Tim Robbins’ appreciation for music began when he was a small child. His father, Gil, was a member of folk’s Highwaymen, and his mother, Mary, an actress, sang in the New York Choral Society. Robbins grew up in Greenwich Village, the hot spot for the folk scene during the early ’60s.
“I’d see my dad play gigs at the Gaslight Cafe on MacDougal Street,” Robbins recalls. “As a kid, I remember seeing Cat Stevens and Eric Anderson and Loudon Wainwright, and comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin. It was a very rich world to grow up in.”
In many ways, it was a world he never left. Tim’s brother David, four years his senior, began playing the guitar when he was a teenager. “We had Marshall stacks (amplifiers) in our room blocking out all chance of sunlight coming in,” notes Robbins with a laugh. And he calls 1977, when he left the East Coast for UCLA, “the year of explosion for me — the Sex Pistols, the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, the Clash.”
Shortly thereafter, Robbins was one of the founding members of the Actors’ Gang theater company. David Robbins was already living in L.A., working as a musician; the two brothers began to collaborate on music for Tim’s stage productions.
“We looked at (the) performance energy of punk rock and said, ‘How do we do theater like that?'” Robbins remembers.
“Part of our road to discovery came from working with live actors on the stage, because when you are doing it live, you are so connected to the emotional journey of the characters.”
The brothers had such a good rapport that they later worked together on films, including Tim’s directorial debut, “Bob Roberts.”
“My brother and I wrote all of the songs for that movie,” he says. “It was a realization in satire of something that had permeated our childhood, and we had a lot of fun writing those songs.”
The two later worked on “Dead Man Walking.”
“Music is such an important part of a movie,” says Robbins. “It can enhance the emotions of a piece or ruin them. The trick is not noticing the music, which means it is in sync with the emotions of the piece. My brother and I both have negative reactions to syrupy, usually string-related scoring that tells you how to feel. That’s never worked for us.”
Robbins has just recorded a 15-song demo, from songs that he’s written over a span of 30 years. His influences vary from the Dead Kennedys and Fishbone to Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and, not surprisingly, the folk singers of his youth.
“You gotta start with Woody Guthrie and Dylan,” he says.