A Conversation with Trouble in the Wind

Update: July 23, 2008: Trouble in the Wind was formerly known as Cactus Bob. Aki is no longer wth the band and Kyle Merrit who plays electric guitar, melodica, uke, banjo and accordian has replaced him.

Four friends; average knock-about guys, who's lives intermingled at various times come together in an evolution known as The Cactus Bob Band. Their story is told to us by Robby Gira lead singer and songwriter for Cactus Bob and T61's own Ryan Fox; drummer, guitar and backup vocals. Theirs is music with heart; as you will read and hear.

The Band

Robby Gira - lead vocals/12 string and songwriter
Trevor Mulvey - bass and string bass
Ryan Fox - drums/keyboards and back up vocals
Aki Iwata - lead guitar

myktoronto: Cactus Bob had a pretty interesting beginning can you tell us Ryan, about the day you guys decided to form The Cactus Bob Band. Was it a sudden thing?

Ryan: I would say it was pretty sudden. I ran into Trevor in a piano class we had at Miracosta College in San Diego (I wish six year old Ryan had stuck with the piano). We started talking about music and eventually we started jamming. A few weeks later I went up to visit Robby and Aki to hang out and party with them at Cal State Fullerton. We got boozed up, then Robby sang a song with his acoustic. I had no idea that he had started playing guitar. The song didn't have a name at that point but was later named 'All You Need'. The lyrics and melody of the song blew me away. He 'had' me at 'come' which was the first word of the song, haha. Me, Robby and Trevor all jammed a week later. We where together for a year before we added Aki. It was apparent that our sound was missing something; so long time friend, Aki was an easy choice.

myktoronto: So Robby; when did you first know you wanted to be a singer/songwriter? Musical family?

Robby: Well, I used to make up little ditties when I was a little kid that I thought were very clever. I wrote one about my friend Patrick; it went 'Pat's so fat, sat on a cat, couldn't get up again, that's Pat.' And then there was one about Cheezits also. I always thought I would be a writer and so I used to write stories and poems.

myktoronto: .... and the songwriting where does it get it's beginning?

Robby: Years later I met Ryan Fox. He showed me stuff he was doing as did my best friend Parker Tabas. I kind of went with the flow. Eventually I was in a band with the whole Cactus crew called 'The Bums'. We were arguably the greatest one song Iron Maiden cover band ever assembled. I think we actually had two songs even. I was in 'Munch' and 'Saffron James and the Apples' with Parker Tabas and Ryan Fox for many a pubic year. Sometime later I got a guitar and there was no turning back. It was kind of a slow evolution. I also have a sister that is ‘way' into theatre and I have this uncle I've never met who's enjoyed some artistic popularity. His name is Michael Gira.

myktoronto: You play guitar and drums and also study vocal Ryan; which came first?

Ryan: My parents tried to make me play piano when I was six years old. I was no prodigy. I hated it and quit after about a year. Years later I was hanging out at my friend Aki's house and he showed me how to play a drum beat. He had been taking lessons for guitar and drums for about a year I guess. It took about an hour and a half for me to get that drum beat down, which is pathetic. As a drum teacher myself, I've taught 10 year old girls the same drum beat in about 15 minutes. Aki thought I was hopeless, but as a 13 year old kid, it just felt right to make a lot of noise and hit something; so I got some lessons. I started playing guitar at 15

myktoronto: Was there a specific influence that kept you interested in music?

Ryan: As far as singing goes; I just always wanted to sing like Bruce Dickenson from Iron Maiden. I still do.That's way I'm a classical voice major at Cal State Fullerton.

myktoronto: There's a haunted quality to your songs. I guess the best example I can think of is 'Blackened Oak' Since the days of 'I Can't Help But Think' (the song that established the band) you've had a definitive style. When did that 'sound' come to you and how?

Robby: Oh man ... well I always wrote a lot of sad songs. I think maybe because people I read or listened to did that. I was probably depressed a little too. I tried and still try to write songs with a little bit of pop sensibility in them, as well as a lot of effort in lyrical and melodic tones. I guess the specific sound came to me when I was figuring out how to play guitar and it just became my way of venting and expressing my emotions. Every once in a while, when I get into a happy mood, it will turn in to a workable song. As for the haunted quality? I guess I always just want to sing it so that people know that I really mean what I'm saying. The songs really mean a lot to me.

myktoronto: Who has influenced your music the most?

Robby: My influences are definitely David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Neva Dinova, Willie Nelson and soooo much other stuff. I started writing songs with a folky or country tint to them pretty much cuz I couldn't play anything else and then I really started to like that style. Once the rest of the band came together we all liked it to so we just kept going. It was the shit!

myktoronto: In your personal music collection, what three albums/songs, have you listened to the most over the years?

Robby: Oh jeez. the new Neva Dinova record is so epic it almost never leaves my player, um David Bowie's album 'Lodger', and... oh man this is tough; 'When the Man Comes Around' by Johnny Cash is awesome too.

myktoronto: There's an undertone to your lyrics that conveys, it seems to me, a yearning for decency and consideration that is lacking in the sort of "me generation" lives many people experience today. Is that an intended message or I am I just way off base?

Robby: No I think you're right on base there. I get bummed out about the way people act sometimes, as well as the way I act sometimes. So I put my frustration into songs I think. I wish people were more honest with each other. I feel like honesty is becoming something like a forgotten language these days.

myktoronto: You were telling me Ryan, that you study classical voice and Aki studies classical guitar at Cal State Fullerton, Robby spent most of his life immersed in writing and music and Trevor has a diverse background of study in several music genre. Are there times when you guys find that your classical and formal instruction tempt you to complicate the bands open and simple and sound?

Ryan: We don't go for simplicity when we put the songs together. Rather; we all try figure out the best way to get Robby's message across. What I've learned from studying music is that sometimes people try to do too much musically without knowing why they are doing it. We try to use a classical technique called "word painting" which just means that the music sounds like what the lyrics are saying. A good example of this is our song Mr. Whiskey; before we wrote the rest of the music we came up with the theme of a train, which fit Robby's chorus perfectly: "you make the world, and I will make this train, you make mistakes, and I'm to blame'. After the theme was established we thought of everything we could possibly do as a band to make the song sound like a train.

Word painting is used a bunch of studio recordings that you listen too. Another example is 'I Fought the Law' by the Clash. When Strummer says 'robbing people with a six gun' the drummer does two triplets on the snare drum to make it sound like six-gun shots.

myktoronto: I think one of, if not my favorite Cactus Bob song is "Sweet Lilly Insane". Is Lilly an alias for an actual person in your life Robby? If so; can we find her in other Cactus Bob songs s well?

Robby: Lilly is based on a person I met; but then she became a character for other songs. I only met her once really. She was pretty interesting. So sometimes I use that name in songs. I also think its a pretty cool name. I see her at school sometimes. I saw her in a play once and she had a Russian accent and I was like, "whoa hot Russian chick." I really couldn't tell if she was Russian or not. Then I saw her at this party. It was a "Hoes and CEO's" party. I didn't have any business attire so I was like "shit" and I drew a bow-tie on a white shirt, threw on some sweatpants and shades and was a huge hit. I kind of got a lap dance too. I saw that the Lilly girl was there and I just tried to romance her. Eventually this huge fight occurred and everyone had to run away from the cops so I went home and wrote a drunken romance tune; in my bathroom.

myktoronto: - One question that begs to be asked; does the movie Doctor Strangelove have anything to do with the idea of "loving the bomb" in the song "To Love The Bomb?

Robby: Good question. Well, I thought it was a really cool quote in the movie where it was like: "eventually I learned to love the bomb." or whatever. So I took that and threw it in the mix of writing about a decaying relationship and crumbling empire. I had just finished watching this documentary on Robert Crumb. His brother meditated on a bed of nails to fight the urge to molest women... and I was like, "whoa dang!" so I threw that in there as well. Also written in a bathroom.

myktoronto: Do you have any projects in the works at the moment? A CD or maybe some new material coming our way?

Ryan: Yeah we're recording a few songs at Miracosta College right now. We plan on recording a lot this summer and making a high quality CD which will consist of our best recordings. This will be our first official CD release . We'll make studio versions of many of the songs on the 61. The reason we haven't done this before is that we didn't have scratch or the free recordings at Miracosta (Thanks Kyle!). When this CD is done, we will then shop it around to record labels and others in the industry.

myktoronto: Has the 61 given you a better view of your band. Has the feedback been constructive?

Ryan: Yeah we really had no clue what songs people favored most, until the sixty one. That reminds me that we have to add our song "San Diego" to our two upcoming gigs at the San Diego County Fair.

I admit I'm a big fan of The Cactus Bob Band; but it's not just the music. There's an aura of honesty and a sense of having great fun that these guys put across in a heartfelt way. Grab a brew or two and a big comfy chair, sit way back and experience the world of Cactus Bob.

Thanks for your music guys and sharing your thoughts with us...and Robby; one day that bathroom might be famous; but not in an Elvis sort of way. I hope.

Catch Cactus Bob on MySpace too!


Sogeshirtsguy said...

Wow terrific interview Myk. The questions were very poignant and revealed the origin of Cactus Bob quite well. I had wondered myself if Lily was real or just a great song writing device.

Michele Yamazaki said...

Great interview. I love knowing the back story and how musicians got started.

Anonymous said...

Now that I know how this works, just wanted to tell you that I think it's a great interview, I found specially interesting the classical instruction question and the Lily part.