Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Being in a Band is Supposed to be Dumb; Lousy Robot

Lousy Robot Bio

“Being in a band is supposed to be dumb.” Don’t expect Lousy Robot to take their music too seriously. Jim Phillips, the self-described “cock-eyed optimist” doesn’t. The songwriter, he digs into the universal with his intimate lyrics. 2005’s The Strange and True Story of Your Life, Lousy Robot’s debut album, is a translation of a trying year into fun songs. “Enough of my personal life is already out there,” says Jim. Small talk becomes a cover for tragedy, a bad relationship is summed up in one word, “Gone,” the song that defines the Lousy Robot sound. Distilling sentiment down to its core is Jim’s genius, but the music is total fun that recalls the best of the Ramones and 80’s alternative rock.

“We’re one bong hit away from being a jam band.” That’s not exactly true. Jim and bassist Dandee Fleming, the founding partners of the band, are also a bit obsessive about their music. When it came time to record their first album, Dandee went out on a limb and emailed John Dufilho of the Deathray Davies, known for complex, danceable, fun tunes. John’s “happy chords” fit Lousy Robot’s pop-punk sound. John suggested they record with Salim Nourallah, a good friend who had a studio at his house. Not exactly the recommendation Jim and Dandee expected, they researched Pleasantry Lane Studio before signing on. “Oh, look, that’s a Rolling Stone article,” quipped Jim. Salim’s backyard recording sessions were definitely good enough for the perfectionist leanings of Lousy Robot. Salim and John now consider them good friends, and John even put it in black and white when he thanked Jim and Dandee on his solo album.

In 2003 Jim’s former band, “Hey Dandee!” morphed into Lousy Robot when Dandee joined the group, after which Jim said, “The name was kinda weird, so we changed it.” Lousy Robot’s completing members are Michael J. Fox, the latest, and hopefully last in a Spinal Tap-like succession of drummers, and Jack Moffitt, the keyboardist. Michael is a university-trained, Berlios-inspired, classical percussionist. Brought together by Jill, their hairdresser, Michael and Dandee found their personalities fit well. “I hadn’t been in a band since I was in college in San Francisco, and I missed it,” was Michael’s excuse for signing up. “He’s got the most drums of anyone,” says Jack, who joined the band after answering an ad on www.rocksquawk.com, the Albuquerque music site begun by Dandee and other like-minded musicians. Jack brought his keyboard to a Lousy Robot rehearsal, was only a bit freaked by the compulsive personalities, and joined up. “Dandee said we weren’t going to find a keyboardist,” said Jim, “He was wrong.” Jack’s originally from Dallas, but likes the low-key life in Albuquerque. “It’s big enough to have everything, except traffic.”

Just back from Pleasantry Lane Studio again, Lousy Robot’s still unnamed second album is nearly ready to go, and its expected release is in early 2006. “This time, it’s more rock, more driven,” says Dandee. With backup vocals by Johnny Lloyd Rollins and Cory Watson of Black Tie Dynasty, the next album is an amped-up progression from their first effort. If The Strange and True Story of Your Life is baby steps, the new CD is a good hard run at danceable rock. “The new album, touring, that’s what’s next,” says Jim, who recently left the corporate world to concentrate on the band without distractions. Jim’s urge to hold an audience and Dandee’s charisma put the band in firm running for a break out of the Albuquerque music scene, though they claim to never want to leave. “Yeah, well, we’re all really good liars,” says Dandee.

Expect to hear more about this easy-to-love band when the new album hits the streets. Lousy Robot won’t be only Albuquerque’s favorite band any longer. They’ll be yours as well.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Hourly Radio - a tour diary

I begged them to keep a diary for me. I said I would do something with it. Uh, this is where I'm posting it? Yeah, not what I had planned on. Anyway, wanna know what it's like to tour with the best of Brit-pop-inspired Texas bands? Not all that exciting, ya know? But then, I'm sure I got the G-rated version.

Thanks to Aaron, Ryan, Adam, and especially Tim (whom I bugged mercilessly) for this.

THE HOURLY RADIO with stellastarr*

9/29 – En route to Austin

Having repacked the van, we hit the road for Austin. We’ve already broke-in the ’05 rental van, having scraped up the side while leaving Trees the night before. When we first arrived to load in at Trees stellastarr* was already on stage sound checking and setting up their lights. Being that this was our first time to meet them and their first impression of us everyone was a bit serious and stiff while loading in. So… as Adam carried his first load of gear into the club Ryan and Aaron purposely waited outside and pegged Adam in the back with the soccer ball just as he was walking past stellastarr* for the first time…properly setting the stage for tour etiquette.

We actually almost missed our set because we were next door sharing a $30 entree at Green Room. Hated having to rush to the stage, and somehow managed to spend $110 on a piece of beef. Besides being rushed, the show went smoothly and we played a short set in front of an enthusiastic Dallas crowd. Couldn’t help but notice an exceptional female homosexual presence in the crowd and attribute this to Amanda, Stella’s bass player. Can’t say I blame them.

Stellastarr* are very polite and polished. Shawn is humble and reserved. Amanda very quiet, but confident. Arthur and Michael are the most outspoken and I can tell they fit the more typical rock star mold. Reportedly, the Austin show will be sold out. Look forward to spending more “quality” time w/ Stella*.

9/30 – Back to Dallas

The Austin show was a huge success. The venue (The Parish) was a really cool room and the sound good. The stage was bigger than Trees and considering we have to set up in front of stellastarr’s gear we had some space to move about. The crowd response was great and we sold quite a bit of merch so we should have money for food tomorrow! About half way thru stellastarr*’s set the fire alarms started going off because of their smoke machine. They didn’t even notice that it was going off and continued playing the rest of their set with the alarm blaring and exit strobes going off. Nobody seemed to notice or care. After the show everyone hung out for a while and Stellastarr was kind enough to let us partake in the some of the amazing goodies on their rider: Stella beer, Jack Daniels, deli sandwiches, Kit-Kat’s and Goober peanut butter and jelly. At the end of the night they insisted that we take whatever food and drink was left…now we definitely get to eat tomorrow!

We are now actually making our way back to Dallas to play the local New Music Festival on what is supposed to be our “drive day” to Atlanta.

10/1 – the long road to Atlanta

As soon as we were done with our set at the New Music Fest we hopped directly in the van to head to Atlanta and catch back up with stellastarr. We left at about 11:30pm and drove the twelve hour drive all night taking 3 hour shifts. We did a coin toss to see who got to take the coveted first two shifts. Tim and Ryan knew that tails never fails and started off the drive. We arrived in Atlanta around noon, in a bit of delirious state as nobody was able to get any sleep in the van. We went straight to our room, ordered a 5:30..PM… wake up call and crashed out in the hotel for a couple hours.

The venue in Atlanta was a huge complex made up of several bars and venues. We took the elevator up to the second and floor and when the doors opened we entered a room full of smoke with fire alarms blaring… we knew we were in the right place and looked thru the smoke to see Michael onstage sound checking and he shouted at us “Don’t you know not to take the elevator in a fire!”.

Our set went really well and we tried out a few new songs that went over really well. As we were tearing down after our set someone ran up to the stage to let us know that people were just taking our CDs. We looked over towards the merch table and there was a huge line of people of were apparently helping themselves. Being the honest people that they are those who had just taken the CD’s actually came back over and gave us money for the CD’s and were asking us to sign CDs, our set-lists, etc… Stellastarr definitely played their best show yet. Amanda opens up a bit and joins in post-show festivities. Michael discusses the art of drinking, hangover preventions and touring. He is by far the partier of the band. Shawn rarely addresses the group, but sits on his computer. Michael and Amanda tell us stories of the eccentricities of ex-tour-mates Placebo; to which we all joyfully listen like a little children at story time. The bar staff is ready to close down for the evening and has tried dropping that hint several times as the backstage festivities continued on well beyond closing time.

10/01 – En route to Orlando

In hindsight maybe shooting bottle rockets from our hands out the window of a moving vehicle isn’t the greatest of ideas. Apparently the Orlando Tourist Center is amazing every 20 yards there is another billboard for it. Florida is stupid. Rain without reason, warning or integrity.

10/02 – “Orlando is in shambles”

First things first- this is a dirty, ugly town and the roads have no rhyme or reason. The toll booths…totally unacceptable. We got to the club about 5:30 and unloaded our gear and watched stellastarr* sound check. Shawn had been looking forward to Orlando and telling us about this venue since we were in Austin saying it was one of his favorites. The Social in Orlando is a very cool venue. Its nearly the opposite of how most venues are laid out in that the stage and bar run along the long sides, so its really shallow. But they have a sort of pit area in front so you have people down below you and then a little balcony above that where the crowd is at eye level. And the set-up actually works extremely well and sounds great.

We then proceeded to our Days Inn “hotel” to clean up before dinner and the show. “Un-believable!” (we’ve been quoting Dane Cook the entire trip). The Days Inn looks oddly familiar, until we finally recognize it as the likely locale for several episodes of COPS. This place is a total crack-whore motel. So without even stepping foot out of the van, we leave searching for a new place to stay. We eventually end up finding an Embassy Suites in downtown—its closer to the venue AND closer to our basic standards of living and hygiene. So three cheers for upgrades.

We head up to our room- Ryan and Adam stay behind to check out happy hour and play a round of elevator tag. Big day for Ryan as he has his first shave with a real razor. Our little guys alls growns up now. We left the hotel, ate a shitty salad across the street from the club.

Our set went off really well and I believe it was our best show of the whole tour. The crowd was amazing and we actually sold enough records and shirts to pay for the van, gas and hotels! Stellastarr* played an excellent show as usual. Afterwards we hung out with stellastarr and their crew for quite sometime discussing recording philosophies and we could tell that they actually listened to our record quite a bit and that they actually DJ a couple of our songs back in NYC which was flattering to hear. We took photos together, said our goodbyes and loaded up. Stellastarr headed out, planning to drive for a few hours that night on their way to Philly.

We however weren’t quite ready for the evening to end and instead went next door to a bar and danced to Michael Jackson until last call. We headed back to the hotel where Ryan drinks a six pack of Stella (given to us by stellastarr*) entirely by himself back at the room, Adam crashes early, and Aaron makes out with two girls who followed us back. They’re referred to as “Hottie” and “Normie”.

10/03 – The long road home

After a late night we got off to a bit of a late start this morning but are now on the road and headed back to Dallas. It’is an 18hr drive back and we’ve decided on making it a non-stop drive. We’ve just stopped to eat at the lovely IHOP where Tim eats eggs that aren’t scrambled for the first time, and Ryan is unsure whether the painting in the men’s room is an early work by Chris Ofili, or has merely been subjected to years hanging on the wall at a truck-stop IHOP. I think the answer to that question best remains unsolved. The next 18 hours are filled with… driving… sleeping… man gas is expensive…where is a starbucks? … pizzahut jukebox…more fireworks out the window (it looks a lot cooler at night)…man this town smells weird... more driving…more driving… and we finally arrive back in Dallas at 6:30am.

Interview with Levi Smith

Levi Smith Band

Levi Smith looks fifteen, sounds forty, and is twenty-one. Just old enough to redeem his drink tickets, he’s mature enough to write lyrics that span the gap from teenage angst to mid-life crisis. Smith finds the pith of emotions and zeros in without wasting words. His show-ending song, “Bitterness is Sexy,” is classic, destined for breakup mix-tape glory: “We can still be friends; that’s the consolation prize you gave me in hushed tones over gourmet coffee… I am lonely, but I need another friend like you need another compliment.” He’s a writer at heart, and chose songwriting as his creative outlet because it was immediately gratifying. As he puts it, “What are pancakes other than an excuse to eat syrup?” For Smith, lyrics are the pancakes to convey the syrup of his thoughts. What inspires a universal song like “Bitterness”? “It was my first break-up not because of me doing something wrong, being apathetic, but because of her. Before, honestly, I didn’t care. But this time, I had exhausted all the tricks in my 19-year-old book. I was younger and she just wasn’t interested.”

Taller than he seems, older than he looks, Smith is still awkward on stage. Toes turned in, boots scuffed, and cartoon shirt rumpled, he is mussed just right for the front row of smiling groupies. Evidencing his “god-given ladykiller” skills (per his MySpace and website) he plays up the emotions in the songs to good effect. More rocker than singer-songwriter, Smith’s set is consistant and backed by the bass and drums duely noted in the album title, The One with Bass and Drums. “Young emo chicks seem to like the music, and old men love our bass player- something about his tone...and his high cheekbones. I want to put myself in the place of old men, to write from experience,” Smith says.

Smith has tatoos on one arm only. “Feel.” (with the period) is written in script along his inner arm where he can see it as he plays. “When you play mainly in coffee shops you can't depend on dancing or distortion to cover mistakes,” Smith says. The tatoo is there to remind him of what’s important to his audience. A modified Mexican flag with the Lone Star instead of a Golden eagle in the center is on his upper arm, and a Stephen Crane poem over a music staff encircles his wrist. "If I ever lose the other arm, people will either assume it had just as much ink as this one. If I lose this one, I’ll be instantly clean-cut,” Smith explains about his unadorned other arm.

He began composing at age sixteen, but “began writing decent songs at eighteen.” He’s a prolific songwriter and stays up all night. “I love it when no one but cops are out at 3am, and that’s OK, ‘cause I’m a speed limit kind of guy.” Smith is from the Rio Grande Valley and calls Lubbock home, because likes the small-town feel of the city. “I’ve never been in a traffic jam there.” He has lived briefly in Denver, North Richland Hills, Roswell, Abilene, Wichita Falls, and Corpus Cristi, which was the inspiration for “What Are You Waiting For?” “I’m the ‘you’ in the song. It’s my potential talking to me.” His songs are literal expressions of his emotions, in the tradition of Country artists. “I like the straightforward honesty (of Country). You have to admire them for not being subtle--there ain't much guesswork,” explains Smith, “Even if you don’t like the song, you know what they’re singing about.” Smith says he’s mostly influenced by Ryan Adams, Cory Branan, Dave Matthews, and Tonic. He laughs. “Yeah, Tonic, because...I'm not sure. I suppose they're just one of those inexplicable habits like watching The Weather Channel for comfort.” Simon and Garfunkel were also an early influence. Paul Simon wrote the first line of 'The Sound of Silence' in the bathroom as a kid and finished it when he was a grown man. I go through multiple drafts, and most of the time go back to the first draft because it was the best.”

Levi Smith has a new album out. He describes it as a departure from The One with Bass and Drums: “This upcoming CD is much more realistic, both thematically and musically. We've already played all the songs live as they are on the CD, minus a few guitar layers and harmonies. I seriously doubt we can ever accurately re-produce on stage the songs on the other album without a big budget and even bigger delusions. Lyrically speaking, The Songs That Might Take Us Somewhere is a more self-centered record. It's mostly self-loathing, but that's still narcissistic, it just looks better from an audience's perspective. Aggression and desperation are two main adjectives that cross my mind when thinking of the melodies and instrumentation. You never know when a CD might become my legacy; if I die, I want the last songs I recorded to sound like I knew it was coming. The lyrics are less playful, they may be come off more vague than I intended, but I know in my heart that I put more thought into them.”