A vital member of the Austin music scene for the past decade, singer and songwriter Charlie Robison released his critically acclaimed, independent debut in 1995. Sony Music noticed, signing Robison and releasing Life of the Party in 1998. His Sony follow-up, Step Right Up, appeared in April. The video for “I Want You Bad,” a cover of an NRBQ tune, plays frequently on CMT, making him one of Americana’s success stories. Robison is the husband of Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks and the brother of country artist Bruce Robison, who wrote Tim McGraw’s hit, “Angry All the Time.” Charlie called us recently from his ranch near San Antonio to answer 20 questions submitted by you, the fans. He talked about his marriage, his favorite songwriters and some recent, headline-grabbing opinions he expressed about another country artist.
1. I live not too far from you in Texas and wonder if you would ever consider leaving the hill country for Nashville?
Not in a million years!
2. You grew up in Texas and still live there. How has staying true to your family and your roots helped you as a singer and songwriter? Does it help create the passion you have for your music?
It’s pretty much all that I draw on for my music. I’m really not the type of songwriter who just sits in an office and tries to come up with a hook-line song. I write about people I grew up with and things I see every day. Being from here and still living here is valuable as far as my music is concerned.
3. Have you and Emily ever considered doing a duet together?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it. But she sang “Country Roads” in a bluegrass band when she was 12, and the experience of being a lead singer was so awful for her that I think she’ll never do anything but sing harmony again. So, I think it’s out of the question.
4. What are the biggest pluses and minuses — if any — of being married to someone who is successful in the same business as you?
The only minus is that we are in a business that we have to go for a little while without seeing each other. I’m married to a beautiful, successful girl. I can’t think of too many minuses there.
5. How do you and your wife find time to see each other when you both are touring?
Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. It’s tough, but it’s a trade-off, and we both feel very blessed with the fans and the success we’ve had. Even though we’d like to see each other more, we don’t complain about it too much.
6. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to speak your mind. It is very refreshing. Most stars today mind their P’s and Q’s to ensure a following. I salute you. I read that you are in favor of Napster-type music sites and your wife is against them. Do you think these types of differences strengthen your relationship or harm it?
It definitely strengthens it. It would be boring if couples had the same exact opinion about everything. I can’t think of what you would be able to talk about. We have a really healthy relationship as far as things like that go. We don’t disagree on that much, but it’s almost kind of fun when we do.
7. Brad Paisley has asked his fans and friends to refrain from comment on your snide remark about his wholesome character. However, I am still compelled to ask why you feel the need to belittle those who enjoy the simple things in life? I’ll sit on Brad’s back porch anytime!
I live on a ranch and work on a ranch and have pretty much every day of my life. I think that I would know more about the simple things in life than most people do. I’ve just always had a problem with self-righteousness, and I was hearing a lot of it when I made those comments. It probably was not a good idea for me to say some of those things. But at the time, that’s how I felt. That’s really all I can say.
8. Do you think the controversy caused by voicing your opinions may overshadow your music?
Sometimes, but hopefully what I say has substance. Everyone is pretty much driven by the publicity machine of the record companies, especially these days. Not that what I’m doing is great or anything, but I think there should be more people these days who speak out and say what’s on their mind — whether it be about politics or music or whatever it is. I certainly miss the days of Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, people like that who stood for something.
9. Do you enjoy touring with your brother? Why or why not? Any plans to tour with him?
I love touring with him. Right now he’s got a brand new baby and I’ve got a brand new record. Those things don’t mix real well as far as touring goes. Hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll tour some more together.
10. Do you feel Step Right Up is a breakthrough record — that it has finally allowed you to break out of the pack? How do you feel about that?
I think that’s for everybody else to decide. I really enjoy writing the songs and making the record. It certainly has changed things touring-wise; the crowds have gotten huge and I’ve certainly gotten more attention than I ever thought I’d get. So, yeah, I guess it’s a breakthrough record in that way. I usually leave that for the press and fans to decide how much of a breakthrough record it is.
11. I think you’re one of the best songwriters. Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Johnny Mercer, some of the guys who wrote for Frank Sinatra. I love a little bit of everything. I would consider Miles Davis one of my favorite songwriters and he’s a jazz musician, so there’s a whole lot of different people.
12. Out of all of the songs that you’ve recorded, which means the most to you and why?
That’s like asking whom your favorite child is. They’re all my favorites for different reasons. Probably “My Hometown” is my favorite, because no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I can’t wait to get home to the ranch and be back here where I grew up. I really love it here. So, “My Hometown” probably is the one that’s closest to me.
13. Who puts on a live performance that makes your jaw drop?
14. Have any weird or crazy fans said or done anything that has shocked you?
Not until now!
15. What has been the most exciting moment in your country music career?
Every night is brand new; something happens at a show that just completely floors me. Every night someone says something while I’m signing autographs, or the crowd will be reacting a certain way. Every night something unbelievably exciting happens. That’s what I love about this business.
16. It seems that country music has gone through so many different incarnations over the past 30 years. Where do you see it going in the next 10 or so years and how will you work within that format?
It’s kind of in a not very interesting time to me right now. I certainly hope it will be cyclical, like it has been in the past. Whenever it gets a certain way, different people come along and change things. We need another George Strait, another Willie Nelson, to shake things up. I don’t see that person out there right now.
17. Are you a big bluegrass fan since Emily plays the banjo?
Yeah, I was a bluegrass fan long before that. I play banjo a little and I have always loved bluegrass, so that was just icing on the cake.
18. Your music seems better — and more honest — than any I’ve ever heard. Who are some of your influences?
Willie Nelson is a huge influence, Tom T. Hall, Roger Miller. I’ll mention again, Loretta Lynn, how honest she was in the ’60s (and ’70s) when she was writing “The Pill” and all these kinds of things. They were very controversial at the time. People like Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King influenced me. I just feel like you ought to use your time in the spotlight to do something rather than make money.
19. Which music artists do you listen to these days?
That’s the hardest question anybody could ask. I listen to tons of old country, jazz. I listen to Tom Waits, Guy Clark, the list goes on and on. I listen to every different kind of music.
20. Have you ever thought about writing a book or having someone write a book about you? What would be the best title for it?
I’ve always thought about writing a book of short stories, because basically my songs are little stories. I’ve thought about writing a book, but never about myself. My memory’s starting to get so bad, I ought to write one about myself just to keep up with stuff.