20 Questions With Robojom

Winnipeg's cyberpunk leader talks cookies, craft beer & murder mysteries.

Happy Canada Day! To mark the occasion, I’ll be spotlighting Canadian artists all day. First up: Robojom. A few weeks ago, the Winnipeg electro-rockers were kind enough to premiere their new video for Monster Cookie with me. You can (and definitely should) read more about that HERE. Today, they’re good enough to answer my silly questions. Do the robot while you enjoy:



Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Hi, my name is Joel. I’m tall, I was born in the United States, grew up in Canada and have lived in England and Germany, I’m a Pisces. I have been an active member of the Winnipeg music and dance community since 1989, I am a multi instrumentalist, composer and music producer who always has a list of musical projects on the go.

What is your musical origin story?
I heard the song Wham Rap 86 by Wham! on the radio. That’s no lie. That is exactly when I decided that I belonged to music. My first band wanted to play ’80s hair-metal covers, but I was a hippy weirdo and didn’t know it yet. They were the only music friends I had at the time so ’80s hair metal is what we did, but I kept trying to push Prince, INXS, Tom Waits and Sade on them. After high school I played in a band called Skingerbreadman. Then I played in a band called The Hummers for about 10 years. Overall since the Wham! incident I’ve made 15+ soundtracks, 17+ albums of my own material, 11+ albums featured as a supporting musician. I have led 8+ bands and played as a supporting musician in 15+ others.

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
This album Hollow Body by Robojom has been a long time in the making. We started in 2014 when I had a vision to form a band that combined custom made music generating software with modern dance and performance art in a darkwave aesthetic with robot and cyborg themes and characters. I lucked out immediately when I asked my friend Renée to be on the mic. She is the ultimate band front person. Neither of us knew that at the time, she had never been in a band before, but she was born to be on stage with a mic in her hand. She is a lyrical and performance genius.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
I make no promises that your life will be improved by listening to my music! Music is a personal thing. Three completely different people can hear the exact same piece of music and one of them will think it’s the best and most important thing they’ve ever heard, one will think it’s okay but not great, and one will absolutely hate it. That’s the beauty of humanity!

What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Aside from the aforementioned Wham Rap 86… so, so many. I remember hearing Jane’s Addiction for the first time, that left a big impact on me. I remember hearing Led Zeppelin on the radio at a very young age and I couldn’t believe my ears. Tom Waits, Bjork & Prince were all big early influences on me. I am always listening to new music and have new all time favourites every week.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
My personal best would probably be playing pope’s hill at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2007 with The Hummers. We went on around 2 a.m., and were supposed to play for about an hour. We ended up playing until the sun rose to a field of thousands of people dancing. For the Robojom Hollow Body album release show, we made a coffin and painted it black and decorated it with silver and gold roses and a group of dancers carried Renée in like a funeral procession. She had a wireless mic and was speaking an intro to a song while they marched toward the stage. Then she was singing the whole first part of the first song from inside the coffin while she was being held up by dancers until slowly she opened up the coffin door and stood up as she sang, wrapped up in gauze like a mummy. Then the dancers unraveled her at the peak of the song and she burst into movement. This was just the opening song! We love doing stuff like this at our shows, and we make them big productions. The audience feedback after the shows is always great. They really appreciate that we make such an effort to not bore them.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
The same thing I’ve done the last 30 years, playing music with my friends.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Number 1, James Murphy. Number 2, Glasgow’s Green Door Studios. After that I don’t have a list of stars I want to collaborate with anymore. There are too many stars nowadays to be starstruck anymore. I would like to keep collaborating with all my friends, new and old, this means You!

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love breakbeat music! Most people I say that to don’t know what that means, but it’s a very particular style of EDM. I tell them to picture cybergoths dancing under a concrete bridge and that’d be the music they’re dancing to. I also LOVE good dancehall music.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Some of my favourites today are Snapped Ankles, Golden Teacher, LCD Soundsystem, Duchess Says, Oh Sees, Amyl and the Sniffers, Viagra Boys, Primitive Parts, Underworld, Black Midi, B Boys, Shy Layers.

How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
I don’t usually read fiction because I don’t tend to enjoy it, but I’ve been reading a book in the making on wattpad by our new synth player, Ava Glendinning. It’s about a fictional Winnipeg band that solves mysteries and it is amazing. It really speaks to me. It’s called Bukowski’s Broken Family Band. Ava is a very kind, smart, funny and ridiculously talented musician and friend who also happens to have written maybe the best piece of fiction I’ve ever read.

What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
I drive a 2009 Suzuki Swift because it’s an all manual, affordable used car and I could just buy it without having car payments. I don’t really want to drive anything, I want to fly a helicopter so that I can jump out of it into an ocean before it crashes into a cliff, exploding, like an action movie star would.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I read a lot of comics growing up. I always loved Nightcrawler. I liked him as a character and I liked his power a lot. The ability to teleport. If I could teleport long range though, longer range than Nightcrawler, that’d be my ultimate super power. I would use it to travel all over the world to play music without having to spend countless hours on the highway!

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I write code and make software. I can also bake cookies, walk on stilts, juggle, swim and dance like a fiend, I write music reviews … not sure if that counts as “outside of music” though.

What do you collect?
When I was younger I collected comics and action figures. I have a pretty extensive record collection, obviously. Other than that I don’t really collect anything these days though.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Probably cookies.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
I don’t get craft beer. I don’t really like beer, which I know is not normal. I know that, as a musician, you’re supposed to like beer. The last time I went on tour we stopped at every hipster craft beer place in every city because the rest of the band loves craft beer, but I just sat there and didn’t get it.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I’ve got two dogs, who are both foster fails from an organization called Manitoba Mutts. Frankie and Gilda are their names. Frankie is one of those super happy and enthusiastic dogs that will try to lick your face off. Gilda is a fearful dog, so she’s a challenge to take out in public, but she’s a total goofball when she’s home.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I guess the job I have, which is in computer programming. It’s not for everyone but what I like about it is it’s very creative but also very lucrative and it applies to nearly every industry so there’s an infinite amount to learn. You’ll never know everything there is to know about programming. I am also pretty interested in politics, psychology, and behavioural economics.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
The best music advice I ever heard was from Greg MacPherson. He basically said that a lot of people make the music they think they are supposed to make. In other words, they make music that sounds like what they think music is supposed to sound like based on the majority of music that they have heard. Don’t do that. Make the music that you want to hear more of in the world. Make music that if you heard it, you would rush out and buy it. My advice on advice in general is to realize that everyone can only give advice based on their own perspective which is shaped by their own experiences. It might not be the right advice for you, it’s the right advice for the person who is giving the advice.

Watch Monster Cookie above, listen to Hollow Body below, and follow Robojom on Facebook and Instagram.