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By Kate Sweeney

One Step Beyond

The Floorwalkers—Doc Robinson is one step beyond

Chances are, if you’ve been to an outdoor festival or an open-air stage in Columbus, Ohio in the past few years, you’ve witnessed the work of both Nick D’Andrea and Jon Elliott. Respectively, they’ve been pop mainstays in the city’s scene in both Nick D. and the Believers and The Floorwalkers. Among the culture vultures who have graduated into comfortable beards and post-modern coffee shops, these two bands are the soundtrack, mixing soul and funk with pop and traditional instrumentation. Both bands take party music past covers and mimicry to a level where deft musicianship and sharp songwriting take precedence—say Sly and the Family Stone, or Fitz and the Tantrums cut with slick Midwestern hubris.

Fans can take solace in the continued progress of the Believers and the Floorwalkers, but Doc Robinson, the duo’s new musical venture, takes that “all join in” approach to its logical summit.

“For this project, we pretty much forced ourselves to do it,” says Elliott of the Doc Robinson origin story. “We both come from the school of collaboration and the environment of songwriting workshops. So writing with another person, bouncing ideas back and forth, doesn’t just come naturally, it’s essential for me.”

Their synergy makes sense, as that teamwork is key in the quintets, octets, and larger configurations they’ve found themselves a part of over the years. On Doc Robinson’s upcoming album, Deep End, what started as sketches soon became grand affairs, with the duo assembling a “dream team” of the city’s finest musicians lending input and “adding their magic” to the final product. As a result, horns punctuate the sunshine folk of the title track, and strings swell underneath the blue-eyed soul of the album’s first single “I’m Not Gone.”

“We didn’t have everything demoed out when we went in to record,” says D’Andrea, “so a lot of the energy on the album and the ideas come from the different players who came in and helped. It was great to see that friendship. Everyone put themselves artistically into the project.”

Because of that, Deep End has a wash of orchestral color, taking the sound of indie-rock standard bearers, like the Black Keys and Fleet Foxes, and inflating it to what they’ve proclaimed as “backyard BBQ break-up songs.” And yes, while “Drive Slow” might come across as Sublime updated for optimistic millennials, there’s also a tinge of levity to their songs, one that contends with their laidback and congenial vibe.

Love songs for not-so-shiny, happy people.

“We’re definitely trying to give a realistic look at love,” say D’Andrea about Doc Robinson’s penchant for relationship stories. “Love is a constant battle, it’s always in flux, and at the end of the day we are pulling for the happy ending. It’s rough, but I’m going to stick it out. We look at those ups and downs, but kind of resolve that love can work.”

Still, variety is a virtue for Doc Robinson. It’s something that’s reflected in their perspective of the Columbus music scene. Getting their education from groups like the Hoodoo Soul Band and Hebdo, or jamming with jazzbos and open-mic rookies, has fed into the music they are making today. It’s gotten to a point where they can’t pinpoint “one specific style” that defines the city. From that well, they’ve tried their best to concentrate that polyglot circle in which they roll.

“Once we had a couple of songs in the bag, we knew it was a sound that was unique to what we were doing,” says Elliott. “Not that these songs didn’t fit into our other bands, but we became really invigorated and immediately proud of what we were making together. When you’ve got two people making decisions instead of six, that helps the creative process.”

As Doc Robinson, D’Andrea and Elliott are planning to make this the biggest thing either of them have ever done. The docket for the next year is full, with music videos, a collaboration with Experience Columbus, the release of the record, and a monthly residency that started in March at Woodland’s Tavern. Given their overly sunny disposition, I had to end the interview with a question about songwriting in the age of Trump and if that changes the dynamic they present.

“We are living in a time where we are the closest to science fiction as we every have been, and any kind of silver lining is disappearing,” say Elliott. “As a singer-songwriter you feel a responsibility to chime in. Just like the two Bobs. Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. But we think what we are doing shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We want to make positive art that is a nice escape from our current catastrophe.” •

See Doc Robinson perform at the Nelsvonville Music Festival at the beginning of June. For tickets, visit nelsonvillefest.org and for more about the band, visit docrobinsonofficial.com.

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