It seems the serendipitous meeting of Kat and Tony Baker was bound to happen but it did with some unfortunate consequences. Back in 2015, Kat was working in sales and struggling with following her passion as a folk singer-songwriter. At that same time, Tony began panhandling after a stint that included being an audio engineer, musician, actor, and vocalist in a variety of projects spanning from 1996-2008. Late one night, Kat was driving by the highway exit at Lake Street and 355 in April 2015. She caught a glimpse of Tony on the corner and offered him a few dollars and some cigarettes.
The relationship since then has taken them down some tough terrain but has also led them towards rediscovering their passion for music. They took it slow by writing music together in December 2017 thus seeing Broken Robots being born. They began releasing single tracks on SoundCloud about their experiences with death, mental illness, addiction and redemption. They compiled these tracks into their debut album, Home Is Not a Place. Today, Broken Robots are releasing the video music accompanying their single off their upcoming EP The Escape Artist “Mockingbird.”
Here’s the band on “Mockingbird” and the video: “We started writing this song back in April 2019, but we shelved it. As soon as we found out about the long lockdown Chicago was about to face and began experiencing the media circus surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, we thought it may be a good idea to pivot and resurrect this song from the dead. The song is about the way that the media tends to sensationalize and insert their own political agendas into the news, wreaking havoc on our mental health and making us angry, confused, and outraged at the worst time possible.
The video itself is more directly related to the COVID-19 experience, and the way that the news seems to engulf our lives as we’re sitting home looking for answers and trying to pass the time. Typically our videos are shot and edited by Joel Lopez (Lumbra Productions), but since we aren’t allowed to congregate, we wanted to challenge ourselves to make a music video by shooting the individual scenes ourselves on our iPhones and sending the footage to Joel to edit creatively. Making this video has been valuable to us personally, as it was a fun project to work on during a very dark time in our lives and gave us an opportunity to laugh in the face of our own fears.”
Here’s the band on the EP: “This song is off of our upcoming EP, The Escape Artist, which we plan to complete this summer. Rather than writing and waiting to release an EP in full, we decided to release each song individually as it is written with a corresponding music video. We feel that this keeps our music much more fresh and relevant, which is important to us since The Escape Artist is about personal growth and learning how to deal with our problems rather than escaping from them, something important to us as a group.”
We recently caught up with Kat to talk a little more about the single, the inception of Broken Robots, and more:
Let’s talk about sensationalism. It’s been everywhere in the past half-decade and it really feels like it’s coming to a peak in 2020. “Mockingbird” addresses this head on, what inspired you to be so direct about it?
Well, sensationalism and the internet go hand in hand – the past half-decade has been pretty bad about it because of the internet and the ease of spreading misinformation in believable formats like articles and think pieces. In the history of America as well as the rest of the world, however, sensationalism and propaganda have both been tools that the media and the government used (sometimes together) and continue to use for a long time.
We wanted to be direct about it because we want people to understand that sometimes the stress that the media puts on us is largely unnecessary and can cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Sometimes it’s okay to turn the TV off or take an internet break for the sake of mental health, even if it feels like you may miss some important information. Sensationalism itself is designed to keep you on your toes and waiting for more information. It makes us feel like we’re “on edge” because they want us to read or tune in more to what they’re saying, whether it’s for clicks or ratings or whatever. It’s manufactured most of the time, that “on edge feeling”, and it’s very “in your face”. We’re just mirroring the energy of the media.
The chorus lyric “in our algorithmic crashing nation” is so well said. Not only does society feel like it’s falling apart (or at least restructuring), it feels like it’s doing so in a way that is more technological and systematic than most common people will ever be able to understand (hence the word “algorithmic”).
Absolutely! We actually started writing this song in April 2019 because we started seeing it happen a lot back then, too, and we knew the phrase “algorithmic crashing nation” was going to be important, especially during election season. These days, it’s very easy to “break the internet” as long as you have some money and connections. “Viral videos” and “viral news” used to be more organic, but these days it’s almost always manufactured and very “on purpose”
During the lockdowns in the US, this has become amplified 1000x because we’re all sitting at home on the internet or watching the news because we want to know what’s going on. Media companies and outside influences are very aware of this fact, and it has been exploited badly during the past few months. Everybody is following a different narrative, everybody is dividing over it, all because certain entities are trying to maintain the status quo while others are trying to change it. Everyone believes that their truth is the only truth, that the media that they read is the “correct media”, and that anyone that thinks differently must be completely out of their minds. We’re seeing this on all sides, and it’s tearing us apart – this creating an “algorithmic crashing nation”.
Broken Robots has an incredibly unique story, especially everything Kat and Tony went through before the band’s inception. Mind giving us a short summary, and tell us how those life experiences affect the creative process?
We do have a unique origin story that’s hard to summarize, but I’ll try! When I met Tony I was working in advertising and he was panhandling on the side of the road. It was on my sales route, and I would always give him a dollar or a cigarette here and there when I’d see him. I could tell he was on drugs, at the time I was a few years clean – but one day I decided that I was tired of my shitty advertising job and the life that went with it, and I wanted to die. I wanted to give it up. I pulled my car over, walked up to him, asked him what his deal was, and offered him some cash to take me to the guy (to buy dope). We spent a lot of time together after that, doing drugs and sleeping in the car and fantasizing about making music together someday.
After a few nasty arrests, some prison time, and a few rehabs, we managed to stay clean and got an apartment together. We both worked in food service for a couple of years and spent all of our extra money on studio gear and instruments. Tony was an audio engineer before he started using heroin and I was an aspiring folk artist, so we had some of the knowledge already. Once we got the equipment we needed, we started writing music in ProTools for fun, and released the songs on SoundCloud. We pulled a small following, released the SoundCloud tracks as an album in October 2018, and got married on the same day like some sort of twisted fairytale.
Lonnie, our bass player, came in later – but him and Tony have been friends for 20 years and did a couple of different studio projects and were in bands together years ago. We all have great chemistry – Lonnie has actually taken the reigns on building a lot of the newer tunes with his bass lines. We love when he writes something on the bass because he’ll send the stems over and we’ll just run with it. He’s great, you can tell in all of our newer music where his influences come in.
The way that this affects our creative process goes deep and is hard to explain. We’re all just really grateful to be alive and to be able to write music, so we just don’t stop. We feel extremely blessed to be in the position that we’re in and we never take it for granted. We just keep going, no matter what, because it’s so therapeutic for us to express ourselves and we have so much fun with it. We don’t care too much about impressing people aside from each other, and I think that goes a long way.
We at Ghettoblaster see a very bright future for you guys, “Mockingbird” has such a unique moxy to it that the Midwest indie scene has been missing for a minute now. You guys really tell it like it is. What does the rest of 2020 hold for you (assuming we all make it out alive haha)?
We appreciate that! We really don’t hold back much, we take kind of a punk approach to our lyrical content and I think that’s really important right now. We have a ton of other music in the works as well as videos. This song was going to be the final song on our upcoming EP The Escape Artist, but we’ve decided to add another song which is about halfway done right now. That one is called “Burn It Down”, which is funny because we started writing it before the riots and everything. It’s more about burning down your own life and shutting people out, but I’m sure some people will take it literally.
We also have some shows in the works – we’re not going to be moving as fast as we were for a while, but being a lesser-known act will probably work in our favor in the next few months. We’re always looking for workarounds, whether it’s playing behind a glass display (which we did about a week ago!) or in a large field, we’ve got some ideas. Shows won’t be the same for a while but we didn’t make it to where we are now by doing what everyone else is doing anyways. You will definitely hear more about us in the future!
For more on the band: