Recently Max and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Rose to talk about his new album under the Robust Worlds moniker. Also at the interview was Neil Weir, the engineer behind the Robust Worlds record. Neil and Chris have been playing together lately in Sativa Flats, and Neil is even engineering the new Heavy Deeds album. Base SG readers might remember Heavy Deeds as the band that features three of the four members of Vampire Hands. There was much to discuss, but this interview will focus primarily on Robust Worlds. We’ll keep you updated on when the record is set to be released.
Around Me and You Cherry Red [second Vampire Hands full length] you were writing lyrics for Chris [Bierden] to sing, is that right?
Chris: Yeah, I probably wrote half of the lyrics Chris sang. I didn’t want to sing at that point, so I was like, “Why doesn’t this guy with an awesome voice sing it?” I’ve always liked writing lyrics. It’s hard to get over your own voice sometimes, but people don’t seem to hate it [group laughter]. Neil hasn’t been like, “I’m singing this show.”
Neil: There’s a different version of the record where it has good vocals [group laughter].
Do you remember at what point you started feeling comfortable singing?
Chris: There’s different points, but I think after I did the Robust Worlds album here with Neil– this [album] was a lot more work vocally. After that I noticed that I had more control and I wasn’t being as pitchy as I was before.
Were the songs finished when you came in to record?
Chris: They were basically set in stone. I kept some of the songs loose as far as– sometimes I’d do three choruses, sometimes I’d do two when I played live. Sometimes I’d add a bridge in one or two songs. It was nice working with Neil in that respect, being solo you don’t have anyone to bounce your ideas off of. It was great when I was figuring this stuff out live and having Neil there in the crowd. Neil will tell me if I’m too crazy [group laughter].
Neil: I think there was something unique about it, in the sense that the songs were so finished when we started and I’d seen most of the Robust Worlds shows at that point. So [I] kind of knew how all the sounds fit together and had this distinct impression of what worked well sonically. Whereas with a lot of solo projects, it’s somebody working on stuff that they haven’t even really finished. You’re not able to hear the sounds or parts in any sort of context, it’s against this blank slate and you’re trying to make these decisions to commit to sounds without really knowing what else is happening. So the decision making process can be pretty tiring, it ends up being a lot of trial and error to get things to work. With this, having things pretty much figured out ahead of time, the decision making seemed to be, “Yeah, that works, let’s try doing a little more of that.” It was all minor stuff, there wasn’t anything structurally weird about it where we had to tear stuff apart and build them back up. It was really engaging for me all the way through. I didn’t get burned out on it.
Chris: I think the initial idea with Robust Worlds was to have it be a live thing, I wanted it to be organic. I’d seen a lot of solo projects where there was a lot of prerecorded stuff and just one instrument. I think there’s one part where I doubled up guitar, but other than that it’s just as I play it live.
Neil: What I think is really interesting about it is the way that there is this synthetic element, but also a very loose-live element too. The way those two things intersect is part of what’s aesthetically interesting about it.
Chris: I just wanted something that I could have and work on, and it would always be under my control. It gets frustrating sometimes being in bands and you feel like you have momentum, and then life happens.
Neil: Even when everyone is going in the same direction with things, it seems like there’s always a lot of work just getting everyone to meet up at the same time and all that kind of stuff. With the bands that I’m in, I think I end up spending about half my time trying to get a hold of the other people in the band. From an outside perspective that’s what seems really appealing about what you’re doing. You’re not asking a lot from an audience, as far as filling in the blanks, the way a person would with more stripped-down solo things. It’s not something that’s heavy on backing tracks; it has this atmospheric, engaging quality to it.
Chris: Sometimes you show up [to practice] and you’re not always in the best mood to be creative. I like having all the elements that are going to be there when you’re working on something. Heavy Deeds has been practicing without [Chris] Bierden a couple times, y’know no bass guitar, and you can’t really settle on things. It feels like you’re missing something and it’s hard to make decisions.
Neil: If I was in that situation, I’m sure I’d be reacting like, “Does this seem like it’s not quite working because this part isn’t working or is it because there’s no bass right now?” [Group laughter.] Then you get into this kind of in between thing where people are going, “I think so, right? I think so.” [More laughter.]
Do you find that performing solo is more intimidating? Does having drum machine and loops make it seem like there’s less pressure on you?
Chris: It is a lot more nerve wracking as far as the singing goes. The nature of Robust Worlds is a little more emotional and open, which can be weird sometimes to do in a bar setting.
Neil: It seems like the stuff is more existential themed and not the kind of stuff that’s gonna make you want to jump around or something. You’re asking for a room full of people, at least the ones who haven’t seen it before, to radically change their mood and state of mind. This kind of contradicts what I was saying earlier, but Robust Worlds is kind of asking more of people is some ways as far as mood. It’s being presented in a way that’s very engaging, it’s not lacking in things that a band would have–
If you want to engage with it, it’s there. If you don’t, you’re like “Oh great.”
Neil: “Who’s this Leonard Cohen spaceman-guy?” [Group laughter.]
When sifting through bargain bins you run into the same issues over and over again. Sometimes you just break down and finally buy that complete run of Micronauts that you’ve been ignoring for years. Other times you go with the unfamiliar, and anything with a funny cover gets tossed into a stack of potential purchases. I find myself drawn to independent comics from the 80′s and early 90′s, where the staff are trying to strike out on their own, but the content doesn’t stray far from established mainstream comic book subject matter. The issues are produced on a budget, the writing and art can be a bit unpolished. But each one is a tiny mystery! You’ll rarely see repeats of the same issue, and you’ll be lucky to find more than one comic from the same series. What you hold in your hands is all the information you have. I like to wonder about whatever became of the writers, editors, and artists of these books. The joy they must have felt seeing stacks of their creations coming back from the printer. The struggle they likely experienced trying to get shop owners to take a chance on an untested comic from an unknown imprint. How long did the series last? At what point did they have to shut everything down? Did they find other work in the industry? Do they spend their time in some lousy job secretly stashing away sketches and story ideas?
At first glance there isn’t anything remarkable about Gods for Hire; on the cover characters leap into action, flip through the pages and you’ll see some fight sequences, pretty standard stuff. The foreword outlines the ambitions of the creative staff for their new comic imprint.
…in these days when every fan is putting out a fanzine and calling it an amazing, high quality piece of art. These things make producing actual quality work very difficult. The glut of garbage has made retailers very conservative. It’s very expensive to produce quality. But we believe there are enough of you out there who need a breath of fresh air. We believe that if you take a fantastic comic, created by the greatest talents in comics, then give it equal care in the printing and production– that the majority of people out there will taste the difference. We believe that there are people who are willing to take a chance at being entertained and excited by fresh, vibrant, intelligent comics. And what do you know, we got ‘em. And we’ll keep producing them month after month for years to come. Everyone says they are the best, we know we are. Read on, I think you’ll agree. –Joe Judt, Editor in Chief (Hot Comics)
Alright, that sounds like some pretty good intentions. Let’s see how they fare.
The story opens with friends Kent and Melanie meeting up and exchanging some puzzling dialogue. “I’m dead! Just kidding, they never found my body.” Then we’re transported to a world of gargoyle statues and looping yellow patterns.
The story continues at a rapid pace. Kent meets other characters who have been summoned to this strange place, we are told it is called Avalon. The characters debate whether or not they are dead, they never get a precise answer.
The mysterious Ambrosia appears and exclaims…
He gives a rundown of each character and their abilities. As seen in the panel below, he doesn’t offer up more than “here’s your name, you’ll understand why later.”
Ambrosia concludes the introductions with this statement, “In time you will perceive the things you have always dreamed of!” He goes on to reveal that Avalon is at war with Mu and that the Knights are here to protect the dreams of man. Ambrosia fails to explain how dreams are protected by Avalon or what will happen if the Knights fail. Are dreams stored somewhere in the city? What does Mu want with them? Kent is reluctant to take the job and lashes out at Ambrosia. He responds by breaking down Kent into molecular form.
Another clumsy transition, and we’re back in the restaurant with Melanie.
There’s a lot of nonsense crammed into this page. I won’t even bother trying to unpack the “theory” presented in the upper right corner. Thankfully Kent is here to explain everything in a no-nonsense manner, “I suddenly realized what knowing something meant!” What a wonderfully terrible way to have a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while, “I might be dead, also I can see your panties.” I will say that the art here is the best in the book. Jim Nelson (colorist) manages to tone down his use of orange and yellow, which overwhelms the rest of the issue.
Next we get a glimpse of the world of Mu, which appears to consist of purple caverns and lots of fire. The leader, a nameless green monster, decides that he in no longer interested in dreams and plans to launch an attack on the real world.
Avalon is besieged by flying green monsters; Clark, Kent, and Jill hatch a plan to escape the city and return home.
During their escape they become separated.
Kent, hearing “Szrot!”, knows Clark and Jill must be in trouble and rushes off to their aid. Back at the battle, the others are overwhelmed by the evil forces of Mu.
Meanwhile, Tao (a character we’ve barely been introduced to), sensing that perhaps things aren’t what they seem, confronts Ambrosia.
Ambrosia responds to Tao’s accusations, “Stolen? That’s a funny term for people”, which doesn’t actually make any sense. We return to Jill and Clark, their search for Kent is interrupted by a new villain from Mu.
The above three panels conclude the first issue of Gods for Hire. Here we have yet another instance of perplexing dialogue, where a slight rewrite could help clarify the story. When Jill shouts “No!” in reply to the villain asking “Remember me?”, well that’s just confusing. With a little adjustment, having Jill yell out “Not you!” instead of “No!”, the reader would know that this is someone from her past. This might seem like a minor flaw, but it shows (along with the other examples noted above) the creative staff’s failure to write even the most basic dialogue in a coherent manner. This is clearly a book with ambitions that were far outside of the staff’s abilities. The other issue here is that the comic doesn’t need to force more into the story. In one issue we meet a bunch of characters who inherit a vague assignment to “protect dreams”, visit the warring cities of Mu and Avalon, and learn of Ambrosia’s deceitfulness. The whole narrative is pretty disorienting, and then the creators throw in a last minute monster-from-the-past. This just further clutters what should be a simple set-up for a tale of good vs. evil. As it stands this issue is amusing, but a complete mess.
The back pages list two more future issues, though I’m not sure I’ll seek them out. A quick internet search didn’t yield any information on what became of Hot Comics or its creative staff.
- The Majestic Arrows – The Magic Of Your Love
- Eddie Kendricks – Day By Day
- Chairmen of the Board – (You’ve Got Me) Dangling on a String
- Gary U.S. Bonds – Club Soul City
- Iggy Pop & James Williamson – Sell Your Love
- Van Halen – Dirty Movies