Brothers united

Photo by Sandlin Gaither

Sure, Asheville has its share of bands of brothers (The Enemy Lovers, Her Marigold, Sons of Ralph, to name a few). But very rarely do three brothers — in three different bands — grace the same stage on the same night with each of their musical ventures.

Meet the Robbins brothers.

You’ve probably heard of Wayne Robbins, 41, the oldest. With a Neil Young-meets-My Bloody Valentine sound, his band Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers has released two critically acclaimed albums and tromped through Europe opening for Band of Horses. Younger brother Sean Robbins, 37, also a guitarist and songwriter, cut his teeth in local buzz band Nevada before forming the sunny-pop tinged Warm the Bell last year. And 31-year-old Matt Robbins, the youngest, currently plays drums in the tripped-out, Raleigh shoegaze band White Cascade.

Three brothers. All great musicians. All with distinct, but stylistically kindred, musical projects. So before Saturday night’s family reunion show, Xpress sat down with Wayne and Sean over beers at BoBo Gallery to figure out just where in the hell all this talent comes from.

We started with the obvious…

Wayne: No, our parents are not musical. Our mom and dad lived in basically New York City in 1965, 10 minutes away from Shea Stadium — and they didn’t see the Beatles. [He laughs and shakes his head.] My mom said, “I hate crowds.”

Sean: Yeah, they’re not at all. I think for us it comes from both if us just starting to really get into music, finding records and tapes and things like that. [Looks at Wayne.] That’s how we started writing music, by just getting into music, right? I mean, I couldn’t even make the chorus in elementary school.

Wherever it came from, by the time college rolled around, Wayne and Sean were spending almost every weekend together, writing songs and honing their individual styles. Sometimes they’d record weird, lo-fi stuff on a cheap 4-track, with Sean playing acoustic guitar and singing and Wayne making atmospheric noise by attacking his guitar strings with a nail file. They’d set up tape decks around the room to blast backward drumming or distortion sounds behind them while they played, a kind of poor man’s overdubbing.

They titled one of the favorite demos Noise in the Garage. Because, well…

Sean: [He laughs.] We basically just got in the garage and recorded…

Wayne: It’s an improv piece of music that we created.

Sean: We had guitars, and we were chanting. Then we’d put down the guitars down and just bang on things. Turn on the lawn mower and drive that around in a circle.

Wayne: Dad would’ve killed us. “You’re wasting the gas!”

Sean: We would spend all night from dinner time until three in the morning.

Wayne: Noise in the Garage was a very influential thing for me, personally. It was like therapy. It was just the joy making sound. I laugh my ass off when we listen to that tape. When the lawn mower starts up … [He looks at Sean and grins.] For the LAB show, I should totally go home and get the lawnmower and start playing it during one of your songs.

And influential it was. While there’s no question that both Wayne and Sean now write beautiful — even, at times, traditional — songs, there’s one common trait found in all three Robbins brothers’ bands: their penchant for scuffing up the delicate with the discordant. The dark. The ugly.  Like with Jeff Tweedy or Jeff Mangum, there’s just something in the Robbins’ DNA that can’t help but mar their gorgeous pop songs with just the right amount of sonic acid. 

One listen to the experimental, noise-dancey drones of White Cascade, and it’s obvious that younger brother Matt has got that trait in spades. But as a kid, instead of following his brothers’ footsteps and picking up a guitar and a mic, he turned toward the drums. A choice Wayne and Sean are sure they had something to do with.

Sean: I think Matt saw the problems we had finding drummers in all of Wayne’s and my bands. So he went out an taught himself drums —

Wayne: We did bitch about drummers a lot. [He laughs.]

Sean: So I like to think that we kind of molded him into the perfect drummer.

All of which inspires the inevitable question: So when are the Robbins brothers finally going to form their own band together? It’s an idea they’ve clearly joked about a lot in the past.

Sean: You mean the Rockin’ Robbins?

Wayne: No, the Mrs. Robbins Sons! [They both laugh. Then Wayne looks at Sean and shrugs.] Well, we do have the perfect drummer…

— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer.

who: Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, Warm the Bell, White Cascade
what: Three-band show
where: Lexington Avenue Brewery (39 N. Lexington Ave. http://lexavebrew.com)
when: Saturday, Aug. 27 (10 p.m. $5)

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