Robin Armstrong is the mastermind behind progressive rock band Cosmograf. He has released four albums to date, his most recent being the acclaimed “Capacitor,” with his next album in the works. I had the chance to sit down with him and discuss his band, influences, and upcoming album.
Who were your greatest musical influences growing up? How have they impacted your sound today?
My big influences growing up were bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd
. It was very uncool music to be listening to as a teenager in the late 80s but I didn’t care much for the pop music of the time. Heavy British rock music is really one of the foundations of the Cosmograf sound. A lot of what I do will start with a guitar riff and then evolves into something bigger and I think a lot of these influences are fairly obvious across the albums.
What are you currently listening to? Have you discovered any bands or albums lately?
Current listening list is wide and varied, new and old. I’m usually late to the party in discovering new bands and often rely on friends to recommend new stuff to me. I like to try and listen to a lot of different styles including classical and can spend a fair bit of time discovering old stuff I’ve missed along the way.
How would you describe your own music?
Definitely not Neo prog! Joking aside I’m not at all a fan of the pigeon holing that tends to go on in this genre I think it creates barriers to new audiences. I’m fine with just progressive rock, it’s a broad church. I don’t really understand anyone who ‘only’ listens to prog rock. To me, that’s like someone only watching action films. If you want to make the best action film ever made or the best food you’ve eaten, you need to bring in elements from other genres and that’s really what I try and do with my own music.
Have you performed any live shows? If so, what was your favorite performance? If not, do you intend to in the future?
Only one so far at the Celebr8.3 Festival back in June last year. It’s time consuming and expensive to prepare for a live performance. We’ll never be a touring band unless we find a significant degree of success because the reality is now there are no real returns in gigs other than the buzz of the performance itself. The logistics and technicalities of recreating what’s on the album as a live performance is very difficult. We may possibly do another show next year to promote the new album.
What is some of the equipment you have used on prior albums? What is your favorite piece?
I use a lot of software instruments as well as the more traditional guitars, basses and microphones etc. My favourite pieces of equipment are my USA standard strat, Takemine Acoustic and my Yamaha piano. Software wise I write and record in Pro Tools an a Mac Pro. I like to play all the parts including drums on the initial demo and use a Roland V kit for this. I prefer to do it this way rather than using off the shelf MIDI patterns which I think can push you into a corner songwriting wise. I use a mixture of real amps and guitar plug ins, whatever sounds best on the track.
You have been supported by numerous well-known guest musicians in the studio, including Nick Beggs, Colin Edwin, and Nick D’Virgilio to name a few. What is it like writing and recording with these amazing artists?
It’s always a thrill and I never thought I’d be able to make music with the incredible musicians I have done over the last few years. One of the joys is giving these guys your track and watch them take it to the next level. You never quite know what you are going to get but it’s always good. I like to give the musicians I use a lot of free reign to do what they do best, put their influence on it rather than work prescriptively to a brief.
What are some of the trials you’ve experienced throughout your career, and how have you overcome them?
Ask me in another 10 years. I’ve barely started to be honest. It’s pretty apparent that any success in prog comes from a long war of attrition. It can literally take 20 years to be an overnight success as Steven Wilson’s
long career and recent success has recently shown. Not giving up and ensuring that you are making music because you want to are the key requirements. Expecting success or reward is unreasonable, you just have to keep doing what you do and hope that enough people share your passion. I count myself lucky I’ve got this far.
You are currently in the studio recording the follow-up to the acclaimed “Capacitor.” Describe the songwriting process for this new album. How is it different from prior albums?
It’s largely the same but the music has come far more easily on this album and the concept has been more elusive. Sometimes it’s the other way around. I’ve tended to use more traditional verse chorus song structures on this album but the concept is going to be more intensely woven into the tracks than ever before. I’m spending a lot of time generating soundscapes and creating a narrative that will give the listener the feeling of being in a film without the visuals.
Is there any information you’d like to share about your upcoming album? Perhaps an album title, an idea of the themes or concepts behind the album, a release date, etc.?
I can’t reveal a lot yet as some aspects are still be finalized. Watch this space is all I can say. The release will take place next year. We will be running a companion website specifically for the album as the promo starts and there are already a few obscure visual clues appearing on Cosmograf Facebook
Are there any interesting stories since forming Cosmograf that you’d like to share with my readers?
I spend most of my ‘Cosmograf time’ alone in a studio. It’s largely an insular process and there aren’t many show business events or big tours where interesting stories get generated. One thing that does come to mind is being contacted by a fan who is a senior figure in the European Space Agency after hearing my album The Man Left in Space. We talked about the possibility of getting my music played on one their space missions which was a pretty mind blowing thought.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians in today’s progressive music scene?
Keep it cheap, keep it real and whatever you do don’t give up your day job but do commit to making the absolute best produced album you can afford to. Bear in mind that 90% of the acts in the current scene have day jobs. You get into prog because you love the music. Enter it with no expectation or entitlement and make the music that you like to listen to, not what you think others want to listen to.
Thanks Robin for taking a moment to talk with me!