OK Robot slips comfortably between the driving pop punk that they grew up listening to and playing a sound that hearkens back to the jingle jangle and buzz of acts like Superchunk, Pavement or Sonic Youth.
Bringing Back the Big Sound
by Cayetano Garza Jr. • Photos by Tam Corbette • Cover photo by George Villarreal
Every band has an evolution. Oftentimes the founding members are childhood friends who spent hours upon hours together sharing inspirations, learning how to play their instruments, perfecting their craft. Members come and go, gigs start to add up and around the founding nucleus a fully realized vision starts to form.
Like many of the bands that came out of the suburban bedrooms of kids growing up in the aughts, OK Robot shares a similar origin.
Founding members Jimi Fro, Mario Gonzalez and Eddie Skyline had known each other since they were eight years old. Growing up together in San Benito, it was inevitable that they’d soon turn their shared love of music, in particular the music of Blink 182, into a passion that would see them spending much of their teen years trying to emulate their heroes.
“We just wanted to write songs and play shows so badly,” says Jimi of that time.
“But in my mind it was playing talent shows and being the best band in my town.”
He describes pushing Mario and Eddie to learn their respective instruments. Despite only being 16 he scrounged up an extra $100 so they could get their first drum set.
They purchased it at Mr. Music in Valley Vista Mall in Harlingen.
“It was so cheap. It didn’t even have a logo. It said ‘drum’ on it.”
These first instruments were generic but affordable – perfect for three young kids to monkey around with while they cut their teeth. What followed was a period of discovery as they figured out which instruments they wanted to play and shared music that they discovered throughout those years as their influences, inspirations, and aspirations grew and evolved well beyond their initial love of millennial pop-punk.
For the first few years of the band’s existence, the hours of practice barely saw them leave the bedroom or garage. They would need to level up for that.
Like many nascent bands, it takes the talent of a new member to help take the band to that next level. That catalyst came in the form of guitarist Lina Valdez. The trio met Lina at the end of their time at San Benito High and her timing couldn’t have been better.
“She was better then all three of us combined,” mused Jimi.
Valdez brought a much needed component that facilitated the young band to finally start writing songs.
The band was closer to the elusive sound they imagined for themselves. Their first gig was a graduation party at the beginning of the summer in 2009.
The next big milestone for the band was the inclusion of vocalist Emily Faith Rodriguez.
They had been working with a vocalist for a while but for various reasons found themselves needing to put a call out for a new vocalist. They did so online and immediately got three responses. One response from a vocalist in particular that they had their eye on, but that person couldn’t make it for an audition on that particular day. Neither could the second person that responded. Only Emily could meet them that very day. They had no idea how fortuitous her availability would be. For the audition, Emily chose to sing a Flyleaf song. The members of the band were impressed with her song selection as much as her vocal ability.
By this time it was 2011 and the band had continued to grow and evolve. Eventually Emily would take over the lyrical duties as well as the vocal duties as the band perfected their songwriting skills together. Jimi, Mario and Lina write music that they bring to Emily. Emily labors over the vocal melodies and lyrics. Eventually the full band practices the new material, each adding their special flavor to the songwriting soup as they settle into the parts that they play and sing.
The final element would come just a couple years ago with the inclusion of third guitarist and backup vocalist Robert Saldana of the bands Champagne for Radio and Raging Thrill. By the time he joined up with OK Robot they were well into recording their first album “What’s Your Reason for Existing”. A new father at the time juggling gigs with several projects, Saldana says it wasn’t the easiest time for him to join the band, but the chemistry that resulted was so potent that the band finally attained its final form. Saldana brings to the table a deep love of atmosphere and presence that bands like the Pixies first perfected and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of rock and alternative music.
The songs on “What’s Your Reason for Existing” simultaneously echoes the sounds of the 90’s “alternative” scene where music had too many different influences to be pinned down to just one specific genre and all the music that would come at the turn of the last century.
OK Robot slips comfortably between the driving pop punk that they grew up listening to and playing a sound that hearkens back to the jingle jangle and buzz of acts like Superchunk, Pavement or Sonic Youth. They also embody a sound that was pioneered by bands that were at their height at a time when the band (and the Valley alt music scene) first got its momentum.
“I really miss The December Drive,” says Saldana. “I miss bands like The Child Forgives and Creates. Those really big sounding bands.”
“What’s Your Reason for Existing” brings that big sound back but with a refinement that only an album two years in the making can deliver.
You can preview and purchase “What’s Your Reason for Existing” at okrobot.bandcamp.com.