Robedoor Interview

West Coast cavemen Robedoor have been employing a "shock n awe" campaign against adventurous listeners for four years now,leaving no one standing.After 8000 releases,there's still progression,and still more tar-covered ideas ruminating.I recently talked to Robedoor alchemists Britt and Alex about the differences between metal drone and noise drone,their prolific output,and soggy Doritos.Read on.

1. I really love the band name. What is the story behind it?

BRITT: It's pretty random/dumb. This friend of mine from Portland was in town on tour and we were hanging out with a bunch of people and talking about random shit and she was like "have any of you ever gotten fucked up on Robe Dore?" Of course everyone shook their heads NO and asked what the hell "robe dore" was and she replied: "it's when you soak Doritos in Robitussin and then smoke 'em through a bong." We all laughed, but I thought the word/phrase had such cool mystical connotations if you imagined it as just a compound of ROBE and DOOR. A cloaked gateway to some dark dimension or something. When I proposed to Alex we start a band together (in January of 2005) I told him I thought we should be called ROBEDOOR. He was into it.

ALEX: The story lives on…..we've totally had friends give us weird plastic baggies filled with soggy Doritos expecting us to smoke it. We also had lofty early visions of doing Robe Dore as some kind of tripped out performance enhancer. We've refrained, thankfully.

2. What were you doing prior to Robedoor, and how did the project get started?

B: I was in this band with my wife and 3 other girls called
Weirdo/Begeirdo at the time, and it was awesome but I was definitely pushing for us to just get louder and heavier and less song-based and more primal/ritual, which was an element in the band occasionally, but I sort of realized I should start a separate band to channel this aesthetic, rather than just force it on W/B all the time. I had known Alex since back in college and he wasn't in a band but was really creative and liked to perform and we always got along great, so I asked him if he wanted to start a crouching, freeform, heavy electric band/project. He said hell yeah.

A: I'd been in some part-time gutter punk bands as a pre-teen but I'd never been a devoted and active member of any band. Because neither of us are trained musicians, it took us a few practices to find our feet and figure out where we wanted to go. Ultimately we just work really well together creatively which has made it super easy to create the jams we’ve been doing as Robedoor for the past four years.

3. It seems that you were shot out of a cannon and had a handful of releases before I even knew it. Can you/will you keep up the prolific pace of these past few years?

A: Well we've definitely slowed down our turnout, but as long as we've been active as Robedoor we've always had offers. We've tried to constantly be evolving our caveman vibe to keep things interesting both for us and the people who like our records and lately, to satisfy both, we've taken to a slightly less intense pace in releases. We'll always be working on a few records, but I think we'll try to just keep getting more focused. At the same time, we love doing small releases so I think the shotgun effect of Robedoor releases will never fully disappear.

B: I vaguely recall having a discussion with Alex at the first ever Robedoor practice/hang session/whatever where we basically concluded: "As long as we’re gonna bother getting together to jam, we might as well have a tape recorder running." So for at least a couple years straight every Robedoor "practice" WAS a recording session. And when you get together a minimum of once a week, for at least a couple hours each time, and are recording EVERYTHING, the amount of documented audio piles up FAST, obviously. And in the world of bedroom micro-labels and "edition of 50" tapes, releases function more as stepping stones, snapshots of a work in progress, than some definitive, for-the-ages album.

So we kept culling our favorite pieces from the weekly archives for various friends’ labels and whoever, and we just never took a break, and suddenly we had some long-ass discography. It was sorta accidental. Lately though we’ve changed modes, we don’t record every practice, and even the bulk of the stuff we do record ends up getting scrapped. I think we know what we want things to sound like more now than we ever have before, which is exciting, but challenging, cause it means a lot of jams don’t cut it for us anymore. I’d predict our pace will only continue to slow down for the foreseeable future. We’ll see.

4. Do you guys "write" a Robedoor album or is it improvisational?

A: While we do technically improvise most of the work we do, we've always had a bit of a program that falls more in the realm of songwriting. For most of our releases we follow a loose filmic strategy where we try to develop some evil tripped out vision quest/story based on some theme we both find evocative.
Britt’s been reading lots of survival literature lately so the sense of being lost in some oblivion landscape has informed some recent jams. But, like I said before, we don't just plug in, get loud and push record to make releases. We improvise until we find elements of something we can ruminate on, and then we try to perfect them without over scripting or making the music too formulaic.

B: We definitely lurk in a grey zone between jamming and composition. For the albums at least we usually start with an overall vibe/mood we wanna explore, and then start mapping out a narrative that links the songs together. Like we’ll realize we need a particularly cataclysmic passage somewhere to set up a more ambient wasteland style sprawl later on…riffs and dynamics emerge from the murk, and then we piece the tracks together like chapters in a book. Pretty much all our full-lengths have fairly defined stories that they’re telling. I don’t know if that’s a normal way to do things, but we dig it, and it’s pretty standard RBDR operating procedure at this point.

5. There seems to be a connection between yourselves and Thurston Moore. How did that come about?

B: Thurston's just one of the most diehard supporters of underground culture in the world, he's been following basement bands and obscure artists for 30 years straight. Most friends of mine who run labels have at some point emailed me to be like "oh my god Thurston Moore just ordered a tape from me!" It rules, the guy has fifty lifetimes of good karma built up from being this way. He buys stuff occasionally from the label me and my wife run, Not Not Fun Records, and asked Robedoor & Pocahaunted to open for Sonic Youth last summer, which was epic for us. And we played some shows with him and Bill Nace on our East Coast tour in June. He's 100% down to earth and open-minded about checking out new shit, always. Yr mind/art never gets old if you live like that.

6. Despite some sonic similarities there seems to be an invisible wall between the "metal" drone bands like Sunn O))), and the "noise" drone bands like yourselves and Emeralds. Not that there's any animosity, but why do you think that is?

B: I always joke that most metal bands are like rappers. There really ISNT an underground in that scene. Metal bands form, record ONE lo-fi/legendary demo, and then immediately either sign with a legit metal label or break up. It's so much more of a self-contained sub-genre that even SUPER obscure black metal bands can still sell thousands of CDs. Same is true with hip-hop. A dude sells a few cheap mixes from the trunk of a car and then either signs with someone or gives it up for a while. Because "underground," when used in conjunction with hip-hop, doesn't mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. An "underground" rapper can often still make a living off their music.

That ain't the case in the scum-drone CDR scene. Emeralds, us, Family Underground, Ajilvsga, whoever, all happily play basements, release small editions of tapes/CDRs, use cheap equipment, etc. Sunn 0)) records 40 minutes of a guitar resonating in E and then presses 5000 double-LPs in deluxe die-cut handnumbered boxes with inserts in Japanese calligraphy. Their rider lists dozens of massive amplifiers, 5 smoke machines, multiple coffins, and casks of fine liquor. They're the Alice Cooper of drone music, no question. I don't think there's animosity between basement drone bands and the metal ones, I just think the metal ones take themselves extremely seriously, and approach it from more of a "professional rock band" angle, whereas Emeralds and the others are far more DIY and self-taught about everything. It's an attitude difference more than anything else.

A: Despite whatever division or difference there might be, it feels like we're proverbial wall sitters. Not that we insist on, like, regional porn and new pairs of black socks whenever we play a show, but we do take our ritualism in performance pretty seriously. That and there always seems to be kids in Sunn shirts at our shows...that’s always refreshing that fans of the bigger name bands are into our comparatively quiet sounds.

7. You have a handful of releases on every format: CD, CDR, cassette, LP. Do you have a format you prefer for Robedoor?

A: I was pretty bowled over when we got our first 12 inch: a collaborative jam with Haunted Castle at KDVS on our first tour. I always like the way the tapes come out, and there's been some super classy looking CD and CDR releases over the years, but I'm always a sucker for vinyl.

B: It’s hard to compete with an LP in terms of raw object-hood allure. A heavy black disc, 12 inches of art, plus the fidelity is so appealing. It also feels like the most inspiring format to record for…it’s long but it’s not too long (those 75 minute CDRs out there are a bitch to get through). But tapes are always great too, never get tired of ‘em.

8. Favorite Sabbath song?

A: Really? "Spiral Architect."

B: "Sweet Leaf" I guess. I like when Ozzy says "You introduced me to my mind." Most of the second half of Master Of Reality is pretty solid too though.

9. Do you think we will ever see Robedoor release an "unlimited" album on a slightly larger label?

B: I doubt it. There's next to no money in ritual psych drone (big surprise), so there's no incentive for a larger label to release music like that in any kind of larger (much less "unlimited") run. We're definitely into getting our music into as many people's ears as possible, but most of my favorite bands required some investigation and effort on my part to dig up their stuff, so I'm more than happy being part of that supply/demand style. Though who knows? The shit we've been working on lately is a lot more structured and song-based than ever before, I'm curious to wander RBDR into this terrain for a while, see how it works for us.

10. What does the future hold for Robedoor?

A: More touring, hopefully. We're both pretty committed guys when it comes to time so we rarely get to leave town and just live as RBDR. The few times we have we really had a great time; meeting other bands, and people we only knew from emails. As long as we stay a band I think we'll always have records to work on and scheme about, touring is the thing that frequently evades us. After our little stint on the East coast with Pocahaunted and the Woods guys, I'm really pumped for the next trip.

B: Yeah, we suck at leaving LA, cause we’re both annoyingly busy with other shit a lotta the time. But we’ve been hoping to do a leg of shows in the Midwest sometime soon, plus we wanna go back overseas and hit up some countries other than England (since we’ve been there already). But I’m definitely siked to record our new LP, Radiant Command. We already have a bunch of the songs fully written (we played ‘em on our east coast tour), plus a lot of lurking new ideas. I think we’re gonna spend a pretty long time getting everything right, so hopefully it’ll come together like we want it to. I’m already working on the story for it. So far it’s pretty heavy.

Heavy indeed.Thanx so much to Robedoor for droppin in.


Anonymous said...

Cool interview. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Meh. Sound like dicks.

Anonymous said...

"...metal bands are like rappers. There really ISNT an underground in that scene."

i just learned, thanks