by ANDREW NISSEN
Second-year GD Trombone
I first encountered Rob Dehlinger on Twitter in August of 2014, when he tweeted at The Penguin’s account about the long lost, but not forgotten hockey games between Juilliard and NEC in the late 80s (incidentally where the nickname Penguins comes from!). An NEC alumnus, Rob seems particularly adept at social media, so of course I followed his moves closely. It’s always great to see a former NEC student out there in the real world doing what they love, so we managed recently to find some time to chat about what he is up to and bring his wisdom to readers of The Penguin.
A jazz trumpeter, Rob graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from NEC in 1998. After graduating, Rob says he “realized how great a place NEC was and how much I’d been learning, so I re-applied as a grad student.” Since completing his Master’s in 2000, Rob has been residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the years since moving back, Rob has led a varied career. He plays over 200 live gigs a year, primarily as part of the jump-blues band Stompy Jones, and lends his talents to composing, recording, teaching, and singing as well: “My philosophy is always just being open minded and doing different things. I was a jazz major, when I came into NEC as a third year, but I felt a bit behind the ball. Growing up in the west coast I was focused on big band stuff, and NEC had all this bebop improv stuff going on. By the time I left NEC, I had more than a handle on it, but I was open minded enough to not just pursue that music for my career. And recently, I’ve gotten into this crazy song writing, doodling thing now.”
The “doodling thing” Rob refers to is in reference to his latest album, Songs For My Friends Vol. 1. In 2012, Rob decided to put his skills to the challenge and created a project that aimed to write a new song each week for an entire year: “I was interested in the idea of just challenging myself to write a new song or a new idea every other day basically. I can make something as fast as I’m physically able to do it. I’ll get slowed down by the computer crashing, or my kid crying, or the guitar string breaking, but that’s the only thing that slows me down. I thought ‘I need to do something with this.’”
“I remember Stevie Wonder talking about how he just wrote songs all the time, and he just released the good ones. And I remember the Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, who my friend Felipe Salles introduced me to, had a book where he’d written a song a day for a year. His was just like a little lead sheet. I thought ‘What if I do this but actually record the song too?’ So I went on Facebook and just said “If you guys want a song about yourself, write to me.” I thought, I’ll do one song a week, and putting it out publicly made me accountable.”
Originally released just onto his website, Rob found them too good to not release wider. So, he went back to the drawing board with each of them, sweetened the mixes, and the result is the first of two volumes of Songs For My Friends – volume 2 due for release later this year.
The year-long project has led to other things opening up for him, too: “I am a huge Star Wars fan. I discovered that there’s all kinds of podcasts out there. Any weird thing you type in, there’ll be a podcast of it. And some of them are pretty professionally done. So I found these Star Wars podcasts, and I contacted a few of the ones that I really liked and ended up working for some of them. The Skywalking Through Neverland one is really good because it’s this silly, fun, Disney-like Star Wars music. I’ll use some of the John Williams themes and put words to them in my own way. It was a perfect home for this strange skill that I have. And now, because they are getting a lot of downloads, I’m getting all this extra publicity too. Now people are starting to request me to write music for their podcast. There doesn’t seem to be really anyone else out there doing that at the moment, so I’ve kind of chartered this weird, expressive outlet for myself.”
For a school that seems so encouraging of finding your own voice in music, NEC is lucky to have such a strong embodiment of this philosophy in Rob Dehlinger: “NEC gave me so many tools that I’m still learning from today. I had so many lessons where I’m still looking back at my old notes.” One is enticed by the concept of this year-long project just by the impact it had on its instigator: “It gave me an idea – for better or worse – of what I really am capable of; to see what came out of me when I worked really fast.” Finally, he adds “It’s good to do what comes naturally.”