Local Musician Check-in: Rob Dobson

Posted on February 5, 2014 by


Photo Credit: Tom Daly

Photo Credit: Tom Daly

Rob Dobson is no stranger to the Charlottesville music scene. You may remember him (fondly) from the now defunct Fire Tapes, who disbanded suddenly after the release of their acclaimed sophomore LP Phantoms, leaving fans and critics alike in disbelief.

Now Rob has turned his attentions to a couple of new projects, one of which is the reincarnation of the goth-garage band Order fronted by Thomas Dean (formerly of The Invisible Hand). The other is Big Air, a pop-punk duo featuring Dobson on guitar, and Greg Sloan (of The Ha-RAng!# and Dwight Howard Johnson) on drums.

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Together Sloan and Dobson are cranking out irresistible power ballad after high-energy punk anthem, and their debut record Buds, released yesterday on limited edition cassette, has been called “an infectious…record by a pair of dudes with some serious chops” by Pitchfork.

Check out Big Air this Friday for their Cassette Release Party at The Southern.

This week, I caught up with Rob to talk favorite local haunts, origins, and next steps for this band on the rise.

Rob Dobson

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, when did you come here?

I moved around a bunch as a kid but spent most of my formative years in Alexandria. Then I moved to Richmond and studied music at VCU before moving to Charlottesville in 2009.

What are some of your favorite local spots: To catch live music? To grab a drink? To eat?

For local music, I’d have to go with the Tea Bazaar. I don’t love going in there and sweating for hours, or the fact that they don’t serve liquor, OR the lack of a real sound system… BUT, Amanda consistently books great bands and I’ve seen lots of really good shows there. I can always go to C&O after for my whiskey and grilled cheese fix.

What local musician(s) you are most excited about?

Maybe this is cheating, because I’m in this band, too, but I’m really excited about the return of Order (Thomas Dean’s band). I’m not sure when we’ll start playing out, and the name might change, but we’ve been practicing a bunch of his songs, and I think they’re awesome. Dude has years worth of demos stockpiled so I’m looking forward to seeing what he throws at us next.

When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?

I started playing the saxophone in fifth grade. I wanted to play the drums but my neighbor sold my parents a sax on the cheap, so that was that. I played in band until I found my dad’s old guitar in the attic when I was 13 or 14. I mostly play guitar these days, but I played bass in the Fire Tapes and dabble on some keys or whatever else is around.


Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

I’d probably answer this question differently every time, but let’s go with this:

Child: The Beach Boys

Teen: Grateful Dead

Adult: Sonic Youth

When did you write your first song? What was it about?

I don’t think I wrote my first full song with lyrics and everything until I was maybe 22. It was called “Desert Evening”, and the lyrics were mostly imagery from the years I spent living in the middle of the desert in 29 Palms as a kid, probably combined with some leftover teen angst.

What influences your writing?

Usually whatever music I’m into at the time tends to creep in there. If I’m in a rut and nothing is coming to me, I’ll usually learn some songs that I like, then borrow bits and pieces and figure out ways to combine them into something new.

What aspects of life excite you and stir your affections, fuel your passions?

Life’s pretty rad. There are so many good people around me doing so many cool things, it’s hard not to be inspired by that.

When did you play your first gig? What emotions and thoughts ran through your head after finishing?

Hmm… That’s a tough one. The earliest show I can remember that wasn’t for school was with my high school band, Pipin’ Hot Gravy. We jammed in a basement for years but somehow never really had many “songs”, we mostly just improvised. Pretty sure we only played one “show”, which was a backyard BBQ party for our own high school graduation. I remember we all thought it was this amazing performance, but I’m sure it sounded horrible to everyone else.

Do you get pumped or nervous pre-show?

I love playing, so I’m usually pretty pumped, but sometimes anxiety takes over and I just wanna get it over with. Once we start playing, I’m on Cloud Nine.

What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?

Not as much time spent songwriting as I’d like, unfortunately. Music doesn’t pay the bills, so I think most of us spend the day hustling at work and then use what time and energy is left to get creative. It keeps me busy, and I tend to burn the candle at both ends… but what can ya do?

What do you want people to take from hearing your music? As a fan, what do you also want people to take from experiencing your live show?

I think the same answer applies to both settings; I want it to make people feel good. Most of the Big Air songs are really upbeat and full of energy, it’s so much fun to play. Hopefully it’s infectious.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and Big Air?

Lots more shows! We’re planning to tour some in the spring, and we’re always working on new material. Last month we recorded a handful of new songs that ought to see the light of day via WarHen Records before too long.

Lastly, describe yourself in 10 words.

Chillin’ to the max, except when I’m not. Let’s party!