The roots of Ima Robot can be found in a beat box.The roots of Ima Robot can be found in a beat box.
"I was into hip-hop a lot and messin' around with beats," singer Alex Ebert tells Billboard.com. "I wanted to record a demo and wanted someone to play guitar on it and I ran into Tim, and he had a studio and we just kind of never left. Never ever left, except to play shows, really, and just kind of formed our band."
It was about 1997 that Tim Anderson -- aka "Timmy the Terror" -- and Ebert recruited keyboardist Oliver Goldstein. It would be a few years before the lineup would look as it does today, with the addition of a crack rhythm section of bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Tori Amos) and drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.).
"We just rolled on, mostly using beats and programmed stuff and synthesized bass," Ebert explains. "But now that we've got our full band going, a really amazing bass player and drummer that just create things that we could never have thought of creating on keyboards or a beat machine, which is phenomenal."
The band's self-titled debut album was released in mid-September by Virgin. "They just seemed to get it the most," Ebert says. "The first thing [Virgin chairman/CEO Matt Serletic] said was that seeing us was like seeing the Ramones for the first time, and that he felt this kind of energy that we needed to capture and not try to gloss and glean over."
And that was accomplished on "Ima Robot." Co-produced by the band with Josh Abraham (Staind, Static-X), the 12-track album brims with energy and a sound pegged somewhere between the new wave of Gary Numan and Devo and the dramatic elements of Suede, the latter thanks to the resemblance of Ebert's vocals to those of Suede's Brett Anderson.
"There's so many elements that it's created it's own kind of sound," Ebert says. "I guess, to me, it's just dancey punky poppy future rock.
"Anything we might remind anyone of we probably have heard of them at least," he adds, laughing. "Actually, some [people] reference [artists] we sound like that I've never heard of. But if there's anything that we are pulling from, it's to take that and go beyond. We don't like exploring charted territory."
Working with Abraham allowed Ima Robot to accomplish exactly what the band set out to do with its debut. "You know what? He's rad," Ebert enthuses. "He just let us do our thing. He kind of just contained us a little bit and ushered us down one road or the other. He really just captured what we had, and we were really happy about that."
After years of largely playing in and around its home base of Los Angeles, the band hit the road this summer, playing headlining club dates, England's Reading festival, shows with the Jane's Addiction and the White Stripes, and touring with the stylistic colleagues Hot Hot Heat.
"It's a really intense kinetic experience," Ebert says of the band's live show. We're all kind of vibrating at ill frequencies.
"I can't describe what it's like to be in the audience, but for me it's like stepping into a timeless warp zone. And I feel like that right before I step on stage, 'OK, strap on the helmet, get the stuff and here I go.' Because the music really does transport us to this other place and I think the audience can feel that energy."
But what of the name? Is it a reference to the band's roots in Ebert's beat box? A comment on the ills of society? "Actually, it was something that we thought was really, really, really, really funny, and I can't, for the life of me, remember why," he says. "I liked it as a name, but no one else did, so we didn't use it as a name for about two years, and finally we came back to it. I'm still kind of confused as to exactly what it means to me, but it definitely means something."
That's probably a good thing, considering the band went through a raft of monikers before settling back on Ima Robot. "Eiffel Tower Rifle Masters was one," Ebert laughs. "God, we had some really bad ones. The Window Club, 13's Lucky. That's part of my past. I'd rather like to let it go... Please!"