Repeat Offender

I, Robot: Robot Boy's 'Self-Destruct and Start Again'

Getting a song so embedded in your brain that it plays over and over again on your cerebral stereo is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's the truly inane songs that stick with us. Recently, a musician friend told me that every time she picks up her bass, she hears the band in the practice space next door singing the chorus, "Why are you so fuckin' retarded? Why are you so fuckin' retarded? Why are you so fuckin' retarded?"

Upon hearing this, I mused, "How fuckin' retarded!" Or at least, that's what I thought before I proceeded to make dinner, drive to a show, drive home, fall asleep, and wake up again the next morning with the refrain "Fuckin' retarded! Fuckin' retarded! Fuckin' retarded!" screeching the whole time like some diseased parrot in my skull. Stupid brain! Why do you taunt me so?

Thankfully, I discovered that that song could be replaced with a newer, catchier, and much more pleasant one from a rising local band. Enter pop-punkers Robot Boy and their tune "Hold My Hand," a feisty number that licked my platter clean of chatter--and did so on the strength of only three chords, some great, strained vocal harmonies, and a few peppy handclaps.

"We used to have this Xerox hanging on the wall [in our practice space] that said, This is how you play a chord. This is how you play another chord. This is how you play another chord. Now go start a band!," says Robot Boy's singer/guitarist David Richardson during an interview with the group at Eli's Bar & Grill in Minneapolis. "We definitely formed with the idea that anyone can pick up a guitar and just teach themselves to play."

In fact, Richardson and bassist Jeff Degree began their self-instruction about three years ago, in their basement. Richardson wrote some songs on the old beat-up guitar he'd found in his yard, which had possibly been discarded by then-next-door-neighbor Matt Wilson. ("If Matt Wilson wants his guitar back, he'll let Robot Boy open for him on tour," Degree threatens.) Richardson and Degree soon convinced singer/drummer Ian Davies--whom Richardson describes as "the most experienced musician of the group"--to sign on, and they recently enlisted guitarist Steve Knapp as well.

Ask any of these band members about their DIY ideals, and they are not afraid to show their enthusiasm. "We're just really excited about music. My boss has no idea how much time I spend looking at music sites on the Net," Davies confesses.

"Or how much time you spend looking at porn," offers Degree.

This is typical banter from the group. The members of Robot Boy are the kind of guys who are older than your average local musician by about a decade, got married years ago, and still sometimes say teenage-boy things like "Chick bass players are so hot!" But their playfulness is precisely their charm. The music on their self-released debut album Self-Destruct and Start Again--which was recorded and made radio- friendly by the Selby Tigers' Dave Gardner--sounds like a great Green Day song as performed in one of those holiday Gap commercials. (In an eerie coincidence, while scanning Robot Boy's Web site, I just discovered that links to their MP3s will soon be offered through Abercrombie & Fitch's homepage. And I thought I was just making a simile. Stupid brain! Why do you taunt me so?)

Although it might be difficult to distinguish Self-Destruct's songs from one another (many of them are made up of the same three chords), the repetitive method works. "Hold My Hand" is by far the best song on the album, but "Paper Doll" (a short but memorable Ramones-like confession), "Lookin'" (an effusive, just-add-pogo song with bratty vocals) and "Speeding Motorcycle" (which sounds like Daniel Johnston reinterpreted as if he were a member of Blink-182) are all the kind of bouncy anthems you wouldn't mind spinning in your head for a day or two.

Or three. Or fifty. It just depends on how long you can listen to such classic three-chord melodies with your mental repeat button activated. But with "Hold My Hand" playing often on Radio K, and the band starting to play more live shows, you might be able to finally shut off your internal stereo. See there, brain? Perhaps we don't need you after all.

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