July 27, 2006

Interview: The Robot Ate Me

Last year, Ryland Bouchard's band The Robot Ate Me signed to 5 Rue Christine, who reissued his second album, the "I Can't Believe this Extremely Beautiful Album is a Political Record" On Vacation, and then quickly released its follow-up, Carousel Waltz, a gorgeously arranged and poetic album that dealt with love. Both records contained delicate pop songs that were accentuated by arrangements that sounded like compositions and recordings from the 1920s. Understandably, this gorgeous style gained him a good deal of well-deserved attention. But Good World, his latest release, is a challenging departure from the previous two albums. The album goes through seventeen songs in twenty minutes, with very little in the way of coherent lyrical content, and for those expecting him to tread the same ground as before could easily be disappointed.

But something happens after a few listens: the record starts to grow on you; the intricacies start to stand out, and you start to see that Bouchard really hasn't changed his style all that much. Mind you, it's not an easy concept to grasp, and it's understandable that some will be disappointed by what they hear. It's not a record to be listened to in part, as the songs only make sense when taken together as a whole. And when Bouchard says that it's a catchy record, he's not simply speaking glowingly of his own accomplishments, as the record is catchy. It's not obvious on first listen, but you'll soon find yourself wanting to listen to it again and again, and you will soon realize that Good World an extremely beautiful, moving record. Just like every other The Robot Ate Me record.

Your previous albums had a clearly-defined lyrical theme, or a series of themes. Was your initial idea for the album to experiment with instrumental ideas, or did it start life as a more "traditional" The Robot Ate Me record?

For each album I tend to do whatever is intuitive and natural at the time, as opposed to forcing myself to sound like I did on a previous album. Although there are common elements between each album I'm not really sure there is a "traditional" sound for "the robot ate me" as a project, unless it's just that most people identify with the more traditional songs and less so the more experimental ones? On Vacation (pt 1) was almost completely based on instrumental ideas - although the lyrical content was a bit more obvious...So to directly answer your question, no, I didn't really start with an idea of what the album should sound like.

My interpretation--and correct me, please, if I'm missing the point—is that for Good World, voice and lyrics are being used as a mere instrument, so that when you sing on a song like "She Owl," we, the listener should consider your singing and your words in the same way we should consider, say, the clarinet or the piano--simply an extension of the melody, and not something that lyrically makes sense. Was this what you were working for?

Well the lyrics have meaning but I sang them in a way that puts emphasis less on their meaning and more on the sound of the voice as an instrument. I think the meaning is important (even if abstract) but I didn't want the meaning to detract from the scene created by the other instruments, because in a sense the other instruments are part of the lyrics just as much as the lyrics themselves. I was "working for" a world naïve enough to not know the meaning of words but where the character is still attempting to use them with the hope that someone would somehow understand.

Do you believe it is necessary to challenge your audience's preconceived notions or expectations, or do you simply think, "I hope they stay with me!" I ask this because Good World, while holding some of the basic elements of On Vacation (pt 1) and Carousel Waltz, it's definitely a rather challenging work that's radically different than the records that preceded it.

I honestly believe that "Good World" is one of the catchiest records I've made, but in a way that isn't easily explained and something that takes a lot of time to understand. It does, however, involve having a real lack of "adult" expectations as to how music should make you feel, or how it should sound. So, no, I don't feel like I was challenging anyone with this record. If anything, I think people have grown accustomed to "brands" like "Nike" or "Radiohead" and they just want the exact same thing as the last thing they purchased even if they claim they want something new or different.

How does it feel to be both a contemporary act (Oh No! Oh My!, who take their name from a song on On Vacation, and Bouchard also mastered their debut album) and the inspiration for a young, rapidly up-and-coming band? One doesn't expect to see such a tribute or inspiration for a living, breathing 'current' band that's not dominating the mainstream?

Well, part of why I make the music I do is because I hope it will inspire new ideas and encourage young people (and bands) to do something new that isn't like anything else they've heard regardless of the commercial consequences - and if I'm even remotely successful in doing so that's the most meaningful thing I could possibly hope for.

Thanks, Ryland!

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