Tim Robbins, actor, political activist, outspoken Oscar-winner and now, at age 52, folk-rock singer-songwriter. In advance of a string of Canadian dates, The Shawshank Redemption star talked about dreams, darkness and his self-titled debut album Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band.
Your name comes first on the album, but inside the CD jacket, a photo of the band shows you way to the left. Was this intentional?
This album wouldn't have happened without the Rogues Gallery Band and [producer]Hal Willner. I had been through a darker period of my life. I have this work ethic, that whenever I feel like sulking I find a project to do, whether it's making a cabinet or whatever. So, when I had a film project fall apart, I put down on tape some of the songs I had written over the years. A couple of months later, I bumped into Hal. I told him about the demos; he listened to them and told me he thought there was an album there. He said he had the perfect band for me, and that he would be meeting with them in a couple of weeks. It was that quick.
In the album notes, you thank Hal for pulling you out of the dark period you were going through. You split with Susan Sarandon and you spoke to the BBC last year about this being a midlife crisis album. Is it?
Definitely not. I regret doing that interview. I made a joke on [the radio program] Desert Island Discs on the BBC about calling my album a midlife crisis album. It was a joke; the host was laughing. But somehow it got into the tabloid press that every song on the album was a response to the recent things in my life.
The songs are stories, rather than any emotional purging. Is that fair to say?
I couldn't imagine something I'd want to hear less than someone rambling about a midlife crisis. When you hear the songs, they're clearly about all kinds of things - love, life, experiences and people I've met, including Iraq War veterans. There are magical sprites and all kinds of stuff.
The sprite is on Queen of Dreams. There are references to dreams throughout the album.
I put a lot of stock in the subconscious, and streams of consciousness. I do believe that if I were able to remember my dreams, I would write more songs. Dreams are poetry, you know? They're not real, they're not even fiction. They're a hybrid of poetry and reality, and I like them because of that.
Were you comfortable in the studio, with your voice?
All the vocals on the album are live. I wanted it that way - it was a moment in time. It has an immediacy and a presence that works. It was that time in my life, and the emotions I was going through.
So, no overdubbing?
Hal asked me if I wanted to make some fixes in the vocals, and I said no. I'd rather it be imperfect. I wanted it to be what it was, that day. Things are overproduced, not just in music but movies too. I find perfection boring; it's not why we go out at night to go see live music. We want something that's genuine and real.
Your parents, Gil (of the Highwaymen) and Mary Robbins, were active in the New York folk scene. Do we hear their influence on the album?
Music was very present in my household. We didn't have much money growing up. We didn't have a TV until 1969. But we always did have a good stereo and good speakers and good headphones. There was always vinyl coming into the house.
And how did all that music affect you?
All my imagination and creativity comes from listening to music in the sixties and the seventies with my headphones on. It was my source of entertainment. It was my source of truth.
Any specific artists you were drawn to? I hear Bruce Springsteen on the album.
I like a good storyteller. A great song can change the way we look at life in a three-and-a-half-minute span. I think that's a pretty great artistic achievement.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band play Winnipeg Folk, July 7 and 8; Quebec City Summer Fest, July 10; Montreal, July 13; Ottawa Blues, July 14; Windsor, Ont., Bluesfest International, July 15; Vancouver Folk, July 16; Toronto, Aug. 2; and Edmonton, Aug. 6.