Hailing originally from Greymouth, she moved across the pond to Sydney and Brisbane during her childhood, then returned to grow up in Nelson. Pop artist Anna Robinson, by now better known as Robinson, has the travel bug built-in. 2018 single Nothing To Regret propelled her to international artist status and 2019 saw her living in London. The pending release of her debut EP ‘Watching You’ brought Robinson back home for February, and Anzel Singh caught up with her to talk about travel as a character builder, and in the sense of her musical journey.
Anna Robinson has elsewhere described her childhood as being one of making her own fun and making lots of music — that when she had nothing to do, her focus became writing, singing and playing the piano. ABBA ranks highly among many early musical influences.
“I kind’a spent my entire childhood going between lots of different places because my dad was in the army. It’s prepared me for a life of travel which is great. I feel like travelling so much when I was younger did put love into my soul just for seeing new things. I feel really lucky to have been able to live in so many different places to experience that. Even experiencing different cultures can inspire you in terms of music.”
Amidst all the changes of scenery, living in Nelson and attending Garin College was something Anna appreciates and considers an important stage for her songwriting development.
“I remember when I was like 13,” she laughs. “I asked my mum every day, ‘Can we move to America?’ And she’s like, ‘No, Anna we can’t move to America.’ I was like, ‘But please Mum, I’ll work another job, I’ll make it work.’ And she’s like, ‘Very ambitious, but no!’
With that sort of determination for her own big break, getting on the radar of the music industry was inevitable, though her first attempt didn’t go quite as expected. Inspired by Taylor Swift, after watching her demos to record labels in an early documentary, she was eager to do the same. Without yet having any demo to provide, she still wanted to indicate her presence.
“I found the number of Hollywood Records on the internet. When my mum called the lady she was like, ‘How did you find this number?’ I was like a detective. My mum was the one that suggested I sing, she was like, ‘Now Anna is going to sing a chorus of Firework by Katy Perry,’ and I was like ‘What?’ It was so humiliating,” she laughs happily.
“It was more like ringing them to be like, ‘I’m here! Just letting you know there’s a singer in New Zealand and she loves music and when I write a song and have experienced my first heartbreak, I will let you know and I’ll send that to you.’
“I think my songs really started to feel like they were coming together when I started high school and I think I was getting to that age of kind understanding your emotions and feelings. Something like music allows you to kind of express yourself in a way that brings a lot of clarity to many situations you experience going through your teenage years.
“I definitely lived for music class at school. I think that’s probably the reason that I got out of bed in the morning.”
In addition to classes, Robinson was a member of the school choir. She always knew she’d spend her life singing and writing songs because it was clear it was what she was here to do – to the point of not being able to remember when she wasn’t saying she was going to be a singer. Despite that performing remained a barrier to living her dream that even coming from a musical family couldn’t prepare her for.
“I was very shy when I was younger and I think that shyness overrode any feeling that I wanted to perform live. I had such an innate passion for singing and writing, but I was just too scared to show anyone.
“What if this one thing, that I feel like is my calling in life, I’m not good at? Or if people tell me I’m not good?’ Putting yourself up for people to judge you and tell you whether they think you’re good or not, that was such a scary thing for me.
“I can remember the feelings that I had when I think back to that time and I’d think back to before I’d go on stage. I was like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t go on stage, I’m so nervous’.”
Family support, along with advice from her music teacher, was the key to unlocking that potential.
“I remember him [music teacher Kyle Proffit telling me, ‘You’re going to miss out on so many opportunities if you don’t grab them and go out and do things’.”
She was put together to perform with fellow singer Olivia Nott (aka Nika, sister of the two Broods‘ Notts), the talented duo taking on Smokefree Rockquest together in 2014 and emerging as finalists. That channelling of nerves allowed the transformation necessary for the rise of Robinson and she developed her craft by writing songs after coming home from school. It was her manager Ashley Page who suggested Robinson as a stage name. She says she initially felt it was weird, but grew to like the "family connection” of it.
Co-writing was the next stage of her development as an artist, with two years passing before penning her debut single Don’t You Forget About Me, out of her first writing trip to Los Angeles. She admits she was nervous at first.
"I didn’t know how the session world went or what that was like, it was a week of opening my eyes to this different world! It’s such a personal thing, but now it’s just so exciting for me to be able to write with other people because I think that other people in every aspect of life can teach you so much about everything.”
Anna describes LA as a sunny dreamland and that the feeling of a city showed up through her writing. An unexpected career-changing session was waiting for her in the Big Apple.
"I think it was my first time in New York, which to me is the most magical city. I just couldn’t believe I was there, it honestly felt like a pinch-me moment. I remember I wasn’t meant to be doing a session I was there on a promo trip.”
Larzz Principato who had collaborated with Robinson in LA proposed working together in New York with writer Allie Crystal – and with fellow Kiwi producers Joel Little and Sam de Jong joining the session the result is history. Nothing To Regret was born. By now amassing over 80 million streams on Spotify, the single was a juggernaut that catapulted her to international success. An ode to her life, she remarks the lyrics were literal to what happened.
"I think my biggest thing with music is staying really true to my truth. I just actually needed to talk about what happened in that year of my life and I was like, ‘I lived on a sofa, had no money and I was literally living for the weekend.’
Following up the hugely successful Nothing To Regret, came well-received singles Medicine and Karma, and now her debut EP ‘Watching You’, released on Valentine’s Day 2020, The 4-track EP named after the lead single dives into the concept of unrequited love. Anna refers to the piano as a "statement” in the record, due to it leading to the origin of the songs that reflected major moments of rejection and feeling alone.
"They are all intertwined with themes of love and heartbreak, but I think Watching You for me is the most heartbreaking song on the EP. I think that’s such a hard thing when you love something or someone so much and you don’t feel like you get that love back.
"My hope for it is that it makes people who have experienced that, feel that as hard as it is to go through, lots of us go through that and it doesn’t make us any less of a person. We can learn from those experiences or use music to feel some kind of comfort.”
All four tracks will be performed live on Robinson’s first NZ/Australasian headlining tour in March, something she by now feels has been a long time coming.
"I’ve had so many moments where it’s been me going on stage and being like, ‘Oh my god.’ I used to be terrified of performing live to the point that I wouldn’t do it and here I am slow walking on stage being dramatic, staring everyone down in the crowd and having a really good time!
"I can’t believe that’s my life. That I’ve overcome so many of those fears to pursue my dream.”
Made with the support of NZ On Air.