Album Release: Interview with the two Robs behind Robscenity

“Robscenity” is a Busan-based acoustic hip hop duo formed by Canadian-born Rob Evong and American-native Rob Chrisman back in 2012. The group melds influences of hip hop and rock, seasoned with cleverly worded lyrics, that give them a unique — and some would say infectious — sound that’s all their own. The Robs have put together an album called “Days”,  which will be released this weekend at Club Realize. Niall J. Ruddy talked with the two leading up to the album release party.

Can you tell me about your individual musical backgrounds?

Rob E: Well, music is everywhere in Nova Scotia. It’s at every bar, every house, every house party. You walk in the park and people are playing music. I didn’t have a very big house and I bought a drum kit, but it was too much for a small little house so I remember going to this Mario themed party and getting really, really inebriated and finding a djembe in a room and playing it for two hours. Then I bought one the next day and I loved it. Up to that point, I had just like been hitting things like my annoying students do and I just needed to always be participating with music somehow and that gave me the means to do it and it was just something with that jamming atmosphere in Nova Scotia. It would ride in my car seat I would buckle it in like my little djembe girlfriend. If I saw anybody playing music I would go up to them and say ‘Can I play?’ and in Nova Scotia people are pretty good to each other. I never really had many ongoing bands, but I had the opportunity to play with as many people with as many skill levels as possible all the time…intuitively I can pick things up in a jamming sense and playing a cajon ended up being my favorite outlet for jamming with people…

Rob C: My parents bought me a guitar when I was 12-years-old and I picked it up and I was really into pop-punk and things like that. I learned how to play every Blink 182 song. I was in a punk band when I was about 16, we were called 2%…

Rob E: All the best bands have a number in the name.

Rob C:  …and then when I was about 15-years-old, a friend’s older brother introduced me to the Wu-Tang Clan. From then on I was really hip-hop oriented. I never heard anything like that before, so it’s been really nice to be able to infuse those two things. Playing the guitar and writing raps.

You’ve been playing together for roughly three years. How did you come together as a band?

Rob C: We met at an open mic in the KSU university area at Old ’55 which is on Wednesday’s and we were introduced through a mutual friend of ours. She was like ‘Your name is Rob and you play music and your name is also Rob and you also play music. You guys should form a ‘Rob band’ and we did.

Rob E: That was a good idea. First of all, her name is Sarah Saunders and she is like our older sister, I called her noona which is Korean for older sister.  She has been there in a lot of ways for me and she brought us together… she’s our biggest fan.  <To Rob C> Your mom likes us a lot too but I think Sarah is our biggest fan…Being able to hang out and not hate each other was great, having the same name was funny and then we actually liked the music we’d produced which was sort of important.

That leads me into my next question. I was lucky enough, thank you both, to get a sneak preview of the new album…

Rob E: You owe us ten dollars <laughs>

…and I wanted to talk a little about your sound. You both have fairly easily transportable instruments so was that a result of being here on a temporary contract or was that how you wanted things in order to play impromptu gigs on the street or at random open mics? Are you happy that this is how you play?

Rob C: I think that it is. At least for me I think that our style is something that is fairly organic and had he had a drum kit, were we in the States or Canada or something where we had access to that I feel like we would still be playing the music that we’re playing…

Rob E: I still prefer just hitting shit with my hands…

Rob C: …and, you know, I feel like if we had a drum set we’d have to get a bass player…

Rob E: …Some people pull it off and I admire them, people who play with just a kit and somebody on guitar but, for me, I always sound like ‘I’m just ruining this pretty song with this stupid big instrument’.

Rob C: …that’s most of our songs anyway <laughs>.

Rob E: Like we had a practice in a noraebang (karaoke room) last night. That’s where we’ve been practicing…we can just go there, the ajeossi who works there knows us, loves us, and sometimes when we’re playing at a noraebang trying to get songs right, we’re like ‘Hey man, we’re working really hard to get this a certain way but you wanna just go get drunk in front of a Family Mart and just play?’ It’s something that is so adaptable and we can just bring it to the beach or in front of a convenience store or bring it to the street and play for people clapping and buying us beer and saying thank you. That keeps it being really fun so I would say I wouldn’t want it to exist another way.

Rob C: Yeah, I wouldn’t change it.

Rob E:  I wouldn’t be opposed to it evolving if there was more time to do so, but the way that it has shaped up is how I want it to be.

“It is hard as people come and go and, as Rob said, we have seen bands, and friends, leave but we’re also seeing new bands start like the Open Strings and Istanbulshit who we played with on New Years Eve. Dark Circles is another one.”

You’ve played with One Drop East, as you mentioned, along with Junk! and the Dammit Janets. Would you say there is a fairly good expat music scene?

Rob C: Absolutely. It is changing. I think there’s a nice tight-knit community of expats and there’s a lot of really talented people in Busan. One of our best friends Kelvin, who also goes by his stage name “J Jones”, he plays with us all the time and he’s helping to design the album art work as well. There are a ton of really great musicians in this area and it’s been just an honor to play with a lot of them.

Rob E: I would say that as a band there has been… like the open mic these days there’s not that many people there, and I would say that the foreign community in Busan is so low because [the number of] public school teachers got so cut… If you try to remember all of the bands that played when we started there’s not many left.

So you feel the scene hasn’t been tempered by the high turnover of teachers rather than being able to develop?

Rob C: It is hard as people come and go and, as Rob said, we have seen bands, and friends, leave — but we’re also seeing new bands start like the Open Strings and Istanbulshit who we played with on New Years Eve. Dark Circles is another one.

Rob E: The Barbie Dolls. Say Sue Me which is a Korean band, but they’re fucking awesome.

Rob C: I would say the old guard is changing.

Right, Genius have a Korean member so do you see a lot of collaboration between Korean musicians and the expat community or is there too much of a cultural or language barrier?

Rob C: You see some, like the Open Strings have a Korean guitar player. I would love to see that more, it sure would help with getting Korean gigs or relating to the Korean community a little more. Speaking fluent Korean would be nice as well. I see it but I would like to see it more.

Rob E: It’s not just music. I mean, I wish I had my foot in the door in the Korean community more in general. People I work with I might get along with and people I’ve met through friends. Like, once I’ve met Korean friends it’s such a warm reception and you can meet some wonderful friends, but it’s so hard to break the social wall. Especially coming from Nova Scotia where you go into a bar and everybody becomes your best friend byt the end of the drunk night — it doesn’t happen as much here. I would say that the fact I’m in this band has allowed me to be social with Korean groups of people I would never have met otherwise. We’ll play in the street and we’ll talk to the range of university students to ajeossis and ajummas. An ajumma gave me a kiss on the cheek a couple weeks ago and was like ‘Thank you’ and I was like ‘Aww we never would have met these people otherwise.

Rob Chrisman
Rob Chrisman (Photo: Sarah Saunders)

I want to ask about the album making process. So Rob C, you obviously do the vast majority of vocals — so is it a shared responsibility or do you also write the lyrics?

Rob C: As far as lyrics go, I’ve written all the lyrics apart from the last song on the album, ‘Fuck you Rob’…

Rob E: Which is an exchange of things we hate about each other.

Rob C: Generally, the process of how it goes is I will be walking down the street and I’ll start kind of freestyling to myself but it won’t make any sense. I’ll find a word I like, like mastiff, and I’ll be saying it over and over like ‘mastiff’ and then I’ll start ‘a brass mastiff in a glass casket’ y’know.

Rob E: Do you say it loud?

Rob C: Yeah! That’s the thing, I look like a crazy person, I’ve come to accept that because that’s the way I write. It’s the only way I can write is walking down the street and rapping to myself. Then once I have something that doesn’t sound like nonsense, then maybe I’ll have guitar riff that I’ve been working on and I’ll see if it fits or maybe I’ll write a guitar riff around what I’ve got and I’ll bring that to Rob with something that is rough and unpolished and be like ‘here is what I got, I like this idea’…

Rob E: I make it shine! <laughs>

Rob C: …and Rob does. He’s like ‘What if we did this here, what if we took this out’…

Rob E: I would say that Rob brings a lot of very intelligent lyrics, which is all him, and some very emotionally packing things he’s written on the guitar and I would say that my job (is to) give it structure and I give it emphasis where it needs it and because there’s two people, there is a very nice (dynamic) without egos. We’re very open to listening to each others comments.

It seemed like on the album there was a very clear distinction between the sections of songs where you played guitar and it was very sincere and then you would have the rapping parts which were almost like the inner child rubbishing the sincerity that came before it.

Rob C: It’s funny that you mention that. What the idea behind that and a lot of what the whole album is about is about the contrasts between the things that we present to the world and the things we keep inside…in hip-hop a lot of the time there is a…it’s really image focused like ‘I’m the best rapper in the world’ and there’s bravado and competition. That’s fun man, that’s something that makes hip-hop fun but with these we’ve tried to contrast it with the other side of the spectrum. We’re talking about things like insecurity and alcoholism and depression; things that people don’t normally rap about.

Rob Evong
Rob Evong (Photo: Nick Holmes)

So, how about making an album?

Rob E: I did not know I would make an album in my life and I did not know, I mean I left home four years ago and I was like ‘I’ll see you in a year mom’ so I obviously didn’t plan on…I didn’t even bring my drum to this country so this is…it’s surreal at times, it’s exciting, it’s stressful but the 14th represents something we can put our name on after a lot of work. It’s one of those days that’s big, like sometimes you recognise like ‘Hey, that was a very pivotal point in my life’. We’ve put a date on it. I know that’s going to be a very important day in my life.

And will you be touring to support it?

Rob C: That’s in the works at the moment… we’re definitely trying to nail down some shows but, unfortunately, Rob E is leaving the country for a few months at the beginning of March.

Rob E: …we’re releasing it on the 14th. The next week is a five-day weekend, so we’re going to try to hit three dates throughout the country…

Rob C:  Still trying to nail those down. We’re hopefully going to do a couple shows around Busan before he takes off as well.

One last question then. What are your hopes for the album?

Rob C: As many people listen to it as possible, that is my only goal…

Rob E: I think it’s good… I think it’s unique, I’m truly proud of it and I want to share it with people who haven’t come to Korea. You go to this corner of the world and it’s like, it’s hard to explain to people who aren’t here this is my life, it’s across the world and you’re never going to see it and I describe it, but it’s abstract. I want to share it with those friends, I want to say ‘By the way this is something I put myself into’ but I don’t want to just share it with my friends, I want to share it with people because I think what we made is good and I am proud of it.

You can follow Robscenity on Facebook

Photos by Cool Feet Media, Sarah Saunders and Nick Holmes

Robscenity will release their debut album “Days” this Valentines Day at Club Realize in Busan. Physical copies of the album will be available at the show! Digital copies will be available online starting February 15th. Joining Robscenity will be local rapper and long time friend, J Jones along with DJ Sir Snaf.

COVER – 10,000 (admission + CD)
5,000 (admission only)

Show starts at 10:00pm. Get more info here.

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