As we bid farewell to 2018 and welcome in the new year, many of us make resolutions to accomplish this or that goal in the hope we’ll be a better person. I’ve just about given up on any chance of regaining the physique I had at 40, so will instead make a greater effort to expand my musical horizons. Though I’m proud of my song choices that make up my Top 100 of 2018, it was eye-opening to read the year-end lists of other music bloggers. Quite a few lists contained songs I’d never heard of, and as I listened to many of those songs, I realized my tastes, though eclectic, are still rather mainstream.
With that in mind, I’m thrilled to feature an artist who is most definitely non-mainstream. In fact, his music is highly unusual, profoundly unorthodox, and even a tad deranged, befitting his wickedly awesome moniker Spaztic Robot. In the words of the creative man behind the curtain, singer/songwriter/musician Robbie Sparks, “Spaztic Robot is a mongrel. It’s a mixed breed. It’s the bastard son of a thousand albums, hundreds of novels, and the little devil that hides within the darkest crevice of one’s mind.” After listening to his music, I’d say that’s a pretty fitting description.
Based in Birmingham, England, Robbie Sparks was formerly with punk band Rebel City Radio, but after they broke up he started his own solo project Spaztic Robot. In 2016 he released his debut album Skip Rope Rhymes, which Vive Le Rock Magazine called ‘pleasantly unpleasant‘, The Ringmaster described as ‘invasive yet solemnly beauteous darkness‘, and Slap Magazine stated was ‘an album for those unafraid to embrace the unknown‘. On Halloween, 2018, he dropped his second album Spaztic Robot & The Epileptic Moth, released on independent label Killer Shark Records. Robbie reached out to me about a review, and I was so intrigued by his music that I wanted to also get some of his thoughts about his creative process and the album, to which he graciously agreed.
EML: Thank you for agreeing to discuss your music with me Robbie. I’ve listened to both of your albums several times and have to say your music is some of the most intriguing and distinctive I’ve heard. I hear similarities to such bands as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, and even traces of Frank Zappa, but your music is certainly unique. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Robbie Sparks: Firstly, thank you for your generous words and for taking the time to absorb the songs, and for inviting me to be part of this interview.
I think my main inspiration comes from a desire to remain relatively sane. I find the writing process crucial for digesting ‘life’ and making sense of the whole damn thing. Scraps of loose paper litter my home, all full of scribbled nonsense. Really, they’re everywhere! Musically speaking I just enjoy absorbing new sounds. That’s not to say I discard what I listened to previously, not at all. I treasure it all. I guess you could say that each record I enjoy is another brick in an ever-rising wall that builds around me, and like in the old Atari game Pong, I’m just some mad dot inside that bounces back and forth pulling inspiration randomly with each hit.
EML: The themes and lyrics for many of your songs are very provocative, calling out politicians, societal hypocrisy, sexual deviancy and such. Are you wanting to provoke with your music, merely venting, or both?
RS: More than “provoke” I think it’s important to reflect…no matter how ugly the result may be. I’m conscious not to be overly negative, which if I’m honest I’ve always had a tendency to be, and I hope that the songs are seen merely as reflections and not statements. There’s a sense of closure about a statement, and if there is a fragment of hope to be found I try to keep it in the mix. It’s what we’re all clinging to after all.
EML: Your songs and melodies are very complex, incorporating multiple genres and lots of textures and layers that make for an incredibly compelling and interesting listen. Tell me a bit about your creative process for writing songs and developing their structures.
RS: Most of my songwriting begins with a simple melody or chord change. Once I have that, the lyrics take over and drive the song. The rhythm will change and the layers will flutter as and when the words dictate. You could say the lyrics take on the form of the conductor, and the textures of music rise and fall on its demand. It fascinates me that for us to understand ourselves, even at our most primitive, we rely on words. Like computer coding, our vocabulary offers our emotions and thoughts a body in which to exist, without which our minds would be nothing more than swamps’ farting gas. So it was important, right from the start, for the songs to develop in this way.
EML: Your instrumentals are really fantastic. Do you play and/or program all the music on your songs by yourself?
RS: Yes, everything I do is done in my home studio. Well, it’s more of a ‘space’ than a studio to be honest, in which a skeleton studio set up has been vaguely imitated. All the beats and most of the bass is programmed. Guitars, keys, and vocals are recorded live, although they do get manipulated as the parts start to intertwine.
EML: You include quite a few spoken vocals from other sources in some of your songs. How do you go about finding and selecting them?
RS: Most of the time I know roughly what I’m after, be it a quote from a writer, a sample from a philosopher, or a scene from an 80’s slasher movie, so I’m able to locate it relatively easily. I do however designate set evenings each week to the ‘creative process’. These evenings regularly drift into the early hours, and often little songwriting gets done, but these evenings take on a different form of productivity. It’s during these sessions that I will find myself reading manuscripts of obscure lectures or watching unworldly subtitled animations, and have no definitive recollection of the path I took to discover them, just a page in my notebook with loosely connected scribbles hinting that the journey has taken more than one detour.
EML: Have you performed your music live? If not, do you have any plans to do so, or even tour?
RS: Spaztic Robot has never been on the live circuit, and I don’t think it ever will be. There certainly aren’t any plans for it to happen. It’s not that there’s a lack of desire from myself to perform, in fact there have been times since my previous band Rebel City Radio broke-up that I’ve yearned for the adrenaline kick one gets from performing live. It’s simply that, logistically, I don’t have the time, personnel, or resources to make it happen AND do the songs justice at the same time.
EML: Completely understandable. Any plans for more music or album #3?
RS: I continue to write, and there have been no offers to tempt me away from Spaztic Robot, so another release is likely. A handful of songs are spawning anyway.
EML: Anything I forgot to ask that you’d like my readers and your fans to know?
RS: I’d just like to thank them for reading. If they’ve got this far they must be at least mildly intrigued…and that’s all I can ask for.
EML: And that’s all I can ask for too! Thanks so much for taking the time to so eloquently respond to my questions Robbie.
So let’s get to the album Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth, definitely one of the best-titled releases of 2018. Robbie wastes no time in creeping us out with “Assholes“, a scathing attack on politicians and a brilliant track from a musical standpoint. Starting off with his echoed sing-song moaning, he lets out a devilish chuckle as the music expands with razor-sharp industrial synths that slice through the airwaves, accompanied by a sinister throbbing drumbeat. He ghoulishly sneers “Hey Mister, do I have your attention? See those two dogs sniffing each others’ assholes! “Lick it, lick it, lick it Mr. Fuckin’ Politician, whoo! /Word out on the street is you’d suck it for a couple of balloons.” As the song proceeds, Robbie adds tasty little sound effects like howling wolves, disquieting whispered vocals and snippets of sci-fi movie samples that serve to reinforce the creep factor as he continues to moan and/or wail. It all builds to an explosive climax at the end with a fusillade of screeching guitars and tortured screaming synths.
There’s no catching our breath as the punkish title track “Spaztic Robot” ensues with a barrage of staccato beats, frenzied psychedelic synths and furiously crashing cymbals that rain down like thunderbolts on steroids. Robbie cleverly weaves samples of vocals from horror films with his own fiendish utterances to create a vibe that’s wickedly fun, and befitting of the lyrics about a discarded tin can that transforms into a crazed robot. The delightful video is hilarious and campy, like some of the 50s sci-fi films it seems to parody.
“We CU!” plays like a nightmarish nursery rhyme, opening with a mysterious xylophone-driven melody as Robbie softly croons “Walk around the pond and spit at the fishes. If you hit a frog you can make a wish.” His vocals take on a fiendish air as he sings in a rapid cadence, broken by occasional chants of “we see you hide” in a menacing tone. Ghostly layered synths abound until a child’s voice repeatedly chants “Everyone gets a chance to die” before the song abruptly transitions to an upbeat, bouncy tune at the end.
Robbie takes a softer approach on the languid “Blasphemous Rumours,” though the subject matter remains rather bleak. It starts off with an eerie synth, then beautiful chiming guitars enter the mix as Robbie sings in hushed vocals about a woman who attempted suicide by slashing her wrists. The music continues to swell as he gently croons “I don’t want to start blasphemous rumours but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour.”
“Pond Scum” is one of the most disturbing, but interesting tracks on the album. It opens on a fairly pleasant note with a vintage movie soundtrack sample, but then takes a sharp turn with an sonic assault of hellish synths. Like a violent crime scene set to music, it’s repellent but we can’t seem to turn away. Robbie’s vocals sound downright diabolical as he snarls the lyrics that speak to sexual depravity: “The hungry little fuckers are horny little fuckers. They’re feral little mouths and nothing left to stop them. They’re horny and they’re fucking, and they’re fucking and they’re horny.”
Many of his songs take sharp twists and turns, and the melodically complex “Shark Attack” is a perfect example of this. Magical synths convey an aura of fantasy like a Harry Potter movie, then gradually evolve to a mysterious deep bass-driven melody with Robbie chanting “shark attack” along with repetitive drawn-out psshh sounds. Though it has a bit of a creepy vibe, the song has an otherworldly beauty. “Back to Inferior Ways” hits us with barrages of bleak industrial noise that alternate with a rather lovely and sweeping beat-driven melody. Robbie’s vocals are sinister as he snarls the lyrics that are interspersed with sampled vocals.
As each track unfolds, I’m increasingly impressed by Robbie’s creativity, originality and musicianship. He surprises us with the hauntingly beautiful piano-driven composition “Blisters.” Built around a brooding piano riff, the song slowly builds with added organ and horn synths into a deeply moving soundscape, before ending with just a tinkling piano riff. “Windmill” features a haunting guitar-driven melody, punctuated by unsettling staccato beats, mysterious synths and sampled children’s voices.
“Demons” is a trippy song built around a hypnotic dubstep beat, with pulsating industrial synths. We immediately hear a young girl asking “Could you please help me find my dolly? I lost her, and really want her back.” It’s difficult to make out many of the lyrics Robbie is singing, but his eerie moans and wails lend a strong sense of unease. He throws in all kinds of samples, including a bit of Claude Rains’ dialogue from Casablanca, and a line from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s 1968 hit song “Fire”. Later on, a man’s voice says “Satan is all around you. Remember, one third of his angels were cast out of heaven into the earth. They’re here with us.” It sure helps explain the abundance of evil that exists in the world. Robbie closes the album with his psychedelic re-imagining of the Nirvana classic “Heart Shaped Box.” Using spacey industrial synths, deep bass, reverb-heavy guitar and only the sparest of vocals, he creates a mesmerizing and powerful instrumental track.
Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth is a brilliant work of such incredible nuance and complexity, I found that it got better with each listen as I heard something new I’d missed previously. Robbie’s songwriting, arrangement and production skills are impressive, along with his outstanding musicianship. I love this album, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes music that’s outside the mainstream.