Play It Forward: Bernice's Robin Dann On Success And Georgia Anne Muldrow In the third episode of Play It Forward, Ari Shapiro interviews Robin Dann of the Canadian band, Bernice. She talks about redefining success and how the freedom of jazz informs her music.
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Play It Forward: Bernice's Robin Dann On Writing Music With A Sense Of Surprise

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Play It Forward: Bernice's Robin Dann On Writing Music With A Sense Of Surprise

Play It Forward: Bernice's Robin Dann On Writing Music With A Sense Of Surprise

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's time for Play It Forward. It's a musical chain of gratitude where we talk to artists about their music and about the musicians they're thankful for. Last time, we spoke with Glenn Copeland. He's a musician who received little recognition for decades. Then a record collector in Japan unearthed his work and reintroduced Copeland's music to the world. Glenn is now in his 70s, and he told me he's grateful for the music of a young indie pop band called Bernice. I asked him what he would like to say to the lead singer, Robin Dann.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GLENN COPELAND: Robin, this is Glenn talking to you. I am one of your down-on-my-knees fans (laughter) out of a sense of, like, awe. And I just want to say, no matter what, don't stop. Don't stop writing. Don't stop writing. Your vision is extraordinary, and it's musically so exciting. That's it. Just do your thing. You're geniuses. Go for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE'S THE MOON")

BERNICE: (Singing) And we're sorry. But it was ours, too.

SHAPIRO: And we're joined now by Robin Dann, the lead singer of Bernice.

Hi there.

ROBIN DANN: Hi. I'm crying (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Oh, really?

DANN: Oh, yeah. I mean, that was really, really meaningful to hear coming from Glenn.

SHAPIRO: I mean, Glenn's been at this a lot longer than you have, and he's saying you're geniuses. So what's it like to hear that?

DANN: I mean, it's Glenn. Glenn is just pure joy and love and support and - I mean, I'm not worthy (laughter). It helps, you know, to hear a hero kind of tell you to keep going.

SHAPIRO: I mean, especially - Glenn's an artist who worked in relative obscurity for a long time. And you're early in your career. You haven't had the big breakout fame and success that many artists strive for. Does hearing Glenn talk about the journey that he went on give you a different perspective on where you are in your career?

DANN: Oh, absolutely. I think any kind of alternate story to the formula that we are so attached to of, you know, success - the younger, the better that you can get success - it's like a tonic to hear. And it just reminds me that, you know, anything's possible. Success is - comes in many shapes and forms, and life is surprising and just to sort of step back and remember what it's all about, which is making music.

SHAPIRO: I mean, what is your dream of success? Does it mean playing stadium shows, or does it mean something else?

DANN: (Laughter) Wow, that's a really difficult question. My dream of success, I would say, would be to be able to make music that I'm proud of with people that I love for the rest of my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLUE")

BERNICE: (Singing) South to walk and sit to sing. And sleeping bags and pillows tie your dreams down. Tie them to a depowered glue world. All in all...

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the first track on your new album. The song's called "Glue." And one of the things I love about this track is just how surprising the percussion is. It's like...

DANN: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...Almost - it feels humorous.

DANN: Totally. Yeah, for sure. A big part of how we make music, I think, is by making each other laugh - like, seriously, like, lyrically and stuff. For me, it's just a song about falling in love, so you can sort of feel the spirit of that in the drums and the space and all the instruments the way we kind of arranged it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLUE")

BERNICE: (Singing) When you arrive, sun-soaked and breezy and alive, I can breathe.

SHAPIRO: Robin Dann, it's your turn to tell us someone who you are grateful for, a musician who you admire. Who do you want to pick?

DANN: I would love to pick Georgia Anne Muldrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSES")

GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW: (Singing) When I'm down, I just draw some roses.

DANN: The first time I heard her voice, I just felt my whole body responding, you know, my whole spirit and imagination.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSES")

MULDROW: (Singing) So halfway through, I feel so much better.

DANN: I don't even know. It's one of those things. Like, how do you describe her music? It's sort of funk. It's hip-hop. It's got so much jazz in it. It's really experimental, so that word has - you know, what does that even mean?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, it seems that she, like you, is somebody who doesn't neatly fit into one box.

DANN: Yeah. Yeah, I think she's just very free, and she's just exploring constantly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO MEIN")

MULDROW: (Vocalizing).

DANN: This is called "Lo Mein."

SHAPIRO: Cool.

DANN: And it was the first song that I really fell in love with.

SHAPIRO: Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO MEIN")

MULDROW: (Singing) I don't want your sundance (ph), bells and whistles I don't need. Done with the forevers that never came to be.

SHAPIRO: Have you two ever met?

DANN: No, we've never met. I saw her perform at the Gladstone Hotel I want to say in, like - God, I don't know - 2005 or '06. There were probably only 30 people there.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

DANN: So I met her in my mind, but she doesn't know who I am.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about that night?

DANN: Just pure joy, basically. I was just, like, in heaven, standing right in front of the stage.

SHAPIRO: I'm just thinking, from her perspective, that night might have felt like, only 30 people showed up. It was a bust. But from the other side of the stage, here you are more than a decade later, remembering that as a singular night where you saw an artist who inspired you. Like, what a completely different narrative.

DANN: For sure. And it's a lesson in making every show the best that you can make it. I've definitely been on tour and played shows to zero people and felt like, well, this was an utter waste of time. But just to try to bring the joy that you feel when you make music with your bandmates, even in those kinds of situations - that'll - you know, that'll make it worthwhile.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to her next. So what would you like to say to Georgia Anne Muldrow?

DANN: Hi, Georgia. This is Robin speaking. I want to thank you for inspiring me with your freedom as a singer and as a musician and just thank you for putting the beautiful energy into the world that you are constantly putting out.

SHAPIRO: Robin Dann, thank you so much for talking with us about your music and your inspirations.

DANN: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: She's the lead singer of Bernice. And we'll talk to Georgia Anne Muldrow in the next episode of Play It Forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO MEIN")

MULDROW: (Singing) Oh, it don't take much to please me. Your job is to remain you. I might sound detached or...

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