Tobias took the long way around to get to the place he always needed to be. The singer-songwriter’s return to where he grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland opened a deep creative well and helped him realise he was finally doing exactly what he should be doing, writing songs and sharing them with the world.
But sometimes not even the writer sees a great song coming. That was Just A Boy, from his new album Alive.
At first it seems like a concise, clear snapshot of childhood brought on by the arrival of spring, fishing on the river in the sun with dad, sitting by the fire with his brothers, his mother’s warm smile.
“I am always writing songs and that was just one among them; I almost didn’t notice it at first, or thought it was a personal thing that I should keep to myself. But then I started playing it at shows and I could see the effect that it had on people. I would play it at open mic nights and people would always stop and listen.
People would come up to me afterwards crying and give me a hug and tell me how it moved them. That’s what you are always looking for with your songs, that you make that emotional connection.
The audience might not know the story behind the song but they feel the truth that runs through it, the searing emotions and memories that it brings forward every time Tobias sings it.
Toby Robinson was seven when his family moved from Victoria to the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It was an idyllic childhood but as he moved into teenage years his mother Julie was diagnosed with cancer. She died when he was 14.Nothing is overwrought or overdone in Just A Boy: the song draws its power from an unforgettable melody, crystal-clear imagery and its understatement: nothing is revealed of Tobias’s mother except to remember a smile and a love that never dies.
To note how quickly life can change.The song is accompanied by an equally powerful video which uses footage of Julie and father Ken as well as dad with his sons as grown men.
“Losing your mum has such a huge, long-lasting impact on you. Of course it’s such an emotional song to sing and the video has been really powerful for the family, for my nieces and nephews to see our mum and to feel the connection there. But it’s not just my story, everyone has these memories of their childhood and the song taps into those emotions we all have but maybe never talk about them.”
Tobias has taken his time to get so close to home but all the experiences along the way have been invaluable. He studied history and anthropology at Latrobe University in Melbourne, immersed himself in traditional music on the west coast of Ireland, playing in bands trying his hand at everything from grunge to ska, saw at first-hand the dedication it took be a professional musician while touring in the band with one of Australia’s great songwriters in Jen Cloher.
“The big thing I learned from Jen was about that strong connection with the audience in the storytelling, in the songs and between the songs. It was great for me to come back home and to learn how to do that for myself.”
Just A Boy follows last year’s debut album Toby Robinson, where he explored some of his passion for folk music and Australian history. Alive is more personal, from the moving-on acceptance of I Won’t Fight to the longing-to-escape folk-rock of When The Sun Comes Up Again. And the opening declaration of acceptance, that somehow, some way, Everything Always Works Out.
“Alive sums it up in a word, alive as a songwriter, alive to these experiences, feeling the grief and then finally feeling that things are going to work out. It can take courage to get up there and share so much of yourself in your stories and your songs but it’s what I should be doing.”
Helping Tobias along the way was album co-producer Nick Huggins, who recorded the album in his A Pocket Full of Stones studio in a beachside shack at Point Lonsdale, on the western tip of the mouth of Port Phillip Bay.Tobias says: “Nick was really important in helping me get these songs right. He understood the clarity that I was looking for.
“The last album was quite heavy emotionally and I was conscious of looking for the positive in the melodies and the songs I was writing. Everything Always Works Out, that’s something you don’t hear said very often. It was a happy morning when I wrote it and I was thinking of someone driving to work, maybe feeling down or lonely, and a song like that comes on the radio and helps give them a lift.”
Other songs like Made My Decision or equally positive, about moving on and seizing the day: “That’s an older song but one that fits with what I’m trying to say. The decision is to get out on the road, follow the songs and follow your heart.”
The music ascends to a crescendo with City Walk, reflecting on Tobias’s first years out of home as a student in Brisbane, before the album concludes by once more finding calm and solace in the natural world with Sit By The Water.
FamilyFrom singing Bob Dylan songs on the verandah with Mum, and learning songs of the finger-picking greats with Dad… Family has always been an inspiration.
NatureGrowing up on the Sunshine Coast instilled with in me a love of nature.. which continues to inspire.
HistoryMy fascination with Australian history led me to studying Anthropology and Indigenous Studies. I find the art of incorporating history in to my music interesting.
Love“You think the world would have had enough of silly love songs” I think Paul McCartney said that.