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NoRobot Initiates Its Funk-Rock Recording Career

Zak Hoffman, Alex Girard, and Bill Price of NoRobot
Dave Fulton
Zak Hoffman, Alex Girard, and Bill Price of NoRobot.

Necessity really was the mother of invention for the Bloomington-based funk-rock band NoRobot.

NoRobot "Begin Transmission" album cover
Credit Album cover photo: Dave Fulton
NoRobot "Begin Transmission" album cover

Six years after forming as a six-piece band, the now trio has finally released its first album, "Begin Transmission."

But guitarist and vocalist Alex Girard says many of the album's songs came out of desperation when three members, including co-songwriter Ian Wait, left the band.

“Man, it’s been so long now, I guess it was 2015 when he moved,” said Girard. “We got offered a gig at the Castle Theatre to open for EGi and Brainchild. We took the gig knowing half the band was gone and we couldn’t use any of the old songs.”

So they found a drummer and quickly wrote 10 new songs.

“And some of those very songs are the ones you hear on this record,” said Girard.

The opening track on “Begin Transmission” is a window into the sound Girard and bandmates Zak Hoffman and Bill Price are striving for. “Steady Funk” is an instrumental, equal parts rock and funk. Girard attributes his attraction to these sounds to the players he has met in his musical evolution.

“We connected over blues and rock, but I found they were also really into funk music,” said Girard, adding that his tendency is to write “down” songs.

“And I think funk gives you that solid energy back-beat to start with. There’s a lot of awesome rhythm in funk music,”

“Begin Transmission” was released in a pandemic. Girard said the band has no regrets.

“Being a little bit of a perfectionist, you always want it to be as good as it can be before you put it out. And I think something like this where we’re all stuck in our homes not able to work …and we’re sitting on all these songs, we said, ‘We should just release these.’ We’re all really proud of the recording. It just seemed like a good opportunity to do something since there wasn’t a lot else we could do,’ said Girard.

The blues, funk, and rock alluded to earlier all found a home on “Begin Transmission.” “Drowning” is straight-up blues, and the aforementioned “Steady Funk” and final track “Phase 2” combine the funk and rock NoRobot is attracted to. But the second track, “In My Time,” sounds like it could have landed on an early Doobie Brothers album. Girard feels it’s one of his better songs, written when he was 18.

“Our buddy Ian (Wait) in Texas recorded all his parts down there and sent them to us. When recording the album, we were sending him some of the takes and asking what he thought. He’s a brilliant guy when it comes to music and sound. He just sent back some stems and asked us what we thought. And we said ‘wow, that’s great,’” said Girard.

One might guess the name NoRobot might be pushback to ubiquitous technology replacing human interaction and inspiration. Girard said the idea came from founding member Wait and the rest of the band approving.

“You always want to have something that people can draw some meaning from. I don’t know if it actually had any kind of meaning, but once we had that we ran with it. There are some fun concepts behind it. People ask if it’s about electronic music, but it’s really whatever you want it to be,” said Girard.

All the songs on “Begin Transmission” are originals. With one exception. “Peanuts” is also known as “Linus and Lucy,” the Vince Guaraldi classic written for the original Charlie Brown television show. Girard said the band latched on to the song after former member Brian Feldcamp would flesh it out on piano during practice.

“I eventually figured it out on guitar. We always jammed it but never really played it out. When everyone left (the band) and we were trying to write new songs, it resurfaced. Once we started playing it people recognized it. It’s just a lot of fun and we made it our own and gave it some real NoRobot feels into that song,’ said Feldcamp.

The entire WGLT interview with Alex Girard of NoRobot

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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