Robbie and the Robots will be at Triple Crown Friday night.
By HAP MANSFIELD
With a brand new music video and an upcoming new CD, Robbie and the Robots are going places again.
The award winning band has had several different “robots” through the years and has faced some down time. However, there’s only one Robbie, and that’s Robbie Doyen, the band’s founder and songwriter. Robbie and the Robots will play their original blend of pop, punk and surf Friday night at Triple Crown, 206 North Edward Gary.
Doyen has been called a lot of interesting things in the press he’s received since the band’s first incarnation in 2002. Examples of epithets describing him run along the lines of “doped-up Richard Simmons” and “idiot savant hobo rock star.” While Doyen’s music is whimsical and clever, there’s more to him, and the band, than just quick wit and a sprightly stage presence.
Doyen writes a snappy pop tune and just happens to see the world through an eccentrically creative filter. That filter often gets mistaken as mere comedic talent, but don’t you believe it. Despite the amusing lyrics and fun stage persona, the music is solid, the tunes are catchy, the musicians are proficient and, like most good jokes, there’s a deeply serious side to the humor.
“Basically Robbie and the Robots is a singer-songwriter band,” Doyen said. “I just don’t write very traditional singer-songwriter songs. It’s kind of like Nine Inch Nails or Weezer or Dinosaur Jr. They’re all ‘bands’ that revolve around one songwriter. But I’m also the booking agent, and the manager and the secretary and the treasurer and whatever else, so I think the guys appreciate all the work outside of playing music that I put into the band. Lately, though, we’ve been jamming a lot at practice, and if a song came out of that we’d probably do a group writing credit.”
Named in honor of Doyen’s fondness for Issac Asimov books, Robbie and the Robots have gone through some personnel changes through the years with Doyen remaining the epicenter and songwriter of the group.
“The current lineup is me, James Thompson on lead guitar, Josh Mouton on bass and Tim Lormor on Drums,” Doyen said. “Having the flexibility to change my band members out but still keep the same name is the only way I’ve been able to keep my band going so long. And each new member always contributes something fresh and exciting to the music, so despite all of the band member flux we’ve still been able to grow musically. And the guys in the band right now are fantastic. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a producer named Jim Volentine who said, ‘You’re only as good as the worst member of your band,’ so I always make sure I’m surrounded by very talented musicians.”
A native Texan, Doyen was born in Corpus Christi, raised in Boerne and graduated from Texas State with a degree in English and psychology. In a typical Doyen twist, the sensitive singer-songwriter also has a black belt in kung fu and teaches it at a local martial arts school. His musical interests started, like most musicians, in his teen years.
“I got my first guitar when I was 16,” Doyen said. “It was a cheap classical guitar and I nearly broke the neck off of it playing Metallica riffs. I immediately started writing songs. That’s why I wanted a guitar. I’ve always loved writing.”
His musical influences come from a kaleidoscope of sources, which may explain Doyen’s peculiar lyrical slant. Bands he is currently listening to include Oklahoma’s psychedelic Flaming Lips and alt-county standards, Wilco.
“I’ve really been getting into the Mountain Goats lately,” he said. “Ween and They Might Be Giants are always fun. I also take a lot of inspiration from the country performers I listened to as a kid, like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Local Artists like Scott Biram and Terri Hendrix influence me a lot, too. I love they way they have run their careers.”
In the past, Robbie and the Robots have had unusual set-ups for their live shows like the gigs they played with a tent, a fake campfire and a giant moon and stars hung in the background. Still, there are gaps in the “robotic” catalog in which the band seems to disappear and then emerge out of nowhere and start working again, sort of like the mysterious chocolate factory of Willie Wonka. Part of this stems from hard times that have inspired and paralyzed Doyen’s work.
“Unfortunately for me, one of the main things that inspires me to create is tragedy,” he said. “But I’ve got such a bizarre viewpoint on the world that my observations are commonly interpreted as dark comedy. I get especially aroused creatively by complicated situations.”
One only has to hear his song “Small Town Psycho Crazy Girlfriend Blues” to be convinced of his sincerity on that point.
“But I’ve also learned that when there’s too much tragedy it can be almost impossible to get inspired,” Doyen continued. “For a while, so many awful things happened in a row that I could hardly pull myself out of my depression long enough to write anything. Between that and spending so much time working on the business part of Robbie and the Robots, I’ve felt very stifled for a while.”
However, a person as multifaceted and complex as Doyen often needs a solid outlet for his creativity. In the end, it is art that saves an artist from imploding.
“If it weren’t for a deep need to document my emotions through music, I probably wouldn’t have written anything for the last few years,” Doyen said. “But I’m slowly getting back on track. I’m writing every day again, and learning how to draw, and just relearning how to be a creative person. Making music videos has also played a huge part in reawakening my muse.”
Speaking of videos, the new Robbie and the Robots video for “I’m The One” is a clever compilation of animation and live action that aptly illustrates the song. Filmed by Austin director Randi Nguyen at Omega studio in front of a green screen, it tells the story of a little boy dreaming about being a rock star, replete with dancing girls and a variety of musicians.
“Randi and her crew did a fantastic job getting everything together,” Doyen said. “We had to shoot all of that green screen stuff in one day. It was a ton of work, but she pulled it off and the video looks great. And the reason you see so many different musicians in the video is because we were also making fun of how many band members I’ve had.”
You can see the results of all the work on this charming video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjWn6bDEGlE.
Being a part of the San Marcos local music scene for so long has given Doyen a unique perspective on why the area has so many unusually talented musicians.
“You know, I’ve heard people refer to San Marcos as being just like Austin used to be about thirty years ago before it started to get really corporate,” Doyen said. “There’s a freshness—a reckless innocence. There’s just enough influence from Austin for musicians to strive to create great music without quite so much of the business that can bog down that creativity. But at the same time, it would be great to see the scene grow and become more recognized. There are definitely some pretty huge names that have come out of this town, like Stevie Ray Vaughn and George Strait. There’s also Terri Hendrix and Scott Biram doing the solo thing. And Randy Rogers Band and Blue October are getting pretty huge.”
Doyen is supportive of the local scene, often hosting open mic nights at local venues and enjoying the music of other bands.
“Some of my favorite local bands in no particular order are Chasca, The Couch,The Standouts, Matt Begley and Bitter Whiskey, The Organics, The Beaumonts, The Columnists, Olive Street, Scott Biram, Grant Ewing,” he said.
Chasca, a modern rock band with a more than a hint of 1980’s era glam will play on the bill Friday night at Triple Crown with Robbie and the Robots. On the surface, it seems like a strange and unusual pairing.
But, then, Robbie and the Robots are more than somewhat strange and unusual.