Aug. 24, 2005 - Issue #514: Mysterious Skin
The Robot Ate Me's Ryland Bouchard gets back on guitar with Carousel Waltz
San Diego seems like a pretty nice town. The temperature hovers between 70 and 90 all year long, there are at least half a dozen world-class surfing beaches within the city limits, and anyone who tires of SD’s surprising cleanliness, friendliness and relative safety can take a half-hour train ride to the real “happiest place on earth,” Tijuana. Still, indie-pop icons The Robot Ate Me, one of San Diego’s most creative musical exports, recently decided the “finest city in America” wasn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, prompting a move to far less fashionable quarters.
“In San Diego they have the naval base and the air force base and everyday there’d be fighter jets coming in or a big warship leaving and it was just too much to have it staring you right in the face,” bemoans The Robot Ate Me’s Ryland Bouchard, on the phone from his new home on the tiny gulf islands community of Anacortes, Washington. “Living up here I don’t feel as connected to the military and corporate culture of the United States.”
Living a simpler life in the wilds of Northwestern Washington seems to have translated into a more sparse and minimalist feel for The Robot Ate Me’s new album, Carousel Waltz. Unlike their previous album, 2004’s expansive, atmospheric, orchestral, and arguably self-indulgent double-disc On Vacation, Carousel Waltz clocks in at just over 30 minutes and delivers quiet, ethereal folk pop with minimal instrumentation.
“I kind of go through phases where I hate playing guitar, and on On Vacation that was sort of where I was, but for this one I decided I wanted to just write songs again,” Bouchard explains. “With this album I was definitely going more for a ‘60s sort of aesthetic. I was trying to keep the record more song-based—I stripped away all the ear candy away just focused on the lyrics.”
In an indie pop community that is somewhat inexplicably turning its attention to a more Duran Duran-ified decade, Bouchard’s ‘60s affinity might seem a bit, well, un-hip, but he’s not about to apologize for that. “I always kind of like to focus on things that other artists aren’t focusing on,” Bouchard says. “I started writing some dance-pop stuff, but I thought it sounded ridiculous, so it never went anywhere.
“I really think musicians have to realize that music can be positive and can mean something,” he continues, “instead of just being about how hip you are or how cool your haircut is.”
Besides, Bouchard argues, the parallels between the ‘60s and the present day situation in the western world are overwhelmingly obvious. “We’re definitely in a ‘60s era, with a Vietnam-style war going on and people dying on the news every night,” he says. “You’d think that artists would be addressing that, but unfortunately in America it seems like musicians are focused on getting famous and getting on a major label and selling a lot of T-shirts, and although everyone isn’t like that, it’s definitely on the rise.”
For Bouchard, the dearth of meaningful popular music is just another product of the increased corporatization of America, including the music industry. “The larger record labels assume this is what people want to hear—they’re appealing to the lowest common denominator,” he says. “I know a lot of musicians who are putting out really heartfelt music, but there is definitely a death of independent music and radio, at least here in the States.”
Like many of his peers in the American independent music world, Bouchard expresses vociferous opposition to the ubiquitous American way of life, to the point of considering relocation. “I get frustrated with the United States, because it seems every aspect of the way we live, from healthcare to food production to education, has been corporatized to the point where you cannot do anything responsibly,” he explains. “We’ve just gotten out of control down here—what we save in taxes we end up paying for many times over in health care costs and insurance and things like that.”
So, um, when will Bouchard be applying for his Canadian citizenship? “My first step was moving up here [to Anacortes], an hour away from Canada,” he laughs, admitting to a bit of a crush on our home and native land. “Living in Northern Washington, I get the CBC sometimes, and it’s way better than what we have down here, and I love touring up there, so, yeah, maybe in the next couple of years I’ll be moving on up.” V
The Robot Ate Me
With Run Chico Run and The City Streets • Victory Lounge • Fri, Aug 26 (8 pm)
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