Sad Robot

by Dan MacIntosh

Sad Robot may be slugging it out in Los Angeles with all the other aspiring rock stars trying to be the next big thing, but having Pure Volume choose it as one of the top unsigned bands of 2012 gives this three-piece a leg up on the competition. Their breakout song is "Hold On," which was used in a promo for Bones and played on the Los Angeles alternative radio power house, KROQ, where it was featured on its Sunday Night Locals Only showcase.

The lineup is Katherine Pawlak on lead vocals and keyboards, Nick Perez on guitar, and Jake Hogenson on drums. We found them sitting outside Hollywood's famous Viper Room.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Tell me about the song "Hold On."

Katherine Pawlak: Well, I wrote all the lyrics and the vocal melody. But talking about lyrically or just the whole feeling?

Songfacts: What inspired the song? What caused you to sit down and write it?

Katherine: Well, everybody always told me I couldn't write a happy song or an inspiring song to save my life. So lyrically that was my first attempt to try to write something that makes people feel like they can take a bad situation and make it better.

Songfacts: Was it hard?

Katherine: It really wasn't, because it's still kind of a melancholy anthem. It still highlights the bad, saying take that bad and don't run from your problems. Run into it, and you're going to become a better, bigger, stronger person from it all.

Songfacts: I saw the Flaming Lips the other night, and Wayne, the singer, he would do these sad songs. He said, "Okay, this next song is a sad song, but we don't want to make you sad and we don't want to get sad." So he would do this to get people to applaud during his song so it wouldn't get too sad. Does it concern you that you might bring the audience down?

Katherine: Well, we do have one slow song rule in our set where we do bring it down. It's normally in the middle of the set to give everybody a break, and then we bring them back. But I'm inspired by that kind of emotion, either angry or sad. Not that I won't ever write a happy song. But I don't mind making people a little somber.

Songfacts: Whenever we do anything creative, it has to be an emotional experience, we're either happy or sad. We can't just do a 9 to 5 job. We have to work whether we feel happy or sad if there's a job to be done. But when you're writing songs, I would imagine you have to be in the mood to write a song.

Katherine: Oh, totally.

Songfacts: So you don't like sit down and say, "Okay, I need to do some writing. I haven't written a song for a week, so I've got to sit down and write"?

Katherine: No. They come in all different ways. Sometimes it is just from a melody ditty. Sometimes Nick will come in with a guitar part when I didn't have a song lyrically in mind, and what he wrote will inspire a certain emotion that was already set in a song, which then makes me take that lyric into a different direction.

Songfacts: Well, you say it's a collaborative effort, and you guys are not really collaborating on this interview at all. I'm really disappointed in each and every one of you, except for you. So maybe one of you can tell me a little bit about the songwriting process.

Nick, what do you do in the songwriting process?

Nick Perez: Well, usually, Kat will have a little idea for a song. With "Hold On," for example, I remember having most of those lyrics done, but it was like a two chord song, it sounded like a polka to me at the time.

Songfacts: Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Nick: We weren't trying to do a rock polka.

Katherine: My early days of writing were all pre-polka. [Laughs]

Nick: So we took the song and I added two more chords to it, and then helped arrange it for the band. Then when we all started playing it, it turned into that. But the song in its infancy was pretty sparse.

Songfacts: What are some of the songs in your repertoire that your fans are always asking you about?

Katherine: We have a song called "The Obeah Man." And for the longest time people thought we were saying "Opium man."

Songfacts: That's what I thought you said.

Katherine: I love that one because I was inspired by Exuma, which is a voodoo singer who wrote a song called "Exuma the Obeah Man."

Songfacts: Hold on, a voodoo singer?

Katherine: Yeah. In Louisiana. I don't know if he's still around today, but years ago I heard this song, "Exuma the Obeah Man." You should look it up, it's pretty cool. And I wanted to somehow incorporate that into our music at some point and it fit that song. It's pretty much all about karma, like a witchdoctor and evil spirit. So if you do wrong, the Obeah man is going to come after you.

Songfacts: Are you spiritual in that sense?

Katherine: I don't know that I necessarily follow voodoo, but I like to say our music is hex-worthy.

Songfacts: Who are your inspirations musically and lyrically? The artists that, when you started making music, you thought, Man, I want to aspire to be as good as that person or that group?

Nick: I think that we all pull from a lot of different areas; specifically we could probably name 20 or 30 artists just between the three of us. We don't have time for that.

Songfacts: Well, I have a few minutes, you can name a couple.

Nick: Anything that Jack White has done I think would probably fall into a category of inspiration between all three of us. I think Joan Jett is a big influence of Katherine's.

Songfacts: Did you see her the other night? Were you here?

Katherine: Yeah.

Nick: Led Zeppelin, a lot of the classic rock artists. That's kind of what I grew up idolizing and listening to. And then all the way to stuff today that is a little bit newer that's cool, too. We kind of like it all, and I think that the three of us come into every songwriting situation thinking about what influences us with those bands and how we can take that and hone it and make it our own sound. That's how we write our songs.

Katherine: I think every amazing genius of an artist is a little crazy. You kind of have to have a little touch of the crazies.

Songfacts: Is this the first time that you've been on the Sunset Strip, or have you played here before?

Katherine: We've played here many times, but this was our first time for the Sunset Strip Music Festival.

Songfacts: Where are you from?

Katherine: Originally we're from kind of all over. I'm from Connecticut.

Nick: I'm from Michigan originally, but I've lived here most of my life.

Songfacts: Did you all come out here to be rock stars?

Nick: I moved out here when I was a kid, but I started playing shows on the Strip when I was 13, playing at The Whiskey, Roxy, Key Club. I've kind of grown up in this.

December 12, 2013. Get more at mysadrobot.com.
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