10 Questions: Justin Robinson of The Carolina Chocolate Drops

Purveyors of jug-band music with a modern flair, The Carolina Chocolate Drops made a splash at SXSW earlier this year. They’re back in town for a show tonight (Friday) at The Parish Room.

Justin Robinson (fiddle) took a few moments to share his thoughts about the music, arrangements and his dream dinner party as the band made the trip down I-35 from Dallas to Austin.

Q: You guys are heading to Colorado after the show in Austin, what else is coming up?

A: Yeah, we’re on our way to Telluride Bluegrass Festival and then we have a Californian run from L.A. to Seattle. We’re playing at the Fillmore in San Francisco with Josh Ritter, that’ll be fun.

Q: How did you decide to become a musician?

A: For me, it happened by happenstance. I’ve always played music, I come from a musical family.

When the band started to take off, Rhiannon and Dom didn’t have day jobs, they were making music exclusively. I quit my day job as a paralegal and off we went.

Q: Are there songs from the record that translate especially well to the stage?

A: Actually, everything was played first on the stage and then later put on the album. We do it in some ways backwards. Some bands will go into the studio, put out an album and tour—we put an arrangement together, tour with it, get it really tight and then record it. The only one we recorded that hadn’t been played out was the Tom Waits song that Dom sings.

Q: How often do you tweak the arrangements of the songs?

A: If we feel like we’ve played a tune too much, we’ll just stop playing it for awhile and give it some breathing room. Usually, after that it has a new life of it own and the arrangement will have changed a little.

Q: How collaborative is your writing process within the group?

A: We don’t write a lot of original songs so that’s being figured out right now. So far it’s been that each person writes their own thing and the band will arrange it together.

Q: Besides your instruments, what are the top things that you must have while on the road?

A: My computer, iPod, clean clothes and a good book.

Is there anything you pack but don’t use?

There’s a lot of extra clothes, you can pack too many. But that’s happened less and less. I can pack for two weeks or more in a duffel bag.

Q: What’s currently on your iPod play list?

A: The Tallest Man on Earth album and the Janelle Monae album.

Who decides what you listen to in the van?

Well, we have a CD player in the van and there’s a big pile of CDs in a bag… whatever we pull out will be what we play. We get so many CDs on the road, either from people giving them to us or because we go to to a lot of record stores on the road. There’s not a lack of music in the van.

Q: What is your favorite meal on the road?

A: There’s nothing you can count on, but rarely are you going to have a bad meal at an Indian restaurant. It’s always a safe bet.

Q: What was the first concert you attended?

A: The first one I remember specifically, but not because of the music, was a Boyz II Men concert when I was about 8. The reason I remember it was because somebody allegedly had a gun in the crowd. It was a big outdoor festival and there was pandemonium, people got trampled. They discontinued that festival.

Q: If you were having a dinner party and could invite anyone, who would be on the guest list?

A: We were just in New Orleans and I picked up this book called “Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans.” It’s about Storyville and prostitution before the Civil War. There’s a character named Bridget Fury, she sounds absolutely insane. She’d be fun, if nothing else, to have at the dinner party. Patti LaBelle, she seems fun. And Lewis Carroll.

Visit the CarolinaChocolateDrops.com for more info and tour dates.
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