Pop Singer Robbie Elias Puts His Spin on Motown

Robbie EliasEXPAND
Robbie Elias
Photo by Janel Kilnisan
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Robbie Elias was about to quit the music business when his father-in-law suggested he watch a music documentary. "It had Phil Spector in it," Elias recollects. "He started talking about making the Ronettes song 'Be My Baby.' It got me digging into soul and pop music from the '60s."

After absorbing as much Motown and Wall of Sound as his ears could take, Elias decided to write his own song from that school. The result was "The One Who Hurts Me." The single, which will be available February 2, brought the singer out of a personal funk. "I either wanted to stop doing music or do something completely fresh," he says.

Born and bred in the Magic City, Elias spent a year in Los Angeles after graduating from Miami High. "I recorded two albums by the time I was 19, but everything with my management fell apart." He returned home and found himself singing in cover bands when the reggaeton singer Don Omar snatched him to sing backing vocals. He parlayed that into a career as a songwriter and backing vocalist for some of Latin music's biggest names, including Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin. But those gigs weren't as fulfilling as Elias hoped. "Most of my success is in the Latin market, but I'm not sure that's my strength. Even though I'm Cuban-American, I don't think in Spanish when I write songs."

"The One Who Hurts Me," Elias' first English-language song since 2012, unleashes his inner Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse. "I wrote the song with Samantha Nathalie and Pete Wallace. It all came organic and comfortable. I played it live at a show at the Filling Station. Writing a song for myself from an open place made it sound right to everyone."

Elias' enthusiasm for "The One Who Hurts Me" is so strong that he's recording a follow-up single titled "Ice Cream" at a North Miami Beach studio. "It's the sexiest song I ever wrote," he says. "It has a Bill Withers sound, but also a '90s R&B feel to it as well."

But Elias isn't getting ahead of himself. He has a release party for "The One Who Hurts Me" scheduled February 8 at the Anderson, where he'll be backed by a four-piece band. There's also a video for the song he's working on. The concept: Elias kidnaps a lover and performs the song to his captive audience.

It's been a curvy road for Elias so far, but with this song, he's grateful to have found himself at his destination. "I was in a weird Latin-pop box. I took the time to reflect and saw I wanted to move forward in the business."

Robbie Elias Single Release Party. 9 p.m. Thursday, February 8, at the Anderson, 709 NE 79th St., Miami; 305-757-3368; theandersonmiami.com. Admission is free.

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