Early punk, early new wave, early glam, early rock ’n’ roll, early everything. And then as far as performing, I just like performing, so I guess maybe the glam thing comes out of that.
Let me set the stage: it’s about ten years ago, and there’s this kid named Alex, and he wants to be rebellious, right? So he turns to—get this—hip-hop music because none of the other kids are listening to it. Nothing shocking, right? Then the kid starts deejaying and rapping, not thinking at all about being in a band or anything as common as that. And then, suddenly, all the kids are into hip-hop and rap, and the movement’s not so fresh anymore, at least not to Alex, so he takes the leap and starts a band.
Sure, there’s more to the story, but I’m summarizing. Really, Alex is a very interesting guy, thoughtful and well-spoken and very flashy onstage. The band he started is called Ima Robot—it’s a joke, really, the antithesis of the performance Alex & Co. give onstage. Far from being robotic and programmed, instead every night is a new chance to play a part, to revisit memories and relive experiences and go through a sort of catharsis and growth with every performance. At least, that’s the way Alex sees it.
Alex the teenager has grown into Alex Ebert, vocalist/mastermind behind the L.A. glam-punk band Ima Robot. Their debut album, self-titled, was released on Virgin last fall; the newly released Alive EP, featuring “Alive” from Ima Robot as well as three previously unreleased tracks, charted at Number 14 on the CMJ Top 200 Chart. Ima Robot is an overall pleasing mix of bravado, cockiness, and smut, the kind that made Greg Dulle of the Afghan Whigs charming rather than sleazy—Ebert throws the right amounts of intelligence, shock, and sleaze into the mix, most of the time. Besides Ebert, the band consists of guitarist Timmy the Terror, keyboardist Oligee, bassist Justin Meidal-Johnson (who, along with original drummer Joey Waronker, formerly played with Beck), and brand-new drummer Scott Devours.
When I spoke with Ebert, he had just gotten back into town and was cleaning house. He explained unapologetically that his roommates were “kind of gung-ho” about the cleaning thing. I took the opportunity, then, to ask the burning question: how, exactly, does one get from hip-hip to glam-punk? To my surprise and delight, Ebert acted as if it wasn’t a question he was asked all the time.
“Gosh, let me think,” he replied, continuing, “I’ve never really answered the question like that. First of all, hip-hop was kind of like my punk when I was young; no one else was really into it. So that was kind of my thing. But when I stopped liking rap, because it got redundant, I started looking for other music that had that same renegade feel in its early days. It turned out that the first five years of just about every form of music were exciting, and then they dropped off and became unexciting. Early punk, early new wave, early glam, early rock ’n’ roll, early everything. And then as far as performing, I just like performing, so I guess maybe the glam thing comes out of that. It just became like a speed and movement issue; that’s how the music kind of got faster, and it became a more punky thing. It wasn’t necessarily that I was trying to do that; that was the energy I was feeling, and that’s the speed I was trying to move at.”
He baited me; I had to ask: Was he saying that if Ima Robot’s still around in five years, the band will sound old and stale and boring? Ebert laughed. “Oh, I’ll never get old and stale and boring—not for myself, anyway.” And then he talked himself in circles: “Maybe other people will think I will be. I think everyone kind of just does what they do… I’m going to try not to think about stuff like that. I think what would get old and stale and boring to me was if I was consciously trying to make people think that I wasn’t getting old and stale and boring.” He laughed. “That would be a really big bore to try to pull off.”
OK, so we’ve established that: Alex Ebert will get neither old, stale, nor boring. But back to the band. Ima Robot has received a lot of press since its inception and before that, due to its large following in L.A. clubs. In fact, last year the band played England’s Reading Festival—a sure sign of accomplishment. How does it feel, I wanted to know, to be the next big thing? “It’s exciting,” Ebert admitted, “but you can only be the next big thing for so long, until you’re like, what happened? So hopefully that’s not what happens. That’s the whole point: to be the big thing. For us, anyway; we’re not trying to keep it under wraps. We feel like we have plenty to give.”
As if there’s any doubt that Ima Robot is a rising star, check out their latest video, “Dynamite,” directed by Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford. “We just sent him the song, and he loved it, and he wanted to do a video,” Ebert explained off-handedly, as if rubbing shoulders with the Coppolas was a common occurrence. And one that may happen again: “If [the album’s hidden track] “Black Jettas” ends up being a single, I would like him to direct it, because he really wanted to.”
Finally, as a newbie to Ima Robot’s live show, I wondered what to expect, and asked. Ebert answered thoughtfully, “Just expect 100 percent, all that we can give.” An acceptable answer, certainly, but then he turned the question on himself. “I wonder what I expect from the shows? It’s kind of like jumping off a bridge every time for me, emotionally dealing with things. I keep working on myself at every show; my soul is being massaged. In that way, every show is somewhat different. We’re working through a different aspect of ourselves, getting to know each other better and getting to know the whole world better through what we’re doing.”
Ima Robot share the stage with The Sounds and Kill Hannah March 2 at Mississippi Nights.