MINING FOR GOLD Ima Robot

 

With long-awaited new album Another Man’s Treasure out this week, the L.A. threesome evolves into something new.

 

BY GIL
MACIAS

 

And then
there were three… Finally, after four years in the making, former bandmates
moving on, and starting their own record label, Ima Robot is finally releasing
their latest musical venture titled Another
Man’s Treasure
. The shape-shifting band has not only been reduced to a trio
[Alex Ebert, also of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros; Timmy “The Terror”
Anderson; Filip Nikolic], they’ve also made a sharp left turn in their sound
and evolved into something new, refreshing and quite engaging. Ebert’s vocals
have reached a new peak. They’re lush, richer, and more confident than ever
before. The lyrics are more mature, deep, and meaningful and the band’s new
sound is very mellow and hypnotic this time around and sort of induces a
meditative, Zen-like feeling while you listen to it (try listening to “Rough
Night” in the complete dark, it’s bliss).

 

The heart
and soul of Ima Robot is still present in the overall core of the sound (many
thanks to Ebert’s unique voice), but it also feels as if the band channeled in
a little Jane’s Addiction. Those expecting the traditional upbeat, high-energy
Ima Robot tracks might scratch their heads a little, but we have no doubt they
will be captivated, intrigued and embrace the new sound.  We were able to catch up with Ebert and
Anderson and talk to them about the new album, what it feels like being
liberated from the downfalls of the major record label system, their new
direction in sound, and their various musical projects.

 

***

 

BLURT: It’s been 4 years since your last album.
New songs like “Ruthless” and “Sail With Me” started to emerge when you toured
in 2008. Can you tell me about the creation process for this new album and why
it took so long to get it out?

 

ANDERSON: We came out of a tour
about two-and-a-half years ago and we were all a little bit fried. We were
having a falling out with our record label and we were all wondering how we
were going to keep this thing going. I moved into a recording studio where I
was starting to produce bands and going more in that direction, which I love.
We would get together a couple of days per week when no one was around and we
started making these songs. We pieced together this record that’s coming out
now over the course of about 6 months. When we all had time, we would just meet
up at the studio and make songs. That’s where this record came from. It was
buddies trying to jam together and get back to what we loved about making music
before we got into the major label thing—which was good and bad, but not all
bad.

 

 So I
imagine Alex’s Edward Sharpe project also added to the delay, right?

 

ANDERSON: At the same time, Alex
wanted to keep going. He had such a massive creative output. He wrote all these
songs that would become the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros album. That
took off, so he went off to do that. So we were finished with this record,
which we didn’t even know it was a record at the time. I started doing more
writing and producing for other acts. That’s why the wait was long. Filip and I
ventured off into other careers in mixing, writing and producing and Alex blew
up as Edward Sharpe. We needed to see if this all made sense, and we all
realized recently that it was a great missing piece of the puzzle and that we
should put out this record and get back to the basics.

 

 There was
some confusion amongst some fans as to whether or not Ima Robot would continue
after Alex put out the Edward Sharpe album. Do you think these side projects
make you lose focus, or is Ima Robot still your main focal point and source for
creative output?

 

ANDERSON: The focus, for me, is
to let things unfold gracefully and organically. It’s our main focus when we’re
together. But Alex also has to have Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros as a
focus. It’s just going great and it’s amazing. It happened organically. It
developed out of his response to being on a major label. It was him tired of
doing things in that system so he made it on his own and it’s beautiful. It’s
really important for all of us, and for the sake of everything we’ve done in
the past, to let this happen naturally. Let’s put this record out, it’s on my
label, Werewolf Heart Records, and it’s just an adventure—it’s not even
really planned out. It’s not like a plan of attack or a resurfacing, we were
always together hanging and making songs, and now here’s a collection of them,
and we’re going to make more. It’s going to be about seeing if people dig it as
much as we do, and then we will kind of let that lead the way. The goal is to
let it happen organically.

 

EBERT:
There’s a time to do everything, really. What I am really looking forward to,
to be honest, is to get back in the studio with Ima Robot, and start writing
even more new material. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros has definitely
been my primary focus the last couple of years. At the moment, we’re still
touring. Things will play out the way they play out, and I’m sure the universe
will dictate where most of my energy goes to. I see Ima Robot as a lifelong
friendship though.

 

 One thing
I love about the new album is the unexpected change in sound. It’s very
hypnotic, mellow, in a way spiritual. You can totally meditate to some of the
tracks. Where did this new sound come from?

 

ANDERSON: I can only imagine
that it was inspired, like I said earlier, by a couple of buddies approaching it
like, “let’s jam.” The songs are all rendered in a really live way, with the
exception of the song “Sail With Me,” which we brought in a bunch of different
things and played all kinds of instruments and did a lot of overdubs. The rest
of it is very live with one of us playing a drum machine by hand, the other one
playing a guitar and the other playing synthesizer.  That’s the bulk of the record – these sort of
live, electronic, organic pieces of music. I don’t know, it just happened. I
really dig that feeling. I think it will probably sound a little clumsy to some
people, but it was just 3 guys jamming and we kept it all. There’s one song
that’s just a complete jam, with no direction or aim. It’s 10 minutes long and
at the very end of the record. We just wanted to put it on. It might sound
weird but it happened and we were in a moment so we thought, let’s let people
have it and listen to it.

 

EBERT:
We’ve been in this band for almost 13 years now. Before signing with Virgin, we
went through all kinds of phases. So this is just sort of another phase,
another chunk of time. I think it’s natural to go through phases of expression.
For me, I got bored of whining and being aggressive. I could easily see a
period coming up again where I sort of want to get loud and fast again.

 

 Alex,
what kind of a zone were you in when you wrote these songs? Lyrically, the
album feels deeper and more spiritual than past albums.

 

EBERT: A
lot of these songs were written quite a while ago. It was when I was going
through a period where I was sort of reaching out for myself. They’re more
oriented towards universal questioning, self reflection and forward momentum,
that kind of thing.

 

 Your
vocals are stronger than ever this time around. There’s a new energy. Have you
been doing vocal coaching or something?

 

EBERT:  I can’t remember the last time I had a vocal
lesson. Probably back during the second Ima Robot album. My voice just started
developing, oddly, as I developed more as a person and I started to relax more,
and got sort of stronger. Just prior to the first Ima Robot album, I really had
not been singing that much. I primarily had been just sort of rap-singing. [Giggles] I wasn’t one of those kids who
was singing all the time.

 

 The album
is very short and sweet with only 8 tracks. Where did the decision come to make
it so short?

 

EBERT:  We had a bunch more. We didn’t feel like
putting more for some reason. We decided to just roll with these. It’s a
collection of songs from over a period of a couple of years and something
substantial started to form. Only the songs that would stand the test of time
in a sense got put on. There are some great songs we left off that we’ll
probably release as B-sides.

 

 How have
you handled the fan reaction to this new mellow sound? I’m sure there are fans
out there who want upbeat Ima Robot songs like “Dynomite” or “Black Jettas.”

 

ANDERSON:
There are fans that will hate it. All I can say is, we didn’t intellectualize
any of it. There was no approach, there was no “let’s not do fast songs” way of
thinking. The band line-up, at the time of the first album had such a
ridiculously talented rhythm section. The bass player and drummer are not the
same now. We were writing songs that suited all of our skills then.  Our best foot forward at that time was these
really technically proficient tracks. Will there be more stuff like that in the
future? Maybe. So much time has gone by, this new mellow sound is what happened
for us naturally when we got together. There was no plan or thought process
like, “Ok, let’s do these types of songs.” We set up some live instruments and
this record is what came out of that.

 

 You
brought something up I was going to ask about next. Over the years, you have had
drastic changes in your line-up. I imagine that changes the formula a lot, it’s
like losing a key ingredient to a gourmet dish. When you lose a member, how
much does it alter your sound? Would you say there’s a percentage of this album
that’s more you now since there are only 3 of you, versus the 5 members back
then?

 

ANDERSON:
Yeah, totally. The best way to look at it—and you’re exactly right—everyone
involved in the process is an equal part of it for us. There are 3 guys who are
not in the band anymore who were there way back then. That totally defined the
sound. Alex and I were part of this thing when we were really young, and we
brought people into it, and it just changed in that way. But it’s always really
been Alex. He is the core inspiring songwriter. That’s why I don’t really
worry. There are going to be some who are really mad that there are no really
aggressive songs. By losing 3 people out of 5, we lost three-fifths of our
band. I think it’s all cool, because at the end of the day, it’s all Alex. When
I hear his Edward Sharpe records, or his amazing solo record that’s coming
soon, or Ima Robot, I am drawn to his voice and his sense of melody.

 

 You guys
are a trio now. Do you think you’ll ever add another member?

 

EBERT: We
will probably end up adding someone if they come along. Honestly, we’re really
enjoying working in a trio right now. It’s a fun way to roll because the band
started without a drummer. It’s nice to sort of go back to our roots in a way.

 

 When you
start touring this record, how do you plan to integrate the old stuff with the
new? Also, what about the band? There are only 3 of you now, yet a song like
“Sail With Me” has such a large arrangement.

 

ANDERSON:
We have a couple of different ideas. We want to do something really stark,
interesting and different and have it represent the full, big picture, both
visually and how it flows. How we are going to mesh the song with old ones,
it’s going to be really interesting. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to
work yet. We also have another album in the works, totally different material, that
we started doing this year, that’s more of an electronic album. We’re going to
have our work cut out for us. One thing I’ve learned is when you put these
people in a room, we figure it out, especially because Alex and I have been
together since day one. We were always the ones pushing to figure out how to
make it all work and finding people to play. Anyone who has ever been in the
band, either he or I found. I’m really excited about the challenge; we have a
high standard and we have to make something that really works.

 

 Do you
ever see any of the original members coming back? Or is your creative
relationship with them over?

 

ANDERSON:
That’s a fun conversation. I am still friends with everyone. We don’t see each
other that often. The interesting thing about this band is that it was not a
huge success, commercially. But each of the 5 members from that first record
are doing their own thing in such a massive way. JMJ [Justin Meldal-Johnsen]
is the most respected bass player and one of the most all around respected
musicians I know of and he’s got his hands on so many great projects. Joey
Waronker is a legendary drummer at a young age. Everyone wants him to play on
their record. Oligee is going be one of the most talked about producers. He
works with all these great hip-hop artists. He’s just going to be blowing up
and blossoming in that direction. I feel really blessed to have been a part of
that. I feel like sort of the weak link [laughs].I
have a daughter and I live in the studio and I just do my thing in there,
writing and helping younger artists. It’s really cool what those 3 have done.
None of them are going to be in the band if we put it back together, they’ve
all got their things going on. Hopefully we pay homage to that original group.

 

 You now
have your own independent label, Werewolf Heart Records. Are you done with
major labels? I know you had a lot of problems with them, which resulted in you
putting out the excellent and rare Search
and Destroy EP
, which I am a proud owner of.

 

ANDERSON:
We weren’t so happy with the record we were putting out at the time. We wanted
to quickly put out another EP. They wouldn’t let us. So, as sort of a
rebellious attempt at a “fuck you,” we made it ourselves and sold it at shows
as a merchandising product so we couldn’t get sued.

 

 That’s a
great EP by the way, it’s a shame it wasn’t mass-produced. I was always under
the impression some of those tracks were meant for Monument to the Masses.

 

ANDERSON:
We’ve always been very prolific. We could make 10, 20, or 30 songs in a batch.
We just wanted to put them out, we had so many things we wanted to put out, but
when you’re lost in that system, it’s like everything is about the one record.
That’s how it’s always been done. At the time, we wanted the fans to have more.
We only made 1,000 of those EPs. And we sold them all quickly. We never
reprinted it. Now, we’re giving it away with the first three or four thousand
CDs we sell with this new record. You’ll get a digital download card.

 

 Earlier,
you said the next album is going to be more electronic. Can you describe the
sound and direction a little more and give the fans a little taste?

 

ANDERSON:
It’s sort of like live music rendered in a futuristic way. Taking all the
emotions and sounds and swirling them around in a room where a couple of people
are jamming, and then taking that live performance and filtering that down
through a looking glass that turns it into almost a beatbox type of sensation.
It’s hard to describe. It’s another sharp left turn.

 

 It was a
4 year wait between Monument to the
Masses
and Another Man’s Treasure.
Now that you have your own label, how long will be have to wait for the next
album?

 

EBERT: I
hope that as soon we write an album and record it, it’ll be out within a few
months instead of this, you know, 5 year gap. It really depends on when it is
we get together and record. We were talking about getting together before the
end of the year, but I’m also going to be working on another Edward Sharpe
album before the end of the year as well. We’re not down to some major label
system of delivery. As soon as we get together and start recording, we’ll
collect some songs and put them out. It’ll be fun.

 

 

 

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