Got the spirit
Why do people make music? To express thoughts and emotions? To make money and get famous? To impress potential sexual partners?
Rob Pelikan, who sometimes uses the nom de rock Robsongs, makes music as a spiritual practice, the way other people might meditate, pray or practice yoga. He records his music mostly in solitude at his home studio, recording various instrumental parts—acoustic and electric guitars, bass, piano, flute, percussion, keyboards, sung and spoken vocals, and more—and layers the parts into songs.
He describes the process as “Entering into my own mystery … and channeling something bigger than me.” He considers himself a lifelong spiritual seeker, and says, “That can’t not come into my music.”
Though the music is not specifically beholden to any one genre, the overall effect is genuinely psychedelic. The music seems to follow natural, biological rhythms, like the rhythms of breath and pulse, rather than any mechanical metronomes. It’s often hypnotic and meditative, but, to borrow a phrase from Bruce Springsteen, there’s a darkness on the edge of the songs: a hint of post-punk, minor-key dissonance—and it’s this hint that staves off New Age tedium.
“‘Meditative’ implies the mind resting on one thing, like a mantra,” says Pelikan, “but my music tends to follow a journey.”
And not all of his music is introspective navel-gazing; some of the songs have recognizable pop and rock antecedents. “Utopia” was inspired by the B-52s, and Pelikan describes the cheeky hard rock song “Rainbow Nightmare” as his “Spinal Tap song.”
“I’m a huge fan of music,” he says. “I’m a fan first.”
Originally from the Bay Area, Pelikan moved to Reno in the mid ’80s to attend the University of Nevada, Reno, where he studied philosophy, education and psychology. From ’86 to ’92, he was a host on KUNR’s “The Bottom 40,” Reno’s first alternative radio show. (He has a sonorous speaking voice perfect for radio.) It was a gig that basically required him to collect records and play whatever he wanted to an open-minded, late-night audience.
“It was such a gift,” he says.
He cites many bands from that era, like The Cure and Love and Rockets, as enduring influences. His current day job involves a significant amount of driving, which he enjoys for the solitude and ample time for listening to music.
Pelikan makes the music he’d like to hear as a listener—a paradox he finds fascinating.
“It’s like planting a seed in your backyard,” he says. “And sometime later you get to eat the fruit of what you’ve created. And you’re like, ‘Wow! That’s great. Way to go!’ … Some people are like, ‘Oh, what should I plant? What fruits are trendy right now?’ But I like to plant just for planting’s sake. … And maybe later somebody else might also enjoy the fruits from your garden.”
He posts his completed songs online and burns them onto compact discs that he gives to anyone who might be interested. It’s music best enjoyed the way it was made, in solitude—it’s better for a long drive than a rockin’ house party. It’s music that taps into an introverted primacy.
“Personification of All Gods,” a song on Pelikan’s recent disc, River Amulets Unchained, features a brief appearance from a female vocalist.
“That’s my wife [Jennifer McIntosh],” says Pelikan.
Is she the only guest musician on the album?
“She’s the only human guest musician,” says Pelikan. “There are some birds on there.”