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Artist Spotlight: Paul Robb: Leading a Double Life

Santa Monica resident Paul Robb has been leading a double life.  A co-founder of local company HiFi Music + Sound Design, he spends his days composing music for commercials and other television projects.  When he isn’t crafting 30-second soundscapes, though, he’s creating pop songs with his band Information Society.  And while that might be enough to keep any musician busy, Robb has recently added DJ to his list of job duties.

“I had gotten a request and I went down and did a DJ gig in Brazil,” he explains. “Information Society is very popular there, so it was more in the nature of a celebrity gig.” Down in Brazil, Robb realized that he liked playing in clubs and so, upon his return to the States, he let his friends know that he was interested in picking up a few gigs.  Early in 2008, he made his first appearance behind the decks at Zanzibar-based party $2 Tuesdays.  He will be returning to the club on March 25 and is set to play the opening night of West Side Nu Romantic, also at Zanzibar, on April 9.

It seems natural that Robb would gravitate towards DJing given his work with Information Society.  Formed in Minneapolis in 1982, the band, which also features James Cassidy and Kurt Larson, soaked up the influence of early-80s dance artists like Prince, Kraftwerk, and Gary Numan.

“It was a study in pastiche,” says Robb. “Whatever we were listening to at the moment, that’s what our newest song sounded like.”

But something happened when a track inspired by a beat from hip-hop originator Afrika Bambaataa became “Running,” an unexpected club hit for the band.

“That’s where we went from being this underground art band to actually being a pop band and it happened in one song,” he recalls.

The group moved to New York right after the city’s notorious club world peaked, but found a home in the burgeoning freestyle scene, which focused on a heavily electronic form of disco with hip-hop influences.  The band’s popularity grew as a string of singles were released through the latter half of the decade and hit its commercial zenith with the 1988 radio hit “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy),” easily recognizable for its sample of Leonard Nimoy repeating the phrase “pure energy.”

The band’s core dissolved a few years later, but the three original members recently reunited and are currently working on DVD and remixed CD projects.  Between stints with Information Society, Robb began working on music for film and television, composing pieces for Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s cult classic Orgazmo and remixing the theme for South Park in addition to creating numerous pieces for commercial spots.  Today, he continues working in that field, which he indicates is as challenging as it is rewarding.

“There’s great satisfaction with adhering to a discipline and being able to do it well,” he explains.  “The discipline in ad music is a 30-second piece of music, sometimes 15 seconds. We’re doing a bunch of spots now that are 15 seconds and you have to be able to say something musically in 15 seconds or less, which is great.  It’s very challenging.  It’s something that I enjoy doing.”

But Robb still enjoys working without limitations, as he does with his own band.

“The best of both worlds is what I’ve got now, where I can go back and forth, as soon as I get sick of one thing, I can go to the other thing and it keeps me fresh,” he says.  “It keeps me refreshed and ready to come up with more ideas.”

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