Luce Unplugged: Rob Stokes

Musician Rob Stokes

On Thursday, September 13th from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, the Luce Foundation Center hosts another installment of Luce Unplugged. Thursday shows, presented with D.C. Music Download, are a tribute to a Luce Center artwork selected by the performer. Jessica McFadden, the Luce Foundation Center's Program Assistant, reached out to this installment’s performing artist, Rob Stokes, to gain some insight into his creative process.

What’s your experience as an artist in DC been like thus far?

Exhausting, but good. That’s a very complicated question. I’m always on the clock and trying to push it as hard as I can. Between juggling work with performance, recording, writing, rehearsing, and taking the time to make sure new material is going in the direction that I want it to is quite taxing. However, difficulties that I experience pale in comparison to non-binary artists, artists of color, and female artists. I’ve been trying my hardest to play as much as I can mostly to make sure my chops are always up. That’s critically important to me. I also like to make sure that I’m playing with folks that are much more skilled than I am. The goal is constant progression and it’s fun to push each other and be pushed!

On your Soundcloud page there’s a brief statement that reads, “his [Rob Stokes] lush sound doesn't rely on contemporary mandates for cleanliness and order but squiggles for its futurism. The melodies and riffs open up to reveal their unassuming vulnerability.” Can you elaborate on that? Where and how do you find inspiration for your music?

I guess one interpretation of that would be that my music doesn’t wait up for the listener whatsoever. I’ve definitely gone out of my way to insert little things into the songs that yield repeat listens if you happened to be so inclined. I hope that folks can find new things each time they listen to a song. On another note, I didn’t want it to sound clean because life isn’t that clean, even if you try hard to make it so. Also, unfortunately for me I open myself and my life up entirely for everyone to see in these songs, which is quite difficult to do and cope with after the fact. But it’s reassuring when it connects or resonates with other people because it makes me feel like I’m not alone.

Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? From writing to producing?

I usually listen to a song and sing that song over a thousand times. If it’s still a good song after that, then I give it the check plus plus. I really have to feel it and be head over heels in love with a piece for it to make it. To build off that last question, what message do you want your music to convey to audiences and listeners? To be honest with one another (and yourself) and live your best life, baby. I don’t mean it to be cheesy, but that’s about it. This last project, Live At The Heartbreak Hotel, is a brutally honest portrayal of my own heartbreak in excruciating detail. Even down to details of self-medication and coping mechanisms, and how that kind of thing isn’t cool. The last track on the record, "Drinking Like A Local," is about exactly that.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

Currently, I’m finishing off this fictional heist album that is essentially the soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist. It’s called October ‘71. I believe the sound lends itself to more cinematic styles, so this was the next logical step for me and is seriously a dream come true.

Want to listen to tunes by Rob Stokes? Check out his work on Bandcamp or Spotify. Luce Unplugged is a free, monthly concert series held in the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. The series is organized in partnership with DC Music Download, and Washington City Paper. Be sure to check out upcoming performances and don't miss Rob Stokes’ performance on Thursday, September 13th! Snacks and libations available for purchase at on-site bar. No registration required. Object talk at 5:30 pm, Rob Stokes at 6 pm.