Debut album Music for All Occasions is out now.
Belfast’s Robocobra Quartet are a band that you never realised you needed in your life until you have actually listened to them. Combining a stabbing performance poetry style vocal delivery, jazz flourishes, contemporary classical music, and restrained post hardcore in a tense and considered manner, they are a confrontational and imposing listen. However, this effect is not created through distortion, blast beats, or any of the usual tricks. It’s more a tailored approach facilitated with stream of consciousness lyrics, saxophones and unusual song structures.
We spoke to the band about the inspiration behind each song on the record. We touched on Sun Kil Moon, the inherent complication of intimate relationships, and the fragility of trust.
Music for All Occasions.
This is the first LP we’ve done. A lot of times with bands there’s a huge thing about the debut album. “This will sky rocket us to fame!” The idea was to call it Music for All Occasions because it’s just music. Then there was a bit of a joke about the ‘Music for’ part. You know, how Steve Reich or classical composers will have ‘music for strings’ or ‘music for children’. We thought it’d be kind of funny to do that as each track is quite different.
It’s probably the most upbeat track on the record. It’s just about people’s perspectives of things. Lines like, “You’ve got the look of someone who’s got the world figured out”. People sometimes have an idea of someone from a very small amount of what they present. It’s about the distance between how you feel and how people feel about you. Maybe day to day you have the world figured out, but the world is dynamic. So today you might have it figured out, but tomorrow you might not. People will sometimes see someone as having reached an endgame, but there’s no endgame. We all have good days and bad days.
2. You’ll Shrug
That song repeats, “Leave more on the cutting room floor” about seven thousand times. It’s about the idea of trying to be more succinct. Sometimes I go on and talk for ages about something. The good thing is the conversation but the bad thing is sometimes you miss the point. All these tracks are short. It’s a short LP. That song is trying to lean towards that idea of being succinct. If you can do that… there’s so much chatter. I’m trying not to have as much.
3. Nice Life
I’d been watching the live video of Sun Kil Moon playing the Pitchfork Festival. He’s playing ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes’. It’s amazing. Much better than the recorded version. It’s full of dread as it is one riff on loop with a simple drum beat. I wrote the bass part already, but after the video I got an idea of how I wanted to frame that song. So I pretty much ripped off Sun Kil Moon (laughs). I saw them play in Bangor and they were really intense. He’s kind of like your creepy uncle. There was this girl who was a runner for the gig and he was like, “Where’s that pretty girl who’s gonna bring me tea?” But he is good.
4. Problem Solver
I tend to write things at the same time, and things get finished at the same time. Lyrics get swapped around between them. This is probably linked to the idea of “You’ve got the look of someone who’s got the world figured out” thing from ‘Correct’. Sometimes if you are someone who is often good at fixing things, you get leaned on a lot. I had some family stuff… It was a stressful situation. And sometimes with friends too you get leaned on until you crack. Until you are no longer useful to them or yourself. Hopefully there’s a note there to say, “Don’t let yourself get there.”
5. Our Very Own Version of November Rain
This song was originally quite a bit longer. It had a second section that was entirely unrelated. It was a different key, a different tempo. But we really wanted to use it so we cellotaped it to the end of the song. It was kind of like the huge outro part of ‘November Rain’ by Guns ‘N’ Roses but it’s really sick. You know they were like, “No, we’re keeping this. Fuck it. Even though it makes no sense”. We decided to be more sensible and cut that section and that turned into ‘Dirge for Self’ on the record.
6. Find X
It’s pretty straight forward. I was inspired by a music video thing by this guy… It was really funny. A lot of it was borrowed from other cultures and art movements. So little originality. This was best exemplified by a music video in which he is literally standing next to graffiti with his arms crossed being like, “Look at me”. It’s like someone buying a Banksy mug or print. Or a t shirt with something funny on it. Someone borrowing someone else’s idea. As if standing next to something profound will mean it will rub off on you.
7. Dirge For Self
It’s just a weird self deprecating song. It’s about friendships and how they can start so intensely. Quite quickly you can find that it can go away. Even take a song or a band. You find a band. You’re obsessed. You listen 20-30 times and start to lose that magic. It’s about being stubborn and trying to stick with it. Sometimes you can come back a long time later and it is reinvigorated. So you’ve lost the original excitement but you’ve found something new. And the new thing is cool too.
8. Straight Lines
That has a lot of different imagery from when I was younger. I was in a car crash when I was quite young. It ties in with DIY punk rock which I became interested in. If you’re in a car crash and you’re the passenger, the driver has made a mistake. Up until that person you have a lot of trust in the driver. After that happens you have a second take, and think about how much you should trust the driver. It’s literal but also metaphorical. If you’re in a band it could be the manager. Sometimes it’s better to take the wheel yourself. You don’t want walk around being completely lacking trust but you don’t want to accept everything at face value.
I use adages a lot. In pop music you have a chorus. A chorus is used to create redundancy. “It has happened, and will happen again”. As a listener you can hook on to that. Because our music does not have choruses there’s not a lot to grab onto. I like to add the hook in other things. So having the bass do what the saxophone did earlier. Or, in this case, mining from cultural language. Things like, “We need to talk about that”. Those are phrases everyone has heard and hopefully that’ll enable the listener to grab onto something in the song. Then you can hit them with the thing they don’t know about afterwards. The bait and switch.
9. Album of the Year
That’s tongue in cheek. I thought it’d be funny. The album is about a year. How you feel over that expanse of time. Summing up and taking stock. It’s like looking at a photo album of a year. I thought the phrase ‘Album of the Year’ has such a specific meaning in modern culture that it’d be kind of funny. You have to have a bit of humour. A song with heavy material can be helped with a little levity. It doesn’t have to laugh out loud funny, but something tongue in cheek. You don’t want to come across as an artist in pain. Sometimes you’re in pain and sometimes you’re having a laugh. You know what I mean?
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