Everyday Rock Stars

An Interview with the Cars

by Jessy Krupa

13 June 2011

With their first new album in nearly a quarter century, David Robinson of the Cars discusses playing drums for the first time in 24 years, designing the band's visual look, and why you'll never hear a Cars song on Glee.
cover art

The Cars

Move Like This

(Hear Music)
US: 10 May 2011
UK: 16 May 2011

Review [16.May.2011]

The Cars’ drummer opens up about the group’s new album and tour, and tells us a little bit about himself.

He may be the guy keeping time on classic hits like “Let The Good Times Roll”, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, “Shake It Up”, “You Might Think”, and more, but David Robinson isn’t just The Cars’ drummer.

Robinson is actually a creative force in and of himself, having come up with the group’s name and being heavily involved with everything from the band’s album art to their elaborate touring stage designs. In recent years, he’s owned a restaurant and now even operates an art gallery, but Robinson is anything but a stereotypical art snob or an arrogant rock star.

Now, with Move Like This—their first album of new material in 24 years—Robinson talks with PopMatters about the group’s new album, and ultimately comes off as an average everyday person—who just happens to be in one of the biggest New Wave bands of all time.

* * *

The new album Move Like This seems to have a harder, more aggressive tone to it than some of The Cars’ previous work. Do you agree? Was that planned, or did it just come out naturally?

I’m not sure that I agree with that, but it just came out like that. Anyway, really, it’s got a couple ballads on it.

It does seem like it’s a little bit less pop than rock, I would say.

Yeah, maybe so, yeah. I think it is..

What is your favorite song off the new album?

Um, [pauses, then laughs a little] I don’t really have a favorite one. I like them all.

Have you been involved with any of the art design for the new album or stage design for the tour?

Not the stage design. No, we have a lighting designer; we have a little bit of a light show. I do all the other artwork, T-shirts, ads, icons on the internet, usually anything that needs artwork is basically my job.

In previous interviews, you have said that you haven’t played the drums since 1987. Does that mean professionally, or just not at all?

That means not at all! [laughs] Really. The last time I played drums, before we worked on the record, was December of 1987.

Why would that be? Did you just not have the time or did you put it off?

Well, at first, I was just a little, you know, taking a break, because I had really been working on my music career since I was 15 years old, and I never really got back into it. I built a little studio in my house, where I actually do movie soundtracks, commercials, and things, then I got distracted and just used the studio less and less and just gave up on it and didn’t play at all.

There’s been a lot of rock star memoirs out lately. Would you ever write one about your own experiences?

I wouldn’t, but there’s a pretty good book out about a band I used to be in called The Modern Lovers [There’s Something About Jonathan by Tim Mitchell], it would be a really great movie, if anybody’s listening! [laughs]

You’ve also said that you’re only going to play electronic drums on this tour. Why?

Well, that’s what I had been using to record the album, and I’ve always had electronic drums to some extent or the other. Electronic drums, pads to trigger sounds ... I always had a lot of electronics going on, but it seemed that the electronic set that I had would be good on the road. And it’s actually turned out really well.

Do you prefer smaller venues or big festivals on tour?

Well, we don’t have any choice on this tour since it’s mostly a publicity tour, so the smaller gigs. No, well, I guess maybe the only gigs I don’t like are the huge outdoor festivals, where you’re playing in the middle of the day and it’s maybe, 98 degrees out or something. Maybe the outdoor is as good as a smaller show.

So you probably won’t like Lollapalooza then?

Well, Lollapalooza is a big show, but it’s so well-organized and planned. It doesn’t have that effect of just playing in a big field in the middle of nowhere, you know.

Hopefully, it won’t rain like it usually does every year.

Uh-oh! Okay, don’t say that!

What are your plans after the tour? Are you going to continue with The Cars?

We don’t have any plans right now. You know, we’ve talked about some more recordings, not specifically. We just need to get the tour over with and the Lollapalooza show.

What new artists do you listen to?

Probably, if I mentioned them, they wouldn’t be new, because I [laughs] don’t really stay on top of it as much I used to. You know, when I was younger, I knew everything that was coming out. I was really into the latest things, now, not so much. And I don’t listen to much music on the internet or anything. I’ve just been mostly busy with this project. There are things I like. There’s a new Kate Bush album coming out [Director’s Cut], if I could just name that, just because it’s a natural. I like all kinds of music.

How did you come up with the band name of The Cars?

Oh, only just we had a little short list of names, and we just picked that one. It doesn’t mean anything. I just didn’t want to choose a name that you could date, or that was too specific to what your music might sound like, then you’d be stuck with it later, so something that was just a word. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s probably a better choice.

What is your favorite Cars song?

Oh, I definitely don’t have one. [laughs]

Many of the group’s hits have been used in TV shows, movies, commercials, and even the Rock Band video game. Do you get any say in what does or doesn’t get used in anything?

Maybe a little bit in say, TV commercials. We hardly ever do commercials. We started doing it about oh, four or five years ago. We’ve had a couple of big, well, we actually really only had one big TV ad, and then a few small ones. [“Just What I Needed” was Circuit City’s slogan and the song was sampled in their ads from 2004-2007.]  It’s really up to Ric, because he owns the copyrights of the songs, so the last word is really up to him, but now that we’re back together again, I’m sure we’d all have some interest in how the songs are used.

Would you turn down having one of your songs on American Idol, Glee, or any of those other performance-based shows?

Absolutely yes. [laughs]

So you’re not a fan of Idol or Glee?

Not with as far as The Cars’ music goes.

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