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| 6 April 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “North Georgia-based Americana duo Surrender Hill (husband and wife team Robin Dean Salmon and Afton Seekins) is set to release its fourth album, A Whole Lot of Freedom, on April 3, 2020.  An Americana/roots-rock record filled with harmonized vocals, electric guitar, and swooning fiddle, A Whole Lot of Freedom was recorded at the couple’s newly-constructed home studio in northern Georgia, with contributions from drummer Matthew Crouse (who also appeared on the duo’s 2018 album, Tore Down Fences), fiddler Wyatt Espalin, and guest guitarist Jonathan Callicutt. ” We get Robin and Afton to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Photo Credit: Alba Elena

1. Tell us a little about your latest release. What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through? Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Robin: This album is really special to us in that we wrote and recorded it between the time when Afton became pregnant with our son, Wren, through to his 17-month birthday. We recorded the album in our home studio so that we could work when our son was napping or in the middle of the night or whenever the spark hit.

Afton: Lots of Robin recording in his underwear!!

Robin: Yeah, LOL, it wasn’t the glamorous “we’re in the studio” sort of production. A labor of love for sure! Our friend and drummer, Matthew Crouse came down from Nashville for three days to lay down the drum tracks, and it was really a chilled-out time. We would work, and then cook a bit, play with our son, do a little more work… There are little bits of Wren throughout the album. The album sounds pretty sparse at times, although there are subtle melodies woven into the songs that I think folks may not hear on first pass.

Afton: And a cowbell!!

Robin: The interesting thing for our diehard fans is that they are used to hearing us perform these songs as a duo in a pretty stripped-down fashion, so it takes them a minute to warm up to or get used to some of the fleshed out versions on the album.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

Robin: My folks used to listen to a lot of folk, singer-songwriter stuff when I was growing up in South Africa. Kris Kristofferson was huge in our house. I loved it. When we moved to the U.S.A, I got turned on to Kiss and started a band called Snake. Nobody could play an instrument but we had swagger. I was a cowboy on a ranch at the time and soon was shipped off to boarding school. I hated it, but my roommate was from England and turned me on to the Sex Pistols, and that was when I knew I was going to be a musician for the rest of my life. There was all the freedom one needed in music.

Afton: Growing up, our house was filled with music. My grandpa on my father’s side was a preacher and a guitar player, and my Granny Annie on my mother’s side played accordion and piano and was a cancan dancer. I always knew I was going to be a performer of some kind.  As kids, our summers were spent in Alaska, and our whole family, cousins and all, would get into making music videos. I pursued dance as a career in my early 20’s, studying in NYC and ultimately working as a choreographer. All the while, I wrote poems and wrote in my journal. After eight years in NYC, I got a bit burned out and moved back to Arizona. With my fathers help, I taught myself how to sing and play guitar and started turning my journal into songs. The first time I performed my songs at an open mic, I was terrified but it just felt completely right. I knew the path as a singer-songwriter was it for me, and I poured all of myself into it and haven’t looked back since.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Robin: In the early part of my career, I have to say U2 and their War album shaped just about everything about my life. I loved the production of it and the sheer power of the music. The imagery of it. It was 1983, and I had just moved to Colorado from Texas. I started a band in Colorado that winter, and U2 came to Red Rocks and I went to the show. Pure inspiration. They filmed that show and made a movie called Under a Blood Red Sky. It was raining, so the next night they played at a place in Boulder, so I went again. There was an awesome Welsh band called The Alarm opening the show. During U2’s set, I went and sat up high where nobody was, and two of the guys from The Alarm came and sat next to me. We struck up a conversation. Five years later, the band I had started in Colorado was living in NYC, and we had a record deal with Epic Records. We played a show at The Ritz with The Alarm. What a time that was. As I’ve gone through the years, my focus has really been on the song and telling a story, so I think all my time listening to Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and those guys has shaped my writing and my taste.

Afton: Because of my dance background, for me there were so many different artists and genres that shaped where I am today. I would say that all the classic country greats that I grew up listening to in our family home have surfaced in the past several years as I’ve been writing songs and performing.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Robin: Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, U2, and Rodney Crowell.

Afton: Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill, and Sheryl Crow.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Robin: Bruce Springsteen, because of the darkness in his writing on albums like Nebraska, to the absolute soul – and spirit-lifting tunes on The Rising resonate hugely with me. We share a lot of the same baggage. I think Bruce could help me make some sense of it. I have largely used my songwriting to work through some of the troubles in my life.

Afton: Brandi Carlile, because of her word choices and the way she strings them together are inspiring to me. She has a raw and powerful truth about her that I aspire to, in the way she sings and in her subject matter.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

Robin: Well, we call ourselves “Americana Country With A Lot of Soul.” I think that defines our sound pretty well. It’s a tough one. When I was on the road with my band See No Evil in the early 90’s, a reviewer said I sounded like a cross between Neil Diamond and Kermit The Frog. Holy shit!!!

Afton: I can’t even wrap my head around any of this after Robin’s response!!! Anyway, I stand with “Americana Country With a Lot of Soul” on what we sound like. As for a bad comparison, I honestly can’t think of one being made.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Robin: Ha, that’s an easy one! Me, Me, and Me!! Our guitar player is always quick to jump in with a hand in the cooking, and Afton handles the vino pretty well!!

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

Robin: 2005, Rodney Crowell. I met him in a Nashville restaurant, but that wasn’t when I was starstruck. I later tracked him down from that first meeting and asked him if he would sing on one of my tunes in the studio. He came in and spent most of a morning working through a vocal part, and his graciousness and attention to what he was contributing left me starstruck.

Afton: Tori Amos – 2008. While choreographing a show at a venue in NYC, I met her in the green room. In person, she took my breath away. She had such an incredible presence and energy around her.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Robin: The best part is the absolute freedom I feel when writing and performing. I also love being able to travel. As for my job, I would like to be a chef / therapist. I would love to be able to make a good living cooking for people in my very small bistro while talking with them about life’s challenges.

Afton: I love the rush from being on stage. When a performance goes well, it is the best feeling in the world. As for my number two job, I would love to run a quaint little B&B in a beautiful place.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Robin: How do you define “making it”…? That is always a tough thing for me. Afton and I make a comfortable living writing, recording, and performing our own songs. I feel as though we have “made it.” We are blue-collar musicians, but this is our life and we love it. We work very hard at it. I have definitely put in my 10,000 hours plus and have had varied levels of success in my career but always continue to be told to hang in, one of these days you will make it. We honestly don’t have a question we’re tired of answering. We both kind of feel if someone cares enough to ask, we’d like to answer.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

Robin: I have been playing music and pushing pretty hard for 35 years, and I unfortunately have many missteps. It’s part of what burns through my mind some nights. I would like to have a do-over but would not like it to change my current situation, as I never would have met my wife, Afton. One misstep was severing my relationship with my manager / producer in NYC after five years of hard work and friendship. I was facing a lot of pressure from another company to make a change, and I was in a very vulnerable state at the time. Well, no excuses, my ego got the best of me, and I screwed up.

Afton: At the very start of my career as a singer-songwriter, I decided to drive to LA and do a blind audition for The Voice. The whole experience left me feeling defeated and hollow. It made me take a long, hard look at what I was getting into. Since then, I have come to realize that would have been wrong path for me.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Robin: Wow that’s a hard one. There are so many for so many different reasons. Part of my career has been spent working as a recording engineer and producer, so there are albums I would love to have been around for the tech aspect. But!! I think an album that had a massive impact on my life in every way was U2’s album War. I love the songs, the production, and performance, the sheer revolution and empowerment of it. I then was very fortunate to be at Red Rocks for their filmed show.

Afton: I would love to have been in the studio for the recording of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. As a teenager, that album blew me away musically but mostly because of the dance aspect. I would love to have been there to watch and hear it all come together.





Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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