J. Robbins is best known for his work in acclaimed alternative bands like Jawbox, Office of Future Plans, and Burning Airlines, but on May 31st, he will release his debut solo album on Dischord Records: Un-becoming. Because it was a solo endeavor, Robbins was able to take his time with the album, which he worked on it over a span of three years. “I think it ended up being an advantage even though it got a little bit painful from time to time, especially towards the end. I was wondering if I would ever finish it,” he explains. “It happened that way out of necessity because my time and energy is really split between running my studio and being a parent.”
Although the length of time it took to create the album was due to Robbins’ busy schedule, it also played well to his perfectionist tendencies. “Especially with lyric writing, things don’t really happen instantaneously for me; they tend to happen over a long span of time. And a lot of times I like to go back and rewrite and sort of rework and re-tweak things. And some of the recording is that way too,” Robbins says. He goes on to explain that because the writing process wasn’t rushed, he is happier with the end product: “I feel really good about the lyrics on this record because I was able to take my time with it.”
The album is a somber look at the current state of the world, in particular the decline of the USA in recent years. “Un-becoming,” the title track, is particularly dark. “The lyric in that song is a little bit about the unravelling that’s going on right now. The unraveling of society and the seeming, sort of time travel back to the gilded age. The depression era,” Robbins explains. The track opens with a reference to the dance marathons that took place in the depression era, which were essentially an early form of reality television before reality TV existed. Couples who had nowhere else to go would dance at the marathons non-stop for days until they dropped, just for the promise of free food and the occasional nap, while wealthy spectators gawked at them. Robbins says it seemed like a good metaphor for where some people are trying to take the United States.
While the record deals with heavy subject matter, Robbins remains optimistic, at least, about music and the people who create it. “I’ve always been cynical about the music industry, and I’ve always been really hopeful, and really excited, and I continue to be excited about the creativity of people around me,” he says. Changes in the music industry over the past couple decades have made it increasingly difficult for artists to make ends meet while doing what they love, and Robbins is very aware of that. But he’s also happy about the community surrounding music right now. “People are doing it for really good reasons,” he says. “They’re not trying to get to the top of somebody’s heap, they’re just trying to do something really good and worthwhile. So I’m quite encouraged about how much of that is going around.”
Photo by Janet Morgan