Rebirth and perseverance: Tobin Bawinkel talks 6’10 and Flatfoot 56 Jun29


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Rebirth and perseverance: Tobin Bawinkel talks 6’10 and Flatfoot 56

They say that music comes from some of the most personal places. When a songwriter is going through their darkest times, that’s when some of the most beautiful art comes out and with Tobin Bawinkel that couldn’t be more the case. The longtime Flatfoot 56 frontman has unleashed his newest project- an acoustic folk outfit by the name of 6’10 and it’s very different and much more personal than Flatfoot ever was. With many of the songs inspired by the end of a longterm relationship as well as how life on the road has affected his life, 6’10 is much more stripped down and often-darker than Bawinkel’s previous endeavors.

It’s also one of his most powerful, vulnerable, artistic and honest pieces of music in his career and Bawinkel took some time to talk to us about the record- The Humble Beginnings of a Roving Soul.

FRR: We would usually be here talking about Flatfoot 56 but you’ve got a new project out, 6’10” which is a bit more of an acoustic take on things. How’ve things been going with the project?

Tobin Bawinkel: It’s awesome. It’s been exciting to explore new ways of writing music. It’s been a real pleasure to see what peoples response to it is. A lot of times when guys are in punk bands they expect nothing but loud and crazy and fast, so to be able to put a record out that’s a little bit more thought-provoking, that’s a little bit more emotional, it’s the little things where it’s just more thought provoking and deals with more intense types of things, so it’s a surprise what people see. It’s neat to see the impact that kind of music has as well. People focus more on the lyrics than they do on the riffs or the beat, and that’s kind of nice to see as a songwriter

FRR: How did 6’10” come about? Obviously there’s the Flatfoot 56 song of the same name so I imagine the name of the band stems from that originally, but how did everything come about?

Tobin Bawinkel: The band kind of started as a Flatfoot spinoff. Brendan and I, the mandolin player, we started playing some acoustic shows together at some different pubs. We’d go to Europe and some of the pubs there are too small for a band the size of Flatfoot so they’d have us do an acoustic set. When Flatfoot started to not play as much the other guys were like “you should go out and do some shows” and my brothers were like “You should call it 6’10”, that’s a creative way of naming it after you because you’re 6’10” without Tobin Bawinkel side project. I’ve never been a big fan of having something named after me, I’d rather have a name band type thing going. So it’s going really good. I think we’re excited to start stepping out and use songs that Flatfoot wasn’t really using. Lyrically there were some songs I’d written that they were like “you know, this doesn’t really fit with what we do and what we are” So I simply put them aside and pulled them out and am able to use them more right now, which is nice.

FRR: It’s a great change of pace. Obviously with Flatfoot, things were just so high-energy and there’s not a lot of stuff slowed down on the Flatfoot material. The music is just so well done and is beautiful in so many ways. I know that on one of the Flatfoot albums you did “I’ll Fly Away” which was a staple of a lot of shows. On 6’10” you guys do “It Is Well” which is a great rendition of the hymn. What led you to decide on that song and what made you decide to do a classic hymn on this record?

Tobin Bawinkel: I think the 6’10” record kind of came at a time of my life where everything was falling apart. There was a lot of turmoil going on and the old was dying away and the new season was coming and it was a real scary time. Knowing the story behind it as well, Horatio G. Spafford, his story when he wrote that song was really helpful for me during that time. It’s a story of great loss and dealing with loss but also just relying on what the Lord provides during loss. There’s a verse that says God is with the broken-hearted and the downtrodden. So it fit well with the lyrics of the album and kind of what I’d been going through so I just felt it was time to do that.

I’d always loved it but we had kind of messed around with it in our practice and we thought it’d be neat to have my little sister jump in on with vocals. It was neat to incorporate her, it was her first recording ever and she’s about 16 and has more musical talent than all of us brothers combined. So it’s one of those things where it’s neat to be able to encourage her with what she’s doing and I think it fit well. It isn’t my personal favorite how it turned out but it’s something a lot of people like, which is good.

FRR: I was gonna ask who the female vocalist was, but you answered it there! Her voice is outstanding and compliments yours so well, because you’ve got that raspier voice on a lot of tracks. You compliment each other so well Do you think

Tobin Bawinkel: Yea, you’ve got the sweet and salty thing going on, it’s a good complimenting point.

FRR: How cool is it to have it on vinyl?

Tobin Bawinkel: I think this album cover is probably one of my favorite album covers I’ve ever been a part of. I’m really thankful for a buddy of mine from Pittsburgh had drawn a 4-paneled art piece for the wall of his church and it was really similar to what this was and I was like “I love the way this looks” so to be able to put that on a vinyl which is bigger and has a better presentation quality to it, it was really neat. It’s really exciting to be able to offer that. Vinyl costs a lot to create so it was definitely neat to put it out and offer that.

The reality is this style of music sounds way better on vinyl in the first place which is one of the reasons we wanted to do it. It was interesting, it was very interesting. The guy who mastered the record, who we were really excited, he put the record out and did the vinyl mastering and regular mastering and a few weeks before the album was about ready to come out he passed away so it was really weird, we were just kind of like “nooo!” because he did such a great job. So we were really honored to have a piece of his legacy on a part of our project.

FRR: You guys used Kickstarter. I saw the video, part of it was you had to get your chests waxed.

Tobin Bawinkel: What was up with that?! That was kind of weird!

We didn’t expect, we expected we would make what we were originally asking for which was about $7,000 to put out the record, and it just kept going and when it keeps going you have to come up with stretch goals. And when we hit our first stretch goal we were like “man, what do we do now?” So as a joke I was like “Why don’t we just tell everybody we’ll get our chests waxed? We’ll never reach that, it’ll be funny, people will get a kick out of it.” So our bass player’s diabolical wife, she’s awesome, she’s a total blessing to the band, but she worked the Internet for days just to get to that point so that we had to do it. So it was kind of funny and it was a funny experience. Luckily I have a buddy who edited it all together, did a great job editing it all and we got the video that we put out for that. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. Some guys do it all the time, but I don’t get that though!

FRR: With a record as personal as Humble Beginnings is, when the Kickstarter does as well as it did what does it mean to you as an artist when so many people are behind something like this, that’s as personal as it is?

Tobin Bawinkel: It’s really humbling. I’ve kind of had the conversation with a few people, a lot of artists are really gung-ho about protecting their creative rights and getting their royalties for everything. That’s definitely needed and bands and artists need to be able to function and live so they can continue to make good music but one of the big things for me was to be able to have people be impacted by what was going on and in a way redeem what I had gone through in a positive way and be able to relate to people in that place. It was also very therapeutic for me too. I was kind of going through some real rough betrayals and going through some things that were difficult and to be able to work it out, I talked to an old country singer-songwriter type of guy and something he said to me was “sometimes you just have to get it out”

A lot of those songs were written during the darkest days of my life, and I’m not saying that to be cliché or anything. So just documenting that journey and see what’s going on and how it’s been redeemed and how there’s been a positive element. I want to be a person whose life is lived not just for himself but somebody who can relate to people and help them through their difficult times. I think one of the best compliments I can ever get is when somebody says “that song has helped me get through some dark times in my life” I could quit then at that point. I’ve arrived. That’s what it’s about for me, so it’s really neat to be able to be a part of that, for sure.

FRR: Is it hard to go onstage and relive where certain songs came from or is it something that you have to disconnect yourself from in order to get through playing the song sometimes?

Tobin Bawinkel: You have to disconnect yourself a little bit and sometimes it helps with expressing the emotion of the song in the first place. Anybody can write a sad song but not everybody can perform a sad song and convince people of it. The album is not to depress people at all, it’s more along the lines to encourage people as they go through a difficult time and show them that there’s hope in the journey and there’s hope at the end of it, which is definitely what my story was. It’s been really difficult but lately life’s gotten really good and I’ve been really blessed with some exciting things. There are some songs where I’m really particular on who will be able to play with me. There’s a song on there called “Someday Hun” that’s about a musician traveling. I pretty much made it early on that nobody that I’m ever in a relationship with will ever sing that song with me. It’s all about a wife saying “Forget you, I’m leaving” and I’m like “no, I don’t want to-” But I do have a good friend, Hannah, who’s our fiddle player, she does an amazing job performing that song. It’s kind of a fun, more tongue-in-cheek song anyways so that’s okay. But she’s amazing and sings really well for it.

FRR: You’ve done some 6’10” shows now, how have the shows been performing the songs and travelling with 6’10”?

Tobin Bawinkel: It’s been really good. One of the real honors and privileges of being 6’10” is being able to play with all these guys, one of them our old piper from Flatfoot so it was neat to give him another outlet and allow him to just use his gift again. A lot of the guys in the band have a very strong, I’ll give credit where credit is due, Michael our bass player is directly responsible for the quality of the recording we did. He spent hours and hours and hours editing and mixing. He just has a creative mind. I probably, as long as his time is available, will use him for any record I ever do because he has the ear and he creates and he was a big part of the whole album.

And he was kind of added to the band in kind of a fluke. Not a fluke, but we all loved him and we didn’t know he had any time to be in a band. His wife came up to us and was like “I know you guys are looking for a bass player, why don’t you ask Michael?”  and we were just like “That’s the best idea ever, why didn’t we think of that?” I always assumed he was too buys working and she was like “No, that’s his life dream is to be in a band” and he does it really well. It works out good. The shows have been going really well and the responses have been pretty sweet.

It took us a little while to kind of get our sound together and figure out what we were going to do. We had a great album release party in Lombard Illinois at the Brauer House and the turnout was great. We’ve been loving what we’ve been seeing so far.

FRR: Is this what you’re looking to do on a permanent basis or is it a side project?

Tobin Bawinkel: Every band when you first start it is kind of an experiment to see if it takes. Like I said, my biggest passion is to have an avenue to be able to encourage people in music and if that’s happening in the band then I’ll keep it going as long as it needs to keep going. As it stands right now Flatfoot’s been playing a bunch and we still play but it’s not going to be 280 shows like we’d been doing, that was just too much, too much of an overload. I’m pretty much addicted to being able to write a song without having to worry about if it’s punk rock or not, it’s kind of a freeing thing and it’s really nice to be able to explore that. So I think 6’10” is going to be around for a while and have a lot of fun doing it. I think one of the things that’s made it successful is a lot of the Flatfoot fans have just grown up. There’s a lot of guys in their 30’s, guys in their 40’s now who are raising their kids and are putting on these records. I think one of my long term dreams is to be one of those outlets. Make one of those albums much like I look back at my uncle’s records and seeing Johnny Cash records or the classic old country records that were always in your grandfather’s collection, I would be honored to be part of some guys’ collection that he still has around for his kids to rediscover.

FRR: Nice, that will be my record collection, just so you know! I discovered Flatfoot at Cornerstone 2011 of all years and fell in love with the band and went out and got everything I could!

Tobin Bawinkel: 2011 was the last year right? Was it pool party themed?

FRR: No it was super hero themed I think.

Tobin Bawinkel: Oh yea, that was a great year!

FRR: I’m raising my girl on rock, metal, and punk so she will look back on all of this when I’m in my 50’s and 60’s and she’ll have some good music!

Tobin Bawinkel: There you go!

FRR: Speaking of Flatfoot what’s going on with Flatfoot? Is there any new music in the near future?

Tobin Bawinkel: Yea, there’s a bunch of shows going on in March and we’re going to Canada in April and possibly going up to Alaska for the first time in our history, possibly in August. That’s not been confirmed yet but we’ve been talking about it. September we’ll be going out and playing a really good festival called Shamrock fest in California which will include bands like a lot of the legendary Celtic bands, so we’re excited to be able to go see a lot of our old friends at that. Next fall we’ll be going to Europe for a two week trip and possibly be up in Russia too, I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen.

As far as new music is concerned we’ve talked about getting together and writing some stuff. I think we have some riffs that we’ve kind jammed up of at this point. It’s a big undertaking to get everybody together in the same place. Justin moved to Indianapolis and that’s where he’s at now and is doing fulltime school, so he comes and plays the shows that he can and then we have a fill-in drummer that plays the shows when he can’t play. Overall, it’s just an undertaking I think. Our bass player Kyle just got married.

There’s also three other bands that are connected to Flatfoot that are side projects going on currently and everybody’s just been getting creative with the effort and desire of being able to bring more creativity back to Flatfoot when we do record again. I don’t want to promise anything new this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something did come out.

FRR: When you’re going through horrible personal trials as a Christian and a man of God how do you stay strong in your faith? If you came across someone who left the faith what advice would you give them?

Tobin Bawinkel: I think when you’re going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death for lack of a better way of putting it, it’s similar to drowning, you’re trying to reach for everything, anything that can give you stability anything you feel can keep you from disintegrating as a person. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not a big drinker, never been a big partier, not a big fighter, never been more tempted to do all of those things than during that season. That stuff doesn’t come natural to me because it’s not something I’ve ever done.

One thing that I will say, and this is the biggest part, it’s weird but I had to go through a real questioning of the Lord, like “Lord, why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this?” I think one of the things that really helps and what I would tell people going through difficult times, is in hindsight in my life, looking back on that season there are no times in my life that I felt God closer and had more intimate times with him than during that time and I think it’s very easy to turn and say “God you allowed these horrible things to happen, it’s all Your fault” and those questions can definitely come up, there were many days where I started to pray and I just screamed at God I don’t understand why this is happening.

For those that have walked away because of their circumstances or incidents, I just want to say the Lord is the only reason why I am still alive and He’s the only thing that gave me any comfort and He didn’t leave me or forsake me, you know the verse that God is with the brokenhearted and the down in spirit, that is 100% the truth. The incident that I went through, I came home from tour and my wife had completely left. I only really talked to her twice, once on the phone and once in person before she divorced and ran off with an ex-boyfriend.

I was on one of the biggest tours of my life when all of it went down and it really became a question of “Lord I did it your way, I did it the way you told me to. I married her, I was a virgin, I waited” all of that stuff that we’re told in church that you’re supposed to do. And I said “I did it your way. I’m not perfect, but I did it your way. What the heck?!” And the Lord just kind of stood there and stayed in my presence even as I sat there with my fists just pounding on his chest and asking these really hard questions, and in his silence and solidarity with me he proved himself faithful.

That’s part of the album that’s so much about the journey. You’ve got to go through the elements of grief. You’ve got to go through the elements of asking the questions of why. The Bible is very clear, it rains on the just and the unjust, life isn’t fair. But what is promised to us if we choose to hold on to it is one of the greatest securities that we will ever know, and that’s the powerful love of Jesus Christ. I think that’s the thing that kept me going is knowing I’m in real trouble here.

I told this story, I was at a show and for the first time in my life I looked across the room and saw this random person, just a dude dancing at a show and I thought to myself “He looks like a jerk, I want to kill him. I just want to pound him I want to get into a fight and let out all of my rage.” I’m not that person. This is not my nature, and at that point the Lord just kind of clicked into my heart and said “You know you’ve been in the punk scene for 13 years now, traveling and playing with some of the best punk bands in the world. And if you’ve gone through even this little amount of hurt-“ and what I’d gone through wasn’t little, but comparatively to some of my friends, what I’ve gone through is nothing compared to the abuse, the sexual abuse, and the abandonment, and the things they’d gone through. And the lord was like  “you can get to that point, think where some of these guys are at” and all of a sudden I realized I was a minnow swimming in a room with sharks like “Oh man” the world is a lot more dangerous than I thought it was.

And I’m a big guy, I’m huge, actually, to some people’s standards and there’s such a level of hurt that needs to be ministered to. In hindsight now I can look back on it and I can almost thank the Lord for going through it so I can understand pain and be able to love people more than I ever have before. I think that’s something that the Lord has given me out of this.

To people who are going through it, like you had asked, it’s never too late to turn back and understand God’s heart for you. I think sometimes we’re really quick to blame God and say “you hate me” when in reality He’s doing something that is a good work inside of us, not to harm us but it’s for our betterment. And I stand here as a guy who was very naïve to the needs of other people. I tried, but I just didn’t know. Because of the scenarios that the Lord allowed me to go through I can better relate, my pride can be killed a lot easier now than it used to be and that’s a good thing.

I’m gonna steal this quote, but “a broken man is the one that has been ground on the wheels of life but still is standing.” I’m paraphrasing but life will tear you up and it will spit you out and the only security that I have been able to find in the midst of being completely abandoned and completely alone is God’s love and God’s grace.

One thing I did was I dove in to leading at my church, I dove in to serving, and spending time there and working on painting jobs, and helping. When all this started my whole church started going through major, major problems. Friends of mine walked out on their families, older saints that were in our church died, within like two weeks of each other passed away and they were like pillars of our church, so we went through a lot as a group. The Lord really did a big work and he’s still doing some really awesome things. His faithfulness is pretty incredible.

And I know people who don’t even believe in God and they’ve gone through some pretty difficult things like I have and they don’t even believe in Him, so it’s not like it doesn’t happen to everybody, it’s just how we respond and how we choose to look at the Lord and have him relate to us in our need. We can either be bitter or we can be better. We can take the big mound a manure that life will give us and we can say “That’s gonna sit there and it’s gonna stink and it’s gonna make me smell bad because I live next to it” or we can say “Lord here’s my pile of manure take it, use it as fertilizer to create something new and beautiful” and I think that’s in front of all of us whenever we face something difficult. So that’s the very long response to your very intentional question.

FRR: I’ve always felt that when a songwriter and a musician or artist is going through their hardest times, they write some of their strongest music that fans connect with the most. I think with coming out of what you’ve come out of and writing this record, so many people are going to be touched by it. It’s absolutely beautiful what’s come out of the hard times you’ve had to go through to get to that. Somebody’s going to get something really great out of this record, so thank god you got through everything you had to go through to get to this.

Tobin Bawinkel: The day we released our first little EP we had everybody over at my apartment and we handmade all of the packages and we still do that, the first ep that’s still for sale, the first six songs that we ever wrote. The day that we were to release that was a really exciting time, was the day my divorce papers came in the mail. The Lord knew what He was doing. He allowed me to have a day of real joy and having a lot of good friends around me, for that very dreaded date to come and to allow me to be able to focus on something else and not have to go through all of the emotional insanity that I was dealing with, He gave me a real grace in that. So I thought it was really weird that it all happened in the same week. That’s grace for sure.

FRR: The rest of 2015, what’s the year look like for you? And not just for 6’10” but you yourself?

Tobin Bawinkel: I’m working as a church leader at my church and the church has been going through a lot of changes in good ways, a lot of forward motion, so I’m gonna be involved there.

6’10” is gonna play a bunch of shows obviously. The album just came out, so we’re gonna be playing behind it. We’re going to be going to Audiofeed which is in Illinois, great follow-up festival to Cornerstone. An amazing time, and amazing place, playing some shows with Flatfoot is gonna be great. I’m looking forward to doing them.

I started dating a girl last summer who’s an absolute blessing. She’s actually going to be playing a little bit with 6’10” she’s a percussionist and an amazing singer, she’s got a crazy awesome voice. So I’m excited to have her be a part of it. I’m excited to continue our relationship and peruse her in a Godly way. The Lord that about too, there’s some neat elements to meeting her that were very much Him and we kind of both had some life experiences that were really character defining so that was good. But I’m going to be playing, hanging out, trying to figure out how to promote a record when doing it all independently in a world that is intent on being oversaturated with musicians. So that’s kind of my mission.

FRR: It’s gonna be fun though. It’s all you- you don’t have anybody telling you how to do your stuff.

Tobin Bawinkel: Absolutely. It’s definitely cool. Just to be fair to the fans, all of my old friends have been supportive as all get out, and it’s been really neat to see that.

FRR: Man, the album came out so good. There’s not a bad song on the album which is hard to find these days. It’s just well done.

Tobin Bawinkel: Thank you very much my friend! We recorded the whole record in my house. We have a studio upstairs that we built, that Michael our bass player built, and we all kind of live in a house that’s 3 apartments in one building. So it’s been neat to create, and we’ve been having a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking of doing something, I don’t know if this will ever work but for part of our Kickstarter we offered the ability to write a jingle for somebody and that’s just been an absolute joy just to write short, short songs for people on whatever they’ve wanted them to be about. So we’ve been recording them and sending them out. We’ve done coffee companies, awning companies, songs about guys wives that they wanted to write for them. It’s fun just to come up with something.