(as D. Boon might have done better)
What is the music of Made by Robots, other than an excuse the five of us have collectively agreed to honor? It isn’t really jazz (though it does occasionally taste like it), mostly because I don’t think any of us would consider ourselves jazz musicians in the strict sense, though we do crash the piano bars on occasion and make a scene until they throw us out. It definitely isn’t the usual mash of Burlington, Vermont-bred endless summer patchouli rock, though if it was we could probably get more gigs in town. The cool kids with their vests and cutoffs are for the most part still confounded by us, but the record nerds and debauched local music scene elders who come staggering into our shows are latching onto something.
Being defiant of musical labels makes its own philosophical statement, but it also lacks a certain degree of convenience when trying to explain to a bewildered acquaintance what sort of music you make. Someone at some point used the phrase ‘post-jazz,’ which I enjoy, but it still doesn’t really evoke what we do when we’re playing together.
Maybe the best place to start is with a dash of biography. Maybe not, but let’s do it anyway. In the fall of 2012, I moved to Burlington, in a whirling mass of post-college slack and misdirection with very little cash to speak of, and a bedroom in a rambling wreck of a house on the edge of town, owned by a decrepit, miserly and socially maladjusted elderly gay man who died not long after I moved out, unapologetic and owing me several hundred dollars’ worth of security deposit. I landed a job at the local co-op market stocking shelves, where I first met Adam back in the receiving department. He easily won me over with his focused and jovial personality, his taste in loading-dock-soundtrack music (heavy on Tom Waits), and profound ability to quote from The Simpsons at length and with uncanny accuracy. Over Simpsons-based repartee, Adam mentioned that he was a piano player, that he wrote music, and that he had been making music with another co-op-er (our first drummer, Chris Klug, Wisconsinite #1). It was suggested that we play together at some point – I replied that as long as I wasn’t expected to perform any bebop-type chord changes whatsoever, I was definitely interested (not that I could have, if I was in fact expected to). We first got together to play in Chris’ basement, with Sleep’s Dopesmoker on vinyl as a warm-up and his roommate’s pit bull howling upstairs, and almost immediately we were pigs in filth. At that point, we were named Illusion Flips, after a skateboard trick I still have absolutely no comprehension of, but that Adam might be able to explain, if you ask him. An early gig was at Winooski’s nascent Waking Windows festival, where our co-performers included a shirtless young man in a coonskin cap playing vibraphone and singing, all the while maniacally swinging a machete. The tone of things was set.
After some time bashing away in the basement with tape recorders and broken cymbals, Wisconsinite #2 Aaron Jensen was added on bass. Tessa brought her flute to the party a bit after that, and has stayed ever since, making everything we play more tuneful and evocative. In fall of 2014 came the Great Rhythm Section Exodus, when Chris returned to his native Madison, and Aaron left the country to grow pineapples in New Zealand, or something. Luckily for the rest of us, who were by that point known as Clay Man, we had a couple of ringers in mind – Adam and I had met Gahlord and been highly impressed with his bassmanship and creativity while playing with local free-improvisation collective The Le-Duo, and Pete was an old friend of Adam’s from his kitchen days who, besides being a fine and versatile drummer, is a superb professional chef who sometimes treats us to mind-bogglingly tasty dinners and desserts. We toppled the Clay Man golem over in the public square, and thus became Made by Robots. With a monthly residency at Burlington’s Radio Bean, we began to cement our musical relationship. This is roughly where you find us today.
“Yeah Right,” which you can listen to gratis on our Music page, is an original composition of Adam’s, inspired by the hoary Miles Davis tune “So What.” We’ve been playing it together since the Illusion Flips days in the concrete basement, and, like all of us, it’s changed a great deal over the last couple of years, deepening and becoming more complex, right up to the space-station midsection and “sudden-rage” coda. Though the bones of the tune belong to Adam, we’ve all hung our skins to dry on it to the point that it’s stretched tight and become as close to a single, to a signature, as Made by Robots has at this juncture. And we all still have a hell of a time playing it…