By Alex Distefano
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When it comes to performance, some acts carry on as if the audience isn’t there—consider Miles Davis and his notorious instances of facing away from the crowds who flocked to his shows—or disappear fully into their staging. LA experimentalists Robedoor went a step further. Two years ago at the Bottling Smoke festival, they played in the middle of a club floor inside what appeared to be a tent.
“We were always hugely bored by watching dudes twiddle knobs in front of big speakers,” says guitarist/vocalist Britt Brown. “So early on, we decided we might as well amplify the ‘non-spectacle’ aspect of drone music into total visual murk and mystery. For the first two to three years, we nearly always performed in our Stonehenge amplifier arrangement with a dark tarp draped over it all. We liked the energy it gave to the proceedings inside, even more ritualistic and cult-y and cut off from the world—and the fact that spectators were spared having to stare at two dudes crouched on the ground touching FX pedals and volume knobs.”
Brown and drummer/keyboardist Alex Brown (no relation) were the only two members of Robedoor for nearly four years, their numerous performances mixed with a slew of releases. Many appeared on the Not Not Fun label (co-run by Britt Brown and his wife, Amanda, from the equally fine band Pocahaunted), helping to document the boundary-defying scene in LA and elsewhere in which genres ranging from lo-fi to psychedelia to hardcore collided and combined—as good a way to describe Robedoor’s own, often extreme noise.
With Antique Brothers member Ged Greengrass having recently joined the group on various duties including bass, Robedoor have changed their presentation and musical approach, something Brown sees as a necessary step.
“After three and a half straight years of working within the same performance style, we felt like we had prowled around the bulk of the possibilities of that setup and were hungry for something new. We have been trying to script slightly more structured-style jam songs. Some of them involve standing up, playing minimal guitar/bass riffs and the occasional real ‘lyric.’
“To our ears, it still sounds in the same Robedoor vein, vibe-wise, but I guess some noise diehards will be bummed on the more ‘musical’ direction. Art in general gets pretty uninspiring to work on if doesn’t evolve somewhat over time.”
The constantly growing number of officially released Robedoor efforts, ranging from short CD-Rs to lengthy vinyl packages (the band’s own web page lists well more than 50, not to mention six recent efforts and three more on the way), might make it seem like the group are among recent acts who put out practically everything they record regardless of quality. But Brown says this is far from the case, especially as time has progressed.
“We recorded for at least three to five hours every week for nearly three straight years. When friends and friends of friends are asking you do edition-of-50 cassettes on their bedroom labels all the time, we ended up with a pretty deep discography, kinda accidentally,” Brown says. “These days, we operate totally opposite: We release a fraction of what we record, while we spend tons more time sculpting and evolving our jams into more tangible songs that we can re-create if we want to. It’s a lot more time-consuming, but it’s the zone we’re into right now.”
Robedoor’s Irvine set will be among the first shows of a short Southwestern tour culminating in a SXSW festival showcase with Not Not Fun associates such as Mythical Beast, hopefully helping further build the groundswell of interest in getting the group’s name out. And that name, quite literally, is one of the most bemusing things about the band, according to Brown.
“Robedoor is an esoteric street drug of dubious reality. You soak Doritos in Robitussin, and then smoke ’em through a bong, allegedly—hence, ‘robe-dor,’” Brown explains. “Only met one person who claimed to have imbibed it, but the whole idea blew our minds when we heard about it, and the word struck me as having mystical connotations when spelled normally, so I thought it’d make a weird band name. Actually had the name set aside before the band was even conceived.”
If nothing else, you’ll never look at Doritos the same way again.