By Nicholas Jason Lopez
On July 24, 2020, Nova Robotics Initiative, the musical brainchild of Eric Gaines, will release his second five-song EP ‘More Songs About Divorce And Beer’ digitally through Knifepunch Records, with physical versions to be released at a later date with an all acoustic b-side version of the EP.
Gaines played/sung all parts and wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered all the music at his home studio in Tarpon Springs, Fla..
A mainstay in the Sunshine State for most of his life, he has made music for almost 20 years, but only went solo after his 2017 divorce. His first full-length ‘My Wild West Days’ chronicled his struggles with depression, alcoholism and anxiety that followed his divorce.
In April 2020, he released “The Great Outdoor Fight” as a single, which will be featured on the new EP as the fourth track. It was named after his favorite comic arc, Achewood Comics’ “The Great Outdoor Fight” and is a straight-forward song about how his pet cat made him feel comfortable while being otherwise alone.
The Music Bugle spoke with him about the upcoming release and more.
Music Bugle – What inspired your artist name?
Nova Robotics Initiative – The name is actually a reference to the 80s movie “Short Circuit.” The company that makes Johnny 5 is called Nova Robotics and I just stuck “Initiative” on the end because it sounded nice in my head. It also helps lead into design choices, like the robot cowboy head on the cover of my first full-length ‘My Wild West Days’ and the overall old-school tech vibe that I like to incorporate into fonts and such.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your new EP?
Nova Robotics Initiative – It was a new challenge for me, as this is the first thing I have done where 100 percent of it was tracked at home. My first EP and the full-length were mostly tracked at home, but I had to track drums at a friend’s that had a mic’d up kit. I also spent a lot of time trying to expand my knowledge on mixing and mastering, especially EQ and compression. Hopefully, it is a noticeable jump in production quality from the previous stuff! In terms of songwriting, the process is largely unchanged. I often think of a line or two that stick in my head and I build the rest of the lyrics around that. The instrumentals almost always come last in my process.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Tampa to someone who has never been there before?
Nova Robotics Initiative – Tampa is an interesting place that blends what people think of when they think Florida – old people, beaches, etc. – with a surprising younger scene. There is a very active craft beer scene here and Tampa has been a secret haven for punk and metal for decades. The other interesting thing about it is that Tampa itself has very little going on. Most of the interesting things are in suburbs of the city like St. Petersburg or Ybor.
Music Bugle – What has been your favorite memory of making music so far in your life?
Nova Robotics Initiative – My favorite memory from my history of making music for the past 15-plus years is the time I got to open for AJJ when they played their first show at Skatepark of Tampa. When they were doing that tour in late 2008 – maybe early 2009? – they had yet to play Tampa, so they put out an open call on Facebook to help get booked somewhere. I happened to be quick on the draw and got them a gig at the SPoT with the catch that they let me open. They were happy to book it, as Sean is a big fan of skateboarding and I got to play three songs at the very beginning of the show!
Music Bugle – What kind of message do you hope comes across in your new music?
Nova Robotics Initiative – I hope that people hear NRI and think, “Hey, I could probably make something like that…” I have no illusions about my music. It isn’t technically complex. A lot of the songs follow “classic” structures and I am not going to pretend I have the best voice in the world. However, I think my music is pretty honest and I hope it inspires people to pick up an instrument and give it a shot.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Nova Robotics Initiative – Luckily, it hasn’t really impacted me much at all. I have worked from home for the past three years, so nothing changed there. It has mostly hit me in the sense that I can’t go to shows or play open mic at my local brewery anymore. It breaks my heart to see a lot of musicians and artists that have been hugely hit because of this and I have been donating any and all revenue from my music – however little it may be – to people that have been impacted. That focus shifted following George Floyd’s death and the surge of Black Lives Matter protests, so now all my music revenue goes to causes like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or bail funds that need it.
Music Bugle – Who are some of your musical influences and what draws you to them?
Nova Robotics Initiative – By far, my biggest influences are They Might Be Giants, The Beach Boys, Jeff Rosenstock and The Mountain Goats. TMBG has been my favorite band since I was 11 years old and I think they are the most underrated band of all time. They have a huge and diverse catalog and are still able to crank out great music 35 years into their career. The Beach Boys are the reason I got into 60s pop and eventually doowop, which you can hopefully hear in the song “Stranger” on the new EP. Jeff Rosenstock is where I draw a lot of my punk inspiration from and The Mountain Goats are a huge inspiration for me lyrically. Some other influences for this EP were Worst Party Ever – especially influenced “The Great Outdoor Fight” and Virginity – gave me some advice about adding multiple vocal tracks on “Advance The Runners” and “Stranger.”
Music Bugle – What was the hardest song for you to write?
Nova Robotics Initiative – In terms of instrumentals, “Stranger” was a really tough one for me because I tried picking up lap steel for the first time. My grandmother found my grandfather’s old lap steel in the attic when she was cleaning out her house and she passed it down to me. It’s a tricky instrument to play for me, but I think the solo is really fun for someone who has only been playing lap steel for maybe 20 combined hours of practice. Lyrically, “Stoutasaurus” was the most difficult for me because it is very raw. I felt like I needed to write those lyrics and get them out of my system and it sat written, but unrecorded when I was making ‘My Wild West Days.’ For a while, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to release the song, but at some point, I decided it would be better to get it out there in case it could connect with someone. Maybe it will make them feel less alone in their feelings.
Music Bugle – What do you hope to still accomplish in your career?
Nova Robotics Initiative – The ultimate dream for me is to have one of my albums on QuoteUnquote Records. I am such a huge fan of Jeff Rosenstock and it would mean the world to me to be included on his site. In terms of goals that are more likely attainable, I would love to have one of my releases on vinyl.
Music Bugle – What’s something people should know about you as a person, away from music?
Nova Robotics Initiative – Tricky one… I guess it is tangentially related to music, but I am really interested in DIY in more than the music scene sense. I have been making my own guitar pedals and I am about to start work on a modular eurorack synth. I like learning the actually electronics behind what makes all this stuff work, so that has been a lot of fun.