Last Friday, I found myself over-indulging in some virgin pina coladas at a small punk venue in Phoenix, Arizona when a friend of mine texted me to suggest I check out the band that had just gone on stage in the room adjacent to the bar. "The band playing is almost entirely robots," his text message read. Incredulous, I opened the door to the stage area and sure enough, my eardrums were assaulted by the growls of JBOT and his two robot overlords, GTRBOT666 and DRUMBOT 0110, which were shredding on a double-necked guitar/bass hybrid and liberally doling out blast beats on the drums.
As I would later learn, this was Captured! By Robots, a metal outfit formed 20 years ago when JBOT had designed some robots to play in his band, only to have those robots rebel against their maker, tear out his eyes and force him to be the frontman of their band. Wanting to know more about what may very well be the most metal band to have ever graced this godforsaken planet, I gave JBOT a call as he and his robo-bandmates were slogging through Louisiana on their "20 Years of Suffering" tour in support of the band's latest album, 'Endless Circle of Bullshit.'
Motherboard: Hey JBOT, how'd you end up with robots for bandmates?
JBOT: I used to play in a bunch of bands for years and it got real old real fast. The lineup changes, too many people on meth, egos, alcohol, all the bullshit you have to deal with with band members. After getting super frustrated with it for a while, I wanted to start my own band, but I couldn't find any players that didn't make me fucking crazy. Then I was watching this band one night and they had some sort of tape player they'd play during their set to make some crazy sounds. At the time, I was having a hard time finding a guitar player, so I thought well, I want to do some similar crazy sounds with my band, but I don't want to copy them so what else can I do? I'll just make a robot guitar player. It wasn't very good, but it did what I wanted. Then I got sick of my drummer so I was like fuck it, I'm just going to build a drummer too. Necessity is the mother, you know?
So you designed and built these robots yourself. Did you have any background in robotics?
No I have no training at all in robotics. In the beginning the robots sucked, but I learned by doing and didn't give up.
Are the robots actually playing the music, or are they just miming over a recording?
They play every fucking note! There's no backing track, they're actually playing the shit.
So what's your writing process like? How do you program robots to play metal?
When I write, I actually play the robotic instruments through a keyboard. It's all about sequencing, there's a lot of tricks to make it sound more alive, to make it not sound, well, robotic. One of the things that was a real challenge was overcoming lag times. In a sequence that tells something to play, you have to drive a relay and then after you have to open up a valve to let the air flow through valve, then go through a cylinder to pull the stick down, the stick has to come down and then you have to hear the sound that comes out of the drum. That's tricky to get around, but I've been doing it so long now I've learned the tricks.
So when I was trying to track you down, I came across a German cover band called Compressorhead which is also a metal band featuring robots. Have you heard of them at all?
Yeah, they came out like two years ago or something like that and we talked for a while because I wanted to find out what they were all about. They were individual robot makers who made all these various instruments and then they came together to make the band. Good guys, but their robots don't play very well, no offense. They're impressive looking, but that's the thing about having a robotic band, it really sums up what you want out of your band since you can make it however you want. They were kind of going for a Terminator look, big and bulky robots. I'm more of a junk guy, I make things out of garbage. I write a lot of political stuff and they do covers. I fell into doing that a few years ago and it's the quickest path to hell, I think.
Considering you're in a band with robots, what do you think about our relationship to technology as humans?
I think technology is our surest way to destruction. I don't want to be a luddite, but I think back to the days before internet and I think people were a lot happier. It's killed magic in the world and it's killed live music. Why do you need to go see a band if you can just pop 'em up on YouTube and there they are. The human condition is a weird thing and when you add technology in there, we haven't learned how to balance it yet. All you gotta do is go to a restaurant and look at all the motherfuckers on phones. We cannot separate it right now and it's disgusting. It kills relationships, friendships. It's like a big hole that you just fall down and you can't get out.
Who would you say your inspiration is, musically speaking?
I have a degree in Jazz, but I don't really listen to music to relax anymore. I listen to really awful music. Bands like Wormrot and Killdozer, stoner metal, power violence. I like stuff that's got a lot of passion and anger and stuff that just makes you want to put your fist in the air and just rage. There's so much to rage against these days.
Your robo-bandmates seem like they'd require a lot of upkeep. Do they ever break down during a show?
That's just something that goes along with the territory. I carry a lot of extra parts with me just in case. I've had to shut down a show a few times, but you gotta be able to roll with it. I've done some interesting mods over the years when something breaks in the middle of a set, like with a kick drum I've had a linkage break and had to have someone go find a coat hanger.
What is your response normally like from people who haven't seen you play before?
When they hear it's a robot band, people tend to think it's going to be like beep boop beep boop, some fucking stupid electronica. Most robot bands and instruments I've seen are very wimpy and don't play that well. My robots kick ass. If you want to see some robots going full bore, and you like metal or grindcore, we're your people. That's where I live and my robots live there too. We're the real deal.
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