Deep Dark Robot: Won’t You Be My Girl?

By: Dennis Cook

DDR Debut Album
“I knew right away from the moment that we met that you’d be the girl that I could never forget.” Thus begins the rough ‘n’ rowdy debut from Deep Dark Robot, which is comprised of veteran songstress and one-time Non Blonde Linda Perry and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson). It’s a classic opening, cutting right to the courtship and bedding rituals inherent to rock, and the rest of 8 Songs About A Girl (released March 22 on Perry’s own Custard label) buzzes with the unfiltered energy and tenderness of vintage New York Dolls, early PJ Harvey and other amp-ruining, battered romantics.

Perry lays into longing with the force of a whack to the heart, taking the wadded ball of hurt, lust and love that a new object of desire stirs up and hurling it at the listener with an All-Star pitcher’s walloping accuracy. Each element – the raggedly right singing, the uncivilized guitars, the clomping, irresistible beat, the naked lyrics – works together to paint a warts & all portrait of what it means to want someone so bad it consumes one…until it doesn’t and one moves on having survived another run through the white water emotional gauntlet.

Deep Dark Robot is a pretty far cry from the work Perry has done over the past couple decades as songwriting guru/foil to the likes of Pink, Christina Aguilera and many others. It is a personal, pure rock statement of purpose that points Perry back to her roots and lets the spotlight swing back her way again for the first time since her 4 Non Blondes days. What it reveals is a mature, powerful artist ready to take on all comers.

Deep Dark Robot
JamBase: I love women that swear well, and you’re top of the class. There’s eight songs on your debut and the word ‘Fuck’ is in two of the titles.

Linda Perry: Yeah but I think I’m saying it throughout the record!

JamBase: How did Deep Dark Robot come together? You haven’t been in a band for a really long time.

Linda Perry: It was definitely a surprise to me. I’d written this lyric – “A deep dark robot falling in love” – and I thought, “I like that! If I were ever to start a new band I’d call it Deep Dark Robot. That’s cool.” So, I stored that in the ol’ memory bank, and then I wrote a song and then another one, and then I met Tony Tornay and we became really good friends and I said, “I’m forming a band. You wanna be in it? ” And he said, “Cool” [Perry’s retelling emphasizing a decidedly laidback vibe]. Nine months later when I had some time, he came down to the studio and we started jamming and recorded some of the songs. Our first rehearsal was just me and him, and then the songs turned into more songs. It was Tony that pointed out, “Hey, you know you’re writing an album about a girl, right?”

It was a hard situation to write about, this straight girl that I had these feelings about and it just couldn’t happen because of the nature of her lifestyle. So, it’s an album about this lingering emotion about not getting the girl. It’s also about being seduced in a way, dangled with temptation and sort of pursued to get into it. But there was never going to be any sort of consummation of these feelings. I went through all these emotions – feeling jealous and possessive and pathetic and not good enough. At the end of it, I went, “Fuck it, this is bullshit!” The songs were written in real time; as a new emotion showed up, so did the song.

That real time aspect, the lack of forethought inherent in that situation, means less second-guessing of the music. If you’d thought about it you might have convinced yourself not to make this album, not to build a band, not to tour these songs, etc.

Deep Dark Robot
Exactly! As hurt as I got in this situation with this girl, I’m calling her my muse. Because of her, this is all happening. I love the album, and the intention [after the demo sessions] was to put a band together and record this for real. But when we listened to the recordings, we realized this IS the album and what were we going to do differently that would make it better? It already had a cool, raw vibe, so we left it alone and just put the band together to do shows. It’s been really fun. I love touring this album. As imperfect as it is, it’s perfect.

The rawness of it is the heart of rock ‘n’ roll – letting it all hang out. Even thematically, you’re talking about Year Zero rock stuff like getting the girl to go to the dance with you and then dealing with your feelings after you’ve gone to that dance. It wouldn’t be as good if you’d done the Def Leppard thing and taken four years to polish every little bit.

It took four or five months to make this record but it was all in between my schedule and Tony’s schedule. When we counted it up, it was about 22 days in the studio making this record. An artist would leave and I’d call Tony at 10 o’clock at night and say, “Come over, I’ve got this idea!”

On tour, what are you playing besides the songs on the record?

We’re playing the album the way it is with the vignettes and everything. Then, we play three covers, which we’re going to release as an EP: [The Rolling Stones’] “Angie,” [The Cure’s] “Love Song” and [The Stooges’] “Search and Destroy.” And then we do a Deep Dark Robot song that’s on iTunes as a bonus track called “Somebody Love Me Now.” I like short sets, always have, so our set is maybe 35-40 minutes. It’s good, it’s perfect, and we’re out of there [laughs].

Emotionally, how is it playing this stuff night after night, revisiting some quite painful moments? “It Fucking Hurts” alone can’t be fun to wander around in over & over.

We played Chicago and about midway through the set I started getting really depressed. It’s sad. When I don’t get something – I don’t how everyone else is – it’s a lingering emotion that sits within me. And it takes a long, long time for me to get over that. On top of that, I find this particular person incredibly beautiful and awesome, so there’s no bad emotions just hurt ones. There’s something romantic about the whole situation because I know she’s equally tortured. I know she wants to be right here by my side but it can’t be that way.

That never-to-be-resolved tension is a sad, sad truth but it’s also some of the best grist for the creative mill. Isn’t that a fucked-up truth?

Yeah, it totally is [laughs]. It’s okay. I’ll get through it. It’s part of me. The thing I like about how I experience life is everything is real time for me. So, onstage in Chicago, as I experienced this emotion, my whole mood changed and I looked at the crowd and said, “I’m sorry but I’m having a mood-flip right now.” Sometimes this album is hard for me to play because I get sad. I’m just a raw and honest person, and people ended up falling more for this music and rooting for the underdog. Right now, [Deep Dark Robot] is an underdog.

8 Songs About A Girl doesn’t feel like a project. There’s clearly a person behind it, a person full of foibles and aches and all sorts of recognizably human traits. I think that’s part of what people are connecting with in this band.

Deep Dark Robot
One of my friends pointed out on the song “No One Wakes Me Up Like You” that it gets more agro as it reaches the end. Near the end, I’m out of tune on the second “I’m awake!” and they asked me if I was going to fix it. I said, “Hell no!” That’s part of the beauty of it. That’s going to happen to me live; I’m not going to hit all those notes live. The album features all live vocal takes; that’s how I sing it. This is the way it’s gotta be [in Deep Dark Robot]. Even if no one else sees that, I’ve got to stick to it.

In this band I can do anything I want to. The content can be whatever I want it to be. Sometimes when you work with somebody else they don’t want to take many chances, sing certain things, it has to fit some kind of format, and blah, blah, blah. It’s a buzz killer. Now, I’m thinking, “Why would you want to sound like radio now? Radio sucks. Don’t you want to raise the bar a bit?” They make up some sort of excuse about their label or something. What I got kind of popular for, now, people won’t let me do. They’re so scared of losing. Losing what? What could you be so frightened of losing?

Every time I get together with somebody I just try to bring out as much emotion as I possibly can. Honestly, the past couple years I haven’t released a lot [of songs written for/with others] because I’ve ended up pulling them, going, “You know what? I’m not going to let this go out in the world. I can’t back this up.” I give the money back and say, “Here you go. Sorry.” So, doing this record and being part of Deep Dark Robot has made me feel free. I have no label breathing down my neck. I have nobody telling me what to do because they know they can’t [laughs]. So, if I fall, I fall. I believe in this and I will fight to the bitter end to get it where I think it needs to go.

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JamBase | Fuckin’ Hurt
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