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23 December 2016 @ 12:25 am
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Robin Borneman - Winter 2016  

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Robin Borneman - Winter Tour 2016

Interview, photos and videos by Brad Parmerter

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brought a new vocalist to the stage in 2013 from the Netherlands who brought an energy and vocal depth beyond his years. Singer-songwriter, Robin Borneman, grabbed the microphone on that first tour and his voice leaped from the stage in a dynamic fashion as he brought the Night Castle song "Sparks" to life. Borneman has continued to shine in a live setting as his role has expanded both onstage and in the studio. We discussed his early musical influences, how he caught the eye of TSO, his audition, road routines, as well as his solo work in this brief, but informative dive into his career thus far.

Bp: Let's start off when you were just a wee child. When did you realize that you had a special voice?

Robin Borneman: Well, I didn't really, but I was always singing. My dad was a big opera fan and he always had opera music playing in the house that I imitated when I was a very young child. It sounded pretty funny I guess, but I kept doing it and for some reason I think that's where I developed the dramatic vibrato in my voice. I think it comes from that place. As far as I can remember I've always sang. It's always been part of my system. But I didn't really know I actually had a talent for it until I started playing guitar and that's where I – I started writing when I was a young age, poems and stories and stuff. Then when I first started playing guitar that's where I started putting these words into songs. I first discovered having a talent for anything at all with writing songs.

Bp: What age was that?

Robin Borneman: That was sixteen, I think. I started playing guitar when I was fifteen. By the age of seventeen, or maybe eighteen, I actually recorded and released my first CD. I copied it about fifty times and gave them away to friends and family.

Bp: Was it received positively?

Robin Borneman: Yeah. Considering the fact that I was just starting doing all that. The strange thing is though, my music didn't really change in terms of style. That very first album that I made, the songs are pretty much in the same style as the music that I create today, but I'm just glad that it got better over the years. [laughs]

Bp: You honed your craft.

Robin Borneman: Yeah, I guess so. It's really hard for me to explain where it comes from because as long as I can remember I've always done that. My mind goes to a certain place, my imagination takes over, and I just write songs. It's weird.

Bp: So there wasn't anything in particular or one event that planted the musical seed?

Robin Borneman: Well, my mom and dad are both huge music lovers. They're not really musicians, my mom plays piano, but there wasn't a piano in the house. I don't know, it activated something in me and music was my path.

Bp: You had support from your family?

Robin Borneman: Yes, totally. Throughout the years and to this day my parents have been the best and very supportive.

Bp: Who were some of your musical inspirations?

Robin Borneman: The most obvious hero was Tom Waits. He influenced me in terms of – he gave me my whiskey voice that got me into TSO. Actually they found me on YouTube doing a Tom Waits cover that is on YouTube.

Robin Borneman "Blue Valentine" [Tom Waits cover] live February 26, 2012 - video captured by Yusuf Uysal

Bp: Of what song?

Robin Borneman: "Blue Valentine." So I owe my TSO career to Tom Waits. [laughs] He has a very gravelly voice, a very intense singer. On the other hand, Nick Drake is one of my biggest heroes, he's a folk singer from England in the '70s and his music is the opposite of Tom Waits. He has a very sweet voice, very melancholy.

Bp: Pink Moon is an absolute gem.

Robin Borneman: Ahh, yes! It's such a great album. So he influenced me a lot and in between there's a lot of soundtrack music from movies, composers like James Horner, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard – I've been listening to that probably since around fourteen or so.

Bp: I want to get deeper into your recent solo release, Folklore, in a bit, but in listening to that it has a very cinematic feel to it. It's bigger than just a collection of songs. It has a swelling soundtrack feel to it in places.

Robin Borneman: Thank you so much. I take that as a compliment. Yeah, it's been a long time idea to create a movie without image. To create a story with not only a soundtrack, but also the visual effects that you hear whenever you go to a movie theater. I used to be a big movie freak. I used to work in a movie theater for ten years. I was the film operator so I spent a lot of time in the room with the projectors watching the screen and listening. That probably influenced me in that way. I like music to be more than just a song. I like it to take you to a situation or a scene and to add all these organic sounds to it just makes sense to me.

Bp: I definitely think it adds depth and scope to the album.

Robin Borneman: Cool. I'm often listening to songs on the radio thinking, "Hey, this song could use more stones or wood – I'm surprised not that many people do it, because it adds so much to the atmosphere and the whole vibe. I think it's a cool tool to add, like you said, a cinematic feel to it.

Bp: I know when I was listening to Folklore the first time, for lack of a better term I'm going to call them ambient sounds, some of the ambient sounds – I was listening with headphones and I was looking around wondering what these sounds were, until I realized they were part of the track. It adds such a cool element to the album.

Robin Borneman: Thanks, Brad. I appreciate it.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Sparks" live December 21, 2014 - Newark, NJ

Bp: We'll get back to Folklore in a bit, but going back to being found on YouTube, was it Danielle [Landherr] who found you?

Robin Borneman: Yes, Danielle found me.

Bp: Walk me through that process. She heard it and was moved by it obviously. How'd she reach out to you?

Robin Borneman: She sent me an email saying, "Hey, this is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we just wanted to let you know we liked your video and we would like you to do an audition for us." Of course I had heard of TSO, but I wasn't familiar with their music. I had no idea what it was, so I first contacted my manager back in the day and he obviously knew all about it and he said, "This is huge. You've got to do this." I was still in a band that I'm currently not in anymore, so I talked to them and asked them what they thought and they were all, "Let's try it." I then made an audition video for TSO and then Paul was convinced enough to have me fly to Tampa to meet them and to do a live audition for them live in the studio. That was actually the first time ever in the States. The very first time I went to the States was for TSO.

Bp: Admittedly I don't know much about your previous band, but was TSO a big musical shift for you?

Robin Borneman: Well, definitely, well it was more than a musical one, it was a complete shift in my life. If I look back now it really changed my life in every way. The band that I was in didn't have anything to do with TSO or my own stuff, they were an electronic rock band, very fun, with a couple of my best friends, so we played Dutch festivals a lot. It was a great time. Unfortunately we had to split up, due to a lot of things. I had the best time of my life with those guys.

Bp: So what was that audition process like when you came over to Florida?

Robin Borneman: It was scary! [laughing] I was scared to death. You have to understand, for a guy from Europe, America is already pretty intimidating. The very first time I was here I was intimidated by the size of everything. Everybody was so confident. There I was in the studio with Paul and Al and Danielle – I was just giving my all and doing my very best. Paul, who is a great musical teacher, and a very fascinating man. He didn't really show whether he was satisfied or not, he was just pushing me to the next level every time. I wasn't really sure if I was doing well. I was wondering, "What was going on, was I doing okay?" By the end of the audition, after the second or third day, he took me aside and he said that he was very, very happy and he wanted me to do the tour. He said I'd get a phone call within a week and then he sent me back to the hotel. That was my last day and the next day I would be flying back and I was thinking, "What just happened?" [laughs] It was all such a rush, the adrenaline kept going.

A week later I got a phone call from the head office telling me I was in. That was it. Like I said, it totally changed my life for the better in every way.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Find Our Way Home" live December 17, 2016 - Philadelphia, PA

Bp: What did you sing down there?

Robin Borneman: They had me sing, one song I'm sure I sang was "Believe." That was the song we started off with as well. I shook their hands and it was like, "Are you ready?" "I think I am, let's do it."

Bp: Did they have a backing track that you were singing to?

Robin Borneman: I think Al played, he can play it all. Of course, Dave Wittman was there. Even now when I think back, I can feel that I was, not scared, but very nervous and shaking, which is only natural I guess.

Bp: For a life changing moment, I'm sure it is.

Robin Borneman: I can remember Danielle told me at some point during that first audition that TSO's changed lives before and I didn't really think about it. Looking back it really changed my life.

Bp: And you might not have known it at the time, but "Believe" means so much to those guys on a number of levels. You must have knocked it out of the park from the get-go.

Robin Borneman: I guess so. But yeah, you're right, beforehand I decided not to look up all the names and the backgrounds of the people in the band because I didn't want to get more nervous than I already was. I was kind of a blank page when I flew to the United States. I just wanted to do my very best. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but maybe that was good. I just closed my eyes and sang and I tried to go to the place that Paul wanted me to go to and pay attention. It worked, I guess.

Bp: Did they have you do "Sparks" as well?

Robin Borneman: Yeah, it could be, but I don't really remember. I think I did "Christmas Dreams" and "Believe." Those two songs are fresh in my memory. I'm not sure about "Sparks."

Bp: Were they initially looking for you for the tour or for a recording project?

Robin Borneman: I think they were probably looking for the tour, I guess. I know that Paul usually writes songs for voices that he already has in mind. I don't think he wrote a song for a voice like mine and then tried to find somebody. Tim Hockenberry used to sing all the songs that I'm singing now so maybe I was sort of – not his replacement, but I know Paul liked his kind of voice. The fact that Tim Hockenberry's not with TSO anymore probably is the reason he started looking for a new voice in the same kind of zone.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Forget About the Blame" live December 19, 2015 - Philadelphia, PA

Bp: "Forget About the Blame," was the first cut that you sang in the studio for TSO, how was that experience?

Robin Borneman: That was a very special moment. We were actually working on a different song and we ended up talking and sitting and getting to know each other a little better and then all of a sudden he came up with this song, out of the blue, and didn't really tell me anything about it, just played it for me. I was just astonished. Then he told me something about Johnny Green, that he wrote it, a little background information, but I was immediately like, "Just give me a couple hours with this song and let me do a couple takes on it." And I did and then the next day we did a couple of takes and then another session. I'm not sure if Paul always wanted to put this song on the album or if it was just because it happened, but to me it really feels like that. Like he had an idea and said, "Let's give it a go." And we did it and it turned out to be what he wanted. I'm so happy it's on the album, I think it's such a great song. And I actually met Johnny Green, oh you met him too, you were there.

Bp: Yeah. That must have been cool for you.

Robin Borneman: It was so cool. Because somebody asked me to come to Paul's room and then Johnny Green walked out and shook my hand and he was like, "Good to see you." So I thought I'd already met him before and he said, "I'm Johnny Green." I was, "Wow!" I was so honored to meet him and he was honored to meet me he said, but I said, "No, man, c'mon. You're my creator." [laughs] That was really cool to meet him. It's such a great song and I feel so lucky to be singing it every day.

Bp: What do you do to take care of your voice? What's your day of show routine?

Robin Borneman: Well, I'm one of those guys whose voice doesn't really get affected by anything, but the things that affect it are lack of sleep and alcohol. So what I'm doing is not drinking, I have a beer or a glass of wine occasionally, but not like drink-drink. And I try to get a solid seven hours of sleep, if I can eight, but seven hours of sleep. I drink coffee and most singers try to stay away from coffee. I do my vocal exercises before every show and try to stay healthy. I don't really have a special trick or something magical that I do.

Bp: Tell me a little about the inspiration behind your latest solo release, Folklore.

Robin Borneman: I like to think that Folklore is the perfect mixture of all my influences. Whenever I listen to it I can clearly hear Tom Waits is in there somewhere; Peter Gabriel is in there somewhere; then the orchestral music that I was talking about earlier, the soundtrack music; Nick Drake – but I also like to think that it's also very me. I don't think you can really escape from your influences because so many things have already been done and you can only pick things that are already there and mold them into something new.

I've got to say I'm proud of Folklore especially because of that. I can clearly hear my influences, but I can also clearly read my own handwriting. It's a bit of everything with my own soul as the red line through this whole story.

Robin Borneman "Muriel" from Folklore

Bp: I especially loved the line, "All my tomorrow's swept away by the feathers of my fear" from "The Waving Days," which I think is my favorite song on the album. It's magical.

Robin Borneman: Thanks. Lyric wise the whole story – I've always written about fairy tales, not necessarily, but the whole poetic kind of style, because I believe that there's more truth in poetry than in reality. I actually stopped following the news some time ago because I didn't know what was true and what was made up anymore. Poetry to me is always truth because it's more about feelings that somebody has or like an expression. The things that you can't put into words, like you can't put into a conversation or something like that, you can put into poetry and to me that's very true.

Bp: I know from the fan perspective how the signing line gives fans a chance to meet and thank their favorite performers and share a moment with them after the show. How important is it to you as a performer after the show?

Robin Borneman: It's fun, man. It really is. It gives me energy, even after the show when I'm like, [sighing] "Ugh, I'm tired." To see all those people it's a love-a-thon. And we have a lot of fun with each other, the singers, as well. Especially when we see familiar faces, like you guys, it's always a pleasure and I think it's one of the things that makes TSO so great to me. I like to look people in the eye and not just be an artist in the shadow, but to really be there for the people. It's just great. I love doing it. I never get tired of it.

Bp: Thanks for taking time out of your day, I appreciate it. I'm looking forward to hearing you a few more times this weekend.

Robin Borneman: You're very welcome, Brad. It was a pleasure. Awesome talking to you and I'll see you soon.

Additional Links:
Audio excerpt I - "Forget About the Blame" and meeting songwriter Johnny Green
robinborneman.com - Robin's official site
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - official site

More in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here.

Robin Borneman "A Prayer for Rain" - New Fall 2016


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