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Trevor Rabin

Interviewed by Larry Toering, Gary Hill and Jason Hillenburg

Interview with Trevor Rabin from 2012


How did you make the transition from being a rock musician doing solo albums and playing in a band to doing soundtracks? Was it something that just gradually happened or was it a conscious decision?

It was, I'd say a bit of both. Starting from a very early age when my Dad was a violinist with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra so I grew up in that environment, and there was an amazing professor called “Walter” who just died. He taught me so much about orchestral arrangements, so I thought film music would be a great platform for doing that. And I had utilized it to a degree with Yes and even Rabbitt albums, but I hadn't pursued it as a frustrated conductor really. So pursuing film was sort of a natural thing, and I had fun doing it. It was a great transition going into film. I remember being on tour and I said to my assistant, "you know what, I think I'm done." He said,  “What do you mean?” and I said "well, just playing these songs every night, I enjoy but I think it's going to become work, rather than inspiration." So, that is when I decided I'd try to get into film.
MSJ: What are the similarities in doing the rock band experience to creating soundtrack albums?
None really, because with film my anticipation at the time was that I would just pick up the pencil and write orchestral music, but as far as Yes there was really no orchestral stuff going on, so I was kind of yearning for that and it seemed like a natural place to be.
MSJ: There have been rumors around (well, according to Rick Wakeman more than rumors) that you are working on a project with Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. Can you shed some light on that?
I think it's mutual, Rick and I really love each other, and we get on great, just as Jon and I, and I think more so after Yes. I mean Jon was here a couple of months ago when I was doing a film, and he came down to the orchestra session with me for about a week and stayed at the house. We get along really well and musically we want to do, but the enemy has been the perfect storm of no time. We have something we want to do something, but I've been busy, Rick's been busy and Jon has been touring, so it's been hard, but I talked to Rick what's been about a year ago now in London. We had a chat and it's something we really want to do.
MSJ: I remember back in the MTV era, they kept talking about an accident you had where you ruptured your spleen. According to the reports were saying you had seven spleens and that the doctors had put a zipper in so they could get the others out quickly if necessary? How much of that was truth and how much just for comedic value?
Not true, but that would've been great.(laughs) At one point someone in the hospital did say to me that it's possible to have multiple spleens, where one goes another one grows, or something like that, but I'm not going to find out, let's put it that way.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
My parents being musicians, there was a lot of classical influence going around but I was the black sheep. my Mom and Dad liked Beethoven and Brahms. I Obviously loved them too, but I was more inclined to listen to Arnold Schoenberg and things like that.
MSJ: What do you think are some of the advantages of digital technology and how does it benefit or hinder your work?
I'd say 95% of that is a good thing. I mean there's the whole romantic thing that nothing is as good as analog, and there were certain things about it that were almost magic. Like, for instance, with a drum sound you want to really kick, outside of using auxiliary equipment you could pound the tape and take it just up to distortion, and things that would happen on tape that was such an organic natural thing, and there are things like that you cannot recreate digitally. But for the most part, I think on balance that digital has been a great thing.
MSJ: Exactly when did you start using the Roland GS and what attracted you to it the most?
Actually I have only used that once, and it wasn't with Yes or Rabbitt, it was on my first solo album, but I don't use GS much. Casio made a beautiful one, but I don't use it very much either.
MSJ: What effect did you use to get the sounds on your solo in “Owner Of A Lonely Heart?” 
That was really pretty simple. It was just a kind of tough sounding guitar, and then I put a synth on top of it, and it kind of created that sound. but the thing you've got to be careful with when playing with synth on top is you've got to make sure that when you hit chords, you don't create something that is like a train wreck.
MSJ: It sounds like you're playing a keyboard actually there. 
Yeah, it is a bit, you're right. That is an interesting point. I never thought about it like that, but you're absolutely right.
MSJ: Let's talk about your new CD Jacaranda. it hasn't arrived yet but I've been listening to a quality download I've been given access to, so I don't have any information other than hearing the tracks, is there a concept or meaning to the title and how the songs play out?
Well, Jacaranda in an indigenous tree native to South Africa and it's something I grew up with all my life and seems like it's all around me. Some call it the tree of knowledge. It has beautiful purple flowers, and.. nothing too hippie-ish, but yeah, it's an indigenous tree from South Africa.(laughs) You know the great thing about it for me is I've been doing film for long long time, and after 40 of them it was something I really really wanted to do, but there was nothing contrived behind it. I actually started recording it in 2007, and it took a long time because I'd grab three weeks when I could here and there between film work, and then last year I disciplined myself to really concentrate on it. Demographically I wasn't trying to go for one specific genre. I decided to write stuff that I found challenging to myself as a guitarist and a pianist, and it led to this. I actually hadn't even looked to releasing it until it was done because I didn't know until then what it was going to be.
MSJ: Looking back on your days with Rabbitt, what was one of your favorite moments?
Oh boy, there were so many. One of the best things about Rabbitt is we were friends before the band got serious, but we became serious. But as a live band they were so special and because of that we had a lot of fun together.
MSJ: Have you kept up with the developments on Yes, and if so, would you be interested in sharing your thoughts?
I haven't really kept up with what they're doing, but having said that, Chris and I are still very very close friends, as are Alan and I. But when we get together or chat on the phone (Chris actually called me the other day) we just check in with each other. “How are you?” “How's the family?” It really doesn't go into what is Yes doing. As far as what I know about it, I haven't kept in touch with it musically much. I went to play with them at the Greek a couple of years ago, Jon wasn't in the band. There was another singer there, who apparently is not there anymore. I know they did an album with Trevor Horn which I am interested to hear but I haven't done so yet.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
I'd have three drummers, the ones I just did this album with, Vinnie Colaiuta(Sting, Frank Zappa), Lou Mollino III, and my son Ryan Rabin who is in a band called “Grouplove” who are doing really well right now. He just blew me away when I invited him to play because his band are have very strong songs but as far as weird time signatures and that, it's not what they're about. So when Ryan came in and did that so naturally I was really excited about that. And on bass Tal Wilkenfeld who was Jeff Beck's bass player and also played on one of the tracks on my album, she's doing a solo album and she's great. And for keyboards I would chose Henny Becker, and of course Rick Wakeman. 
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Let's see, oh I've got a really great one for you. When we did 90125 I had the spleen accident, as mentioned, but the tour was canceled for that but by the time we did get to touring, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was number one, and the album had already sold millions. So, before we started the manager came and said, “It's going to be a really grueling tour, so because things are going in the right direction maybe we should get a plane.” So we had our own plane and put the Yes logo on it, and it was all very nice. Then when Big Generator happened, by the time we got on the road I hadn't had a spleen accident so we had no clue exactly how the album would do, and the manager said, “We'll do it first class because once again it will be grueling.” And Chris said, “Why don't we get the plane like on 90125?” And the manager said we weren't in the position to know what's going to happen, so let's just do it commercial because we don't know if the album would do great or not. So Chris said, “What if the album does great and we've gone commercial, we'll have gone commercial for nothing.” (laughs)
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
A Leonard Bernstein conducted symphony by Arnold Schoenberg.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I read a very scary book. I don't remember the author but it's called “Inconvenient Youth,” about a really scary militant individual in South Africa who's a head of the youth movement.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Grouplove - if they're ever in your part of the world, give them a shout and go check them out, they're really, really strong.
MSJ: What do you think of the music scene in L.A., in fact globally for that matter?
I think with the availability of technology where people can record an album in their backyard on a laptop, it's allowed a lot more people to afford to do that and it has provided us with so many more artists and great variation. But, one of the problems is when music is downloaded illegally there is a culture that thinks it's okay, when it's actually theft. And they might be benefiting from not having to pay for that record, but in the long run it's going to result in so many people not being able to experiment because the money's not there. So that is a troubling thing about music today. As for me, I'm in a position where I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, but I really worry about up and coming musicians who might be really inspired but they can't do it because there is no business to support them. On the one hand it's sort of a catch 22. In the old days you had to get a deal together to get into a studio which was very expensive, and today that's not the case. But it doesn't really help if you can't sell anything, and this culture that is crippling the music business is bad enough when people aren't buying like they used to. And when it's free now... you know it's not a utility. We need to keep it alive, and to keep it alive we need to have business available. So to me it's pretty sad, you know.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Every now and then I'm guilty of wanting to rip it up and play as loud and fast as possible, but then I have to stop myself and say "whoa, ya know, relax."  That is one of the bad habits of all guitarists, and vary rarely does it mean it's the best.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
We don't have any tour plans yet, but I'm just finishing up a video of one of the songs which was a lot of fun. I had discussions with video directors and I realized with the way this music is I have a vision of how to do it. So I studied up quite significantly on Final Cut Pro, camera and lighting, and basically did it myself, and it's almost done. As far as the future goes, I love doing film but I'm going to start disciplining myself to spend significant time on this, and I've started another album already and I don't want it to be like with this album where I spent so much time the same way with huge blocks of other stuff.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Yes, I hope everyone just listens to the album. I had a blast doing it, and it was very satisfying to me.


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
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