By Yasmine Shemesh
Ontario-born, Vancouver-based rock musician Robb Hill is a class-act who can pride himself on being unapologetically true to his artistic calling.
A singer, songwriter and guitarist, Hill is a one-man show but his first project was with a band he called Brave By Numbers—a moniker appropriate for the constantly interchanging and diverse lineup. “The first drummer I had was legally blind,” he says. “He was so good. The bass player was a young, 18 year old guy. That lasted a while and then the bassist had to step back for school. I guess the thought behind the name was if we work together, we can accomplish things.”
Hill would find percussionists and bassists on the road to accompany his sets as he went along but dropped the band name eventually when he found that he more enjoyed playing as solo act. Now, the entertainer’s sincerity and raw talent has provided him with circles of musician friends across the country that are happy for a chance to collaborate with the performer when he’s in their neck of the woods. “In Toronto, I’ve got this [drummer],” Hill smiles. “He just turned 60. He was a punk rocker in the 80s.”
Hill’s debut, Come On In, was released earlier this year and is a compilation of a steady build-up of material he’s written over the years. His sound has a stripped-down grunge feel to it, from the deep tones in his voice to fuzzy, melodic riffs on the guitar and the EP offers a nice balance of acoustic elements with rock-out cuts. Highlight track ”Watching, Waiting” meets somewhere in the middle, with Hill’s voice soaring out in compelling yearn over strummed power chords. His influence is rooted in the music he grew up listening to, particularly alternative rock bands that emerged in the 1990s like Pearl Jam and, especially, Nirvana. ”The first CD I ever bought was From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah,” Hill remembers, noting the group’s 1996 live album. Songs on Come On In like the headbanger ”Yesterday” play with the contrast of soft-to-heavy sound shifts that Nirvana was well-known for. Sometimes in his performances, Hill pays tribute to the iconic band with a cover of “Dumb.”
Travelling and frequent touring provides Hill with a versatile landscape to draw inspiration from but he maintains that the best lyrical narratives are often incited from the overlooked. “There’s a shield over us sometimes that forgets to look at the little things when we walk around,” he says. The musician thrives on connecting with his audience, especially through live performance, and touring has allowed him to pluck the heartstrings of many locally and internationally. ”The crowds in Sweden were angelic. Being in some countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua, it can be frustrating to see the disparity,” he says. “But that’s the thing—music is something that keeps people happy.” Hill will hit the road again this month on an all-Canadian leg that includes stops in Kelowna, Winnipeg and Calgary.
Though pursuing a wholly creative life can at times be difficult, artistic fulfillment and being able to do something you truly love can sometimes be more rewarding than any paycheque. As a veteran of the music scene, Hill understands the struggle and shows solidarity for his fellow independents by offering the opening slot at his gigs to up-and-comers. ”I really like discovering new acts and giving them a chance because I remember how hard it was getting my own first shows,” he explains. “We gotta keep going. Can’t stop.”
Hill kicks off his Canadian tour at Charqui Grill in Kitsilano on August 15 and 16.
Download Come On In on Hill’s website.
Published online at www.vancitybuzz.com, August 2014