Recently RELEVANTmagazine.com’s Jesse Carey got to speak with Alex Ebert, the man behind the hip-hop/New York-rock explosion Ima Robot. The L.A. based band has long been the subject of the indie hype machine, and with their second album, Monument to the Mass, the group once again has their hyper-fusion style on full display.
RELEVANTmagazine.com: I was wondering if you could tell me how you guys got together. How did you hook up with the rest of the band?
Alex Ebert: Well Timmy I got together with quite a while ago—like eight years ago—and we started Ima Robot. We had a rotating crew of people coming in and playing with us and being in the band and then leaving, etc.
I think that we have a pretty solid crew now. Our bass player was the bass player for Junior Senior. We became friends with him before he joined. Our drummer turned out to be Timmy’s cousin, and then our keyboard player is just a friend of Philips. I think we have a pretty solid crew now, and it feels good.
RM: Did some of the guys used to work with Beck?
AE: Yeah Justin and Joey were both with Beck, and Justin’s actually back now with Beck (the bass player).
RM: I know there’s kind of a movement of bands like The Killers and Hot Hot Heat that have gotten big recently. You guys, having been around longer—do you feel that your first album was a little ahead of its time?
AE: Yeah, I almost feel like our first album is kind of a model of its own. I don’t know it’s ahead of its time or behind. I’ve been told that it’s inspired lots of other bands, and, in that sense, I think that it was a good. I mean I don’t even think that we have even seen around the bend yet in terms of what that album has inspired. Because I still listen to that record, and I’m slightly confused, in the best way possible.
I think it’s still one of those records to me that I can’t pin down. But, you know, I’m not like upset. I think Hot Hot Heat or The Killers did something that was sort of easier to digest in a lot of ways, and to me those two bands versus us … those two bands don’t even sound alike to me, and neither of them sound like us to me. We get compared a lot to The Killers. Labels say a lot of stuff like that. I don’t see it personally.
RM: Doing something that is new, especially to a mass market audience, do you kind of see rock ’n roll going in a new direction? Do you hope it does?
AE: It’s funny man, because I see things sort of blending the way society sort of blends. Off this record there’s a lot more rap, and actually all I listened to as a kid was hip-hop; that was my punk rock. I think that the way music is going is gonna keep all the different elements and culture—this over there and that over there—blending, and I think things will morph a bit. But whether its going in a better direction, I mean the funny thing is, no matter what direction it goes, no matter how great it is, there’s going to be a bunch of shmucks that are trying to like make money off of it, and it’s going to repeat itself: The amount of bands that sound like various other bands that once were great … it multiplies so quick, it’s pretty funny man. There are all these copycat bands of bands that just came out like a year ago.
RM: You guys kind of pull from a lot of different influences, but there’s definitely no one doing what you guys are doing. What are some of the influences—like particular artists—that you’ve been inspired by?
AE: (long pause) It’s hard to say specific artists for me. There’s just like sort of obvious ones just to pull from a few different categories like …I’ve been into Tupac recently and then Bob Dylan and The Clash, Lou Reed’s Transformer record. Just various things, The Arcade Fire is a band that’s sort of inspiring to me.
RM: How would you compare Monument to The Masses to the last album? In the interim time between the two albums were there things that you wanted to set out to do with this record?
AE: Not really. I just was writing stuff that was sort of more melodic, and the lyrics are a bit more straightforward and less coded. That sort of came through and ended up translating into a more, I wouldn’t say poppy, but a sort of more down the center record. Less quirky.
RM: When you’re writing songs, what do you draw from lyrically?
AE: People and the stupid things they do, and me and the stupid things I do. Just trying to get objective and get some perspective on things. Poking fun at myself and others is sort of a favorite pastime.
Anything that’s keeping me from acting and being the way that I want to be, I generally have to write a song about. The same thing goes for the other end of it; anything that’s actually making me be free and inspiring me into an ecstatic state I tend to write songs about as well. Both sides of the spectrum.
RM: What song on Monument to the Masses is your favorite as a songwriter?
AE: My favorite song is called “Lovers In Captivity.” I love songs that build up to a big old bridge outro thing and swells you to Neverland. That’s my favorite song on the record.
RM: Alex, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.
Alex: No doubt dude.
Ima Robot’s Monument to the Masses hits stores on Sept. 12.