Robert Baxter on Cupid, genre-bending and the drama in music

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Robert Baxter on Cupid, genre-bending and the drama in music

Robert Baxter
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Robert Baxter defines themself as a musician first, but also more broadly: “A creative.”

The new Robert Baxter EP you wouldn’t expect cupid to cry is the result of quite the journey. Having grown up in Yorta Yorta country, and begun making beats and music in their bedroom, Robert moved to Naarm in 2022 and has blossomed, the new EP expressing all of this.

Music aside, Robert is an actor, dancer and model, as well as becoming an icon of the Ballroom scene, they bring all of these influences together in a touching, emotive and transcendental experience that is you wouldn’t expect cupid to cry. Ahead of the release, we had the chance to chat to Robert Baxter about making the record.

Robert Baxter

Robert defines themself as a musician first, but also more broadly: “A creative.”

“The visuals and all of that, I love doing that. I love modelling, I love creating visuals for the music, but I think it’s secondary to the music.”

Robert’s music is evocative, invoking memories in all of us, regardless of our lived experience. It makes us look inward.

“That’s good to hear, that’s what I want.” they smile.

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I turn here to the songwriting process, asking what spawns ideas, and where it all comes from.

“Everything starts with the lyrics for me,” Robert begins. “I just sit down at the piano and start playing. At the moment I’m getting more into writing to beats, but all of the songs on this EP definitely just started with just sitting at the piano and writing whatever came out. Word vomiting.” they say with a laugh.

“And sometimes word vomiting just works and the song stays like that forever, like the song is just done in one night.”

“I think I naturally write sad songs easier, so the sad songs can come like that. If I’m wanting to write a happy song, or a sexy song or a cheeky song, I think it takes a little bit more because I don’t want it to be cheesy.”

Robert’s music has a lot of layers, textures and sounds all coming at you at once, but in a unique, cohesive way. I ask how intentional the layers are, whether it’s to meld different things into a unique sound or if it’s just how Robert works.

“I love drama in music, I love taking you on a journey in music, starting small and getting bigger. Even my voice—I’ll sing pretty softly sometimes so that when I sing louder it’s a difference. Lots of points of differentiation.”

“I think I’m that way a lot in life,” Robert continues, speaking to movies. “Like was it entertaining or was it boring? The entertaining ones have more rises and falls and drama, and that’s what I look for in music as well.”

“Like a pop song can still be very dramatic. If there’s a big melody change in the verse and the chorus, or a big production change. So I think that’s why there’s so many layers.”

Robert’s music is very unique – so who inspires them?

“Artists that inspire me a lot are… there’s two sides to it. There’s artists who are really truthful like Lizzy McAlpine, with lyrics that are really personal. I think their lyrics are incredible. Even SZA, they’re personal but original.”

Continuing, “On the other side there’s artists like Rhianna, Beyonce, Ariana Grande, people like that who are pop stars, but their performances are amazing, they have dancers, and on top of that, they’re genre bending. I love when artists are pop but a bit R ‘n’ B, or a bit rocky, they venture into the dance world. I love genre-bending like that,”

I speak here to how Robert’s music fits the bill, it’s very genre bending but it’s still cohesive and consistent. I can’t put it into a box, there’s moments of electro-pop, dancey stuff, but then it’ll all be stripped back to an intimate, emotive and soulful, R ‘n’ B bridge section before the chorus picks back up.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself an R ‘n’ B artist, but some of the melodies have been inspired by a pop/R ‘n’ B sort of thing. And then there’s dance-pop as well, I love it!”

Robert writes a lot of music, but a friend Alex Garla helps to produce some of it.

“Me and him grew up in the same small town, we’ve been friends since we were like eight years old.” Robert explains. “We did ballet together and now he’s a producer. I’ve worked with him on this EP, like me and him are the only people that’ve worked on this EP together.”

“So sometimes I’ll produce a song to a certain point and I’ll get demo-itis, I’ll be like ‘Alex, whaddaya think?’ Can you do anything to this?” Robert explains.

“Sometimes he’ll be like ‘Robert, it’s done. Just appreciate that it’s good and it’s done.’ and he’ll mix it. But sometimes he’ll be like ‘I can see it having more strings or more this or that and he’ll add it.”

Robert Baxter cupid club

We chat for a moment about how important that input can be for a producer. You don’t always need someone to keep building or refining, sometimes you need someone to just confirm that the song is finished and done, but most of all that it’s good.

We speak now about how Robert moved to Naarm in 2022, and I ask how moving from a small town to the big city and how it’s helped them open up, and effectively built the name and icon that is Robert Baxter.

“[It’s a] 100% change from what it used to be.” they begin. “When I was in my hometown, I think there wasn’t really anyone there to listen to it [the music], I didn’t really have a community there.”

“Obviously I had friends and they would listen to it, but that isn’t the same as building a following on your music. So I didn’t really take music seriously, I did a few gigs, but at the time I was a full time dancer teacher, and I thought that was what I was gonna do forever.”

“So when I moved to Naarm, some of my new friends said ‘Oh, I heard your old song Tamagotchi, I heard it on Spotify, it’s so good you need release more music!’”

you wouldn’t expect cupid to cry

Robert continues “I was like ‘Okay, let me try again.’, so I released “Twenty Something” and “Just For The Night” in the first year that I moved here, a year and half ago, and when I released those two songs, I felt like this building of a community, I sold out my first headline show, and it was really …” Robert trails off here. “It’s not like a thousand people came, but it felt really special and I felt I could really do this.”

Since then, Robert explains, when people ask them what they do, they say they’re a musician first.

Those two songs that were already written in Robert’s hometown, and the EP that followed, you wouldn’t expect cupid to cry, were written since Robert moved to Naarm.

The new Robert Baxter EP you wouldn’t expect cupid to cry is available now and is being launched at the Gaso on April 21. Keep up with Robert here, or keep listening here.