FLABmag: First let me say I LOVE your bands’ name. It’s a clever word that feels good in the mouth and rolls nicely off the tongue. It makes for quite good word-play as well. How did you come up with it?
Sarah Ellquist: Thanks! Daniel is big fan of Will Shortz and the “Sunday Puzzle” segment on NPR, and was inspired by the show to combine words that we felt described what we were doing musically. We played with a lot of word combinations, but the second we said “ROBOTANISTS” to a crowd it clicked.
FLABmag: Are you originally from Los Angeles? If so, what experiences living in the city influenced your rendition of Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind? If you’re not from L.A.- same question but from a non-native’s perspective.
Sarah: I grew up in a military household, moving every few years. I moved to L.A. from New Orleans to go to college, but have now lived here longer than anywhere else in my life. While I’m not “from here” in a traditional sense I consider myself an Angeleno. All of us in the band moved to L.A. from different states, and for different reasons but found ourselves in the same place – the song is about that journey. Like N.Y.C., a lot of people move to LA with these amazing hopes and dreams, but end up going back home when they realize they couldn’t quite get to what they were looking for. The song is more of an ode to those who stay, stick it out and decide L.A. is their new home. People often associate this city with wealth and glamour, but beneath all of that there are plenty of actors, musicians, artists and immigrants, dreaming big with only pennies in their pockets. We tried to channel that, “lesser thought of world”, to bring out a soulfulness most people don’t associate with Los Angeles.
FLABmag: The group has been described as Indie Dance-Pop. Do you agree with that label? If so, why? If not then how would you describe the band’s sound?
Sarah: We definitely make pop music, and most of the songs on our newest album are dancey, but I think what we do is less categorical. We write progressively with the utmost sincerity. Sometimes, I sincerely want to dance, other times, not so much. Daniel often says we make “upbeat sad music for amoral intellectuals,” but dance-pop requires less explanation. Ha!
FLABmag: You’re voice has the emotional tenor of a considerably less boozy & belligerent Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). Is she an influence? If not who are some of your influences or favorite singers?
Sarah: Growing up, I sang along with artists like Jeff Buckley, Judy Garland and Diana Ross. I do love Chrissie Hynde but I think the feminine edge I express is thanks more to the hard living of Edith Piaf than any contemporary musicians.
FLABmag: Were you and Daniel an item when you started the group or did that develop as a result of working together in the band? Is it annoying to have people ask about the relationship? I imagine it’s a question that comes up quite a lot.
Sarah: We actually met through music, both playing in bands around L.A. together and doing solo songwriting. We started ROBOTANISTS around the same time that we got married, so we’ve never known the band any other way. We are a team and each other’s best critics, so neither of us mind discussing the duality of our relationship.
FLABmag: You released Current, a selection of the band’s favorite tunes from the first two records, which I thought was a funny. It’s like the nice way of alerting fans to not listen to songs not on Current.(Haha) Which are your favorite off the new disc?
Sarah: I’m really in love with every song on PLANS IN PROGRESS. We wrote and recorded it in less than a year, while we toured, to promote our covers record (SHAPES AND VARIATIONS), so everything still feels really new and fresh. We pushed ourselves to make every song like nothing else we’d ever done, and we accomplished just that.
We’re already planning on a vinyl collection similar to CURRENT, writing a “second half” of PLANS IN PROGRESS, that we’ll probably release at the end of the year. We’re big vinyl collectors, so the album was born from the idea of wanting to have our first two EPs in one unified physical place because to us, they were created in the same musical mindset (the covers record really started when we recorded foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” for our first album, CLOSE DOWN THE WOODS).
Yes, the songs that made it on to the actual vinyl were our personal favorites, but the record also comes with a digital download of our entire catalog, as do most vinyl releases these days. Every album and song we make is an extension of the thoughts we’ve expressed before, so the idea of putting out seven or so songs a year digitally and on CD and then releasing a multi album “collection” on vinyl every now and then, seems to suit us well. It’s more of a way for us to remind people how proud we are of all we’ve done, rather than starting a new album and forgetting the last one existed.
FLABmag: Did you know before the season premiere of Jersey Shore aired that “Subtlety is Underrated” was going to be used? Did you think it was funny or plain stupid but grateful for the exposure (lots of exposure going on in that episode!)?
Sarah: We knew MTV had the song and wanted to use it for something, but we didn’t find out about the Jersey Shore placement until the night before it aired. I think most artists want to reach the most people they can, on their own terms. So, with that in mind, we didn’t write the song planning for it to accompany a drunken striptease (lol) but I think the phrase “Subtlety is Underrated” fit like a glove in that context and the show lent us the ears of 8 million viewers in an instant. So yes, we are grateful for every new fan that might not have found us otherwise. There are plenty of songwriters and composers that write with TV and film in mind – we just make music that moves us, and hope it does the same for others.
FLABmag: So you guys will be playing SXSW this year. Any bands you’re excited to see while in Austin?
Sarah: The best thing about a festival like SXSW is that there are so many opportunities to discover new bands. I’m excited to fall in love with something new. Ask me after the festival and I’m sure I’ll have a laundry list of new favorite bands.
FLABmag: Are there plans for a more extensive tour of the states? Europe?
Sarah: We do have lots of tour planning in the works for the summer and fall for the states and beyond. We definitely have our sights set on Europe!
FLABmag: On which show would you rather be the musical guest: Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon? Conan or David?
Sarah: We are on team Coco ALL THE WAY!!!
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