Winning it back: Songwriter Robin Wynn returns with a musical departure

Robin Wynn stepped back from a successful music career for motherhood. She returns Friday, playing old favorites and her newfound bluegrass, at BON Café. Photo: Martyn Kyle Robin Wynn stepped back from a successful music career for motherhood. She returns Friday, playing old favorites and her newfound bluegrass, at BON Café. Photo: Martyn Kyle

Robin Wynn said Google might lead you astray if you’re looking to find out what she’s up to these days. A C’ville-based songwriter who toured extensively from 2005 to 2008 and saw one of her songs get attention from NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” Wynn recently licensed a tune to the CW show “Vampire Diaries.” Put her name in a search engine, and that’s likely to be one of the first things to pop up.

It’s not that Wynn has anything against “Vampire Diaries.” But the song the show’s using for its promo is from the days before she took five years off to focus on family. When she takes the stage at BON Café, a block off the Downtown Mall on February 27, “Vampire Diaries” fans may be disappointed.

“I’m not even playing that kind of music anymore,” Wynn said in a recent C-VILLE Weekly interview. “One of my songs was on ‘One Tree Hill’ years ago. The CW must still have me in their music library somewhere.”

Wynn made her name locally and regionally by applying her pitch perfect voice to her own down-tempo rock and pop country tunes. A singer-songwriter in the mold of Sheryl Crow, she released three albums and did somewhere around 600 shows, playing venues from North Carolina to New York, during that productive period between 2005 and 2008.

Then a son came along—with a little help from her husband (and fellow musician) Mark Goldstein. She decided to focus on family and took a break from music. Just over a year later, she and Goldstein welcomed a daughter to their family.

With the kids gaining independence, Wynn figures it’s time to get back in the game. But things are different now. She’s not as interested in the radio-friendly tunes she was writing in the past. She spent a year living in the mountains, she said, and her latest work, a six-track EP called Song from the Hills, a story from beginning to end, has a more bluegrass bent.

“This is a big departure for me, because this whole album is one story.” Wynn said.

For those who remember the old days, Wynn said she plans to take the coffee shop stage with her husband on guitar and do older tunes for roughly the first half of the performance. Then she’ll shift into the newer stuff, welcoming to the stage Peter LaBau on banjo and possibly Jeff Vogelsang on mandolin. Goldstein, a multi-instrumentalist who teaches music at Tandem Friends School and plays with LaBau in the Bent Mountain Trio, will shift to upright bass during the second half of the show. Emily Gary will add background vocals.

Whatever the crowd’s reception of Wynn’s newer songs, which she said she may sprinkle with a few covers, one thing certainly hasn’t changed for the songstress. She’s been a singer since she could talk, she said, and it’s the silk of her voice that brings her tunes to life.

“I definitely am a singer first,” said Wynn, who picked up the guitar as she entered her 20s and started writing her first songs four or five years later. Most of the songs she writes start with a melody and rely on simple chord structures, she said. She follows what she calls the “storyline” in her mind to flesh the tunes out. “I really like to use my voice, so it’s all about melody for me. I usually sequester myself, and the song comes to me over a week or so.”

Wynn released her first album, Oblivion, in 2004, and it was a sleepy little track called “Pyre” that caught the attention of National Public Radio producers. After the NPR exposure, Wynn said she got some national play on smaller radio stations. It was an honor she said, and she was delighted for the attention. But that isn’t her goal this time around, she insisted. Wynn recognizes the tunes she’s writing at this point in her career don’t have the same commercial appeal as her older stuff. Still, she said she sees this as being her future as a songwriter, and if she has to sacrifice her dreams of stardom, so be it.

“I feel like I can tell more of a story in this genre,” she said. “It is a more patient genre than what I was doing before. It feels more expansive. I can play this forever. At this point, I want to do what I love.”

In the years since she left music to raise her kids, Wynn has taken on a day job. She’s doing it part-time for now, and she expects to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. Rather than go after singing and writing music full-time again, she said she’d like to focus on playing a few good shows to attentive audiences in listening rooms and hitting the road with her family to play summer festivals.

“About halfway through 2006, when music was my full-time job, I was making it, but half those gigs were rough,” Wynn said. “I’m open to whatever comes along for sure, but I feel like this time around it is less pressure and more about the love of the music.”

She almost left it at that. But she couldn’t resist adding, “If it got to that point, I would do it.” Old habits are hard to break.

Robin Wynn plays at BON Café on Friday, February 27.

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