By Nicholas Jason Lopez
These underdogs are finally ready to have their day.
Experiences of homelessness, prison trips and heroin addictions are just some of what helped Chicago’s Broken Robots craft their most vulnerable material with the release of their first album ‘Home Is Not A Place’ in 2018.
Their latest offering – the new EP ‘The Escape Artist,’ follows up with a more mature lyrical outlook, as Broken Robots cement their reputation as “the best-kept underdog story in all of indie music.”
Since their formation, the trio of vocalist Kat Baker, guitarist Tony Baker and bassist Lonnie Phillips have developed a dedicated following, with a sound self-branded as “nostalgic futurism” – a blend of neo-soul, hip-hop and electro-infused indie rock.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Kat/Tony about ‘The Escape Artist’ and more.
Music Bugle – How did you get to decide the band name?
Kat Baker – Tony and I had been trying to come up with a name for a while and one of us came up with “Broken Robots” and we were immediately like, “Yes, this is it!” We still argue to this day which one of us came up with it. I swear it was him and he swears it was me!
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Kat Baker – I think that we’re all perfectionists, so our biggest challenge has been compromising between band members to make the music that we all want to hear. This is something that seems to have gotten easier with time though.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your newest music?
Kat Baker – We started working on this EP at a casual rate a couple of months after releasing our first album when Lonnie joined the band in 2019. Our goal was to try to incorporate Lonnie’s instrumental style with what we already had going on, but also up the ante on the lyrical content of our music and really try to develop our character and style together. I believe that we achieved these goals and I’d say that ‘The Escape Artist’ is the actual birth of this project, whereas our first album was more of the conception, if that makes sense.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Chicago to someone who has never been there before?
Kat Baker – It depends on where you are in Chicago. It’s an entire ecosystem made up of tons of different cultures and scenes. It’s gritty, it’s busy, it’s loud, it’s expensive, but it’s thrilling, it’s an empire and there’s a lot of beauty and community here that you don’t see in smaller communities. There’s something for everyone if you take the time to find it.
Music Bugle – If you could change something about the music industry, what would it be?
Kat Baker – I wish it were more accessible. I grew up in a small town north of Chicago and although I started learning to play music at a young age, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me growing up. I didn’t have any family members that knew anything about the music industry and I didn’t get any guidance in school about it. I was sort of a problematic kid and I think that was part of it. I was terrible in school, but I could play guitar and was writing a lot of poetry and songs. I completed a full EP by the time I was 17 and just didn’t know how to get it out into the world. I think that rural young women and rural kids in general need more support and opportunity in music because most of their parents are blue collar people who don’t know how to work the industry. I ended up spending years of my life miserable and working in sales and restaurants, not realizing I could have been doing music the whole time. I quit writing for six years because I thought writing music was just for rich people!
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Tony Baker – As the mixing engineer in the studio, our style of music challenges me to effectively hybrid different genres together in a cohesive way that makes sense sonically. Broken Robots pose the best kind of challenges in the studio that really force me to dig a lot deeper than my engineering abilities to reach the finish line and I honestly love those challenges.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kat Baker – We were moderately impacted. I think in a lot of ways, we are better people now than we were pre-COVID. We definitely lost our minds for a while and we struggled financially and mentally for the first six months. We’re all smarter and healthier and Tony and I even managed to quit smoking. We had to move out of our apartment and into my grandma’s garage and we’re running our home studio out of this multi-generational situation with my mom and brother also, which is actually pretty cool. My grandma is really into what we’re doing now because she gets to see us in action and I’m grateful for that.
Tony Baker – The pandemic led me to appreciate everything I have, practice more and it forced me to do a lot of self-analysis. I’ve been incarcerated a few times and the pandemic had remnant feelings of prison in the sense where you have to make a choice. You can either fold or you can put your head down and plow through it and get to the other side with your mental health somewhat still in tact. As a band, I feel like the pandemic actually made us closer and tighter than we’ve ever been.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Tony Baker – What is a “break”? (Laughs) A vacation is long overdue. With our current situation with the studio in the garage and post-pandemic finances, we’re trying to save sometime up now so we can take a little vacation soon. Otherwise, when we’re not working on our own music, we’re usually working on someone else’s.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Tony Baker – We usually listen to the artists that we’re personally working with at our studio. We’re genuinely in love with a lot of the music we get to be a part of as engineers/producers/writers. We will be a part of a lot of newly released Chicago music over the next year and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Tony Baker – “You only fail if you quit” and “The cream always rises to the top,” quoted by my late dad.