On November 15, 2021, I aired a short interview with the composer and musician Robin Hatch on Radio Ravioli.
She released her latest album T.O.N.T.O. on October 29 2021.

You can listen to the interview on WFMU's website here.

Transcript below.

OLIVIA: I read an interview that was about when your first record came out in 2019 - Works For Solo Piano. It said that you had just gotten off a long tour, you were getting sober, and finding yourself in a bit of a funk, and then your therapist was like, you should really pour all your energy into your creativity and apply for this residency, and that's how you started that first album.

I related a lot to reading that because in COVID, my boyfriend and I had two choices - one of drinking heavily and going insane in the absurdity of everything, or really, my boyfriend stopped drinking and I don't drink hardly at all anymore. I've been struggling a little bit with all that means. I like not drinking right now, but sometimes my head is too heavy, my thoughts are too much.

Could you talk about being sober and being creative and how COVID has been for you?

ROBIN: Yeah, absolutely.

Weed was always my primary vice, and I got sober in 2017 after a psychotic break, where I had been taking a lot of psychedelics and smoking way too much weed daily. That psychotic break resulted in a PTSD diagnosis, where the doctors said the best approach was to completely go sober instead of going on an antipsychotic, in lieu of a second episode happening and to avoid a schizophrenic diagnosis. So, that experience itself was probably enough to scare me away from drugs forever. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemies.

But to expand a bit on the PTSD thing: the guy who sexually assaulted me a decade ago was still coming to my concerts up until about 3 years ago. Beyond the general anxiety of feeling like nobody believed me when I told them about the diagnosis, it sort of put me in a perpetual state of fight or flight when I'd be performing in Toronto because I was never sure if you would look out and see this Michael Myers figure standing in the crowd. It would obviously mess up my playing pretty badly and, just, turn me into a wreck.

A few weeks after I had that rock bottom moment at the CAMH (the Center for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto, which was very difficult for me and my loved ones, I had to go on a 6 week tour of North America with the band I was in. The day after I got home I booked time to practice on a grand piano and recorded basically everything that came out of my mind that day. I'm very lucky to have an awesome therapist who was with me for a tough year of EMDR treatment and Traumatic Incident Reduction therapy, and she recommended I apply for a creative residency with these voice memos, which I did. [The plan was that] I was gonna go to coding school. And then the week I was about to sign up for the coding session, I got accepted to the Banff Centre. I applied to them with voice memos of that jam I did right after the tour, and those are "Nocturne" and "The Trial" on my first album. It's, like, verbatim transcriptions of those improvisations.

OLIVIA: Do you still see that person at the shows? Or do you still have that fear?

ROBIN: No. It's a general fear because you risk falling into rage if you see them even in the street, but naming him publicly did help, once I started telling people in the scene about it. I'm sort of hit or miss about whether the #MeToo movement was successful, but I do think it did a lot in terms of finally being able to tell people and them being like, "Ok we're putting his name on the list and h's not coming into the venue." It was necessary to create a safe space, where I had avoided that for so long.

OLIVIA: Mmm, yeah, I can relate to that. I'm sorry about that.

In that interview that I mentioned earlier, you described the songs "Airplane" and "Stand Off" as songs that were sifting through this emotional trauma and baggage. I was curious if you could talk about the emotions you try to funnel through your music.

ROBIN: So with the PTSD stuff and how intense rage can come up out of nowhere ... The thing [with that] is that especially in sobriety, it's on the person with PTSD to figure out how to put a muzzle on those emotions. You have to learn to control your emotions, which is easier in sobriety, so that it doesn't affect your other personal relationships. The phrase I see tossed around a lot online is "trauma dumping" as a negative. Especially Gen Z, I'll see them say, "Oh, don't trauma dump, or whatever," (laughs) but I feel like in my head, I'm constantly trauma dumping. To my therapist, I'm trauma dumping. It's such an integral part of the last few years of my life.

So I guess, with due respect to Roland Barthes, Death of the Author, that I can't ultimately know what I intended when I wrote the piece, "Airplane" is about the experience of being raped and the thought process of the helplessness that erupts when you're trapped mentally in this fight or flight state. I thought it was an interesting way to put that in music and see if I could evoke [that helpless feeling].

A lot of those feelings are really intense, and it's easy to get overwhelmed when you talk about it. But describing the experience using music as the language means you can basically "trauma dump" all you want and nobody knows.

As a different emotion, I've always turned to comedy as an escapist outlet. That's where the title [of the song] comes from, the movie Airplane. It's sort of a joke about how the guy on the plane is "trauma dumping" on fellow passengers until they commit suicide. So that was funny to me, thinking of all the friends who listen to me, and eventually realizing that they don't need to give me that listening ear all the time, but I can put it in my music. (laughs)

OLIVIA: I love what you just said about how hard it is to talk about trauma and finding an easier language just with music and sounds. Like you don't always need to vocalize it, you can compose it into notes. I love that. I've been struggling with that myself. As I said, the therapy, the new thoughts.

A lot of things have happened to me - sexual assault things that have happened to me - have been very close, with people that I know, and that are still in my life, so it is hard to talk about. (Voice starts to break to avoid crying)

ROBIN: Oh man, I'm so sorry. Yeah, it is, it's awful.

OLIVIA: I'm sorry...

ROBIN: It's ok, I'm so sorry. I know how tough that is to say. (pauses) One of the toughest things is when you tell people, and they don't stop being friends with the person. And realizing that you can't control what they do. It's so strange.

OLIVIA: Yeah, it really is. I mean, a lot of this stuff is so much more complicated than people make it seem. So I get it, and I really love you talking about it and describing it.

ROBIN: You should get a synthesizer! (laughs)

OLIVIA: I do have one! I do make music stuff, but just listening to you talk about it, it kind of helped me get direction through it. I've been trying in my own insular way to work on stuff, but it was encouraging. I hope listeners think so too.

ROBIN: Thank you Olivia, that means so much. You know, when I did the Banff residency in 2018, there was a girl there named Luisa. She was at the Banff Centre to write an album about an abortion she had. She was really young. On her social media, she talks really openly about her abortion and how much it affected her. Her album was actually named Quarantine, like she predicted it. (laughs)

OLIVIA: Oh before it actually happened [in COVID]?

ROBIN: Yeah, it was like 3 years ago! It was crazy. [She made] these passionate Instagram posts about how we should be allowed to talk about that kind of thing. One day she posted a photo of her bloody pad from her period and [wrote] this long [post about how], "I should be allowed to post this." It was extreme, yknow, it was "punk," but it really made me be like, "yeah! That's so cool that she just doesn't care. I hope that I can someday do that same kind of openness without ... I don't know ..."

OLIVIA: Yeah, there was that show, I May Destroy You, did you watch that show? It was on HBO and it was made by Micaela Coel. She got drugged and assaulted and has it in her memories. That happened to her in real life, the writer. She wrote and directed it. It's all about processing that, making her way through, and her healing, finding her voice through it. It's really amazing. She's such a good writer, and she acts in it. There are other characters too that have their own sexual experiences or loss of control experiences. It's really well done. But I was looking at that too, being like, "Oh my god!" There's this kind of awe, or jealousy, or just something of like, "Wow, you're able to talk about that and reflect on that with such intensity and such honesty and vulnerability." I mean, there's different ways of doing it ...

ROBIN: You should have seen me trying to do it when I was having bad trips on psychedelics. It involved a lot of primal screaming. It used to be really bad... (laughter)

OLIVIA: Oh my goodness, yeah. It's kinda mellowed out... (laughter)

(Then we hear Robin's songs "Nocturne" & "Airplane")

OLIVIA: So this (T.O.N.T.O.) is your 5th album in 2 years. Do you get creative blocks? What do you do in creative blocks? Do you move from instrument to instrument...? What's your method?

ROBIN: I think the toughest part for creative blocks is when I am editing. It's really easy to get something on the page, but it's really painful to go and sit in my car, listen back, make corrections, and then change things. And then figure out which lyrics I think are too cringey, and so on. That part is like squeezing toothpaste out the end of a toothpaste tube. It's really difficult.

Mostly though, it's financial blocks. If I know I can pay for it, I can put out music really quickly and easily.

For the record last year, I knew that if I tweeted that my record was coming out on this day a few months into the future, that my imposter syndrome is so bad [that] I would have to do it. I'm so scared people will think I'm lying about things, so I knew I would put it out by then, and I did.

Did you ever use those Brian Eno "Oblique Strategies" cards, or hear of those?

OLIVIA: I've seen them but I haven't used them. Are they helpful?

ROBIN: Yeah, they're sort of like pearls of wisdom, or almost like a tarot card for if you're stuck in a rut. It's like an abstract way of thinking about what you're already doing, or a way to reframe cognitively what you're thinking of the song. Those are really good. I've definitely turned to those a bunch

OLIVIA: Interesting, ok, so tweet about it, or make a public deadline. And the "Oblique Strategies." I think there's some twitter account that will tweet one of those a day, too.

ROBIN: It's @dark_shark on Twitter that does that.

OLIVIA: There we go! (laughs)

ROBIN: If I had limitless funding, I would sit down to create a lot more. It's hard to get motivated when it seems like there's not gonna be any pay off, which is such a negative way of explaining it, but it is hard to motivate myself.

OLIVIA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you get a lot of funding from the Canadian government?

ROBIN: You can. There's only deadlines twice a year. Everything was kind of messed up because of COVID. Actually, there was really good unemployment available during most of the pandemic, and almost every musician I know was making more money from that than any of us had been before the pandemic. So I got a new drum machine that's really awesome. And this microphone I'm using [for the interview]. I definitely picked up good gear during the pandemic because of that. I wouldn't have been able to buy this in any other circumstance.

But now I'm like, well what's my excuse if I had the funding? (laughs)

In my head I'll think, what's the point? It's hard to get around to things. And then social media has its own whole wheelhouse of "don't be posting," or "you should be posting."

OLIVIA: Yeah, I struggle with social media all the time. For a while, I I wasn't posting at all. I would go months between posts. Now I am in momentum with it of like, "I need to post again, I need to post again." Then I hate myself for feeling that way. It's tricky to showcase your work on that platform and to see other people ... And not get distracted by it ...

I try to be like, this is just a game I'm playing, this is just a tool I'm using. I'm just playing the game. But then you still get caught up in it.

ROBIN: When you take it with you when you close the screen, it's really awful sometimes.

OLIVIA:Yeah, ugh, I really want there to be something else besides social media soon. I'm so sick of it.

ROBIN: The comparing is the worst.

OLIVIA: Yeah, I know, I compare myself a lot. That's when I'm like, ok, you're not playing the game anymore. You're getting played, Olivia!

ROBIN: I know, there's this Prince quoteā€¦ "Use the computer, don't let the computer use you."

OLIVIA: That's exactly what it is! That's what I try to tell myself. But then I find it's hard not to get played in the process. I don't know if it's possible.

ROBIN: I hope for both of us we can find a solution. Find computer zen.

OLIVIA: Has sharing your work [on social media] helped at all? Or not really?

ROBIN: Yeah! A bunch of gamers have found my music. They like listening to it during their Twitch streams because they don't get DMCA takedowns for it (because I give them permission). That made me realize that there's a big demographic of people who are online all the time in their basements like me that like listening to long form synthesizer music. I didn't know there was much of an audience for that at all.

Plus, in Canada, the easiest way to get success is to have any success in the States. Suddenly Canadians will take way more interest in what you're doing. So in that sense, I've gotten more Canadian success as a result of the really small [American success] writing music for podcasts. The podcast friends I've made writing for Blow Back and Truanon have been really unbelievable in terms of composing and building a composing resume.

OLIVIA: That's so cool, you can get paid pretty well for that too right?

ROBIN: Yeah, I'm on the Blowback season 2 soundtrack which is about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's a really good season. Even if I wasn't on it, I'd say, you should listen to it.

(Then we hear Robin Hatch's song "Night Drive")

OLIVIA: Is there anything else we wanted to say?

ROBIN: No I'm good, thank you so much again, it's unbelievable.

OLIVIA: Thank you! Like I said, I really was inspired reading interviews with you so that's why I wanted to talk with you. So thank you so much..

ROBIN: Thank you, that means so much. Congratulations on going to therapy. It's tough!

OLIVIA: It is tough. For me, a lot of stuff happened a long time ago. It's exhausting. You don't realize how much you've filed away and compartmentalized and pretend it didn't happen. So it's been a roller coaster of emotions just feeling things again. When I talk about being sober, I never drank that much, but I could have in this two years I've been in. I could have easily bottled up my emotions further and stopped the process.

ROBIN: Congratulations! If you are interested, I highly recommend TIR therapy, and it feels like you scoop out the bottom of your stomach with an ice cream - it's awful - for like three days, but its life changing for being able to talk about stuff. And same with EMDR.

OLIVIA: That's the tapping and eye movement? My therapist now does stuff like that. Tapping both sides of the body. She's all about the nervous system and regulating the nervous system.

I thought it was kinda BS when I first started. I was trying to make it seem like I didn't think that (laughter) but it's actually kinda cool.

ROBIN: Yeah, that eye stuff, I didn't get why it worked either. My friend sent me something about the vagus nerve in the neck. Moving your eyes left to right relaxes your nerve that controls your fight or flight instinct. It makes sense. I'm like, "oh it is real!" (laughter)

OLIVIA:Yeah, I'm trying to the right words to say it, the world makes things like that feel like it's voodoo or overdramatic or doesn't make sense, but when I hear more stuff about the nervous system and the spine and the neck, it makes sense to me. It doesn't sound like nonsense.

(Then we hear Robin's songs "Mockingbird" and "Hivemind")