Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Popular TV series inspires musician with Vt. roots to 'master the elements in a musical way'

A fuzzy black and white photo image of a person wearing a hoody and baseball cap.
Art Morera
Robscure is a native Vermonter and independent musician and rapper, now based in New York City. He creates verses and beats that combine old and new rap styles.

Robin Hartzell cut his teeth in music hopping onstage for open mic nights around Montpelier.

He grew up in Orange County, Vermont, and as a high school junior decided to jump headlong into making a career for himself in rap music.

He took on the stage name Robscure and set a goal to release concept albums based on the four elements - earth, air, water and fire. He’s three-quarters of the way there, as Robscure released his latest EP, Water: We Are The Eternal Ripple,to streaming platforms last month.

Robscure lives in New York City now, but Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch spoke to him ahead of performances in Burlington at the Radio Bean on Thursday and an album release party at The Cellar on Friday. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch Well, tell me about yourself. What parts of Vermont did you maybe bring along with you to the big city?

Robscure: Yeah, well, I grew up an only child in the middle of nowhere in a small town called Washington. So I had to find ways to keep myself entertained. And that's probably part of why I became an artist. So I think that also made me an introvert. And I probably brought that along with me to the city. And I think I cherish my alone time even more now that I'm surrounded by millions of people.
Mary William Engisch: You're on the third of the four album set, delving into the elements. How did that particular idea come to you? Is that something that you'd like thought about for a long time?

Robscure: It was kind of a light bulb. The first summer in the pandemic, I had just dropped out of college. My friend Connor and I were living together and he put me on to the show a lot of people will be familiar with: "Avatar, The Last Airbender," which I hadn't watched growing up, because I wasn't allowed to watch a lot of TV. I ended up really liking it and that kind of sparked the idea to try to master the elements in a musical way.

Robscure - Flow State [Official Video]

Mary Williams Engisch: And you're like, not directly singing about, you know, the environment or saving the Earth in so many words, right? But like, there's still all these threads of the natural world and of your environment, too, throughout your work.

Take me into how you craft a lyric about air about oxygen or about water. And how do you then kind of make it about you living on your own or letting go of relationships or whatever those themes that ended up being in your songs. What is that process like?

Robscure: I guess figuring out the lyrics is just... the show got me thinking about the ways that the elements kind of represent reality, like you said, more metaphorically than literally. And just like the philosophy that goes along with each element. So I just kind of started thinking about what each of them meant to me, and what stage of my life I was in. So it seemed like Earth was a good place to start.

You know, it's foundational. It's getting yourself steady and figuring out what you need to do to survive. Air is more about detaching from the things that are holding you back, or just learning to let go of things that you can't control. And Water has been more riding the ups and downs of life.

Mary Williams Engisch: Is it more freeing to have a concept album or do you think it's more focused in a way that's maybe slightly easier to sort of craft your verses around?

Robscure: I asked myself that a lot. I'm a big concept person. That's the kind of art that inspires me. Because sometimes it does make the process harder when certain songs fit into a certain narrative. But I actually think I've only ever made concept projects.

Mary Williams Engisch: This album called Water, all of the songs obviously have to do with that sort of theme. So some of the tracks are like, "Stream of Consciousness" and "Flow State," and "Atlantis" and "Loch Ness." I'd love for us to sort of take a deeper dive into the one called, "Flow State."

Robscure: To me, "Flow State," it's kind of when you tap into that infinite present moment with whatever you're passionate about. Or I think I realized that balance is a juggle. You don't just achieve balance, and then maintain that state.

It's kind of like a constant readjusting to keep the balance. So whatever your purpose is, like you're kind of right at the border of your ability. And so it's like fully engaging and stimulating for you. But you're also kind of like in your element and it's like an infinite moment.
Mary Williams Engisch:  How do you know when it's done, and you get to step away and you get to say, "Okay, I can release this now?"

Robscure: Honestly, I worked on these eight songs — this 20-minute project — for over a year. And really, I really struggled with calling it finished.

So for me as somebody like a perfectionist with OCD, when I know it's finished is when I'm starting to make it worse with the changes I'm making. And it starts to lose the original spark that it had.

OCD makes it really hard to call things finished but it also allows me to be meticulous and hone into certain details that other people might not. It's something that's made me who I am as an artist, but it's also something that sometimes hinders me and I struggled to kind of harness it in the right way.

I have ADD as well and they're kind of at war with each other, you know? The tendency to be distractible and also to be like, hyper-organized. But they kind of also keep each other in check.

When it starts to lose the original essence that excited you, that's when you should just let it go.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Latest Stories