It's not something one would expect a reputed guitar prodigy to say.
"I've never really been into guitar music, so to speak."
Yet that's exactly what Joe Robinson, the hyper-promoted winner of 2008'S Australia's Got Talent show (and mere 21-year old wunderkind) just dropped. Do tell.
"I mean, I've always loved people like Joe Satriani, but I've never listened to that music exclusively, or considered myself with that group of players at all," he explained. "I wasn't thinking, 'I'm gonna make a nice guitar album.' I felt like I have more to offer than just, you know, [music written for] the guitar community."
Robinson talks like someone who wants to stretch his wings a bit.
"I strive to get better. I put a lot of energy and effort into maturing," he said. "I've done a lot of touring and playing guitar shows, and the audiences were a bunch of guitar players. I kind of got bored with it."
Thus, a move toward songwriting and vocals seemed necessary. His 2012 album, Let Me Introduce You, presented Robinson with the challenge of learning lyrical songcraft. Just as, in his teen years, his performance style was mentored by Tommy Emmanuel, Robinson paired with established Nashville songwriters to hone his quill. But even that didn't satisfy — he seems eager to take more individual control of his art.
"Pretty much in every situation, I came with a musical idea and we worked on the lyrics together. On my last EP [Toe Jam], I didn't really co-write with the Nashville guys," he said. "I love living in Nashville and I love that there are so many studios and players there, but the whole concept of co-writing there can be a little stifling, especially if the people have publishing deals and are just thinking strict commercial terms and are kind of trying to fit me into something I am not. I was never comfortable with co-writes."
"I push myself. I really can't stand sitting still. My attitude was, I'll try it and see if it sticks. Once I had started [Let Me Introduce You], I felt like I had to finish it. When you go into a studio with a batch of songs, ten months later when you've finished recording them, they sound different than when you first wrote them. I read this interview with Robert Plant once, where he said he's never taken more than five days to record an album, because he says it should be a snapshot and not a long, drawn-out process. I felt like I was in a different place when I was mixing the album than I was when I was writing the songs and doing the initial tracking."
Ah, the music business. Love hurts.
"I've put ten years of my life exclusively into my music," Robinson said, "and I think people can feel that. I think that's my biggest selling point - I live and breathe music. The guitar's an extension of who I am. There have been times in my life when I've gone two weeks to a month without playing and it has absolutely resulted in me being miserable. I feel like it's a crucial element in my existence. Being creative, to some extent, is a part of everyone's life. I feel lucky that I found my niche early on and was able to cultivate it."
Robinson's passion is clear. Yes, he won a talent show. Yes, there is big promo money backing him. Sure, he's getting exposure that many a worthy bar grinder and unknown songwriter will never get, but he doesn't seem to harbor illusions. It's hard to when one grew up in Temagog, New South Wales.
"It's a six hour drive [from Sydney], so about 500 kilometers. It's pretty remote. I grew up with two TV channels. There was no electric cooking - it was all wood fire water-heating. It was pretty different."
Outback. Way outback.
"It's funny, because I first had a tour when I was 11 or 12, and I just got the bug for it. My mom used to drive [us] around in a crappy little car; we used to cram it full of guitars and CDs."
Now, the kid from the country is making the most of an opportunity he earned. And he should — he's good. Very good. That's obvious even to a shambling drummer who hasn't the foggiest how one could move his fingers so accurately, so precisely, so nimbly. God made his fingers into dexterous, slender lightning bolts.
"I've played in horse stables, abandoned churches, 1,200-year old places, for pagan weddings, Amish people, Japanese school kids, prisoners, morning TV shows — a bunch of really cool opportunities that I've been lucky to have," he said. "I feel privileged, especially because I come from a town where there's not a whole lot happening. I've managed to get out into the big world and make a career as a musician."