Oxbow Vocalist Eugene S. Robinson on Their New LP, Being Bored with Genre Tags & More

Photo: Phil Sharp

“I’ve always been chagrined that no one understood that our songs were love songs." —Oxbow vocalist Eugene S. Robinson.

The veteran musician doubled down on that sentiment on Love's Holiday, the San Francisco's band's forthcoming album, their first new music in over six years.

Featuring guest performances from Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Beck), the 10-track collection was engineered and mixed by Joe Chiccarelli, a studio wiz who has worked with everyone from Frank Zappa to Minus the Bear to Oingo Boingo.

While it's not as traditionally "noise rock" as much of their earlier work got labelled, Love's Holiday is the kind of record that truly reveals itself the more you listen to it. It's a headphone album, for sure. It's a heavy affair, just not in the way most of the music we tend to cover on No Echo is.

Speaking of genre labels, I spoke with Oxbow's Eugene S. Robinson about that, the sonic departures they took on Love's Holiday, and finding a home at their new label, Ipecac Recordings.

Since No Echo primarily covers hardcore, I found an interesting quote from a previous interview you did with Anthony Allen Begnal from our website:

"Well, that’s the weird thing, I don’t hear that Oxbow is that detached from hardcore. But trying to find labels for it I’ve been told that.”

How do you feel about genre tags in general? Oxbow is definitely an example of a band where I would have trouble describing to someone who isn’t a music head, if that makes sense?

Well, there's what I call "genre music." Music that when I call it by its genre name you get it...surf bands, skate bands, hardcore, screamo....all of these different types of music adhere to certain tropes and it makes it very easy to find "your" people. It also made it very easy for whatever constituted the music "business" to sell to your people, and you for that matter.

But that's become less and less important. In the same way that albums themselves have become less important. It's only old fucks like me and fellow travelers that listen to "albums." The model has changed and where it was necessary to have a home for whatever you did, and it's not so much now.

That being said, the spirit of Oxbow is as hardcore as hardcore ever gets. Not the genre. No, not that. but hardcore as a way of life. I once had a boss say about me to someone else, "I can't tell whether Eugene doesn't give a shit or is acting like he doesn't give a shit." Hardcore has been the partner that still lets me say "fuck you" to the biggest and toughest around. "Boss"? Not of me. 

However, because I know where the rest of the world is when people ask me what kind of band Oxbow is, I tell them: "rock." I do this because 99 percent of the time when strangers find out I do music they assume it's hip-hop. So "rock" both says it all and says nothing.

Oxbow's Niko Wenner wrote the musical beds first this time out, where in the past he worked off of your lyrical ideas. Is that something you welcomed, or were you apprehensive at first? Did you find yourself sacrificing certain melodic or lyrical ideas during the process to fit things within the arrangements?

I welcomed it because the lyrics that were being pursued on all of the other records had reached their logical conclusion. In the same way that my novel A Long Slow Screw was not followed by another novel, I didn't want the record that followed Thin Black Duke to be part of the same story that started with Fuckfest.

But where to go? I could just make it. But I'd be making it up in the face of something happening across the room that was screaming at me...and that was the music. So I went to practice for years, and didn't sing a note. I just listened to the music until I heard the vocal in my head. And as soon as that happened the lyric followed.

It was a pretty cool way to work but it wasn't a surprise since I had done the same thing with the SAL MINEO project I did with Jamie from Xiu Xiu, also what I did with BUÑUEL. So nothing was sacrificed. It was as close to pure creation as anyone is likely to get.

Going back to musical classification and how Oxbow has been labeled in the past, this new record is a “cleaner” affair in the sonic department. That gives more room for your vocals and lyrics to have their own space to do what they do, but was there an adjustment period on your end? I guess it’s similar to changing the songwriting approach in my previous question.

Nah...this is the voice I had been trying to get to...but to hear this voice, for real, you, me and any one else listening could have only done it through the lens of all of the records before it. the same lens that lets you know that whatever is coming out of my mouth is not accidental but fully planned and most aggressively answers the dictates of my soul. It's a fairly terrifying trip, hich is why it's just easier to stay in whatever genre lane is yours.

Plenty of people do it, and plenty who don't use distancing takes so they can always hide behind schtick...but as my wife just said to me, "Your voice on this record is the first time to me that it sounds like you." But she hears me sing around the house all the time so yeah.

Make no mistake, it still has unmistakable Oxbow features, the vocal lines I mean, but it was their emotional placement that's different. But that's because if it wasn't who would I be? I've been doing music since I was 18. What would it say about me if the vocal angle of attack was exactly the same?

Tell me a bit about your new label, Ipecac Recordings, and what their support for your vision with Oxbow means to you and the band. It feels like they “get” what you’re doing and ride-or-die for whatever stylistic turn the band wants to explore. That’s rarer these days than ever.

Well, I love Ipecac. But you know, for all of the struggles we've had finding labels, the reality is that every label that has actually found their way to us has done so fully mindful of what it is we're doing and fully engaged in just letting us do us. Neurot, Hydrahead, Crippled, SST, Trost, SGG, and whoever else I've left out have all been great partners.

My favorite moment with Ipecac was when I asked them, "We've been around for awhile and I've tried to get you guys to put us out before, why now and not then?" And wasting no time at all in responding, they told us some version of, "We liked you live but just never got the records," which I loved because it was honest and it was delivered without fear.

And I think process-wise it actually took a Joe Chiccarelli to help us make an Oxbow record that finally made sense to them when they heard it. I trust their ears and I've had a great time working with them. I guess it's rare to have this kind of relationship with a label but all I know is all I know. Are other people miserable? Too bad, I guess. I'm not.


Love's Holiday will be out July 21st via Ipecac Recordings (pre-order).

Tagged: oxbow, whipping boy