Q&A: Surf rock, Italian Westerns, and B-movie themes collide as RobotMonkeyArm

RobotMonkeyArm: Part One: Robot Senza Nome!RobotMonkeyArm: Part One: Robot Senza Nome! (10/11/12)


RobotMonkeyArm: “L’Automa”

RobotMonkeyArm is a multimedia project of the mind. A series of imaginary films, comic books, and novels all represented only through the music that creator Ryan Baker has written, it’s a cinematic mix of surf rock, Italian Western, and B-movie themes.

Starring a gorilla and a robot as adversaries (who have, through unknown circumstances, switched arms) and a beautiful young cyborg, Baker’s series of EPs is fronted by colorful, cartoonish artwork from Matt Talbot. But the stories themselves? Only Ryan knows for sure. We talked to him to try to wring out a few more details.

Who is our protagonist? The robot with the monkey arm or the monkey with the robot arm? And who stole whose arm first?

It’s amazing to hear other people’s interpretations. The last thing I want to do is ruin it with too many details. Regardless as to who stole whose arm first (or is there some other explanation?), things have escalated into a bloody tale of revenge. Each EP has its own unique protagonist. Now are they (the EPs) telling the same story from radically different viewpoints? An epic trilogy of films? Or just different genre direct-to-DVD movies with the same cast? Who cares?!? It’s just music, bro!

What was the genesis behind these albums?

In its absolute infancy, I had a huge crush on a girl who was in a cutesy ’60s garage/surf band, and I was inspired to write some surf songs hoping to woo her. This completely backfired, which twisted the songs into the horrible nightmare they now are.

You have Italian Western elements, but there are hints of everything from giallo to ’70s blaxploitation and revenge flicks. Was each EP inspired by a different film genre?

I’m obsessed with all that stuff. I can’t help but be influenced by it. I gravitate towards experimental music and film scores, I think because I’ve always approached music from a visual or cinematic viewpoint. Whenever I’m listening or writing, I can’t help but picture scenes in my head; my preferred way of listening to music is in the dark with headphones on for that reason (no distractions).

For example, a piece like John Zorn’s Spillane or Mr. Bungle’s “The Bends” for most people are seemingly random collections of music, sound effects, and harsh noises but were hugely emotional experiences for me. When I listen to something, I want to go on an emotional journey with a lot of dynamics, much like watching a film or a great piece of theater does. I don’t know how successful I am, but that’s what I’m striving to do when I write music — that and cheap panning effects. I’m a sucker for those.

Would and could you ever perform this live, perhaps with a Gorillaz-style multimedia show?

Absolutely! The Gorillaz are amazing! Oh my goodness, if I was a trust-fund kid or had some kind of angel investor, the live show would be incredible — animation and holograms galore! For now, I’m trying to get a six-to-eight-piece band together, and I did just splurge on a giant set of cardboard robot arms that I found on Etsy. I don’t know how I’m going to play baritone guitar with those.

What comes next? Musically, what would it sound like?

I love music and challenging myself, and there are so many types of music I want to explore and questions I want to answer — the more overreaching, ambitious, and challenging to pull off the better! The next one is going to be some sort of swanky, big-band spy and film-noir-ish record, I think. That’s at least the general direction I’m headed. Who the heck knows what it’s gonna sound like when it’s done? It could be more like Skrillex or more like John Denver. I just write whatever comes out naturally.

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