Born and raised in Norwalk, Conn., Robert Urban has been playing electric guitar since his teens and has been comfortably "out" for as long as he can remember. His musical palette is broad, beginning with classical training in college at the University of Bridgeport where he won a concerto competition for flute and guest conducted at Yale and Fairfield universities. Now a resident of New York City with a band, 3 CDs, solo tours and a production company, Urban Productions, Robert Urban is both an artist and a diligent artist-supporter. Through his BOLDLY PRESENTS Series, he's helped many gay musicians move out of the closet and under the spotlight (and find a place to stay while performing in NYC).
FW: When talking to certain female musicians, they say to me, "I don't want to be known as a female musician, I just want to be known as a musician. Period." You seem to want to be known as a gay performer.
RU: LOL - Oh no, no. As musical artist - I just "am". And I understand how those female musicians feel. Because I came out so young, in my mind, when I'm working on music, I don't dwell on my "outness" per se, unless it's some lyrically-related material. I enjoy working with both gay and straight musicians.
I'm happy with my sexuality and I'm very proud to be a musician, as it's something I had to work very hard to acheive. Our sexual orientation, after all, is just who we are... who happens to turn you on. And life doesn't really give you a reward just because of who you are.
As a citizen I support & understand the gay "Pride" concept, because we're trying to come out from underneath of society's perception of us as the scum of the earth. But even so, LOL - when I see how close we all are to ruining this world, politically & ecologically, I don't even know how "proud" I am of being HUMAN, much less a "gay" human. So I kind of see the whole "pride" thing within a larger context. For example, a lot of my songs are about the environment; I'm very concerned about humans wrecking the planet. And gays and lesbians can wreck this planet just as easily as straights can. So I think of my songs as being written for everyone.
FW: What are the differences for gay male musicians and lesbian musicians?
RU: Generally speaking, lesbians have actually made some incredible advances. Their particular battle in coming out and in finding themselves is a very "outgoing" thing. They want to compete with the straight men who have been dominating them and running the world.
The funny thing about gay men's liberation, some of it is discovering of the feminine, passive side, and a lot of that is not actually all that "outgoing". That's why you end up with "closed" art forms of lip-synching and stuff like that. It's what I call "twice-removed-from-reality" art. The type of "male" musician that I stive to be, and the kind that I like, are the ones who are trying to break out of that. I like people with real talent and I appreciate being judged by the standards that judge all artists. I enjoy the empowerment of singing about EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. I'm also very curious about all things and don't limit my lyric writing to just sex and/or romance.
Twenty years ago, lesbians who wanted to be musicians were out learning an instrument, practicing in a band. A lot of gay guys, because of the cruel way homophobia hit them, went home from school and hid in their bedrooms and lip-synched to Barbra records. LOL - not exactly good for your "outgoing" libido, esp in the world of rock.
FW: You have a background in classical music, how does that work in the rock context?
RU: I like to think that I play the electric guitar not just in a rock 'n' roll way, but in a progressive rock or art-rock way. I can play it like it's a cello, try to make it be beautiful and not just down and dirty. I've been a big fan of progressive rock bands; LOL - sometimes I feel like I'm the only gay guy in the world like this. Bands like Yes, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, I always loved stuff like that. In my life, as corny as it sounds, I always thought of rock music as being real art.
FW: As you see less real rock coming out, does it makes you appreciate the older stuff?
RU: YES! The music industry has never been as bad as it is now. Between all these J-Lo's, boy bands and metal rappers, there is little or no MUSIC going down. They seem to over-sing completely mediocre songs. These songs are going to No. 1, but I can't remember them a week later! I love old soul music, Motown music, R&B and gospel. Of course being older has an influence here. One always holds a special fondness for the art of one's youth. Rap is my least favorite pop style. Sorry (LOL), but Aretha would agree with me.
As part of the Fairfield County Gay Pride Events, Urban Productions presents Robert Urban June 13, 8pm at the Acoustic Cafe, 2926 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport along with folk-rock artists Cadence Carroll, Jeremy Blue, Brenda Evans and Mike James. $12. Call 335-3655 for tickets and more info. The Fairfield County Gay Pride Festival is June 15, noon-4pm at the Westport Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Rd., Westport. Robert Urban performs with Suzanne Sheridan of Westport, Brenda Evans, Cadence Carroll and Jeremy Blue. Free. Call the Triangle Community Center at 853-0600 or visit www.ctgay.org for more info. Brita Brundage can be reached at a firstname.lastname@example.org
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