Robot Lords of Tokyo: the Heavy Metal Hall & Oates?
Ohio's Robot Lords of Tokyo are not your typical metal band. Consisting of Rick Ritzler and Paul Jones as well as a rotating cast of a dozen or so of their musician friends, it's hard to tell if they are even a band at all. But two albums of hard as nails rock suggest otherwise. So is it two guys or is it fourteen guys? And who are these shaggy looking cartoon dudes gracing the album covers and t-shirts?
"Basically the Robot Lords is just two guys, me and Paul Jones," Rick told Noisecreep. "So how do you have a band photo when their is no band? My options were to just have it be the two of us, which is lame! Like we're the heavy metal Hall & Oates or something! Or I could have included all twelve guys who play on the albums, then it'd look the like the friggin' Doobie Brothers! That's when I decided it would be way cooler to tap into the creative mind of an artist like Felix LaFlamme, who is a great Canadian artist I like. So I sent Felix a copy of the songs off our first CD, and asked him to listen to them and just draw a picture of the kind of dudes he'd imagine would make that kind of racket."
RLoT's latest release 'Whiskey, Blood and Napalm' is hard-rocking mix of stoner rock and classic metal with a bit of Southern rock thrown in. While certainly not the first to cover such musical ground, RLoT more than put their stamp on it, due in no small part to the diverse musical styles of the band's various collaborators. Hell, when was the last time you heard virtuoso guitar shredding in a stoner rock song? Unfortunately, the long list of players makes live shows few and far between. "All the different players who contribute to the records bring a wide variety of styles and flavor to the tracks," said Rick. "Steve Theado's slide guitar on 'Bring it On Down' is vastly different from Rob Johnson and Steve Pollick's virtuoso shredding on 'Deathwagon' or 'Shadows and Blood.' However, most of those guys have other bands that are their primary priorities, so coordinating all the different gig schedules in order to squeeze in a Robots gig is a real challenge."
Tell me a little about the cartoon image. Are the characters based on yourselves? Who did the illustration? etc.
I'm glad you asked me about the cartoon, because that means it's serving its purpose and caught your attention. I came up with the idea to use a graphic image to represent the Robot Lords very early on, pretty much at the same time that I decided on the name, and the "Probot-like" approach I wanted to take. Basically the Robot Lords is just two guys, me and Paul Jones. So how do you have a band photo when their is no band? My options were to just have it be the two of us, which is lame! Like we're the heavy metal Hall & Oates or something! Or I could have included all 12 guys who play on the albums, then it'd look the like the friggin' Doobie Brothers! That's when I decided it would be way cooler to tap into the creative mind of an artist like Felix LaFlamme, who is a great Canadian artist I like. So I sent Felix a copy of the songs off my first CD, and asked him to listen to them and just draw a picture of the kind of dudes he'd imagine would make that kind of racket. So that's what you see on our website, album covers, magazine articles, T-shirts, etc. So the answer is no, those characters bare no resemblance to Paul or myself. We're pretty regular looking Joes. Plus, I don't know about you, but I've seen enough heavy metal promo shots with angry guys in black shirts standing in front of brick walls to last me a lifetime.
How did you end up working with Paul? Have you played together before in other bands?
I've known Paul since 1997. We met when I auditioned for and joined the band Green Sky Grey, in which he was the singer. So we were in GSG together for about 7 years, released three CDs, played boatloads of gigs, until it kind of just petered out. That band had some good songs, but we never knew what we wanted to be stylistically. Plus, my role was pretty much limited to the drums, so it wasn't necessarily the most rewarding creative outlet. After we disbanded and I set myself up with a home studio, guitars, amps, recording equipment, etc., I just started writing songs. Eventually it got to the point where I wanted to see what they might sound like with vocals. I ain't much of a singer, and there was no question who I was going to call to collaborate - in addition to being really good friends, I am a genuine fan of Paul's voice, and I knew he could do so much more with it if pushed harder than he was in GSG.
Given the success of your latest record, have you put any thought into taking RLoT beyond just a studio project, with live shows or otherwise?
Oh sure, we've talked about it a lot. And for the record, we have played live in support of 'Whiskey, Blood & Napalm', and will continue to do so selectively. I've had quite a few inquiries about Robot Lords gigs in various parts of the country, and if the financial and logistical circumstances make sense, we'll jump all over it. The biggest obstacle to touring is also what makes the Robot Lords unique in my eyes: all the different players who contribute to the records bring a wide variety of styles and flavor to the tracks. Steve Theado's slide guitar on 'Bring it On Down' is vastly different from Rob Johnson and Steve Pollick's virtuoso shredding on 'Deathwagon' or 'Shadows and Blood.' However, most of those guys have other bands that are their primary priorities, so coordinating all the different gig schedules in order to squeeze in a Robots gig is a real challenge. That said, we love to play together, and for unique gigs that provide significant exposure for the project, everyone is on board with strapping it on live!
I love the fact that there are some shredding guitar solos on 'Whiskey, Blood & Napalm.' I understand that stoner rock (for lack of a better term) is for the most part just really heavy blues, but why do you think so many stoner rock bands regard the guitar solo as an afterthought.
I tell you what, that's one of the best questions I've gotten in any interview -- and I'm not just blowin' smoke up your ass! I think you hit the nail on the head - the vast majority of bands that we are generally compared with stylistically either avoid a lot of guitar solos, or take a very minimalist, pentatonic blues-based approach. Which there is nothing wrong with, by the way. I love literally hundreds of bands who people would generally characterize as some combination of stoner/doom/southern/'70s influenced rock, etc. But for the most part the elements of that genre I find most appealing are the riffs, grooves, lyrics, and the overall ass-kicking nature of it! But I also love to hear incredible musicians rip it up on their instrument come solo time, which is why I also love prog rock/metal, power metal, thrash, melodic death, and many of the post-2000 "new wave of American metal" bands.
I guess maybe the type of guitarists who aspire to that level of technical competency are more attracted to genres other than "stoner rock". So again, part of the original Robot Lords masterplan was to engage shredding guitarists to come play on songs in styles that they would never do in their own bands. And some traditionalists may not think it worked, but I absolutely loved hearing Rob Johnson, who is best know for playing prog metal in Magnitude 9, play his shredding style of lead guitar in a doom-style song like 'Shadows and Blood.' If the solo in that song had been a typical pentatonic blues stuff with lots of repeated bends and a couple trills, it wouldn't have been as memorable.
Stoner rock has always had it's roots in the classic hard rock/metal of yesterday, but there seems to be a growing trend of young bands embracing more traditional metal. Is nu-metal on it's way out?
We can dream, can't we? Although my inclination is to say yes, then I hear that both Limp Bizkit and Creed recently reunited. Now, who was clamoring for that?! And Nickelback and Hinder still sell shitloads more records than any band I like. I mean, in general I'd say I agree with you, and that it certainly seems the new thrash revival and the NWOTHM are bringing an increased focus on the classic metal elements originated in the 70s and 80s. I guess we'll have to see where it goes. I probably have a somewhat different perspective in that I'm 36 years old, so for me it's less about "discovering" this great music from the old days than it is just writing in the style I grew up with.
You've done some covers in the past ('Knock 'Em Dead Kid,' 'Larger Than Life'). Do the Robot Lords have their sights set on any other songs you'd like to make your own? Are there any songs and/or bands that are so awesome in their original state that they are untouchable?
I love playing covers, and my intent was always to use the Robot Lords as a vehicle to celebrate some of my favorite hard rock and metal influences, but try and take a different approach if possible. So for example, growing up I always loved 'Knock 'Em Dead Kid' from 'Shout at the Devil,' great driving riff, big simple Tommy Lee drums, just a cool tune. But, what if the vocals were more in keeping with the angry, gang-fight lyrics? So that's how I came up with the "aggro" version on our debut. As for the future, I'll absolutely do one or two covers on every CD I release. For me it's part of what the Robot Lords are. I have no shortage of tunes I'd like to cover, so nothing is set in stone for volume three. I don't really have any bands that I consider untouchable, but I do avoid any songs that have already been played into the ground. Which is why we didn't cover 'Ace of Spades' or 'Rock and Roll All Nite.' Just a few of the many songs I've thought about covering are Trouble's 'R.I.P.' Cinderella's 'Night Songs', Raging Slab's 'Don't Dog Me,' Deep Purple's 'Love Child,' Fastway's 'We Become One,' and a billion others!
Supposing the Robot Lords made a guest appearance on 'Metalacolypse' for a battle of the bands with Dethlok. Who wins and why?
Well, it's their show so I suppose we'd have to let them win, although once the invading alien hordes show up raining down fiery death, who do you think they'll look to to take 'em down? But that's OK. It's what we do.