Gordon Robertson on hymns, habits, the Chicago music scene, and why his band got involved with pit bull advocacy.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Being raised in a fanatically strict, fundamentalist household – where even your choice in music could be an indicator if you’d spend your afterlife up in the clouds or sentenced to the pits of hell – can really have an affect a kid. For Gordon Robertson, it helped shape the musician he is today.
Long since removed from that church, Robertson, now fronting the aptly named The Damn Choir, has spent the past few years in his quest to write the “perfect hymn,” something a little more sincere and relatable than the songs he was surrounded by in church. Judging by the 13 tracks that made it onto his band’s debut, Creatures of Habit, he’s pretty damn close.
Robertson, now based in Chicago, spoke recently about his background, his quest to write a more appropriate hymn and his band’s connection with pit bulls.
BLURT: You talk in your bio a little about growing up in a fundamentalist household. How did that shape this band?
GORDON ROBINSON: Growing up in a fundamentalist house was a very different experience as you can imagine. I have four sisters and one brother, and we were all homeschooled. This shaped the music because I was forced to be creative. My school was a tiny house filled with kids, dogs, cats, lizards, and everything you need to know about God.
Were you allowed to listen to rock music growing up?
I was not allowed to listen to rock music. When I was a kid, the music I knew was DC Talk, The News Boys, and Steven Curtis Chapmen. All Christian alternative bands. I remember going to a friend’s house and he was watching “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.” I saw Mick Jagger and all I could think is, “he is so cool.” I think that was my first taste of rock and roll.
Can you talk about your quest to write the “perfect hymn?”
I wanted to write a hymn that made sense to me. When I was a kid, I would hear people in my church singing these hymns about how everything is perfect, but I knew there was nothing perfect about their lives. In my opinion, a hymn should be honest and sometimes hard to listen to.
How long have you been working on the songs that made Creatures of Habit?
Creatures of Habit took us two years to write. We thought we finished it a year-and-a-half in, but then Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Apples in Stereo, Evan Dando, etc.) wanted to produce the album. He didn’t quit hear a complete album yet, so we kept writing. We wrote around 25 songs and kept 13.
There has been some lineup changes over the years. How did you pull the current version of the band together?
There have been a lot of lineup changes over the years. It’s not easy to find people that want to travel in a windowless van and not get paid. But we have a solid crew and we are super excited to see how this album does.
Can you talk for a minute about the inspiration behind the song “Violet”?
“Violet” is about someone I love moving to New York from Chicago. The song talks about a day we spent together in Ohio walking through fields of corn and wheat, and she tells me she is moving to New York. The song is named after Bryce Goggin’s daughter.
Chicago obviously has a great track record for music (punk, alt rock, blues, etc.). How would you describe the music scene there?
The music scene in Chicago is great. It gets a really bad rap from most bands. It’s not always easy to get people out because there are a million shows and the weather sucks. The local music is so good though. I’ve been humbled so many times from Chicago local bands like Paper Thick Walls, Brendan Losch, Archie Powell & The Exports (to name a few). There is so much talent it keeps you shape.
Can you talk about how you guys got involved with Pit Bull advocacy?
I’ve always have had pit bulls and we wanted to do some sort of charity. I found A New Leash on Life and loved what they are doing. They are finding homes for dogs through social media. I found a local Chicago artist and gave her a picture of my pit bull, Snorkel, and she designed us a shirt for A New Leash on Life. Five dollars from every shirt sold goes to the dog rescue.
So what’s next for you and the band?
We are going to be on the road for the next year touring with our new album, sleeping on floors, eating Taco Bell, and selling dog shirts.
Anything else you want to cover?
I just want to thank you for your questions, and thank all of the great members of our team: our publicist Heather West, our booking agent Kat Lewis, our families and friends, our backers, and all of the people we’ve met so far on this tour.
Photo Credit: Vanessa Buholzer. The group performs tonight, March 14, at SXSW in Austin at Licha’s Cantina as part of the Audiotree showcase.
John B. “Moshpit” Moore blogs for BLURT and is a charter member of our Circle of Trust. He additionally writes for New Music magazine, InSite Atlanta Magazine, Innocent Words and NeuFuture Magazine.