Robert Strauss

“…The music represents who you are, and those records from that period, they resonate to all of us as human beings. I think we long for that time gone past and would love to see that music happen again today, so that’s what we’re trying to do.” – Robert Strauss

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Composer, producer, arranger, studio owner, sound engineer and bass player Robert Strauss of retro-Jazz/Soul group ‘Personal Life’ is a very deep thinking individual, whose critically acclaimed eclectic album ‘Morning Light’ reflects his deep-rooted passion and love for the Soul/Jazz music and artists from the late sixties through to the seventies and early to mid-eighties. Through his group Personal Life, Mr Strauss now has a vehicle with which to pay homage to those influential sounds and lyrics of yesteryear. Michael J Edwards managed to catch some quality time with the genial, crisply attired and thoughtful Mr Strauss prior to Personal Life’s one-off powerhouse gig at London’s Jazz Cafe and garner further insight into the mind of this imaginative, creative and muti-faceted individual.

Michael J Edwards: Greetings! Mr Robert Strauss meets Michael J Edwards a.k.a. The Dood.

Robert Strauss: Thank you so much. Hey, The Dood!

Michael J Edwards: Yep, it’s a play on words from the Quincy Jones album ‘The Dude’. I just love the whole album and of course that track. What’s your favourite track on the album?

Robert Strauss: ‘Bet You Wouldn’t Hurt Me.’ (featuring Patti Austin). Stevie (Wonder) wrote it, Stevie played those unique chords. I mean that record for a lot of reasons, represents a watermark in recorded music history and black American music history. The Dude (Quincy Jones) is a huge inspiration for the making of the ‘Morning Light’ album; also, Leon Ware’s albums ‘Rockin’ You Eternally’ and ‘Inside Is Love’. They all catalogue the musical history.

Regarding us, the concept of the group and the name Personal Life; the concept of this group is to build on a legacy which exists already. There obviously is a desire for any music fan to try to tap into something that is really historic and significant. The challenge that we’re facing now is that the ecosystem in terms of the music industry is not what it used to be. So to make a record that involves all that instrumentation; that involves what would have been essentially forty or fifty people, during the course of the making of a record, now you’ve got a budget… And that’s why these records are not happening.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Also the value system of society and humanity has moved on, so the principles and values and the sentiments of a popular art form have shifted in terms of direction and the whole approach. You can have the sound of a vintage band, or maybe have a certain style, but that only goes skin deep. Ultimately, it’s about the intent, the holistic way of approaching being here on this planet.

Michael J Edwards: You’re talking like Leon (Ware) now.

Robert Strauss: A lot of people have said that! So for us there is no difference between art and life, and without sounding overly esoteric and too into ourselves as creative beings, the music represents who you are, and those records from that period they resonate to all of us as human beings. I think we long for that time gone past and would love to see that music happen again today, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

Michael J Edwards: Would I be right in saying that you’re the creator of Personal Life?

Robert Strauss: I feel more like a personal coach, or a life coach. Let’s break it down – So what is Personal Life? Is it me? No! The name is based on my personal life. In my professional life, I’m a music producer and engineer. So I work as an artist for Personal Life, but I also facilitate, I’m a facilitator – so I work with all kinds of creative people – we have a studio in London called Wax Studios. It’s open to the public and it’s basically a creative hotbed or incubator for things that are developing. So that’s my work or my bidding if you will; and then my personal life is what I love to do musically and that’s how I came up with the name.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: And that was born when?

Robert Strauss: I think it was about two years ago, about two or three years ago, it was quite recent.

Michael J Edwards: Who writes the songs?

Robert Strauss: The songs are coming from me at this point; I’m generally the man behind the music, and then Stuart Lisbie, our vocalist is very much my collaborator on a spiritual level. We write all of the lyrics together and the whole song sort of comes together, it kind of becomes something concrete or real, based on what we’re going through at that point in our own lives. We’ve tried in the past Michael to come up with these stories and it just never worked. So what seems to happen is that reality seems to always grip us; and it has to be something significant or it doesn’t hold and it doesn’t last, and all the songs on that album (Morning Light) are reminiscent of a personal journey or a first person life experience.

Michael J Edwards: So it’s the old adage, you write for yourselves first and if other people can relate to the songs then it’s a bonus.

Robert Strauss: Hopefully!

Michael J Edwards: What influence did your parents or siblings have on your chosen career path growing up?

Robert Strauss: Well that’s a deep question; you know it is a family business, and it’s no secret that a lot of creative people have come from a heritage or lineage of artists. My mother is a painter; she’s a fine oil painter, so I really owe all of that to my mother. She wasn’t privileged; she’s from a very working class background.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Where were you raised?

Robert Strauss: I’m from Ontario, Canada, an area called the ‘Niagara-on-the-lake.’ It’s quite a rural, quite obscure little area. My mother’s English originally. It’s funny because when I look back Michael at all my first records, thirty years later, completely by accident and totally unaware on my part, every single one of them was a British record! And I didn’t even realise at the time, it’s not like I had a big Sister, who was saying buy this, it is what I was gravitating to. And it’s funny because in Canada when I was in my teens I did a music assignment for my year journal; I started to play guitar, I started to play keyboards and when I was thirteen I had a little studio, so it’s just always been my obsession.

Michael J Edwards: Did you ever contemplate an alternative career?

Robert Strauss: No! There was never a plan B, there was never an escape hatch, it was like I cannot live without this. And that’s what I say to young people who ask me today; if you can’t live without doing this, then choose something else, because it’s too difficult otherwise.

Michael J Edwards: I’m glad you mentioned that, because that was my next question, what is your advice for young music artists?

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Robert Strauss: A lot of the media today is pushing people to become stars, and that’s show business, that’s entertainment. Music is a craft and it’s an art form, and it’s about learned evolution and development. It’s about honing your craft and becoming a practitioner, which is a whole different avenue to becoming a celebrity. There’s a difference between someone who really studies, learns and hones their craft to someone who’s just famous for being famous.

Michael J Edwards: Who are your influences on bass guitar and music in general?

Robert Strauss: I write on piano and I have so many influences, everything you hear on that record from Donald Byrd to Roy Ayers, Patrice Rushen, Leon Ware, Quincy Jones, Rodney Franklin, I mean the list goes on and on, Glenn Jones. It just feels good; it’s coming from a place of love and that’s where we’re coming from.

Michael J Edwards: What next for Personal Life after this gig here at the Jazz Café, I understand you’re going on tour?

Robert Strauss: Yeah! We’re off to Brazil, in a couple of weeks were going to São Paulo, which will be our first time over there. Then we’re off to do some European dates around France and Italy in the next two months or so.

Michael J Edwards: Obviously you will be promoting ‘Morning Light’, but have you started work on the new album as yet?

Robert Strauss: We have, of course we have.

Michael J Edwards: Are you a prolific writer like Prince, do you have a lot of material in the can?

Robert Strauss: I’m one of these people who can just turn on switch and out stuff comes, and the reason why that is, it’s because I come from a background of a commercial writer as well. I started as a singer-songwriter, but done a lot of work for film and television, where if someone said to you, “This is what we want, can you do that?” So I’ve worked in so many different genres and the great thing about that is that it teaches you how to be creative at the touch of a button, but the other thing is it gives you more of a 360° overview of the overall universal nature of music.

Because music ultimately, is a human experience, it’s about emotions and we all have those. The difference is that culturally there are things that are taboo and also there’s a bandwidth of emotion that is expressed; so in certain music it’s okay to express anger, in certain music it’s okay to express joy. We all have the entire frequency range of feelings, but culturally certain genres say it’s from here to here. But fundamentally, it’s one and the same, and the more you become immersed in music, the more you can see the similarities.

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Michael J Edwards and Robert Strauss
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time.

Robert Strauss: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Album:
Morning Light (CD 2013)

Essential Website:
http://robertstrauss.com
http://personallifetheband.com

Personal Life band members:

Robert Strauss – Musical Director/Producer/Arranger/Song-writer/Bass Player
Stuart Lisbie – Vocalist/Lyricist
Xantoné Blacq – Fender Rhodes
Nathan Allen – Drums
Max Grunhard – Sax
Scott Bayliss – trumpet & flugelhorn
Frida Mariama Touray – Additional Vocals
Tello Morgado – percussionist

travelling the spaceways since 1993