THE moniker might suggest an artist who detaches emotions from music…
and creates something processed and calculated. That couldn’t be further from the truth with regards Robot. Its ‘creator’, Robbie Moore, started like in the U.K. but is now based in Berlin. I ask him about that transition and whether life is better over in Germany – and how, having his own studio, he gets to welcome a variety of interesting musicians.
He talks to me about his forthcoming album, Vedgdbol, and whether it differs from his previous, 33.(3) – if new components have come in or there has been an emotional transformation. I was interested to know more about his most-recent video, Bones – from the 33.(3) album – and whether visuals (it is a very arresting film) are important to him.
ALL PHOTOS (except album cover): Elsa Quarsell
Hi, Robot. How are you? How has your week been?
It's been pretty crazy.
Finishing off Jesper Munk's new album while trying to learn how to make an animation for my next music video - stop-motion, Terry Gilliam-style; using bits of paper instead of the computer (why do I always make life so difficult for myself?!).
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Robbie Moore and I try to make melodic, intensely-emotional Pop music (using wooden instruments).
I am also very interested in human emotions and the way that people behave as a result. It's, as though, our brains are somewhat robotic in nature: following the programming that our emotions set out.
I find it endlessly fascinating and I try to put my observations of myself and people dear to me into my music.
On 27th October, you release the album, Vedgdbol. What can you reveal about the type of songs and themes explored on the record?
My first album, 33.(3), took me a long time to make. I played pretty much everything myself; locked in my studio - whenever I had a break in my schedule. I'm very proud of that record, but for this one, I wanted to explore a more spontaneous and upbeat approach. I had an idea that it should be something like a 1960s' Dance record. So...I sat down for two days and wrote as many chord progressions and riffs as would come out - without spending very long on each one.
I ended up with forty sketches: some had quickly turned into proto-songs; others remained (just) a basic idea. Then, I booked some of Berlin's finest players for three days in the studio. I fed them the sketches (basically turning them into robots) and we rattled through fifteen songs in those three days.
I, then, spent a further three or four weeks myself - writing vocals, overdubbing more instruments; editing and finally putting the finished album together. I think the concept worked well and I'm already planning the next album which will take it a step further! You'll have to wait and see, though!
Thematically and lyrically, this one deals with the pressure that artists feel when having to find a meaningful outlet for brains - which are very often completely overloaded with emotion - as well as social themes like gender identity and finding your place in the world.
Bones is the first single from the album. What is the story behind the song and will there be more singles from the album?
Actually, Bones was on the last record!
The first single (end of September) will be called Anybody Else (But You).
What was it like making the video for the song? Do you get quite involved with every stage of a video?
Well, the Bones video involved me being covered completely in black latex body-paint for ten hours - while my friend Armando Seijo painted a skeleton on me!
As I mentioned before; the video for my next single, Anybody Else (But You), is an animation...very time-consuming but I'm very interested in the art-form; so I'm enjoying the process.
I do generally get very involved in this!
What is the origin of the title, Vedgdbol?
The title, Vedgdbol, came from the feeling I often have that the pressures of life's work and art are turning me into a metaphorical 'vegetable'. It's an English saying: describing somebody who's brain doesn't work too well. I wanted it to be spelled wrong, too - as if I couldn't write it properly anymore.
I figured I would ask my six-year-old son to help me - and that's how he spelled it first time...so that's what I used.
I think it's perfect.
How does your new record, released less than a year ago, differ to 33.(3)? Have you taken in new influences and gained more confidence in that time?
Well. I'm definitely more confident.
As I said; the last record took a long time and it was such a relief to finally finish it. It can become a real nightmare when a piece of art takes too long to accomplish...like a writers-block, times-one-hundred! I'm feeling pretty inspired and motivated right now. I think there's a lot of stuff that's been waiting to get out!
On Vedgdbol; you embrace more of the 1960s/Garage sounds. What compelled a bit of a sound change?
I've always loved that kind of aesthetic and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to start off in that style - and then bring in my natural more thoughtful stuff on top. I also see 33.(3) as the birth of the 'Robot' character...all those songs are written from an extremely innocent standpoint: like a child is observing the human race and is able to keep notes on their behaviour.
I see Vedgdbol as the Robot becoming a teenager: letting its hair down - but, the experience of living as a human is beginning to take its toll! Plus, I wanted to have some more upbeat songs to play live. I think it makes a pretty interesting set now.
The songs from 33.(3) have a new lease-of-life as we play them with a new type of energy, too.
Who are the artists you grew up on and compelled your move into music?
I was always obsessed with The Beach Boys as a kid...then The Beatles, Bowie; all the usual stuff. I've always considered myself a student of songwriting, primarily. I was never interested in musicianship, really. I always felt that the biggest challenge was the writing process - so that's what I spent my time practicing.
I can play a lot of instruments in an emergency but I don't know any scales or any music theory. It keeps it mysterious to me, which I like – and, also, forces me to use my ears!
Robbie Moore is your real name. You started life in Britain but are in Germany now. What compelled the move and how do the music cultures differ between the two nations?
Britain is a difficult place, artistically, these days - especially London.
It's way too expensive to allow a relaxed artistic approach – and, as a result, the music scene is extremely cluttered, desperate and self-conscious. I had an idea that I could, possibly, get something good going in Berlin; so I took a chance...and it paid off, really. I've been way more productive since living here.
It's a wonderful place for the mind; very little judgment from others; everyone has a spirit of adventure - the opposite to London, I'm afraid!
I believe you have seen a lot of bands come through the doors of your Berlin studio. What is it like hanging with cool bands and do you have any favourite memories?
In many ways, it is a total dream-job: people come to work with me, specifically because of the little musical niche that I occupy - which means, I generally get to do a lot of playing and I'm generally really into the stuff that I work on. As a result; I usually get on well with the people I work with. It is, also, sometimes very challenging, though!
Helping somebody to realise their artistic vision in the studio can be a tricky process. There usually isn't too much money around for people to spend months in the studio; so we have to work quickly.
But, as hard as it can be...I do love the challenge! The relationship between artist/producer/musician in, the studio, is an incredibly intense one - very good, deep friendships can be quickly formed. You become like a family for a brief period of time, and, of course, often those friendships last after the job is done!
Recently, I've done things like the new L.A. Salami album. He's brilliant and getting a lot of attention at the moment. Also; the new Jesper Munk album...it's sounding really amazing - very excited about that one!
Are there any gigs/tour dates coming up at all?
We are doing a tour with Jesper Munk and Lary in October (15th - 18th): Munich, Hamburg; Cologne and Berlin...and then some more dates in November in support of Vedgdbol's release.
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
Check out L.A. Salami!
IN THIS PHOTO: L.A. Salami/PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Abrams/ What's Up Newp
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Probably Pet Sounds
Because it combines unbelievably creative songwriting with a bunch of studio musicians at the top of their game - all playing live together, very inventive instrument combinations; topped with the best vocal arrangements The Beach Boys ever did.
Because it was (just) at the perfect moment between 'Folk (David) Bowie' and 'Glam Bowie'.
Then, probably, Marquee Moon by Television
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Don't do what you think you ought to do.
First: make yourself as weird and crazy as you can; push yourself into an unknown place; challenge your own ideas of what music can sound like (it can sound like anything). Then, afterward, sift through the chaos and try to guide your favourite bits back down to Earth - to live as a human moment on record.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
How about Mack the Bomb by Pete Seeger
Seems appropriate somehow - which is a shame - but it's an amazing track!