I interviewed Eriq Robinson ’15 early last week, and then, because I couldn’t get enough of him, I interviewed him again on Friday. Really, I lost the first interview, and Robinson was gracious and understanding about sitting for a second one. Both times he wore a sweatshirt bearing the name of his Dallas, Texas high school (“I’m a man of habit,” he said), and both times we sat at the same picnic table outside Usdan to discuss his first album, Black Sheep People (released under the name Qire), the religious experience he cultivates with his music, and annoyingly pretentious artists.
Eriq Robinson [looking down at table to discover a piece of newspaper wrapped around a glob of chewed gum]: You know what’s kind of funny? Some guy would find this and then call it, like, “found poetry,” and he’d title it “Gum,” because it’s holding gum, and then the words to the poem would be this [gestures to writing on piece of newspaper]. And he’d make a million dollars. And I’m sitting here like an asshole.
The Argus: You should do it!
ER: No. It’s not true to me. [Whispers]: You’ve got to be true to yourself.
A: So what is true to you?
ER: I don’t know. True to me is true to me. That’s what true to me is.
A: Let’s talk about your music.
ER: Let us. Lettuce. Not to be confused with the funk band named Lettuce.
A: Oh, is there one?
ER: There very much well is. It’s a great band. You should listen to it.
A: What era is it from?
ER: I don’t know. [Laughing] And I’m not going to pretend to know, either. That would be not true to me! Anyway, yeah. My music. Recently I came out with an album, Black Sheep People, under the pseudonym—is that the correct word? Pseudonym? Moniker? Handle?—Qire, which is my name backwards. It is what I possibly would describe as psychedelic future drone-y music? And yeah. It’s kind of about what it is called—Black Sheep People. It’s the idea of being different than anyone else. Or just different from certain people. Or maybe not different at all; it’s just the way you look at it. It depends on the way you look at it.
A: Do you feel like a black sheep?
ER: I mean, everyone’s a black sheep in certain contexts.
A: In what context are you a black sheep?
ER: That’s such a weird question.
ER: That’s a super weird question. The weird thing about that question is you could answer it any way you wanted to. And still there would be someone in the crowd who would say, “No, you’re not this, I know you too well, blah blah blah,” or someone would say, like, “That’s not crazy. I’m this. This is crazy.” I don’t know.
A: Who are some artists that you would compare yourself to, or some artists that you look up to?
ER: I wouldn’t compare myself to anyone, because I feel like a lot of people would say, “You’re not like this,” or “You’re more like this,” so I’d rather just let people see whatever…I don’t know. But [of] people I look up to, Björk is my number one. Flying Lotus is awesome. Dim Light, um [blows air out of mouth and nose in deep thought], I don’t know. A lot of stuff.
A: So what bands are you involved in on campus?
ER: I was part of Sky Bars, but that ended because the seniors graduated, but the rhythm section is still there. Free Thought Collective is still here in spirit and will be resurrected at some point. Cosmos, Wesleyan’s only creative music group. Um, the Top 40 Band. Look out for the Top 40 Band. I don’t know. I’m sure something else is going to pop up at some point. And I sing in Slavei and Slender James, but I am not a singer. I just am…good enough to blend.
A: You’re interested in religion, right? What sorts of religion?
ER: Well, as complicated as that is to convey through the weird medium that speech is, I’m interested in creating a world, or a reality, through my music and narrative, in which I am creating this religion—I don’t know, there’s a lot of symbolism in it that’s derived from the events of my life, and I’m also influenced by Eastern religions, like Buddhism, and even the Abrahamic religions. Long story short, it’s a religion where the universe is becoming awakened, and human beings are its eyes, ears, all five senses, and therefore understands that everything begins and everything ends, and it itself is going to end someday, and that it needs to start experiencing all peaks of experiences as humans as its tendrils, I guess, its feelers into the universe itself, itself experience life. It tries to experience all the beautiful and horrible things before it ends. The religion isn’t really a religion—unless that is a religion, some kind of weird cosmological tale that in many ways tells of the end of days.
A: So does the music convey the experience, or does the music create the experience? Which comes first?
ER: The music will create the experience, but the experience comes from a composite of different things.
A: When did this all start?
ER: It’s a new thing.
A: So, since college?
ER: Yeah, probably. It’s more like, the experience itself is true artistic creation. Because—man, I’m going to sound crazy—there’s a reason why the ancient Greeks and Romans, and people who followed the Greco-Roman tradition, had the idea of the storyteller being taken by the muse in order to tell the story, because back then, the storyteller understood that it wasn’t him or her that came up with the story; it was a piece of the universe that had flowed through them in some crazy Avatar-esque moment. I feel like people who—musicians, artists of all sorts—do their art know of the weird zone where everything just flows, and that’s what the ancients were referring to. And that’s more or less the experience. But then there’s a different type of experience when you’re receiving that and not putting forth, just soaking it in, that I think is a different experience that I’m trying to convey.
A: Being visited by a muse?
ER: Yeah, but not having to produce it yourself. So in a way, it’s actually what experiencing good art is. So in a way I’m actually just saying that I want to make good art. Now that I think about it, that’s what I’m saying.
A: When you’re making your art, do you picture your muse as a distinct thing? Does it have a name, a face…?
ER [Laughing]: No, it’s just like a thing, man.
A: So you studied abroad in China. How did that experience shape you?
ER: Long story short, it made me realize that we’re a whole lot different than people in other countries. A great example is Wesleyan. We’re extremely segregated in one sense—quiet side, loud side, bros, hipsters, that sort of thing, including me, who would be on the quiet side with the hipsters—and I know people who won’t talk to bros, no matter what, no matter what you say…Obviously, there are nice people on both sides, dicks on both sides, whatever. But if you can’t understand the person who lives two blocks away from you, there’s absolutely no way on God’s green earth that you’re going to understand the dude on the other side of the world, who’s lived in a desert his whole life, reading the Qur’an. Like, the call to prayer, in Islam, is this crazy beautiful singing with improvisation, but just that voice by itself is so powerful. If all of us heard something that powerful every day, there’s no way we’d be remotely the same person we are now. There’s no way we have a clue what any person’s logic is. Obviously everyone’s human and we want to survive and have families and stuff. But that’s not to say, “Hate different people.” Love humanity, just don’t assume that you know what they’re thinking. That’s the dumbest mistake that we keep making.
A: What did the Chinese make of you?
ER: Privacy’s not really a thing because there are so many people in such a small space, so the idea of personal space didn’t exist. It was funny because people would pull on my hair randomly at train stops and stuff. At first it was a shock—the first five times. But then, after that, it was fun when they would ask questions. I was the first black person they’d ever seen. It sounds like a magical experience, seeing the first person of another race when you’re 40.
A: When did you get your ears pierced?
ER: Senior year of high school.
A: Did it hurt?
ER: Well, yeah. They’re sticking a metal needle through—do you have your ears pierced?
A: Yeah, I’m like the only person in the world who doesn’t.
ER: Well, I’m sure I’ve met others, but it’s still weird. Um, but yeah, it hurt.
A: [In response to screaming child in the background]: Wow, that child seems to be in severe distress.
ER: He’s saying, “Agua.” He just wants water, man. He’s just thirsty.
A: What’s your greatest fear?
ER: Failure is my biggest fear.
A: So you’d rather die than fail?
ER: Yeah, wouldn’t anybody? I guess maybe not. I guess, definitely maybe not. I mean, definitely not. I’ve definitely met a lot of failures. Heck, I’m a failure!
A: How are you a failure?
ER: Everyone’s a failure. Everyone’s failed something, to whatever degree.
A: What’s been the response to your album so far?
ER: It’s been good. I really did it for myself, and for other musicians on campus. But the response has been good. [Looks at gum wrapped in piece of newspaper] God, I’m still thinking about this dumb thing. This actually could be a thing. But I just don’t want to, because I’m mad at the person who’s going to eventually do that. Ugh.
A: Does that sort of thing annoy you? People who do art like that?
ER: No, because to a point, I do art like that. I have no right to get annoyed at anybody for how weird their art is, or—what’s that word that starts with a “p”?
A: Oh! I know what you’re talking about. This is going to bother me.
ER: “You’re so —.”
A: Yeah, it has an “r” and an “s.” What is that word?
ER: All I can think of is the word “promiscuous.” It’s definitely not that.
A: Yeah. Not “presumptuous”…and people say it about…
ER: Snotty people.
ER: Hold I’m going to…[Looks on phone] I’m going to type in “snooty” and see what comes up. They have every word but it. Snobbish. Condescending. Yeah, that’s it, but not the one—pretentious!
A: Yes! That’s it!
ER: Funny story. There was once a concert at BuHo. This guy was playing some really shitty, like, analog synth, and it was really bad. And he took a raw egg in his hand and he slowly went like this [draws hands apart] and then slowly brought his hands together, and he clapped! And it dripped onto the speakers, and the floor, and he was so mad at us for some reason, because someone may have moved his projector at some point. It was so weird. And I came back a month later and the egg stain was still there. Like, that guy was too pretentious. He thought he was God, and no one was digging his art. But he didn’t go here. So.
This interview has been edited for length.