This noise-punk brain-child of Jordan Sobolew attacks listeners with abrasive tones and angular drumming patterns that are sure to please fans of the sonically abstract. However, even with the project thematically assuming the perspective of a malevolent shape-shifting alien, the songs aren’t so unapproachable as to alienate all but the most die-hard of noise-philes. As you’re about to hear in “Overlords”, the premier track from the upcoming Scum Supreme EP, Sobolew expertly balances experimental weirdness with groovy basslines, bizarrely catchy vocal hooks, and danceable tidbits.
Did I mention that this is a solo act? Impressively triggering synths and effects processors with a drumstick or free-floating foot, Reptoid shows are single-handedly performed by Sobolew, without the aid of pre-recorded materials.
Scum Supreme is scheduled for release August 24, 2017. In addition to premiering his new single, Ghettoblaster’s Andrew Humphrey caught up with Sobolew who offered his thoughts regarding his sophomore release, touring plans, the impending doom of humankind, and more.
What do you think most differentiates the sound of the upcoming Scum Supreme EP from its predecessor, Weird Energy?
Weird Energy was written in the first few primitive months after spawning the concept of Reptoid. I had just come home from a U.S. tour in another band that had gone on hiatus and I was itching to play again so I experimented with how exactly I would make a one-person band work then I wrote a set and recorded a demo as fast as I could so I could start playing live. I had never made music outside of the typical multiple-member band structure and I had never performed vocals in a band. Those songs have served me well but they represent a primordial stage of Reptoid. I have had years now to hone my techniques in making music this way. My writing has been refined and the sounds I’m able to create are more varied. I would say Scum Supreme is weirder, darker and more menacing.
Are there songs or aspects about the most recent recording process that make you particularly proud and/or excited?
Much like Weird Energy, I recorded these songs in my practice space in West Oakland and they were originally intended to be demos, tracked quickly and cheaply. I ended up being pleased enough with the results to release them officially. I have been playing these songs live for some time already so I’m excited to finally get the recorded versions out there.
Your live performances are known for being void of prerecorded materials. Was the production for the upcoming EP conducted in a similar fashion? (all instruments at once, minimal takes, minimal punch-ins, etc.)
I tout this limitation of having no pre-recorded material to let people know that when I play live, you are actually witnessing a legitimate performance of the music. Nothing is phoned in. I am not hitting play on a laptop and playing drums along to a song recorded in computer. My drums are actually triggering all the sounds you hear in the same way that a keyboard player triggers sounds on a keyboard with their fingers. I write my music live- to be performed live and my recording process is much the same.
You took this project on the road for some West Coast touring in 2014 to support your first EP. What was that experience like, and what do you hope to accomplish on your upcoming, farther reaching, U.S. tour?
Performing live is my main goal. The rush of being in front of an audience and playing with every breath of energy I have is unparalleled. As far as I’m concerned, the recorded version of these songs is only a means to be able to perform in new places for new audiences. I’m eager to hit the road with a release that represents where Reptoid stands today against my previous, now inferior versions.
Are there any specific dates or cities on this tour for which you are particularly pumped?
Many of my dates, specifically in the Midwest and Southwest are in cities I have never played before as Reptoid. It’s new territory for me and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. That being said, the Louisville PRF BBQ is kind of a collection of noise rock geeks centered around the internet forum of Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio recording studio. We do these DIY fests multiple times every year in different cities including Chicago, Oakland, Louisville and a few others. It’s always a good time reconnecting with these weirdos and watch an insane amount of rad bands in a short period.
With a “band” format this unusual, how do you approach composing a new song? Do you start with a drumbeat and a melody, then try to logistically put it all together as best as you can? Or is it more of a “I’ve got these limbs available, let’s work some shit out” type of deal?
All of the above. I’ve gone about this every way I can think of but it always starts by sitting behind the drum kit. Usually I’ll write a drum part then imagine in my head what would really go well with it. Then I have to find something on the synth or sample a stringed instrument that I can trigger while keeping the drum part intact. Sometimes I’ll have a fully flushed out idea in my head and try to recreate that entirely within my limited means. That is the hardest thing to do.
Are there aspects of the writing process that feel similar to writing with a typical arrangement of rock musicians and instruments? Aside from the obvious acrobatics, what challenges in the writing process do you think are uniquely “Reptoid”?
There is a lot going on in a Reptoid performance. In addition to trying to hit the drums as hard as I can, I’m tweaking and switching pedals with my left foot, switching settings on an MPC and synth and yelling loudly into a mask on my face. As complex as it can be, it’s also extremely limiting. Creative limitation is often used by artist to yield new results that the artist would not otherwise have come up with. Making music as Reptoid is like the ultimate practice in creative limitation for me because I have a lot of gear at my disposal but only 4 limbs to use them and nearly everything must be triggered by the drums only. I can’t just play whatever drum part or fill I want, the drumming has to make a riff. It’s often very oppressive to make music this way when I could just get another person on guitar and bass and we could write any kind of song we want instead of me sitting by myself late at night programing an MPC and figuring out a way to do all the pedal switching while drumming and singing.
Your drumming in Reptoid is seriously impressive. How long have you been playing? What inspired you to get behind the kit in the first place, musically or otherwise?
I am self taught, I don’t know the proper techniques and I almost certainly have terrible form. I started when I was probably 13 or so. I think it was my way of letting out aggression brought on my being an angsty teen coping with family drama in a small, rural town with limited access to music. It’s become my great cathartic release in life. No matter what bullshit I may be dealing with, when I’m drumming, all that shit is pushed out of my head space. If I play with all of my ability and all of my energy, I will be completely drained when I’m finished and I will have a fresh perspective to approach the other things in my life. That is the best feeling in the world.
Lyrically, your work largely deals with humanity’s self-initiated and impending demise. Are there specific worldly events that inspire this vision, or does it come from a more generally grim point of view?
I wouldn’t say that I have a grim outlook on life but I can recognize where things are heading and I can appreciate the dark humor in it. Humans have evolved to develop means to destroy the Earth’s ability to sustain human life, yet we have not evolved the capacity to use it responsibly. If an outside race of beings doesn’t exploit the planet for their own means first, we will most likely destroy it for ourselves. It sounds bleak but this isn’t merely my viewpoint, the science is there. There is plenty of well documented research showing that if things keep going at this rate, this planet will be unlivable in as little as a few generations and we have almost certainly passed the point of no return. This is not a call to action or a warning. It’s mostly about admitting that one way or another, humans are fucked and it’s just a matter of time. Instead of finding this depressing however, I think it is freeing.
In this project, you also take the perspective of a shape-shifting alien. It compliments your sound quite well, but I’m curious as to how the Reptoid persona relates to or differs from the persona of Jordan Sobolew?
Honestly, this is something I struggle to understand myself. Speaking in terms of known science, the reptilian brain is the oldest and deepest part of the brain that all humans have. It controls our base instincts and was (arguably still is) needed for survival in an unforgiving world. I believe this relates to the Reptoid persona that is unquestionably part of me. It might be the primal creature inside that I allow to posses me while I am performing. It might be the part of me that is trying to grapple with being a human in this world while feeling detached from others. It might simply be a persona I created to release negative or confusing emotions that otherwise get ignored or neglected in my daily life as a human. Or maybe I’m a shapeshifting reptilian from another dimension here to feed off the abundance of fear that humanity creates.
(Catch Reptoid live here:
August 24 – Oakland, CA @ Golden Bull
August 25 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Diabolical Records
August 26 – Denver, CO @ 7th Circle
August 28 – Dubuque, IA @ Monks
August 29 – Minneapolis, MN @ Hexagon Bar
August 30 – Madison, WI @ Art In
August 31 – Chicago, IL @ Quenchers
September 1 – Louisville, KY @ Mag Bar, PRF BBQ
September 5 – Dallas, TX @ Trade Winds Social Club
September 6 – Austin, TX @ Beerland
September 7 – El Pas, TX @ Boomtown
September 8 – Phoenix, AZ @ 51 West
September 10 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Smell)