growing up in the country and dad playing all the folk stuff around the house. You know he was always so encouraging. When I was a kid, he'd wake me up and get me out of bed to watch the guitarist on telly. He'll take me down to the local pub to watch the guys play, a bit of "Dire Straits". And we'll look constantly at singer records. And I think that song, I've used a lot of finger picking guitar and that always reminds me of folk and dad. And it's about love and finding your feet and you and stuff. So yeah, I think that's my favourite song.
Yenny: Awesome. And you mentioned before, you have a... probably when this podcast is released, you will have a video or music video. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Toby: Yeah. This year, I'm releasing quite a lot of new music, and this is the first song I'm releasing. It's called "Live Your Life" and that really is just about me leaving the job, being miserable on the train, going to work everyday, and taking a leap of faith into this musical path. And so, there's a film clip. It's out on iTunes.
Yenny: Yeah, I will put everything on the show and all this as well. So I'll put this in too.
Toby: Yeah. It's more of a joyous song, you know. It's a celebration.
Yenny: So at the end of the... Oh by the way, before I kind of close the interview, so to speak, do you have anything else you would say to a person that, you know, go to work everyday and they really want to do something else, but they don't really believe that they can. What would you say?
Toby: Just do it. Don't waste any more time, 'cause time again I'm reminded how life is so short and fragile. Think you know, "Why not?" I know that seems silly, but I think when it comes down to it, no one else is going to do it for you. So that's what I've been telling a friend down in Melbourne. But I know it's not that easy either.
Yenny: No, it's not.
Toby: It's very scary.
Yenny: You can tell people, but it's your decision in the end, what you would do.
Toby: All I could say, if anyone was ever thinking about changing a direction, doing something, is that I have done it and I'm the happiest I've ever been. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Yenny: I can see. You have huge smile. You can't stop smiling. It's amazing.
Toby: Certainly. That's good.
Yenny: It's contagious.
Toby: It's good to see the evidence in someone rather than being told. And I have a friend say the same thing to me a couple of years ago. He looked at me and said... We used to escape together and he's a touring musician, and taking the drop means dropping in to the skate bowl for the first time, and he always said, "Just take the drop. Just take the drop." And so I did. And it scared the hell out of me. And it still does, but you know, so what? It's good.
Yenny: You'll think about, "What if? What if?"
Toby: Yeah. I don't want to sit around wondering.
Yenny: At the end of the interview I usually ask people, what do you do everyday to actually work on your self-care to make yourself happy and strong. Do you have anything you could share with us?
Toby: Yeah, I practice meditation. I do a lot of yoga nidra.
Yenny: Sorry, what's that?
Toby: Yoga nidra.
Yenny: Nidra, yeah. There's so many different ones.
Toby: It's an Indian. It's the easiest one of them all. You're lying down. And I eat well, and I exercise regularly. And I try to keep myself grounded. I don't drink or do drugs. I try to stay in reality as much as I can. Yeah, so I do that on a daily basis. It's really important.
Yenny: So where can people find you if they want to know a little bit more about you, about your album, and need about you?
Toby: Yeah, I've got a website. It's tobyrobinson.com.au or I'm on Facebook and Instagram and iTunes and Spotify, you name it.
Yenny: Yeah, I'll put in the show notes, as well, and they can contact you there if they want to maybe book you as well.
Toby: Yeah, the website is probably the best place to go.
Yenny: Thank you so much. And I believe that you're gonna play a little bit for us. Is that right?
Toby: Oh, sure.
Yenny: Yeah, do you want to do that and just show the listeners?