By Steve Stav, for the Ballard News-Tribune, Seattle, 2000.
Above the din of a tone-deaf singer strumming a guitar, I asked this oh-so-clever band, just exactly who or what is a SushiRobo?
"There's a restaurant in Vancouver, Wash., that has a Sushi Robo -- a robot," answered bassist Barry Shaw.
"We thought that it was a mythical thing, this robot that makes perfect sushi every time, but it turns out that it actually exists," Clay Martin, who provides the percussion, earnestly added.
Frontman Rick Roberts sighed. "That's going to come back and bite us one of these days, do we have to talk about it?" he said as his cohorts nodded.
Turning to me, Roberts explained, "There's this Japanese company that cranks out the sushi robots, and they have this cool ad where on one side, there's a master chef's hands building a sushi and on the other, the Sushi Robo. it's a 'John Henry' competition -- at the end, there's the perfect sushi made by each, the one made by the robot is just as good as the master's."
Half of SushiRobo had just returned from New York City when I interviewed the quartet at the Raindancer on University Way. Martin, guitarist David Einmo, his wife Diana and their six-month-old daughter had journeyed to the Big Apple for the recent CMJ conference, where they represented their label, Pattern 25.
The fledgling company has just two bands on the roster at the moment, SushiRobo and atmospheric-rockers Spyglass; with threeforths of SushiRobo playing in Spyglass as well (Roberts is the sole holdout), it's a cozy family affair.
Though Sushi Robo and Pattern 25 have just gotten off the ground during the past year, the names were known to many industry reps at the showcase.
"We were in line to see Tenacious D, At The Drive ln, Granddaddy, and a band called Sunshine, and we met the music supervisor," recalled Einmo. "He was very familiar with the SushiRobo cover, he had seen the poster of it... knowing that cover, it's only a matter of time before SushiRobo is in a soundtrack," he concluded, laughing.
Taken by artist Kevin Freeberg in Portugal, the photo gracing the cover of the band's debut CD, "Action Causes More Trouble Than Thought," has garnered more attention than the band could have predicted. In the eye-catching picture, a helmeted figure is pedaling a bicycle emitting a shower of sparks from mounted fireworks.
"Everyone seems to remember the cover," Martin wryly mused.
Knowing that Einmo, Shaw and Martin go way back together, I inquired as to when ex-Posie, ex-Peach Roberts entered the picture.
"Dave and I were in a band with Jon Auer when the Posies were just starting," Martin recalled.
"The first time I ever saw Rick was at the Moore Theater when the Posies were opening for the Godfathers," Einmo chimed in, as Roberts worked out the group's convoluted origins in his mind.
Satisfied with his computations, the singer replied, "I had leftover songs from jam sessions that I wanted to record ... basically, all of the people who are now in Spyglass, except Dave, we had all been jamming together in combinations. I had these fragments and arrangements, and Clay and Barry brought the rhythm section -- that was almost a year ago."
"He asked Clay and I to do this recording just for fun, it wasn't going to be any kind of ongoing thing, really," added Shaw, whose rugged romance novel looks and long hair volunteers him for the role of sex symbol. "We enjoyed it, we liked the results so much, that we wanted to keep going. I remember your (Roberts') e-mail saying, 'Let's take it to the stage'... we decided to get Dave involved, start doing shows and start functioning like a band."
Einmo, who had observed the album's mixing sessions, was eager to contribute to the band's blend of Tom Verlame-Adrian Belew guitar art and driving, moody rhythm undertones.
"It was very exciting music, I wanted to see where it was going to go," he said.
As the band discussed their unique sonic stylings, Martin theorized, "I think the reason why people notice the rhythm section is that the guitar playing is very selective, every note has a purpose and they hardly ever just strum chords, so if they're coming in at selected moments, you really notice the backbone... to really understand SushiRobo, you have to see us live. With Dave in the band, it takes it to another level, a whole new world of guitar weirdness."
"After every show, there has been a lot of people coming up to us and commenting on how different the band sounds, and how much they enjoyed it," Einmo said. "It's been really fun for me. As a guitar player, one of the most frustrating things for me is... playing the guitar. It's such a boring instrument, everyone plays it. It's fun to play in a band with Rick, he's so inspiring, he takes the guitar to a level where it doesn't sound like a guitar anymore."
The avant-garde group recalled their highly-prized inclusion in the NXNW showcase in Portland at summer's end.
"They were trying to put bands wherever they could, and we wound up playing at nine o'clock in a pizza restaurant," Roberts said.
"But it was a good show," Einmo quickly assured me. He added, "I was actually kind of disappointed with this year's NXNW. There were a lot of good bands there, but there were a lot of really horrible bands as well ... I don't know how they made the selections."
Martin agreed. "It didn't make a lot of sense. Spyglass didn't get in, but SushiRobo did; it all seemed sort of arbitrary."
Roberts remembered "walking around after the show, at 11:30, going to three clubs in a row. All I could find was acoustic singer-songwriters, which was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear - these morose guys singing these maudlin songs to these comatose rooms, all simultaneously.
"We found this Ukrainian band," he continued. "Eight guys on stage, ranging from around 18 to 40 years old, playing this heavy-metal stuff, and then there was this guy with them that was playing a tuba, he looked 16, and he looked really scared up there. It was by far the most entertaining thing that night."
"The highlight of NXNW was (Seattle singer/performance artist) Jason Trachtenburg," Martin flatly stated.
"Yeah, it was packed and everyone was yakking away, but after he played for 10 seconds, everyone was just glued to the stage, and it just got better and better with each song," Einmo said, shaking his head.
With a noticeable buzz circling the band's every gig, SushiRobo is eager to get back in the studio to record more Roberts originals for a follow-up; they're also in the idea stage of a tour, where a tandem trip with Spyglass would be a logical, yet unorthodox approach.
Shouting to be heard above the highly annoying singer-songwriter behind us, I concluded the interrogation by wondering what they considered to be SushiRobo's most memorable performance.
As his bandmates searched their memories, Martin spoke up. "I can think of a great moment... I know Dave's a huge fan of (Fastback and Seattle icon) Kurt Bloch, I've seen Dave up front watching Kurt at shows. We were doing a show at the Crocodile, and I saw that Kurt was up front, watching what Dave was doing with his pedals and stuff, and I thought, 'this is pretty cool, nice reversal.'"
Originally published in the Ballard News-Tribune, Seattle, Wash., 2000.
copyright 1997-2011, Steve Stav