by Rob van Alstyne
Robotboy’s 7-song sophomore EP And There Was No Future flits by so fast that if you blink too many times, it’s already over. It’s an 18-minute burst of pixie-stick-snorting-pop-punk-pomp and one tends to envision a group of shaggy-haired youths in their parents’ garage as the likely progenitors of this head bop friendly slab of atavistic rock. In reality, Robotboy are a pack of grown-ups with 9 to 5’s, children of their own, and—perhaps most surprisingly given their primal three-chords-and-the-truth approach—formal music training (just not on the instruments they happen to play in the band).
think it’s just sort of born of limitation,” admits singer/guitarist
David Richardson about Robotboy’s raw and youthful sound. “That’s
something that we’re OK with. We don’t consider ourselves to be
great musicians but we’re getting better. I like basic melodic music whether
that’s country or rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t like things
that take themselves too seriously. I don’t really have a systematic approach
to playing the guitar; the training I had was on the piano. So when I pick up
the guitar it’s just a matter of coming up with a three-chord progression
or bit of interesting notation that I kind of pluck out. I don’t know
what application it has to ‘real’ playing—it just sounds good
to me. There is something gratifying about simplicity. As a kid, the bands I
really loved, the Clash or the Velvets: if you go back and listen to that stuff
it was all really simple in the beginning.”
In an era of increasingly conspicuous consumption and an emphasis on quantity
over quality, Robotboy’s fighting lean rock serves notice that sometimes
less really is more. There aren’t a lot of elements to the group’s
sound, but they all fit perfectly into place, whether it’s the light sprinkling
of unexpected piano plonks during the chorus of “3749,” the Cars-styled-keyboard
cheez that introduces “I Can’t Remember” or the Bob-Stinson-style
staccato guitar flourishes that punctuate “3-Minute Push.” Throw
in a relentless rhythm section and Richardson’s softer take on the classic-curled-lip-punk
bray and you’ve got a back-to-basics recipe for genuine rockitude.
band’s commitment to punk inspired minimalism is undeniably genuine and
it’s clear that even the seemingly minor decision to overdub a few keyboard
lines wasn’t taken lightly.
“We can’t hide on any level,” explains Richardson of the band’s
decidedly austere aesthetic. “We don’t have the skills or the interest.
It’s always been a very honest effort to come at it as music fans. We
didn’t grow up in bands, we grew up as fans—the only reason we do
this is because we love it. This record is a little more fleshed out than the
first one in terms of keyboards and that came from me just driving around listening
to practice tapes. I heard these little missing melodies in my head and thought
that they could be added with keys, even it was really just putting in a little
one note sustained sort of thing to fill it out in a way that became more interesting.
The sounds still felt like they belonged, which was the important thing. It
just made things a little different. I grew up playing the piano so it was easy
Robotboy’s story revolves around a number of unlikely twists: successful
30-somethings starting a punk band for the hell of it isn’t even the oddest
part of the tale. Tracks from both of their small-scale self-released albums
have found their way to the masses via some unlikely marketing avenues, having
been used by both Abercrombie and Fitch and Target for corporate campaigns.
Somebody over in an A&F marketing department figured out that the serrated-edge
sound of Robotboy was the perfect backdrop for nubile scantily clad youths kayaking
together—not exactly the first soundtrack that would have come to my mind
(I’m thinking more like … Guster) but that probably just proves
how little I know about marketing.
“I think people are always sort of surprised by that when they find it
out,” says Richardson. “The real story behind it is pretty lackluster.
We had a friend of ours who worked for Abercrombie & Fitch and was a big
music fan and they were always looking for new music to expose and feature on
their website. So they put one of our songs up there and it was really well
received on their site to the point that they went ahead and featured it on
their in-store marketing video. It was basically just a strange hook-up through
one would expect most groups buoyed by such attention to start making their
plans for Hollywood, Richardson’s feet are still rather firmly planted
on the ground. The band decided against spending the money to do a real promotional
push for their second release despite the success their 2002 debut found on
the CMJ charts when it cracked the top 200. Other priorities came first.
“Nobody in the band really thinks of music as any sort of career,”
says Richardson. “We all have families and careers that come first; we
formed just for the experience of making music together. Even just playing live
and having people turn up at all is very rewarding. Our goals are just to kind
of continue on and being a local band. We didn’t send this record to radio.
With the first record it was great to have been on the same charts that people
like Tom Waits and Joey Ramone had been on, but in the end that doesn’t
really mean much. There’s enough reward in just being a part of the Minneapolis
music community. Getting to make this album at a studio like the Terrarium and
with a guy like Jason Orris—that’s a reward. Putting it out and
having Radio K and the Current actually play it sometimes—that’s
a reward. We’re big local music geeks, it means a lot even to be on the
stage of the 7th St. Entry with all of the history that was made there. We get
a lot of fulfillment out of things like that.” ||
Robotboy play on Fri., Dec. 30 at the Uptown Bar with Crosswalk Hero, Epic
Hero and the Screens. 9 p.m. $5. 21+. 3018 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls. 612-823-4719.
For more information on Robotboy check out their official Website at RobotboyMpls.com.