20 Years a Slave | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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20 Years a Slave

After two decades of suffering under robot overlords, Captured! By Robots' JBOT takes control.



JBOT is pissed. You'd be, too, if the robot bandmates you'd constructed ripped out your guts and eyes, then forced you to go on the road with them for 20 years, playing their music and listening to them degrade the human race. Or so goes the story of Captured! By Robots, the band created by Jay Vance, JBOT's human alter ego.

Vance is also pissed. You'd be, too, if you'd painted yourself into a creative corner for the better part of two decades and now had to fight your way out. This, while the human race—'Murica chapter—is ripping up the Constitution and doing its best to degrade itself.

While driving through circuitous East Coast mountain roads, Vance says he typically declines interviews aiming to explore the gimmickry or novelty behind C!BR, "... but it's actually been on my mind a lot, lately, because we've changed to much."

It's novel, Vance using the pronoun "we" to describe C!BR, which consists only of himself and automatons he controls: GTRBOT666 plays guitar and bass; and DRMBOT 0110 plays—you guessed it—drums. Yet, as benevolent creators do, Vance gave them identities. It feels right to say, "We broke up about three years ago."

This was to the displeasure of C!BR's fans, who'd come to enjoy the band's comedic concerts, which were something along the lines of a Mystery Science Grindhouse Theater 5000, if you will. Vance's contraptions are a sight to behold—even more so when you realize they actually play their instruments. The technological smarts behind that are amazing enough, but Vance wasn't just up there singing in front of his creations; each album/tour was hilarious and incisive. But there comes a time when it does start to seem like shtick.

"You can never get rid of the novelty idea, if you're a band of robots," Vance says. "But I wanted to minimize that novelty, kind of, and just do the kind of music I wanted, and just disregard the novel aspect of it." He points to bands like the McDonald's-themed Black Sabbath tribute act Mac Sabbath and Okilly Dokilly, the metal band where the members all look, dress and act like The Simpsons' Ned Flanders—and whose lyrics are pure Flanders-isms. "They're doing quite well, write-your-own-ticket shit, but just because they're gimmicky or novelty, you know? With nothing—or very little—in the music," the frontman says.

Wait a second. It seems like the guy who conceived, constructed and toured as a band of robots is about to say, "It's supposed to be about the music!" And he is, just not verbatim. "I can't fault the other bands," Vance says, "because I was guilty of it for a long time, when our music was very bad and novelty and all that." But that doesn't mean he wants to be remembered for gimmickry. Or that he doesn't have something to say, or the desire to be taken seriously. And like anyone who's taken a wrong turn—such as C!BR's Wedding Tour, where he fell into playing covers like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"—he wants to course-correct. At that point, he says, "it becomes very gimmicky and you lose something of yourself in the act."

Nowadays, Captured! By Robots dials back the old act and—instead of the nerdy alt-rock/punk of its past—plays heavier, original, overtly political grindcore metal. "That's what I'm into," Vance says. He's still pissed off, but he gets to vent it onstage through guttural invective,. This iteration of C!BR makes him proud. "I'd put us up against any human metal or grindcore band and we are at least equal—sometimes better," he says. "It blows me away every night. It's not good to be smiling at a grindcore show, but I'll tell you what: I'm smiling every fucking night when I look at these guys. 'Cause I'm blown away. I can't believe how amazing it feels."