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Joe Robinson

At just 16 years old, Joe Robinson, equipped with his acoustic guitar, won Australia’s Got Talent. His career has since continued to flourish, releasing solo albums, doing session work, and performing with Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, and many other artists. In this episode we speak with Joe about getting the most out of your guitar practice, embracing mentors, growing up in a tiny Australian town, winning Australia’s Got Talent, and moving to Nashville.

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Transcript

Evan Ball:
Hello, and welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking A Chord podcast, I'm Evan Ball. On today's episode we have the one and only Joe Robinson.

Evan Ball:
Today we welcome the ultra-talented, Joe Robinson to the podcast. At age 16, Joe brought his acoustic guitar onto Australia's Got Talent, and he won the whole darn thing. His career has since continued to flourish, releasing solo albums, doing session work and performing with Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and many other artists. If you haven't already, check him out on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Spotify etc.

Evan Ball:
In this episode we talk about moving to Nashville from a tiny little town in Australia. I hit up Joe for some tips on how to play fast. We talk about practicing in general, embracing mentors, winning Australia's Got Talent, and more. Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Robinson.

Evan Ball:
Joe Robinson, welcome to the podcast.

Joe Robinson:
Thank you so much, it's nice to be here, Evan, cheers.

Evan Ball:
All right, so I believe you're in Nashville now, where did you grow up?

Joe Robinson:
I grew up in Australia, the State of New South Wales, in a small town right between Sydney and Brisbane on the East Coast. The town is called Temagog, and it has a population of 200, according to Google.

Evan Ball:
Whoa, really?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Wow, okay. So, not a lot of clubs to play at growing up, in your immediate town at least?

Joe Robinson:
Well, it's funny because my mom played drums in a few bands, and there are actually a lot musicians in the area. It wasn't unusual to drive two hours to play somewhere, but I did find a lot of places to play, a lot of bands to sit in with and jam. Actually, it was a really nice musical community to grow up in.

Evan Ball:
Oh wow, okay. So, I guess just outside of that small town of 200 you have more musical connections then? Unless it's very densely populated with... it's just a talent pocket?

Joe Robinson:
Honestly, it really is quite incredible, high proportion of musicians that live there. A stones throw, there's a drummer, a bass player, guitar player.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's great.

Joe Robinson:
It's kind of like a place where a lot of hippies live and people that were more interested in living up in the bush.

Evan Ball:
So, forgive my ignorance on Australian geography, but bush, does that just refer to rural setting? Or is it have a backwoods vibe to it?

Joe Robinson:
People confuse the bush and the outback, and the outback is the desert where there's literally nothing. And, most of Australia, the middle of Australia is desert. But, the bush is just basically living in the scrub, in the hills, in the middle of nowhere. If you Google Earth Temagog, all you see is green, that will be the bush.

Evan Ball:
How close are you to the ocean?

Joe Robinson:
I was about a 45 minute drive to the ocean.

Evan Ball:
Okay, so the middle of Australia's desert, but then you have some greenery a certain distance in from the ocean, right?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. Most of the people live on the East Coast, from Brisbane, down to Sydney, down to Melbourne and Adelaide. It's a beautiful place and I miss it a lot. I've been based in the US for about 10 years now in Nashville. It's been quite the journey, growing up there and then coming over here. I've never lived in an Australian city, I went straight from the bush to Nashville.

Evan Ball:
Wow, what do you think of Nashville?

Joe Robinson:
Nashville is a great place. It's a wonderful musical community, and I love the studio environment here.

Evan Ball:
Bachelorette parties?

Joe Robinson:
Oh yeah, there's plenty of that [inaudible 00:03:46], you know it's happening.

Evan Ball:
I went there a couple of years ago for Summer NAMM, and I was just blown away at the amount of bachelorette parties there, that was pretty funny.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. June and July are an intense time in town. The summer's hot and humid, the clubs are full, tourists are in.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, just packed. We were right next to Broadway, so we were in the thick of it. So, back on track, I think I read you started playing at 10 years old? Are you hooked from the moment you start?

Joe Robinson:
Absolutely. I started on the piano when I was about six, and I just didn't like sitting still every day practicing the piano, I didn't like being tethered to this big, wooden thing, although it was a good foundation. But, when I started the guitar, I had to beg my parents, "Please, can I quit the piano? I want to play the guitar." And, my grandma had given me a little three quarter size [inaudible 00:04:43] guitar, and my mom said to me, "All right, well, if you're going to play the guitar, you better practice because otherwise you'll be straight back to the piano." So, I was motivated from the get-go to develop my guitar skills.

Evan Ball:
Sure, and I'm sure besides the piano threat, you had a natural passion for it?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. Up in the bush there wasn't a lot to do, we had two TV channels and our TV was the size of a dinner plate, and it hung there on the top shelf on the wall. It was super rustic, we got hot water in 2001. Before that it was boil a pot on the stove and pour it in the bathtub for a warm bath. I just found I had a knack for it and really enjoyed music. My parents would get together with their friends and there'd be six or eight people singing Blowin' in the Wind, and there's smoke bellowing out the bottom of the door, and I'm waking up in the middle of night going, "Wow, that seems kind of fun." So, I was quite interested in playing folk music, I just wasn't interested in classical music. So, the whole guitar appealed on every level and I just fell in love with it and became really passionate, and it just snowballed from there. The longer I've played the more I am fascinated with it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. I've asked this with other prodigy players, if you will, is it instantly apparent that the guitar is relatively easy for you? Are you lapping everyone 12 months in?

Joe Robinson:
It's an interesting question, because I remember struggling with every single little technique. I remember when artificial harp harmonics were really difficult. I remember when I couldn't get my right hand to alternate pick without it tensing up really fast. So, I definitely have had my frustrations with the instrument. But, that being said, after a year of playing my guitar teacher said to me, "Okay, I think you're pretty much good to go on your own now." And, I just started learning from tab. And, I remember [inaudible 00:06:47] came out, and I remember YouTube, and all these things were popping up when I was a teenager and they became portals to this world of music, and forums, and tab and connecting with people that were as passionate as me. But, in the beginning I definitely just dived in and became obsessed, but I remember struggling with it for sure, it wasn't all easy.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, they're foreign finger movements, it's definitely hard for everybody. But, I have to think, it must have come to you relatively easy, I would imagine, compared to other people. I'm putting you on the spot to brag a little bit. Did it seem apparent to you that people around you saying, "Wow, this kid's just... I've been working my whole life and this kid just shows up and..."?

Joe Robinson:
I remember sitting in with bands when I was younger and people were so encouraging, and just really nice to me. But, when you're this kid in this small town, and the town is considered a socially disadvantaged area in relation to the rest of Australia, so it was kind of like... People from the area would look at me and be like, "Oh, he's just some local kid, there's a lot of guitar players out there." They didn't realize that it wasn't normal for a kid to be obsessed with playing the guitar.

Joe Robinson:
But, when I met Phil Emmanuel, and Phil Emmanuel is Tommy Emmanuel's older brother, Phil stayed in Australia, he passed away a couple of years ago, and was just such a great mentor to me. But, in Australia he was the touring guitar hero, and I got the chance to meet him when I was 11, 12 years old, and he said, "Joe, you're one of the best guitar players I've ever seen for your age." And, that totally changed the way I viewed myself and just made me so much more passionate about getting good at this thing. And of course, he inspired me so much, and I was exposed to a lot of music through his influence from Steve Morse and Al Di Meola, to John Jorgenson and The Hellacasters, and so many great players and music that Phil turned me on to. But, it wasn't until that moment that I realized that not every kid was playing like I am. And, as Phil said to me, "You know Joe, most kids your age are listening to some Limp Bizkit crap, and you are playing Cliffs of Dover, and playing Jerry Reed songs fingerstyle." And, he really gave me a lot of encouragement and from there I was just even more obsessed.

Evan Ball:
So, speaking of, you're a fast player. Did you ever dial in some metal distortion and let it rip?

Joe Robinson:
Oh yeah, I was pretty passionate about developing my right hand shredding chops as a teenager. I sat there with my Jazz III and my metronome doing alternate picking every morning. I remember I had a little heater when it was cold in Australia. It doesn't really get that cold in Australia, but I would wake up in the morning and I would practice my right hand chops. Speed can teach you a lot of things about your technique, because when you try to play faster and faster you start to tense up, the more you can eliminate the tension and play with a relaxed technique but still with strength and control can just about do anything.

Evan Ball:
I have a technical question, when you speed up, does your form change? Or should it be the same just faster or slower? Does that make sense? On your picking hand.

Joe Robinson:
Whether I'm playing fingerstyle or with a straight pick, I think the technique... It is going to change. And, I'm one of these people where people say, "Are you picking with the side of the pick or with the pick straight down?" And it really just depends on the sound I'm going for, these things just change at their own will. But, for me the constant is just trying to stay relaxed, trying to be as relaxed if you're playing really, really slow than if you're playing really, really fast. So, when I practice I have a metronome here and I'll set it at 60 and I'll try and play my piece just really slowly and controlled, which is super difficult. And then when you speed it way up, you're just trying to get it to sound... You have the same dynamic control at a slow tempo as a super fast tempo, and the same precision and control, and just relaxed forearms and shoulders.

Evan Ball:
Interesting. How about this, if someone were to want to play fast, should they... For example, if I'm trying to tremolo pick really fast, my forearm is totally different than if I'm picking slower. Would it be better to speed up your slow picking or slow down your fast picking, if that makes sense?

Joe Robinson:
Honestly, I think if you get the fast picking dialed in, and you figure out a way... What I would do is, if you've found a place where your forearm tenses up when you try to play at that tempo, whether it's 140, dial it back down to a place where you can do it with a relaxed technique and then build upon that. Does that make sense?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's great. So, mostly though, would you say you grew up playing with a clean tone or acoustic more?

Joe Robinson:
Well, my first band I was in, I was interested in playing 20 minute guitar solos, and I had a Tube Screamer and a little Fender amp. I won the national songwriting competition in 2004 when I was 13, I won $1200 for the music classroom at the school. And, my teacher was so great, he said, "Joe, just buy yourself a guitar or an amp or something." So, I bought a little Fender Tube amp, I used a Tube Screamer and that little Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, I think it was, and I was in to playing blues and rock and roll. I was very influenced by Eric Johnson. In the early days I was definitely into playing rock and roll, but the problem was I couldn't find people to be in a band with me that were anywhere near as passionate as me.

Evan Ball:
Or as good as you. I'll say it.

Joe Robinson:
Honestly, I think there's no shortage of talent in the world, it's just people who want it bad enough. There were people around me who definitely had the musicality. There was a drummer in my first band who was a really musical guy, but he was interested in playing hard rock, and I wanted to play Moondance so I could practice the Dorian mode.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Joe Robinson:
So, we had some creative disputes. And, when I first saw Tommy Emmanuel play and I just witnessed his power and energy, and the fingerstyle guitar thing, I was so uncomfortable watching him because I knew that I had no idea how that was happening, but I had to figure it out. As I became interested in fingerstyle guitar and acoustic guitar, that became, honestly, an escape for me to find a way to tour, and travel the world, and explore and compose and arrange songs without having to rely on anybody.

Evan Ball:
So, what age was that when you saw Tommy Emmanuel and were inspired?

Joe Robinson:
I saw him the first time when I had first met Phil at that festival when I was about 11 or 12. I was really in to Tommy, but I was way, way into Phil's playing, Phil's more of an electric player. But, Tommy came touring through the area a few times and I got to play a few songs for him backstage, and I just became more and more fascinated with this fingerstyle guitar approach to playing. And, a music producer approached me and said, "Hey, Joe, want to make a CD [inaudible 00:14:22], you can come to my studio and I'll pay for it. It will be a great experience for you. Do you have some original songs?" And I said, "Oh, I've got so many original songs, they're just piled up back home." And, I didn't really have any. So, I kind of figured out how to work up a few instrumental arrangements, and he was really interested in making an acoustic album because it's simpler production-wise than trying to make a full band project. So, I made a little acoustic album and started busking and playing on the streets, and playing festivals in Australia, and just started doing more acoustic things. And then I won Australia's Got Talent when I was 16, and that really established me as being...

Evan Ball:
Before we get there, when we just look at what you did at such a young age, the amount of gigs, the awards, I imagine as a family unit everyone was pretty much onboard with you to make this happen. Was there a balance with school and music? Or was it like, "Screw school, we're doing music"? How was the support with your family, and that conversation?

Joe Robinson:
My parents have always been super supportive of me and encouraging, and they made it clear that I had to do well in school. And, I was a good student, I really enjoyed school if I liked the teacher. I inherited this attitude from my dad, that if I didn't respect the teacher I just couldn't stand being in the classroom. So, I really loved math, I had great math teachers, and I loved science. But, it became clear that music was just something I was going to chase all the way. And, I left school midway through Year 11 when I was 15, I remember a conversation with the Principal and I sat with him and he said, "Okay Joe, you've missed 60 school days this term. Every Wednesday through Friday because you're on tour with four bands." And he said, "I can see that music is something that you are going to do as a profession." And, growing up in my town, there was just nothing there. I'm really thankful that he encouraged me to pursue music. And, originally the plan was for me to go to a music collage, a Conservatorium of Music, in Sydney, something like that. But, the Australia's Got Talent show came up six months after I left school, something like that, or it was a little longer.

Joe Robinson:
I started getting corporate gigs. And, these corporate gigs, I had a corporate booking agent who said, "The more you charge, the more work I can get you." And, I was getting paid a lot of money to go and play one song for this bank. So, I was not particularly interested in going back to school for anything other than... When I came to America I wanted to go to Berklee College of Music, or Musicians Institute. And so, I came to California and visited Musicians Institute, and there was a big fight that broke out in the locker room and my mom and I just looked at each other and was like, "Well, this isn't what I read about in guitar [inaudible 00:17:22]. This doesn't seem like the right vibe." And, I came to Nashville and fell in love with Nashville, and I went door knocking on Music Row and just met so many people here, it's The South, everyone's friendly. And, I played for one person and they'd say, "You got to meet this person. You got to meet that person."

Joe Robinson:
I met a producer who worked with Bard Paisley and a lot of country artists. And, I went out to the Sound Kitchen, a big studio in Franklin, outside of Nashville, and I saw a semi-truck full of guitars roll up with all Brad Paisley's guitars. And, I was like, "All right, this is where it's at. I haven't seen anything like this in Australia. You can keep the bush, I'm coming where things are at this scale." So, I fell in love with Nashville.

Evan Ball:
How old were you then?

Joe Robinson:
I was about 16 when I [crosstalk 00:18:12] Nashville, about that age.

Evan Ball:
All right. Well, let's talk about Australia's Got Talent. So, when you're 16 you win that show, and for our US listeners, is it basically the same show as America's Got Talent here in the States?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, pretty much.

Evan Ball:
So, huge deal.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, it was one of the highest rated shows of that year, it was 2008, and it was the second season. It was kind of in the sweet spot of that whole reality TV thing. Australian Idol had been before it and was pretty established.

Evan Ball:
Okay, so lots of parallels here. Was this a longterm goal, to get on the show to make your mark?

Joe Robinson:
No. In fact, I'd been in Nashville and I saw the semi-truck full of guitars. And, I actually went back to Australia and I sat with somebody from Sony Music in Australia, an A&R person. And, I handed them a list of all the people I met in Nashville, I met all three labels, I met all kinds of producers and a lot of music business heavyweights. And, they looked at the bit of paper and was like, "Wow, that's really impressive, Joe. Good for you." And, my attitude at the time was, "I'm going to say yes to anything that's going to get me... I'm going to say yes to every gig, I'm going to play [inaudible 00:19:29] manhole cover. I'll play anywhere, anytime. Give me a gig." And, she said to me, "Would you like to be on Australia's Got Talent because we're looking for people to spice things up and come in, and I really believe in what you do."

Joe Robinson:
This is a cool story, I'll be brief. I went down to Melbourne, filmed the first audition and got a standing ovation. And you can see that on YouTube, it was a real moment in time. And, people really reacted very strongly, I got a lot of votes, I guess. Although actually, I'm not sure if that was a voting episode. That episode was a big success and they said, "Okay, Joe. So, here's the contract where you sign away five years of management and option to Sony in Australia." And I said, "No way am I signing that. I'm very sorry, but I want to go to Nashville, that's where I'm at." And so they said, "Oh, okay. Let's just talk about it later." And so, I went on the semi-final and I played, and it was a great response again. And, they handed me the contract and said, "Okay, we're ready for you to sign now Joe." And, I said, "No, I told you I'm not signing that contract. Cut me out of the show, I'm not signing that contract." And, I had an attorney who told me the ramifications of me signing.

Joe Robinson:
And, I went home to the bush and I had phone calls from the Head of FremantleMedia in Australia saying, "Joe, I have 19 programs on the air at the moment, I don't have time to deal with this. I just need you to sign that contract." And I said, "All right, just cut me out, I'm not signing it, sorry mate." And then, I remember the Head of Sony in Australia called me, and I had met him... I did kind of a showcase for Sony when I was a teenager. And he said, "Joe, look, you just got to sign it. You're going to do really well out of this and we're not going to twist your arm, we're not like that. And we really like you and believe in you." And, I could hear the sheep baaing in the background, and I just remember this moment and I was just like, "No, sorry mate, I'm going to Nashville. I know what that contract's about and I'm just not interested. You can cut me out and I'm perfectly fine with that. I could honestly take it and leave it."

Joe Robinson:
And, it's a testament to the fact the show was not rigged, that I went to the grand final and I won. And, they gave me 250 grand, Australian dollars, big cheque, and I didn't have any commitments. So, that was really wonderful, it allowed me to move to Nashville and get a working visa to come here.

Evan Ball:
So, you're on the show, and then you win the show. That's kind of instant fame across the country, what was that like as a teenager?

Joe Robinson:
It was really surreal. It was also pretty amazing because it was like one minute I was this kid who's just begging the publicans of the venues to let me play inside the venues and not have to have my guitar cable through the window. I was viewed as, "There's that kid who's just always playing the guitar." And then it was like, "Wow, this smoking Joe, he's the famous... He's in the Sunday crossword puzzle this week." So, it really changed perceptions and I felt that certainly. In fact, six days after winning the show I was back on a plane to Nashville to record an album. And, I came here and nobody knew who I was or what I was about, so I kind of skipped the height of it, to be honest.

Evan Ball:
So, you've played with all kinds of well-known musicians, can you mention a couple highlights thus far in your career?

Joe Robinson:
Sure. I really feel that every good thing in my musical journey has happened because of a mentor, and so there have been a lot of great mentors to me. I've become friends with a lot of my guitar heroes and jammed with them, like Eric Johnson, and Tommy Emmanuel, and Robben Ford and Steve Vai. In Nashville I've done a lot of sessions in town with the top musicians, and I play in Emmylou Harris' band occasionally. And, play with Rodney Crowell, Grammy award winning singer-songwriter and someone who I'm a massive fan of.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, long time Ernie Ball friend, too.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, wonderful guy, an incredible songwriter, one of the best. Who else? There's been countless people. I opened for Al Di Meola, and Paco de Lucía, and I've opened for Paco Peña, and played the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's quite a list. Everything's weird right now, but let's say pre-COVID, how did you split up your time? Writing, session work, performing, videos maybe, what was the makeup of Joe Robinson's career?

Joe Robinson:
Roughly, I would average 150 shows a year, I was going about half the time, that seems to be the way it worked out in the last 10 years of being in Nashville.

Evan Ball:
And, are those gigs split between your own stuff and playing with other musicians?

Joe Robinson:
Well, I only started really playing with other people about three years ago. Before then I was just touring, doing [crosstalk 00:24:39].

Evan Ball:
Joe Robinson.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. But, I got to a point where... It was actually Robben Ford that said to me... I was in this guitar ensemble with Robben Ford and Lee Roy Parnell called Guitar Army, and Robben said, "You know, Joe, I just want to plant a seed with you. When I was in my 20s I got an opportunity to play with Joni Mitchell, and I was so committed to my own career and my own name that I almost turned it down. I just want you to know that was one of the creative highlights of my journey."

Evan Ball:
Oh wow.

Joe Robinson:
And, "If an opportunity like that comes up to collaborate with someone, I just want to tell you that that can really transformative." And so honestly, I started working with Rodney because I knew I wanted a window into how he crafts those incredible songs. And, to me he had all the things that I was wanting to learn more about, from lyric writing, to songwriting and arranging. And, through Rodney I connected with Emmylou and just started doing more sessions, and got plugged into the Nashville world more. It's been really wonderful, but generally speaking I've mostly been doing shows under my own name. When I was moving to America I had to write an application to get a visa, and I'd played 1000 shows and I listed them on my application. And then, a few years ago I went back and counted all my old calendars, and I've done 2000 concerts.

Evan Ball:
That's amazing.

Joe Robinson:
Pretty cool, I'm really proud of that. I feel like I've really been out there and put my 10000 hours in on stage, been in front of an audience 10000 hours.

Evan Ball:
So, post-COVID, what ever that means, do you have a plan? What do you see that looking like for you?

Joe Robinson:
It's been an amazing year for me because I haven't played shows since about a year now, and I've reached more fans than ever online.

Evan Ball:
That's fantastic.

Joe Robinson:
[inaudible 00:26:37].

Evan Ball:
So, you talking about more recording? Or doing more session work? Or both? Or, more social media videos? Or all of the above?

Joe Robinson:
All of the above. I recorded an album in 30 days and released it, called Borders, which is my most recent album. And, that was a really liberating experience to learn how quickly I could put out music that I was proud of. So, I definitely want to spend more time recording and releasing. The whole release an album every 2, 3 years thing just seems like such an old way of doing it. I want to be prolific on every level, from videos, to connecting with people online through live streams. I remember putting up my first YouTube video in 2006, and I have to say, I underestimated the power of the internet. And, that's one thing that this year has taught me, the ability to connect is right there.

Joe Robinson:
And, there's nothing like playing on stage for people, but just being totally honest, it's going to be difficult. I don't think touring is going to be the same again for me, I've certainly learnt that you really cut expenses by staying at home as well. It's expensive being out there paying for all your expenses, paying taxes, paying your management, your [inaudible 00:27:54] and everything, it's a whole thing.

Evan Ball:
Do you have a preferred social media platform? YouTube, or Instagram or Facebook that you'd encourage people to check out?

Joe Robinson:
Probably go to my YouTube channel, is a good archive of my music. On Facebook they have that share button, and every time I put up a video I have so many people share it. And, it seems like that's the platform that pops, because of that functionality. It's a brave new world, it's always changing. I had a video on TikTok pop up and get a lot of hits the other day, playing The Entertainer by Scott Joplin. So, who knows what's going to [crosstalk 00:28:33].

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's cool. So, what's Joes12?

Joe Robinson:
Joes12 is an online learning platform that I created where I interviewed a lot of my mentors, and we created a course that I think is unlike anything available to people. Over the 12 weeks you go from practicing, to touring, to recording, to songwriting, to arranging, to your why and your mission, to collaboration. We cover all these different aspects of music, and this course really changed my life and I know it has the power to change peoples lives. We've had just rave reviews about it. But, I interviewed Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson, and Rodney Crowell, and Gary Nicholson, and Robben Ford, and Tommy Emmanuel, just a lot of my biggest heroes and mentors. And, week one you'll hear from Eric Johnson, and Steve Vai and me, talking about practicing and what we do to practice. Anyone that's interested can go to Joes12.com and sign up, I think it's a really powerful platform.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that sounds fantastic. So, basically, anyone who's interested in making music their livelihood, this is sort of a crash course, right? It's almost like a little certificate program maybe?

Joe Robinson:
Exactly. I feel like I was schooled on the road. And, in my bedroom when I was a teenager, I had this archive of music instructional DVDs and VHS tapes. A lot of them were bootlegged, admittedly, but I learnt to play from videos and was so inspired by a lot of the people in this program.

Evan Ball:
Were those the Hot Licks or Star Licks VHS tapes, do you remember?

Joe Robinson:
All that. I had a bunch of the Star Licks ones, a bunch of the Hot Licks ones, a bunch of independently produced ones, a bunch of ones on Albert Lee, and John Petrucci, and Steve Morse and Eric Johnson's ones. I used to eat my cereal in the morning watching Danny Gatton videos. I was really transformed by the power of video. So, what I wanted to do is combine everything I've learnt and point people in certain directions of things that really inspired me and influenced me, and package it into this course that people could take in 12 weeks. It's really a window into how I did what I did, for what ever that's worth, in 12 weeks. And, you can see the relationship between Tommy Emmanuel and myself, and how that mentor-student rapport works. Because, I think it's just so important, and it's so important to have good mentors. And, mentors can be people you read about and people you listen to, music you listen to. But, when you can get to know a mentor in person, it's very special.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's interesting. So, in addition to studying other musicians, do you listen to entrepreneurial figures, more general voices on achieving expertise?

Joe Robinson:
I definitely do. I've become really passionate about reading over the last few years. I feel like, being that I didn't go to college, I used to feel a little bit of an inferiority complex when I was around people with a college education, who had that college experience. And, it was like this light bulb moment once I started reading that I can acquire a lot of the information that I felt like I was missing. I read 85 books last year, and I post the list of books I read, I've made a little YouTube video each year at the end of the year and say, "These are the books I read this year." And, I'm incredibly inspired by people from history, and psychology and philosophy, and I've read just about everything Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, and Dostoevsky and...

Evan Ball:
Oh, you have a way better education than most people with a college degree.

Joe Robinson:
I just can't help what I'm interested in, and I'm interested in a lot of things, I think that's the same with a lot of people. And, one of the unfortunate things about school is you have this curriculum that's set out, and that's not going to work for everybody. There's a saying by Nassim Taleb, "Only the autodidacts are free." And, once you're liberated from studying for a certificate, I think it's such an adventure to dive into a new thinker, a new writer, a new set of ideas. And, there's just absolutely a limitless world of information and inspiration out there.

Evan Ball:
It's kind of a parallel between being forced to play piano, versus having this natural passion to teach yourself guitar.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, you have to...

Evan Ball:
There's no replacement for that natural passion, it's not like you have to go to class. You want to learn this stuff, so it's naturally going to soak in better.

Joe Robinson:
Definitely. And, I think everyone has an instrument. I've wanted so badly to play drums for so many years, and I sit there with my practice pad and I practice, and I've took drum lessons and I've really tried, but it's just not my instrument. But, guitar, it just feels like an extension of my body, and piano was not that for me. So, I think everyone has their own instrument and everyone has their own little knacks, a little bit of a knack for this, a little bit of a knack for that.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Back to Joes12, a lot of the academic stuff, do you work that into the course? Maybe looking at achievement in more of a scientific way?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. I interviewed Daniel Levitin for the course, and Daniel is a cognitive neuroscientist and a great musician and songwriter, and he wrote This Is Your Brain On Music, which was a really important book and a very popular book, released a number of years ago now. And, I was quite interested in talking to Daniel about his recommendations for practicing according to science. And, the topic of deliberate practice came up and how important it is to be intentional with your practicing. Definitely the work of Ericcson from the 10000 hour idea, and a lot of these performance experts in the psychology personal development space. I try to bake that in to my approach of... For example, I keep a practice journal, and I practice in 15 minute blocks and I cross train from technical things to muscle memory exercises, to practicing in front of a mirror, to working on my timing.

Joe Robinson:
And, I really try to be deliberate and intentional, and I find these bite size chunks allow me to be really focused and accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. I definitely don't pretend to be a scientist and don't pretend to be anything other than someone very passionate and very passionately curious, and someone that's spent a lot of hours behind a guitar playing. And, I've learned a few things about what works and what doesn't for me. Definitely, try to bake all that information into Joes12. As well as, I have courses on TrueFire and different places.

Evan Ball:
Great. It makes sense, there's only so many hours in a day, so make them count.

Joe Robinson:
Absolutely.

Evan Ball:
Looking into the future, what do you want life to look like 10 years from now?

Joe Robinson:
That's a great question. I've been thinking about the future so much lately, just wondering what the music business is going to look like after COVID, for one. I feel like I want to live in the future and I want to know what that is, and it's scary to see how quickly things are changing. I actually think that I'm interested in going back to the past as I go into the future. So, I'm interested in a simpler life, recently I've been buying all my produce and groceries from local farms, and locally sourcing everything. I've always wanted to do this but I've never been home long enough to do it, I have a garden growing. And, the idea of scaling down and becoming less dependent on... I think the world is going to decentralize somehow, and that's one strong idea I'm pulled towards from the future.

Joe Robinson:
I think a great song is still going to be a great song, and I think people who have spent the time honing a craft, if it's something that people... Music is something that's been fascinating to humans for eons, and so if you craft the ability to create interesting, compelling music and have mastery of your instrument, I think that's going to be in demand as long as there's people in the world.

Evan Ball:
I'm interested, you said you think things will be decentralized, which is interesting to me because I think of things going the opposite direction with Amazon and these winner-take-all companies that we have, and the winner-take-all economy where it's one person serving all these people. I don't know if that relates to what you're seeing, if that's a different tangent?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, it does. And, before COVID, I was actually in China and it was unbelievable to see how that country had transformed. I was there in 2013, I did a tour, and then I did a tour again in 2019, and seeing the scale of technological development in the cities, it was beyond anything I've ever seen in the West. And, it made me nostalgic about how great my childhood was, when things were much simpler. I think the idea of just people being so addicted to their phones, we all are, it's totally rewired our brains. And, in someways, you can listen to podcasts and audiobooks and just be continually fed this wonderful information and inspiration, but I just think people are going to get sick of that eventually and it has to...

Evan Ball:
So, sort of a cultural backlash?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, it has to come back around, I think so.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, interesting.

Joe Robinson:
And, I think that will happen with consumption in some way, and I don't really know how that's going to play out. Amazon is an amazing example because I have friends that make a living on Amazon, it's not just Amazon [inaudible 00:39:17] but they're empowering a lot of smaller [crosstalk 00:39:20].

Evan Ball:
Third-party sellers, yeah.

Joe Robinson:
It's hard to know, [crosstalk 00:39:23].

Evan Ball:
Here's another one. If you could give your teenage self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Joe Robinson:
Read books.

Evan Ball:
Yeah?

Joe Robinson:
My teenage self got given a lot of money, and I grew up pretty poor. And, a number of years later that money was gone, and [inaudible 00:39:42]. So, that is my big, "How did I do that?" I remember, I'm on stage with Rodney Crowell and he introduces me and says that I won this TV show and they gave me a bunch of money. I remember when I sat in with Les Paul and he said, "You won a TV show and they gave you 250 grand. What are you doing here? Why aren't you in Vegas?" And I had to confess to Rodney, I said, "Rodney, I blew through that money." And he looked at me and said, "You're going to make it in this music business boy, I know it. We've all done that." That would be my advice, is don't piss your money away, basically.

Evan Ball:
That's great. Last question, what kind of strings are you playing?

Joe Robinson:
On my acoustic guitar I'm using Paradigm strings at the moment. I use a custom gauge, so I take a set of lights, [inaudible 00:40:37] 12 to 54s, but I put a higher E string on. So, I buy single, 14s, 15s, sometimes even 16s, and I like a higher E string.

Evan Ball:
A heavier gauge, right?

Joe Robinson:
Exactly.

Evan Ball:
So, your first string is a 14?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. 14 or 15. I've been playing a 16 lately actually, and I did that for a long time. I've been doing this for about seven or eight years. And the guitars I play, I play Maton Acoustic guitars, and I have a new signature model called the J.R Signature. The necks on these guitars are so solid and sturdy, and you get the neck nice and straight, I use a larger fret so it's very easy to play and the higher tension just sings. And, I like the way it feels, having a little more meat on the high E.

Evan Ball:
Wow, so you're still tuned to E, standard tuning?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And then, what's your second string? Do you have to [inaudible 00:41:31] that up too? Or do you keep it where it is?

Joe Robinson:
I keep it at a 16.

Evan Ball:
Interesting. So, that's just a ton more tension on that first string.

Joe Robinson:
Yeah. And, when I play fingerstyle guitar, what I'm really trying to do is get the melody to really speak, and get the bass notes to have their place as well. And, I feel that if the melody is just a little bit thinner sounding up top, I just struggle with it. And, I like the way it feels, just having that warmer, thicker, rounder high E. And, I've just gotten used to it and I really like it. And, I do it with electric guitars. Sometimes I'll use a set of 11s and then I'll put a 12 on top. But, honestly, I'm just fine playing a set of 11s on electric and just Slinky's.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Do you use a phosphor or 80/20 bronze on the acoustic?

Joe Robinson:
Usually phosphor bronze. Although, on some guitars I try to change it up a little bit. And, I've heard that theory that guitars respond if you change out the types of strings you use occasionally. Sometimes I'll go to 80/20 bronze and I'll be like, "Oh yeah, I quite like that." But then I'll go back to phosphor and I'll be like, "Oh yeah, that's the [inaudible 00:42:45] that made me fall in love with acoustic guitar."

Evan Ball:
Yeah. All right, good stuff. Well, Joe Robinson, thanks for being on the podcast.

Joe Robinson:
My pleasure, Evan. Thank you for having me and it was really fun.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning in to Striking A Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Make sure to follow Joe Robinson on social media, he's always putting out really great content. And if you feel inclined, why not give this podcast a nice review on iTunes or other platforms. You can contact us at [email protected]

Joe Robinson:
[inaudible 00:43:25] a beautiful spot out there.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Joe Robinson:
San Luis Obispo, is that where you are?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, have you come out here?

Joe Robinson:
I was there once, yeah. I played a big theater there with Rodney Crowell, that's where I first met Sterling, and I'm looking forward to returning sometime in the future.

Evan Ball:
Okay. And you played with Rodney and then Sterling came? Okay. Is that how the Ernie Ball connection started?

Joe Robinson:
Yeah, that was the first time I met Sterling. Derek and a few other people had... I had crossed paths with him at the Clapton Crossroads Festival last year. Well, in 2019 actually. And, [inaudible 00:44:01] in touch with everybody, [crosstalk 00:44:03]. That was the first time meeting Sterling, and he's a character.