At this point if you cannot acknowledge Brooklyn as a hot bed of creativity then you've been sleeping on Mars. What is so amazing about the borough across the bridge is that all forms of artistic expression are fostered and embraced. Everyone loves DJ's but what happened to good old fashion instruments? Well if you're like us then you look to Brooklyn as the beacon of hope. Isle of Rhodes is one such band that engages with the quirky but cool side of Brooklyn. They have a fun up beat sound that will make any grumpy old man tap his feet. Though it may be apparent from their title, Isle of Rhodes is centered around a rhodes, which is an old electro/mechanical keyboard. The bands lead performer Rob Farren is an extremely passionate musician, whose musical influences ranging from Mozart to Radiohead add to the group's killer sound. Their music is familiar but keeps you wanting more. We were lucky enough to sit down with the band and have a chat about their roots, what inspires them each day, working with Grammy winning producer Jason Corsaro and their latest album "All Rivers and Oceans."
So tell us about how Isle of Rhodes started.
Rob: Before Isle of Rhodes I was in a band where I played a rhodes and a bunch of synths. The lead guitarist inspired me through his playing. I wanted to be a guitarist but didn’t know how to play guitar, so I started messing around with old analog pedals & delays, adding them, bit by bit, to the rhodes. Before long I had this huge beefy sound that was much more interesting to me than the synths I was playing. I moved to NYC when that band broke up, and my first purchase was a rhodes (the earlier one didn’t belong to me). I wanted to start a band where the rhodes was the main instrument given its versatility, but it took me some time to build up the confidence to sing. I was writing a bunch of songs on the piano, but wasn’t performing too much. The project finally came together when I found a drummer who wanted to play. We worked out a bunch of these old songs I had, plus some new ones that I wrote along the way. That’s where the album came from.
Did anything in particular inspire the band name?
Rob: When we went into the studio the band had a different name than it did coming out. The drummer I was working with decided to pursue school with more vigor, so I felt obligated to change the name. I like nautical themes, but names are hard to make. So I used the keyboard itself as a source of inspiration. Isles are these oasis is the middle of the ocean, and there is an actual Isle of Rhodes, so I thought: “Well that will work well.” Sometimes, I think it’s a silly name, but people really like it, and I think it conveys what I was going for.
You guys have a uniquely versatile sound. What do you try to convey when you record a song?
Rob: Clearly the instrumentals are unorthodox, so that is a bit different sounding, but almost every single song on the album was written on the piano first. I write music before I lay down lyrics. In the music there is a subtle emotion, and that leads my lyrics. I work out the lyrics over time until I’m happy with them, and then I tend to bring it to the drummer where we arrange the song.
I think the thing we want to convey the most is the emotion behind a song. If it’s optimistic, it should leave you uplifted. If it’s sad, it should make you sad. Given that we have only two instruments, we have to be creative in how to do this. We can’t just write the same music with different lyrics, we really have to be versatile and flexible in our approach.
Who are your musical/artistic heros?
How many pages is this interview? The list goes on and on! I grew up in a household where classical music was the only music heard, as my mother is a classical pianist. So, my very first hero was Mozart. I still love Beethoven, Wagner, and Debussy. Right now I’m really on a Phil Spector kick. I can’t get enough of Motown, those guys were the real deal! You can just hear the soul oozing out of them. I think British rock is a major influence. Whether it’s The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Zep, or Radiohead. I really respect Andrew Bird as well. Seeing him live back in 03’ was one of the great concerts I’ve ever seen. It was just him and a loop machine! I could go on forever… this question is impossible!
Tell us about your album "All Rivers and Oceans."
You’re in the business of tough questions! I think it’s a great collection of songs that I’m extremely proud of. I like to think it talks about experiences that most people go through in their life, doubts, love, break ups, success and failures. The only thing is that I think it has a fairly optimistic take on those experiences. I think the album has great sound and feel, and that has to do with my co-producers David Lloyd and Jason Corsaro. Those two really helped turn my songs into art.
What was it like working with a Grammy winning producer like Jason Corsaro?
Rob: It was an amazing experience. First off, we recorded at the Barbershop Studios, which is way out in Jersey in some old church with stain glass windows. The gear is amazing out there from a technical standpoint, and being as there are no distractions from the city you can really focus. That being said I wouldn’t have done it there if it weren’t for Jason. Some people just really inspire you. He’s been at it forever so he has a great wealth of knowledge to guide you through the process. He has a great way of getting the most emotive takes out of you, and his understanding of the gear helps make you sound great. He listens for soulfulness, as that’s what he feels is the most important thing. He doesn’t get too uptight if you hit a wrong note because it’s all about soulfulness. He is super positive and that’s really necessary as it’s a guarantee that there will be moments of crazy frustration in the studio. He also did some really cool arranging that really pushed our songs over the hump. Did I mention he has two of the cutest dogs you’ve ever seen?
What about Brooklyn helps inspire you guys?
Rob: The number of amazing artists that surround us is simply staggering! For example, tonight we’ll be heading over to Bushwick to see New Villager perform in some church, but before we’re going to see a bunch of art installations. It’s going to be an amazing night!
How has Machine Dream Records galvanized your sound?
Rob: I guess MDR has influenced me through Dave Lloyd, who basically runs that outfit. First of all, he was a co-producer of my album, and his influence is all over that record. He is an amazing musician and so much fun to watch live, it really pushes me. MDR is all about the musicians, it’s more of a community than a label, we’re all just helping each other out.
What musical projects is Isle of Rhodes working on?
Rob: Besides performing a bunch, we’re in the process of writing more (that never ends) and bringing new sounds into the band. It’s just the two of us, so we have really gotten into using drum triggers, and that allows us to really explore color and rhythm. It takes more work on the front end, but I think it’s worth it. We’re looking forward to our first tour coming up at the end of August.