Made For Chickens By Robots
Oscillating somewhere between junkyard low-fi farmyard dada, blues and early ragtime jazz the one man band phenomenon Made For Chickens By Robots is here at Rare Star Guitars to give us the musical mustard on his methods, his reasons, the madness of low-fi, and the delicious taste of tape.
We’ll be discussing the equipment that M.F.C.B.R. uses to create his unique analogue sounds, the canned meat tradition and why chickens form such an integral motif within the backwoods, D.I.Y. blues cannon. So if you want to start working in the low-fi tradition, Made For Chickens By Robots, is here to shed some light upon just what it takes.
The First thing I’d like to ask is Why?
It basically began when I was on a right-of-passage kind of trek around in Europe in 2005 and was based in Antwerp at a friends squat-house. One day the housemates said “Oh, we booked you a show at a huge venue supporting some famous American garage band. What is the name of your act?”. So I almost shat my pants, called my mother to post a box of guitar pedals over express from Australia, one week of fooling around in the basement and then my first show.
What made you decide upon Made for Chickens by Robots? Do you have reasons?
The name of the act was originally just words I had scribbled on a mix tape. It seemed to make sense to name it this, the idea of animal treatment, cage farming, manufactured food for animals, how we mess up and mix up the organic, natural, with the plastic, engineered, manufactured, somehow I relate that to playing blues on an acoustic guitar with all the fandangled gadgets and loops and sound fx and such.
Do you have a respect for the late great Chicken Rocker Hasil Adkins? Is your music in any way influenced by the late great Hunch?
Well to be honest I never heard of Hasil until a few years ago, maybe 2008 or something, when I began to be quite ingrained amongst the European one-man-band scene, so I kept hearing people talk about him. It took me another couple of years before I went and listened to him. I still haven’t heard a lot of his recordings but I can say the video of him throwing an organ off the top of his car definitely has influenced me.
What is it with chickens, raw and canned meat in the low-fi blues tradition?
Ridiculousness is important to me in performance and that is a great example of the ridiculous. I guess chickens are just funny curious creatures, they look, walk and talk a bit stupid but are incredible things…. I mean, they poo giant prehistoric looking orbs and we eat them! I don’t really know why the chicken is such a constant theme in blues and country music, dating way back, but I assume it’s for these reasons. Canned meat is just a funny stupid thing.
Humans come up with so many foolish ideas, think about the man who decided “lets mash up a cow and put it in a small metal box, people will be drooling with hunger for that!” I guess it’s just taking a look at the absurdities in life, turning them into song.
Is “Nugget” the first time chicken sound become a motif in your music & did you deliberately construct a persona or was it a natural progression once the farmyard was brought into the sonic picture? Why?
It was only recently that I made the connection between the word nugget, chickens, and that song… chicken nuggets. The persona/character developed over time, the chicken wig only came into the show around 2009, but yes, I made it for that video clip originally. I found a children’s toy at a thrift store which had all those farmyard sounds. I had a friend bend it so I could plug it into an amp and started using that live, around 2008 sometime. So from there it kinda stuck and I became this “backyard, farmyard, gravel and ditch” thing I have been described as.
Your Demento E.P. – especially “Sneezin’ Rag” – sounds as though you may been influenced by the antics of Vintage pre-war Jazz crazies like Spike Jonez and his City Slickers, or Peter Lind Hayes?
Yeah Spike Jones was somebody I heard when I was a teenager and I thought that was absolutely insane. Then I discovered Erik Satie and Stravinsky as well, who both used real canons and guns and household objects in their compositions at times. I heard Raymond Scott later on also and was definitely inspired by his cartoon music stylings. A good friend in New York, Al Duvall has also introduced me to a lot of this old tin pan alley kinda stuff and the dirty old blues, Lucille Bogan and the ragtime guys. Al’s songs are full of innuendo and I became really obsessed with ragtime music a few years ago so started writing in this style.
We thought “Get off my Sausage” was definitely as crazy as some of the more weird 78rpm gramophone records in our collection.
“Get off my sausage, she’s fulla gas, i wish i was the trouble in your pants, she’s old salt meat”. So that has informed some kind of progression in my music, my early stuff is more country blues, Lightnin Hopkins influenced, and yeah, now there is more jazz creeping in there. It’s just funny sounding music really.
Who are your other influences. Have you heard of Lewis Floyd Henry and the analogue artist Tobacco? – do you feel you belong “somewhere” in the tradition of Lone Cat Fuller?
I played some shows with Lewis last year, he is a dirty cat, and an amazing performer. He has the ghost of Jimi Hendrix in his fingertips, or in his tongue, somewhere in him. I hadn’t heard of him before then but I dig his show. Lone Cat Fuller I have never heard of. Unless you are talking about Jesse Fuller with his fotdella thing?…
Yes, Jesse Fuller with the fotdella.
Well I knew about him but never listened to his music. I’ve known Bob Log ever since he started doing his one-man-band thing so he definitely inspired me to begin with, and he is a dirty old cat too. The superhero costume and incognito thing was probably somewhat inspired by him. But my influences are not so much from the one man band world, more just old blues and ragtime players – Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Teddy Darby, Elizabeth Cotton.
What about jazz?
Yeah, all the jazz guys I mentioned before like Raymond Scott and Spike Jones. I also listen to a bit of noise/experimental music and get really excited by hearing people bend things into weird sounds; like the beer-o-phone, the fridge-o-phone. Harry Partch, John Cage, Eugene Chadbourne, Justice Yeldham, Dennis Tyfus.
We noticed a loose adhesion to ideas of tuning and signature, but wondered if you use any circuit bent machines when making your recordings?
Not really. I used to use some circuit bent things but they all fell apart eventually. I’ve started using a Korg Monotron that I have glued to my guitar, that’s a mini synth – that makes all the outer-space sounds.
And in what way do you produce beats and sounds, samplers, tape loops, or just bastardized bits of old drum kit?
The drumbeats are all created organically, played live. I use a regular snare drum but when I record it i tape a telephone transducer to it and it kind of ends up sounding like a warped electronic snare. My bassdrum is a suitcase which I amplify by strapping a pair of headphones on it, then run that through a delay pedal, the signal gets reversed and it creates the most reliable solid bass boom. I use two Loop Stations, one purely as a sampler and the other one to loop live.
If you do use samplers, how do you source your material?
The samples usually come from kids toys or from making strange sounds with the guitar, I can change the tempo or reverse them on the Loop Station and they become a whole new sound. I also have an alto saxophone that I record short lines or harmonies onto the sampler. Sometimes I will trawl the internet for a nice donkey squeal or pig slaughter sound.
There’s a really analogue feel to your pieces – could you detail your basic recording process / equipment; it’s important that people understand that there can often be more value in abandoning high production ideas?
Or do you take low-fi sounds and mash them into a computer afterwards? Or do you genuinely record everything live in single takes?
I rarely record everything live in a single take. Usually I lay down the guitar track, then the drums, then I write the words and record those, and then the samples or whatever ambient noise I think should be there.
So, are you using tape at all? “Dirty” old tape?
I always record, and always have recorded onto cassette tape. I recorded some stuff on a digital 8-track once that has never been released and found the technology extremely boring and convoluted to use. There are too many possibilities and I think it’s important to have limitations when immortalising sound. The beauty of these limitations is it makes you prioritise what is really important to recreate the actual song well in a recorded format.
So you don’t really regard digital as beneficial when recording?
With all the possibilities of digital recording, I believe, the heart and essential energy of a song is often lost or destroyed, drowned in overdubs or effects or flute orchestras or something. It’s too easy to get over-excited and say “oh lets put a 200 piece male choir on there, and 14 violins there, lets mix 5 drumbeats together, blah blah.”
Tell me about it!
With MFCBR it has always been on my trusty tascam PORTASTUDIO 414MK2 4-track that I record. The poor old thing is a mule. I’m sure every cavity of it is full of cigarette ash and food debris. I live-mix through that onto Wavelab, as a stereo file. Wavelab is a mastering programme but I use it to edit, effect, and EQ.
So in mixing I do a lot of live pitch bending and signal cutting and then once it is on the computer I will spend a while making loops or reversing tiny fragments of songs, changing the tempo sometimes, pitch stretching and a small amount of equalizing. I try to do most of the effects and equalization as I’m going to tape, try to get the final sound before I mix it. I prefer working this way, I don’t really appreciate the idea of recording something perfectly clean then doing all this post-production stuff to make it sound crap. I realise it limits the possibilities in mixing, but again, I think thats more exciting and natural somehow.
So microphones, dirt cheap or top of the range – Sennheisers or Fisher Price?
I have a couple of different microphones I use for recording. I have a bunch of fancy ones that I never use. My 3 main microphones are a telephone transducer, an Akai home-stereo mic from one of those 1970s home reel-to-reel players/recorders and a Teisco mic from the 1960s. They are all highly responsive and have an earthy quality i really like. Another thing about recording on cassette is how beautiful it sounds when you burn the crap out of it, recording everything with the gain blowing up. That kind of crunchy noise is unique to tape I believe.
The interview with Made For Chickens By Robots continues here. Follow our Facebook page if you want to catch up with all our posts. We’re also running the MFCBR gear breakdown, the 2012 European tour details, and also a link to the Bandcamp page so you can help keep his chickens in organic feed.