I have interviewed Ben Rimalower several times for "Call Me Adam." Ben loves my interviews so much that he often has referred people to me to interview. Rob Townsend is one of those people. A rising singer, Rob recently released his fun, catchy single "Skinny Boys." After listening to this song, I thought, Rob and I should talk, so we did! We had a great time discussing the making of Rob's debut EP Adelphi as well as what it takes to put an album together! Rob will be performing at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City on October 29 to celebrate the release of Adelphi. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a singer? I don’t think any one thing in particular. My dad played in bands around my home town - singing, guitar, and harmonica - which I guess was my first exposure. But the real "click" moment was a little folky band I played with in high school. I guess I was the best singer at the time, among three questionably pubescent boys, so I got that job. We were enough of a hit that I got to play somewhat-professionally in high school, and that really turned me on to how rewarding it was to sing and play for crowds - and to get paid for it.
2. Who do you hope to get to work with in your career? I checked one off with a band I was in while I was living in Austin, TX. That was Lyle Lovett. We got to open a few shows for him. I may be the only gay guy in the world under 30 that considers Lyle Lovett a hero, but I do. His songs are just brilliant. And his band is absolutely fucking rad. And he’s funny as hell.
Other than that, right now I want to play with Escort - the 18-piece (or something like that) disco band from Brooklyn. They’ve been around for a decade and are just now putting out their first record. If someone involved with them reads this, please let me open a show!
There are lots more but listing them seems not interesting for your readers.
3. You just released your debut EP Adelphi. If you could give people one reason as to why they should buy this album, what would that reason be? I think it’s definitely a "new" and possibly "refreshing" type of music for the "gay" community. I certainly did not aim it at our community purposefully, and I hope that TONS of straight people get into it too. I say that though because I just wrote songs that were true to me, and in doing so, I ended up with a few narrative-driven songs, songs that relied heavily on lyrics - lyrics that I suppose I might claim to be good. That’s not true of all the songs - some are completely based on making people dance - but I try to keep the content meaningful, even in the dance realm. This is mostly because I just cannot make myself write a lyric that I think is dumb or cliche. Someone I just discovered (Who happens also to practice drag in their stage persona. I think calling them a "drag queen" is an oversimplification), Hamm Samwich, is absolutely brilliant at that. Seriously my new hero(ine). Razor sharp, clever lyrics. But not based in that hokey, country, story-telling vibe. And great music to lay it all on top of. I just dig the hell out of that. And if I achieved that on this EP, I’m proud of that.
4. What was your favorite part in the creative process of putting this EP together? Oy. Finishing it. I am not a patient person. Recording is a lesson in patience. Someone who helped me produce a few of the songs says, "haste makes waste." This was a HUGE lesson in that. But as the months tick by during which I had planned to release this album, and it’s still far from finished, I tend to panic. So I’d have to say the day I finally threw it out to the world was my favorite part.
A close second are the nights walking home from a "studio” (read: someone else’s bedroom) listening down to a song we had just spent hours working on. Hearing the vision come together and feeling like it just might be objectively good is a great feeling.
5. Your first single, "Skinny Boys," is an homage to those of us who are not big muscly guys. What made you want to write a song about "Skinny Boys"? Nothing other than my particular predilection. I am attracted to skinny guys. So I wrote a song about it. It’s really not aimed at anything one sliver higher than that.
But as it came together, I realized I might stir up some emotions about body image, should the song do well enough where a lot of people were hearing it. That has begun to happen, and I was prepared for it. I try and just respond exactly as I did here. It’s just a dumb song about what I like. I am not out there to promote or disparage anyone’s body. I tend to ask the question hypothetically - should artists be censoring themselves just because a piece or their work isn’t "all-inclusive." I don’t think so.
And if it IS saying anything political at all, it’s saying that it’s ok to not ascribe to the chiseled, muscled body image that I think we do often promote in the gay men's community. If you want to read books or watch TV or listen to music and eat cookies and take-out nachos and never step foot inside a gym for your whole life, go for it. I have done exactly that for 28 years now.
6. You are currently out on tour as well promoting your EP, Adelphi. What do enjoy most about touring? Touring is my favorite part. Well, performing is. I do feel like everything leading up to that point - the writing, the recording, the marketing - is just homework to get the performance. I don’t actually get a lot of reward out of writing and recording - it feels like the hard work part of it. Touring is the fun part. I like to travel anyway, so traveling to go (hopefully) pick up some money is even better. That sounds pretty cynical, and it’s mostly meant as a joke. I like to play in front of a crowd - to earn them. The bigger the crowd the more comfortable I am. If you ever want to see pathetic incarnate, put me in a living room with 3 or 4 people and ask me to play a song. That is my worst nightmare and it happens WAYYYYY to often. Why do people think this is an acceptable thing to ask??? LOOKING AT YOU, MY FAMILY. Ok that’s enough. Sorry.
7. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Haste makes waste."
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a singer/songwriter? Toughest question so far. I paused for a WHILE. I am still learning. I think also I’m in a really important, huge growth point in my life - like really as "right now" as we can get. Let’s call it the last 8-12 months. Thing is I don’t quite know that I’m going through that. I think I’ll recognize this time to be that if you ask me in 5 years.
I think I am learning to be patient. My biggest struggle is feeling like this is a valid path to pursue in my late-twenties - the path of playing and writing music professionally. It’s incredibly hard for me to submit to the idea that "it’s ok to do this." I feel myself beginning to think that it is. Which is huge. If it doesn’t work out I’m going to buy a sailboat and sail around the world for the rest of my life. This is 100% true. I’m a United States Coast Guard licensed captain, no joke.
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Time travel. Into the past only though. A few things back there I would have done differently.
10. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? I am a bartender in my other life so this is a pretty apropos question. I’d call it “Diet Coke,” and it would have Diet Coke and ice in it.
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? Bicycle. Only exercise I get, truly.
12. Boxers or Briefs? Both.
I'm Rob. I'm 28 years old, 6 feet 2 inches, and 155lbs. I write songs and sing them. I also play guitar, piano, and if I'm feeling particularly lucky, banjo too. You might call me a singer-songwriter, but I wouldn't because that word bums me out. Some guy's internet blog recently said you should "catch Rob before he's popular again," and another guy on YouTube said, "this shit is gay."