As is often the way in the modern scene, My Favorite Robot has very much birthed its own tight-knit electronic community. It’s an extended family that takes in a label, a production outfit of the same name and an array of producers, most often from MFR’s hometown of Toronto.
They have done a fine job in developing a local scene as well as their own sonic signature – one that is emotionally deep and soaked in fine synth work - but at the same time the trio of Jared Simms, James Teej and Voytek Korab have also kept a keen eye on their own output.
It was Simms and Korab who first started the project more than a decade ago, with now renowned vocalist Teej joining in and completing the picture a few years later. It’s a perfect team that has released many an EP as well as a fine debut album, but there is something about their second, more song-structured album that strikes an even more resonant note, one that could well see that album break out of the dance sphere and into indie crossover territory.
As such, we tracked down the trio to talk about this new development, playing live and more besides.
Obvious first question… why not release Atomic Age on your own label?
Well, to a certain extent, releasing it with No.19 is almost the same as releasing it on our own label as it’s in the hands of very close friends Jonny White, Kenny Glasgow, and Nitin.
Our first album, We Come In Pieces, was released on our own label in 2009, and we felt that for our second one we wanted to put it out in a different way. For a while, we were seriously considering putting it out ourselves, but when the No.19 guys came knocking and said that they wanted to work on this project with us, it didn’t take very long before we knew that this was the right home for this album.
We wanted this album to be a reflection of a lot of the music we love, so shorter and more concise songs were definitely part of how we wanted to represent ourselves on Atomic Age...Why did you feel now was the right time? Has it been something you have always had in the back of your minds since the last one?
A lot of things have happen since our first album but most importantly the band went from a duo (Jared & Voytek) to a trio with James Teej joining as the third robot on the project. The three of us started writing together and we immediately thought that we’d build an album together but as we finished that project, although there were a bunch of songs that we really liked, we didn’t feel that it was a cohesive album project. We ended up splitting the tracks up and signing one to Visionquest, some to the Life and Death guys, and a few others that ended up coming out on our label. Then we started again, with fresh ideas of what type of songs we wanted on this album and how they’d all fit together.
Basically now is the right time because after 3 years of writing music as the three of us, we finally arrived at the point where we feel happy with how all these songs fit together as an album.
Did you approach this one any differently, or use different kit, techniques etc than last time? Did you find your skills and tastes etc had evolved a lot since We Come in Pieces, was it an easier process this time round?
Yes, with it being the three of us, it definitely was quite a different process than the first album. I wouldn’t say that the process was any easier because we really wanted to push and challenge ourselves. Approaching the album from more of a band mentality was definitely a change from the last album, and really made building Atomic Age quite a bit of fun!
There is a definite song structure to much of this album… was that conscious? At the same time were you trying to keep the dancefloor in mind?
Yes it was definitely a conscious decision. We wanted the album to be more of a well-rounded project that had tracks both for listening mixed with tracks that had more dance floor sensibility. We wanted this album to be a reflection of a lot of the music we love, so shorter and more concise songs were definitely part of how we wanted to represent ourselves on Atomic Age.
I wonder what comes first, the lyrics or the music? Or are they done in tandem or is one done to compliment the other?
We have many songs on the album what we’re built in different ways. Sometimes the music comes first and is then followed by the vocal, other times it’s a vocal melody that serves as the starting point for the music. That’s actually one of the cool things about the project, a lot of the songs were made differently, some are started by one robot and finished by another, other we’re made while all together in the studio, and others past around online to each other. There is even one track on the album that started as a game where each one of us had 5 minutes to add in a new part to the song and we kept handing off to the next so that each of us had to keep adding a new element. Not everything that was added was good [laughs], or was used on the song, but it was a really interesting game to play with ourselves to think outside the box and try to bring the best out of us. That track later became the lead single for the album, ‘Looking For Frost’.
I wish we could write happy, friendly, hands in the air tunes but it’s just not what ever comes out from us. Darker, deeper music is what make us happy, and more fulfilled as a band...Did you know how you wanted the album to sound when you set out to write it, was it conceived as one whole body of work?
Yes, this project was definitely conceived as a full body of work, with a very clear vision of where we wanted to go with it and the evolution that we wanted our music to take since our last tracks on Visionquest, L&D, and Last Night on Earth. That’s not to say that we fully knew what road our writing would take us down but we had a fundamental vision between the three of us about the message we wanted to send with this album.
There is some serious synth work on there, are they painstakingly put together or do you have jam sessions, as it were? Do you all do everything, production wise?
Yes, everything on the album is done by us…everything except the mastering, which was done by the guys at Curved Pressing in London. Most of our synth work on the album starts of as jam sessions and then we’ll take the time to edit it down from there which is why a lot of the songs have a bit more of a live feel to them.
Synths always seem to be a key part of the sound of both you as a group, and the label… is that fair? Is synth music something you’ve all grown up on, and which artists specifically if so?
Yes, its definitely safe to say that we love synths and that melody is the heart of what we create as a band and for the label… and it definitely has a lot to do with the music we all grew up with. Our influences come more from live music and bands rather than house and techno, although those obviously play a big roll in why we’re here today as well. We could write a list that would go on forever but some of our biggest influences would be Radiohead, Massive Attack, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Joy Division, Genesis, & The Cure.
Why do you think you are all drawn to this cold and often stark but emotional sound? Does it reflect anything about being in Toronto?
I think we all just feel that there is a bit more substance in darker, more emotional music. I wish we could write happy, friendly, hands in the air tunes but it’s just not what ever comes out from us. Darker, deeper music is what make us happy, and more fulfilled as a band. I couldn’t really imagine us making anything else. I’d say that living through a tough winter every year with lots of darkness definitely plays a part in things (we may not be writing the same type of music if we lived in San Diego on the beach [laughs]) but I don’t think its any different for people that are living in places like Berlin or the Scandi countries.
What makes your partnership work do you think? Is there a natural leader when writing or recording?
We have a very solid partnership in which everyone is expected to give their 100% with no one specifically as the leader. I think one of the reason things have worked out so well and that we continue to want to work together is because we’ve all realized what each of our strengths and weaknesses are and we all do and contribute to the project with what we do best. Three heads are definitely better than one!
With the state of the music industry ever changing it seems like smaller projects have a bit of a shorter shelf life these days so we feel that albums are a much bolder and complete statement from the label & the artists we sign...Have you thought about a live show? Why/why not? Given that there are three of you with a vocalist it seems like a ready-made band…
For sure it’s part of the progression we’d like to make. All the parts are in place to be able to start and pull that together but it’s a big step for us. When it does happen, we really want to perform as a band not as guys behind a few laptops with a vocalist so we are waiting for the right time.
Most of Atomic Age was recorded live without much thought to how it could be integrated into a live show so the plan for now is to tour this project as DJs and to start working on our next material which will be composed with more of a live show in mind.
There have been a couple of albums on the label now, is that a direction you want to head in, doing more of those?
Yes that is definitely a big part of the label’s last few years and where things are headed for us. We will obviously still continue to release EPs and singles as well, but with the state of the music industry ever changing it seems like smaller projects have a bit of a shorter shelf life these days so we feel that albums are a much bolder and complete statement from the label and the artists we sign. We’ve been so lucky to have already released albums from Jori Hulkkonnen (who is now working on his follow up for us), Fairmont, and Sid Le Rock. We one more album coming before the end of the year from Tim Paris and are very close to having a finished album delivered from the Pink Skull guys based in Philly that we are very excited about!
You’ve been doing the label a while now - do you feel there is more of a scene developing in Toronto? Are people as into it as they are in Europe and the US, do you think?
Absolutely there is more of a scene for our type of music in Toronto compared to when we started the label roughly 5 years ago. There has been enormous growth and acceptance and it’s a really exciting time in the city! Europe is obviously the place, but the amount of growth has been very noticeable in Canada, the US, and I’d also add Mexico and South America into the mix as well as we have a huge following down there as well!
Where do you go from here?
Everywhere! We’re going to continue to grow the label, we have even bigger plans for MFR label showcases around the world in 2014, lots of touring with our No.19 brothers, and, oh ya, robot world domination and making humans our butlers. Mojito and a cigarette please!