For our second installment of Artist on Artist, Jay "JBOT" Vance of one-man (and many robots) band Captured! by Robots was allowed by his captors to be interviewed by Chicago noise musicians Jon Cates and Jake Elliott, who head up the local chapter of Dorkbot, an international network of "people doing strange things with electricity." Captured! by Robots plays Abbey Pub on May 7.
Dorkbot: If you had a black box that could do anything, what would it do?
JBOT: Um, probably world peace. Unfortunately the only way that could actually happen is to eliminate the whole human race, because I don't think there's any way to get rid of evilness in humans.
When do you think we're going to start merging with computers?
We already have. It's only a matter of time until we have an iPhone implanted in our goddamn hands. If they already had the technology to implant something in our brain where we could just click our earlobe and all of a sudden we'd get a menu screen in our left eye, they'd already do it. It's only a matter of time.
You've been merged with computers for a while now, right?
I play [music] with robots, but I'm not a computer dork. I'm just a guy who got captured by robots. They sort of yell at me, tell me stuff to do, and I do it.
That's something I wanted to push a little bit. The Wizard of Oz tells us not to pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. I was wondering where your ego is involved in the music that you're doing.
Ego is a hard thing, man. It's a constant battle. A lot of times I would love to be a star. I would love to be that guy, who's . . . I'm trying to think of a band that's really popular. I don't know any. Let's say a band that's pulling in a thousand people a night, and there's that dude who's the lead singer and everybody's like, "Aw, he's so awesome. I love that guy." And then I think, that's never going to be me. I'm always going to be the idiot with the robot band; people aren't coming to see me, they're coming to see the robots. It's a constant battle of ego over depression.
So we haven't been able to talk about the lyrics yet. Do you have any kind of philosophy?
My lyrics are horrible. I try to rhyme. I love making lyrics up on the spot. Sometimes it flops, but that's probably my one real outlet of improvisation. When it comes to building robots and making them function and then being artistic and creating lyrics, those two sides of the brain are diametrically opposed. If I've been building for months ahead of a tour and then I decide I gotta write the songs, it is the hardest thing—my mind can't just flip over to being lululu-creative-wasted-stoned guy, you know, birds flying in the air. I'm thinking gears and I'm thinking is that MIDI command gonna go through.
Do you remember when you first encountered a robot?
It was probably when I was a kid and seeing Short Circuit, though I totally hate that robot. I liked the Lost in Space robot.
Is there anyone you saw who was an inspiration for this kind of multimedia show?
For a multimedia show? No. I've never been a tech person. I only did these things out of necessity. I wouldn't even have robots if I could have found people who were good friends and wanted to rock out.
We're wondering if you have a favorite robot joke.
I don't hear robot jokes very often, except when the robots make fun of me. They do some pretty good jokes, but they're not, like, knock-knock kind of things. They're demeaning my masculinity or saying I'm a child rapist. They're pretty mean. Guitarbot will just tear me apart. There've been a couple of times where I've been crying onstage, just brutal. If I was watching it, I'd be laughing hysterically, but it's not so funny when your feet are in the fire.