So when your rock merchandise mogul dad, Joel Rabinowitz, is a fanatic Beatles fan and your younger brother, Brandon Robins, is the drummer for Black Crowes-inspired rock band, The Honey Runners, how the heck do you, Mike Robins, end up as one half of Canada’s hottest new country-rock duo, Autumn Hill?
Yet, that’s the pleasant quandary Robins faces as he and partner Tareya Green are about to set off on a summer-long series of festival concerts across Canada in support of their second, record, “Anchor” which is already capturing major radio attention thanks to their lead-off single “Blame”.
“Both Brandon and I come by our music influences honestly,” remarked Robins of their potent musical blood lines. “We grew up listening to Dad’s Beatles collection, his classic rock albums and his Johnny Cash records. Brandon has been involved in this great rock band (The Honey Runners) whereas I fell in love with guitar pickers, Keith Urban is an absolute hero of mine, all the way down to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton – a mixture of great guitar players and great song writers, those performers are my influences”.
The Toronto-based Robins, who had already forged an image as a solo artist, recording a country music hit single with “No Mercy” and had backed up singer-songwriter Hope during a North American and European tour in 2010, , came into contact with Calgarian Green, when they were brought together by Wax Records; co-founder Jamie Appleby to write songs together for an intended Green solo record.
“Jamie responded to a cover song I had posted on you tube and invited me to come to Toronto to meet with him if I felt comfortable,” explained Green, a former graphic arts student at SAIT. “They felt I had something and said, if I was interested in moving to Toronto, they were prepared to work with me.”
Green sold her possessions in Calgary, arrived in Toronto in January 2012 and almost immediately found herself working with Robins. The first thing they wrote together was a song titled “Favourite Mistake “and at a record label party, they started jamming on the song together, Green tinkering on piano and Robins accompanying her on guitar. “He was harmonizing with me and our harmonies seem to come naturally to us,” noted Green. “People at the party just loved our sound so we continued to push the writing; we wrote an entire album and just decided to release it together.”
Robins concurs that the creation of “Favourite Mistake”, which became the title track of their debut album, established a creative rapport between Green and himself. “We just knew there was an undeniable chemistry between us and this was the sound we wanted to make. The material just came from the heart and people around us gave us such positive encouragement.
Both Robins and Green agreed it was not previously determined to make a country record per se, but their style of singer-songwriter just allowed for an evolution in sound that fit both country and contemporary pop radio formats.
“We are so lucky that country music is in a good place right now,” commented Green. “Country radio has been so accepting of our sound and it seems that what we are recording what is in vogue right now.”
Autumn Hill’s debut release in September 2013 made a strong impact and allowed the pair to execute the major country music festival circuit, including a well-received set at The Boots And Hearts concert in Bowmanville, Ontario but both artists agree that their song writing was just starting to evolve and that the songs on the new album, truly represent a more polished direction. A professionalism that was reflected in 2014 when they performed with Jann Arden on her song, Karolina, a performance reprised live at the 2014 Country Music Awards in Edmonton.
“Anchor is definitely an evolution from the first record which had a lot slower ballads and mid-tempo tracks,” analyzed Green. “Anchor is definitely livelier; we think it’s a great summer album, “Blame” is getting a great reaction at radio, “Return Policy”, has a very sassy lyric, it’s fun to be a little bit different. The whole idea was to have a batch of songs that would be fun to play at our concerts.”
Autumn Hill acknowledges the work of producer Dave Thomson (Lady Antebellum) in fine tuning their direction during their sessions together in Nashville and both Green and Robins feel they have a record that boasts strong cross-over potential.
“The most re-assuring thing is to be able to just show your music. If you can connect with your public and they like what you are doing, the word is going to spread,” notes Green who is a big fan of social media. “It’s so exciting to make that personal connection with your fans, to find out what songs they like, gauge a reaction to a particular show. It’s like when you walk out in front of your audience, you feel you already know them even if you’ve never seen them before.”
Having already made their mark on the festival circuit in the past two years (country and mainstream pop events), Autumn Hill are hitting a number of festivals including the major Cavendish Beach Music Festival at Hunter River PEI July 9-12 which also features Robins’ hero, Keith Urban along with Steve Earle and Rod Stewart and several other key performers.
As for any perceived sibling rivalry with brother Brandon, Robins refutes that notion saying he is a big supporter of Brandon, loves the Honey Runners (“His band is killer”) and says they often jam together on Bar Band, Pop-Up Night events.
Robins finds it funny to learn Brandon has issued a challenge that The Honey Runners will beat Autumn Hill to be guests on the Jimmy Fallon show. Somehow, I think Autumn Hill has the inside track advantage in that department.
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