When you think of a ‘one-person-act’, your first thoughts may be someone who either utilizes backing tracks, does the acoustic singer-songwriter deal, DJ’ing, or maybe some other strange sort of concept where one person creates a whole band by their own means. I’ve written before about one artist, Gull, who makes the single-person act a monumental culmination of drums, guitar, vocals, synths, and other sounds blend into a looped wave of unbelievable compositions by his own hands. But today, we’re talking about one who takes this concept just a little bit further, as we feature none other than Captured! By Robots as this week’s Weekly Featured Artist.
Began in 1996, somewhere in the lovely city of San Francisco, CA, after musician, inventor (unofficially, as he states), and general go-getter Jay Vance had expressed being ‘fed-up’ with the traditional band construct. Performing, touring, conducting, and essentially living with other people in his creative pursuits was becoming a mind-numbing endeavor that not only thwarted progress as he saw it, but also put him in a spot of not wanting to do it or not feeling like there was any satisfactory way of doing it, so to speak. So what better way to spice up the music life than to literally invent your own band mates? Thus spawned the notorious GTRBOT666 and DRMBOT 0110, and with his duo of people-hating, literal riff shredding, maniacal but trustworthy death bots – JBot, as he would soon adopt as his stage moniker, would detach completely from the pains of his past, and endure many new ones with a project that is just as much insanely talented and full of surprises live as it is hilarious on paper.
‘Well, I made the robots in, like, ’96, when I was playing in a bunch of bands and it was fuckin’ miserable. People are difficult, so, I had a bunch of false starts, but then realized that I could pretty much make a band of robots and I wouldn’t have to deal with people anymore! It’s good, though. I would never trade it for anything in the world. It’s been a crazy journey.‘
Jay’s motivation, both for music and anything else he wishes to accomplish in his daily life, comes from a general attitude of ‘I want to do this, so I’m going to do it, and if I get pissed off and fail? Good, I’m learning’. He will not describe himself as an inventor, nor an engineer of any kind, yet he tells me stories of long, daunting tours where he’s had technical issues with one or both of the bots before and only a matter of 6 hours before the next show to figure out what to do to fix them. Not to mention, again, he has made something of a Philip K. Dick-novel-inspired Sci-Fi wet dream become an abominable, grindy reality; Needless to say the machines come with their maintenance. But, even in these high stresses and limiting scenarios, Jay’s found his way to work it out, but to say this man has worked his literal ass off is an absolute understatement.
‘I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. Started playing trombone in grade school. I don’t know why I was playing trombone in grade school; I just kind of got into it and did it for awhile. But one time I was on vacation and we went to a thrift store, and there was a cheap electric guitar at this pawn shop, it was like $20, and it was great! And that was the beginning of my descent into rock and metal, and everything else. I studied things, got into jazz, classical, and all that stuff, learned upright bass, and a bunch of other instruments.‘
Jay’s roots for musical interest began as young child when he took up band class in school, and eventually moved on to electric guitar, which would turn into a whole legacy of being in and out of various music projects. Recognized for bands such as Blue Meanies and Skankin Pickle, Jay’s definitely been around the block once or twice. In fact, he’s done tours with an entire ensemble of giant teddy bears equipped with horns and other instruments. Catching plenty of eyes with this act in particular, it’s easy to see that Jay has a true talent for his DIY robotic creations, not to mention a genuine passion, as highlighted in an interview with Vice: ‘There’s something about taking stuff that’s broken, that has no use to anybody, and then you turn it into something it was never meant to be. Or you just fix it so it functions. That feeling is the best feeling in the world.’
In regards to the music performed by Captured! By Robots, the sound started off as something much more simple and in the vein of rock, but quickly evolved into a demented, evil, noisy grindcore-adjacent style that has been the forefront ever since. The latest album by the band, Broken As Fuck, carries plenty of great examples of where the band stands as far as genre, with an eclectic mix of grind, hardcore punk, metal, and noisy savagery to boot. Tracks such as “SUFFER”, “USA”, and “U LIE U DIE”, exhibit lyrical subjects that express distaste for various facets of humanity and perhaps the negligence of different individuals as well. “FUCK IT ALL” in particular seems to cover, in perhaps a more vulgar and mildly humorous context, the endless struggle of attempting improvement on one’s self, only to slip back into old habits with an apathetic return.
When it comes to live performance, Jay describes his act as jarring, cathartic, energetic, and typically of a shocking nature for those who witness. Many have been unsure of what to make of the act, and as you might expect, responses and reception has varied from city to city, but ultimately I believe Jay to be a good representation of the spirit of a high-energy, genuine live act, even if two-thirds of that act is inhuman. Jay has expressed absolute exhaustion, frustration, and a near notion to quit touring entirely given various factors that he believes indicate it’s not something he wants to do anymore, while such appears to have been the case for the robotic teddy bear ensemble (which sadly I cannot find any official name for upon searching), his upcoming In Fuckin’ Hell Tour is more or less something he’s using as a litmus test of sorts to see where his sanity and durability still lies in the way of whether he continues to tour out or not. Given the both foreseen and unforeseen struggles and tribulations that touring can have as is, as any performing and working act would know, it is no surprise that doing this (especially by yourself) could be extra grueling and taxing, but Jay still finds a tinge of optimism in his endeavors regardless.
‘Well, um, I’m probably gonna do some stuff in California and the rest of the year. But, in February I’m doing a quick run up to Bellingham, the Canadian border and back, to Portland, Seattle, and Chehalis in mid-February. Once I get home from that, I pretty much wanna just grow weed and kind of get my mental health in order, and record, and just, like, get rid of some stresses in my life, y’know? I’ve had a real bad year this year, so, I wanna like…I wanna do things right for this next thing.‘
While he didn’t exactly have any specific ‘wild tour stories’ to recount to me, he did make mention that he’s seen an uptick of both appearance and excited response from crowds post-2020 lockdown. As he put it, ‘it’s like kids went insane not having shows to go to or something’, as he tells me of feeling a resurgence of sorts in crowd reception. Comparatively, and sadly as he experienced in my own hometown from pre-2020 runs, past shows have definitely been hit-or-miss, so to speak. But even with that, JBot doesn’t seem to really expect any major takeaways from what Captured! By Robots do, with the exception of one thing he both hopes for and has seen – to make you think.
‘I had this other band, this band of teddy bears that I made, it sound ridiculous. But it’s like a robotic band of teddy bears, right? And it was cool, it was fun, people really loved it and stuff, and it was kinda high art and doing a bunch of fun shit. So, anyways, I just hated. I couldn’t stand it. So I got this whole tour booked, it was gonna be like, 7 weeks, and I was gonna go out across the country; I spent a year of my life working on this fuckin’ thing, and just planning on doing this tour. So, I get out there, and I made it a week, and I just fuckin’ lost my mind. I couldn’t keep going – because I fuckin’ hated it! So it’s fucked! So I’m questioning, do I wanna do Captured! By Robots anymore? So that’s what this tour is – Gonna go back out and see if I like playing again. This is just like…a test.‘
JBot at no point in our conversation iterated a desire to persuade me in any direction on virtually any facet of life; However, I found myself delightfully enlightened and wholly more confident about my direction in life after our 30-40 minute conversation. Jay’s words detailing ‘just doing it’ and allowing for the struggles to be part of the process – taking the bad with the good and vice versa, if you will – hit a particular nerve in me that I think could do the very same with those who would follow Captured! By Robots, or any endeavor he commits himself to. Sure, you may chalk that concept up to sounding a little cliche, but hearing the many direct examples of how that has applied to his life and how he’s powered through it all really puts it into perspective that the human mind and body are forever much more capable of things than they may ever even realize. For being someone whose entire concept of crafting his literal own band seemed to spawn after an utter annoyance and disgust with humans, JBot is a prime example of what being a real human means.
Jay, both in response to my comments about being a skilled engineer, and just during any given moment we recounted his accomplishments to date, reiterated that the only thing, he feels, that has gotten him to this point was a drive to ‘just do it‘, as he so boldly put it. Jay’s words manifest an inspirational reflection of sorts that reminds us that anything we want to do in life, for better or worse, is not as far out of reach as we may think. For this, and of course the fact that the guy is a genuine musical genius from what I can tell, JBot embodies a DIY soul much beyond what constraints may even apply to that term. Jay is a prime example of taking what you’ve got and turning it into something more.
‘I mean, I never wanted any of this. If I had a band of people who were awesome, I would’ve just done that. I never wanted to, I just had to. I don’t know if I’ve always been like this, or if this experience made me get good at this, but basically – I make things happen; If I want it, I’m either gonna manifest it or just make it happen. Because I get super obsessive, and can’t stop thinking about stuff. If something works? Great. If it doesn’t work? Then, it’s just gonna be in my head until I make it work. So, that’s kinda how it all happened. I mean, if you wanna learn something, you can learn how to do it; If you wanna learn surgery, you could probably learn how to do it without going to school – there’s a lot of books out there about surgery! You’d probably get in trouble for it, but…where there’s a will, there’s a way!‘
…Talking more on the live performance, injuries sustained when performing, and why music is so cathartic to him, why he loves crowds, how even the wild antics of his show feel therapeutic, etc….
‘I sustain injuries all the time. That’s my M.O. The only time I’m truly free from the bullshit in my mind and just suffering, is when I’m suffering really badly. I fall into the crowd all the time, I bang my head on shit all the time, get cut, get bit by dogs, twist my ankle…Yeah, injuries are partial to it. I really enjoy the crowd and hanging out with the crowd. The scene I was coming up in, in the late ’90s, was very welcoming. Had a great scene on the last tour I did, Indianapolis and Jacksonville? Black Circle? The kids there were great! It was awesome. The kids who went through COVID, I got to meet a lot of them on this last tour…and they just wanna have fun and party, and get loose, and it’s just great. Because that didn’t really exist before COVID, in my experience.‘
In response to me asking about what the message of Captured! By Robots might be…
‘I don’t know. I kinda do what I do. I’ve heard people talk about the show – because when you’re the person doing it, it’s kind of hard to analyze it but so much – there’s a play on the whole idea of what it is to be human, and the world of technology and the world of how much humanity is fucking everything up; Someone had said that even though they were coming to see a band of robots, somehow it was the most human show they had ever seen. Which is interesting, because I bring up a lot of hard issues. I’m talking about the meaning of life, people are suffering. This tour is called In Fuckin’ Hell, because I’ve been in hell for the last year, and I think a lot of other people have been in fuckin’ hell, and they don’t see it getting better; So we’re gonna have like a confession mic. That’s what I wanna have on the show – I wanna talk about real shit. Shows are like therapy for me. I’m clearing my shit out every night.‘
So, even though any video, track, or detached piece of media or content you may find on Captured! By Robots is likely to grab your attention, it seems that the most visceral and magnetizing piece of their existence is found through live show. JBot and his duo of titanium troubadours set out for tour on the West Coast this month…so if you find yourself anywhere nearby? Treat yourself to an honest, surprisingly human, yet technologically mind-boggling experience. Be sure to follow the band and get acquainted via their Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram, or website – which all will contain details of upcoming tour dates and other live performances!
I leave you now with one more inspirational quote from the JBot himself…
‘Failure is the best fuckin’ thing in the world. Get used to it. Love that shit. Because, all you gotta do is say, I’m gonna go back and I’m gonna fix it. There’s very few things you can’t fix, y’know? The way of things is entropy, the way of things are failure; But I’m always superstitious because anything can happen at any time.‘
Captured! By Robots is…
GTRBOT666 – guitars, bass
DRMBOT 0110 – drums
JBot – vocals, ‘pathetic whimpering’
Band photo courtesy of Raymond Ahner