9/07/2006

IMA Robot



IMA Robot was one of the bands that made it cool to be in LA again. I remember going to some of their shows three years ago and it was amazing. I got a hold of one of their EPs and the energy was exciting, after hearing so many drab Joy Division wannabes. I heard that song "Black Jettas" and I was transformed. I saw them play at the Henry Fonda and their fans were the most intense. Tim Anderson and Alex Ebert started the Band. There have been a few band members coming and going. But the core is there. They released their first album in 2003. They toured all over. Now they have their second album Monument To The Masses (2006). It is a welcome sound to have them back. I spoke to Tim Anderson for a little bit. They are playing at Safari Sam's on September 12th. There should be an American tour to come.

Alex: vocals
Tim: guitar
Filip Nikolic: bass
Scott Devours: drums
Andy Marlow: keyboards/guitars

AL: Are all of you from Los Angeles?
Tim: Most of us live in LA. Most of us are originally from the West Coast. We live and work here. People have come and gone in the band. We have the best line up right now. We have had a few drummers and bass players leave the band because it is not easy being a band with a punk ethos. It's hard to stick around for years and years and not make any money. Some people have to make a decision to stick with it or take off.

AL: Sometimes if a band doesn't a lot of success in the first years, it is hard to go on.
Tim: Totally. The guys in the band have other things going on to make this all survive.

AL: There are songs where you have the names of Justin and Joey in the intro. Do you change that to include the new guys?
Tim: You mean "Black Jettas?" That is just going to stay the way it is, and it will be a walk down memory lane when we do it.

AL: You have known Alex for a long time. How did you end up forming this band?
Tim: We both dropped out of college after one year. I knew a kid who had known Alex. He grew up with Alex. When I moved to LA we all hooked up again. He asked me about producing a demo for this friend of his. That was Alex. He came into the studio with the band. After a few days of working together he left the rest of the band behind. We clicked and started our own thing. We were young and crazy and shared some commonality and were into music. Something made sense when we formed a partnership. We were off to the races. We started playing shows and writing songs. We had little help in doing this. That was eight years ago.

AL: Did you call yourself something else?
Tim: Yeah. In the beginning there were a bunch of wacky names. We have been Ima Robot for about six years. I don't really remember those names.

AL: Did many of the songs from the early days survive? Or is most of the stuff on the records just from the past three years?
Tim: There are bits and pieces that ended up on the early recordings. We wro te tons of songs over the years. In the beginning we just played a lot of parties and had a good time. We didn't know anything about the music business. We didn't have a manager. Alex's childhood friend was the manager. We were more into building the lore of the band, instead of doing anything solid. It's been great because we created personality. We built up style and a songwriting relationship between me and Alex. And we have with us forever.

AL: You were slightly mentioning the relative success of the band after the first album. I felt like there was a lot of success in a way. Many bands don't even get to do a second album with the same label because they are dropped.
Tim: We are lucky to do that. We have fans that are really loyal. It is like bands my friend's older sisters were into when I was a kid. Bands like The Pixies and The Cure have a loyal following. It doesn't come along very often anymore. The record company was behind us all the way even though the first record didn't sell a million copies. That pushes us to have more success. We are lucky now because we could have been denied a second chance but everyone stuck with it. Over the past year our fan base has stayed together and maybe even grew larger after we toured again. We played a bunch of shows with She Wants Revenge. We are happy to be doing it. We love to be on tour.

AL: The Cure wasn't really that popular until the sixth or seventh record. They had been around for eight years.
Tim: If they came along today, they might have been dropped after their first record. There are a million guys out there who can play better than me. There are these great songwriters locked in their basement, but they will never see the light of day. There are a bunch of great songs and performers that are lost. When I see kids I tell them to just try to do a band and stick with it as long as you can. Many bands that I liked were not successful bands. There has been a resurgence of punk and new wave. Many of those bands are being rediscovered and credited by the younger generation.

AL: I have a bunch of photos of Alex hanging out with the fans at the show at the Henry Fonda. He was there signing posters and CDs for a bunch of teenagers.
Tim: We love that. That is what we live for. I don't know what it is like to be some stadium band or a Duran Duran. That is not our reality. We like to play punk shows. The smaller the venue, the better. We like to hang out with people afterwards. We like to see what is going on with them. The whole thing is about interaction with the live show. We like to meet the fans.

AL: Do you think that Myspace has helped bring the gap with bands and fans?
Tim: I am a huge fan of where the Internet is going with You Tube and Myspace. I am discovering things that are mind-blowing every day. I can surf around on the web. People post things on our site. There are five things a day that are really wild. We have bands from St Louis who want to tour with us. They are a band of 15-year old kids. I'll get a message on Myspace and I will be blown away. A few years ago, you really couldn't do that. Those kids would have sent a CD to some A&R guy and the CD would not have seen the light of day.

AL: Do you think that some record labels have had to change since the success of more Internet based bands?
Tim: Yeah. There have to adjust or they will become extinct. That is why they use the term Dinosaurs for some of these businesses. How they can survive is that some people in record companies have the foresight to hire young people who are active and can stay relevant. Now being active is having people who can find cutting edge real music. The more people become used to the Internet, the less they are going to accept what is being force-fed to them. Before Myspace, all kids had was modern rock radio. Their favorite bands were whoever was being played on that station. Kids really want to hunt things down and be the only one who know about it. They want to tell their friends and write the bands' name on their backpack. That is what I was like. Music is becoming more available. You can be into Black Metal bands.

AL: How did you record this new album? Was it the same process as the first one?
Tim: It was a little bit quicker. We knew that there was a lot riding on this record. We went in the opposite direction of what you would think. We figured out what our best songs were. We had to figure out what songs went the best together. We had to leave some good ones behind. We didn't want to be over-precious and neurotic about it. When we did the first record we were young and inexperienced. We allowed ourselves to dive into every little sound. We tried to create something timeless for us and really heavy. A lot of message in the vocals gets lost when you are too concerned with making it sound cool. We were obsessed with the sonic aspects and being advanced. Many people thought we were not advanced at all and obsessed with the 1980s. It's funny to me. When people reference the 1980s, to them it may be an insult. To me, all the stuff from the early 1980s was cool because no one had heard anything like that before. I hope that when people compare us to that time they really mean that we don't really sound like everything else.

AL: You didn't really do the retro thing on this record either?
Tim: No. It's more like our traditional songwriting record. Alex and I pulled all our songs together and picked up a few from the past and found a group of songs that meshed. It came out the way it did. We did some live takes but it was a professionally made record. The band is a little bit more gelled. The band before had a bunch of misconceptions. It was wasn't a side project. It was some famous musicians who wanted to be in a punk band. They heard our music and wanted to be in this band. That is how they joined the band. But we were a small band and they were used to being in a big touring band. Our band now is younger and more hungry. It's more how we wanted it in the first place.

AL: The name "Monument To The Masses" reminds me of Depeche Mode. What is that title about?
Tim: It wasn't really a reference to all that. We had a bunch of titles for the record. We would go home and listen to the album and think: "None of these titles really work." We had to ask ourselves: "What is this record?" It is like our gift to the masses. We are trying to put our best foot forward and put out our best songs. This album is like our statue that we would like to put out in the desert and have people look at.

AL: This song "Creeps Me Out" is supposed to be about some girl stalker. Isn't that what every guy in a band want at the end of the day?
Tim: Totally. I think that Alex is writing about something that all guys can relate to. When I hear the song on the radio, I chuckle to myself. But what it is about is admitting that all that unconditional love you get from a live-in girlfriend, it's beautiful and icky, but can also give you the creeps. Most guys agree about that. It seems like you are morally responsible all of a sudden. It wont go away. It is a funny take on romance.

AL: There are also some shocking imagery in some of the songs. There is one that mentions "house nigger" and another about crawling back up in the womb. What is going on in Alex's head?
Tim: Someone asked him recently about the lyrics being very politically on this record. He was shocked that this was true. I think that he did a good job of not hiding any ideas behind innuendoes and metaphors. Everything is very up front. I think that people are now over-educated with what is going on in the world. There is a lot of horror in the politics and every day reality, that it takes humor to deal with daily life. We have humor in our songs and all the screwed up statements. Much about life is painful. Alex is a sensitive person.

AL: You think that this is a more political album then?
Tim: I think everything has less of a covering. There is more edge, musically and lyrically. It's raw. We are telling a story, not making up fables. It's not mythology.

AL: The first album was the party album?
Tim: We talked about similar things in the first one. It was just more shtick. We were hiding our best moments. It was like in code.

AL: You guys still DJ a lot?
Tim: Me and Filip have been DJs since we were teenagers. I have been burned out by it. But it has always been a big part of our lives. We love electronic music. We produce music for other electronic acts. We love dance culture.

AL: When are the tours going to start?
Tim: Everything starts in September. We are going to do three big tours in the Fall.

AL: What other records do you like?
Tim: I am really into The Knife. Filip introduced me to them. He is from Copenhagen. Hot Chip is the record of the year. I can't deny Gnarls Barkley. I was a Goodie Mob fan since the beginning. You can't deny those songs. Dangermouse is my hero right now. He is covering all the bases and producing the hottest shit. I would like to branch out like that. Hot Chip, The Knife, and Gnarls Barkley is a big deal for music right now. WE would like to tour with one of those groups.

An interview with Tim of IMA Robot
By Alexander Laurence

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