Local Musician Robbie Agnew Releases First Single
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Frank Michael Photography
There’s something hauntingly minimalistic about Robbie Agnew’s music. His tracks combine the lyrical beauty of Ed Sheeran with the melodic kick of Freddie Mercury. Employing sporadic instrumentation, his songs instead rely on the unifying power of his voice. The effect is that of something profoundly raw and deeply intimate. You almost feel as though Robbie is addressing you directly from across a smoky bar.
“The sound that I go for is more of a stripped-down, unplugged acoustic singer-songwriter vibe,” Robbie explains. “That’s what I want for my music, right now. It might evolve in the future.”
At 25, Robbie is Windsor’s latest up-and-coming musician. His first track, “Slipping Away,” was released last month on Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes.
But it’s been a long, difficult climb to reach these heights.
Robbie’s love affair with music began at A.V. Graham Public School, when auditioning for the school musical in the seventh grade.
“I tried out for ‘The Little Shop of Horrors,’” Robbie explains. “We had fun with that. I auditioned with the song ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses. The reception that I got from my peers, friends and teachers was overwhelmingly positive. That feeling was wonderful. I hadn’t felt that from anything else I’d done. I wanted to keep chasing that feeling on stage.”
And for the next few years, Robbie did just that. He honed his craft, performing at talent shows and bookstores across Windsor. He also briefly lent his voice to the Windsor Singers during his one year at the University of Windsor.
“It was very classical,” Robbie states. “Because if one person’s off, everyone’s off. I’m used to dragging a song out or playing with it, so it taught me precision. That helped me with harmonies and things like that. All these things combined really pull into my sound.”
However, postsecondary caused his momentum to stall. “I took Communications, Media and Art at the University of Windsor,” Robbie recalls. “I wanted to get into Journalism. But, I found that it wasn’t for me. After that, I rested on my laurels and went to St. Clair College for Travel and Tourism. Then I worked for Disney for six months. I did the Hollywood Studios Park. They had a show called Fantasmic, with fireworks. I would usher guests to their seats, do crowd control. It was all about being personable.”
However, a new opportunity drew Robbie back to the stage. “I met a man named Walter Riggi,” Robbie states. “He runs a studio out of his house. He really supports the locals. I recorded a couple songs with him because I was applying to the Music Industry Arts program out of Fanshawe College. But once I was there, he said, ‘I’m doing a Raise Your Voice Singing Competition.’ Sort of a local American Idol. So, I entered it later that year.”
The 2019 Raise Your Voice Singing Competition was a grueling 11-week marathon. Every week, Robbie and the other applicants would file into the Gourmet Emporium on Wyandotte to present the judges with another song. “It was great and nerve-wracking at the same time, coming back to music,” Robbie explains. “Every week I’d perform another song. And you couldn’t do karaoke tracks. You had to hire a guitarist if you wanted accompaniment. It was all about quality. The first song I did was ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran. But then I wanted to show off my voice more, so the next song I did was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which was tough with just one piano and one singer. They went pretty crazy for that one.”
Robbie won second place in the 2019 competition. A bittersweet predicament, he admits, but he came away with an even more valuable prize: a rekindled zeal for music. “After the competition, I thought, ‘Why not keep this going?’” Robbie explains. “Keep the momentum up. I had a guy for a studio. I knew what to do now.”
As well, thanks to the Raise Your Voice Singing Competition, Robbie made a slew of new contacts, including Rob Palombo, the co-owner of 360 Entertainment, an independent promotion company in Windsor. Thanks to Rob’s encouragement, the two started developing Robbie’s first original single.
Robbie’s debut song, “Slipping Away,” was released on December 14th, 2019. “It starts off slow,” Robbie explains. “Just the guitar and me. But then, by the bridge, it builds. It climaxes with synthesizer, organs—all kinds of sounds. It ebbs and flows. It’s about a guy who’s in a relationship. The woman thinks that he’s slipping away from her. That the fame’s getting to him. But it turns out that he wasn’t going anywhere, that he was always with her. It’s about being careful not to slip away from what you believe in, while at the same time keeping those closest to you. It’s about balance, not getting carried away with fame.”
While Robbie may not have reached the same zenith as the singer in “Slipping Away,” the song resonates personally with him. After coming out of his three-year hiatus from music, the song serves as an extended metaphor for his struggle to remain true to himself.
And “Slipping Away” is already making a splash.
“It’s exciting!” Robbie exclaims. “It’s really happening. It’s been reviewed by some online blogs. They played a quick little snippet of it on AM 800, and the full song played on Here + Now, a local music program on 93.9 the River. It’s kind of surreal!”
“Slipping Away,” while a remarkable achievement, is just the first step in Robbie’s journey.
“I want to keep creating songs,” Robbie states. “I’ll probably need around 10 songs to put an album together. And then I want to expand my set list. You need to have around 12 to 14 songs so you can play gigs around town.”
Robbie recently released a cover of “Memories” by Maroon 5. In addition, the “Slipping Away” music video premiered on the Robbie Agnew YouTube channel on January 4th.
“I’m really proud of how it sounds!” Robbie states. “I just recorded it. I think people are really going to like that one. Doing a cover is definitely different. You want to make it your own, but you don’t want to mess with it too much. You have to really be careful. Because if you mess with it too much, people say, ‘What is this?’ But if it’s exactly the same, people say, ‘Why wouldn’t I just listen to the original?’ So you have to mess with it just the right amount.”
But for Robbie, it all goes back to chasing that feeling he gets on-stage.
“I get nervous before a performance,” Robbie admits. “Every time. No matter who’s in the audience. Actually, having personal friends in the audience makes me more nervous. But then, once I go up on-stage, it’s all gone. It’s crazy. I just get into the song, I see the crowd reacting positively, and I just go. I feel fine. It’s weird. Because I believe in what I’m doing. And once you’re up there, there’s no more second guessing. You just do it.”