We talk to Kabaal Klankbaan about his latest single, “Robot Girlfriend”.
What inspired you to write Robot Girlfriend and can you talk us through your production process for the song?
I’m not sure what inspired it – some songs just appear out of nowhere. But it’s clearly (like most things I write) somewhere on the broad spectrum between earnest autobiography and complete fiction. You have to add some heart to anything fictional, but it’s also nice to disguise any truth with some embellishments. Robot Girlfriend (hopefully obviously) leans heavily towards the fictional side. Cause who hasn’t imagined the perfect partner with a hard drive you can wipe when things get too crazy?
This song also went through the (rare for me) process of trying out early iterations on crowds, and having it shaped based on feeling it out on stage. I don’t usually do this, but somehow, for this one, it worked. Even when I decided to get it produced & recorded, the song wasn’t completely locked down. After having self-produced my last album from my bedroom, I decided to find an external producer for this one. A lot of what I do is experimental, and part of that is trying different things every time. In this case, working with Peach van Pletzen to produce it.
Talk us through your sound. What influenced it and where do you see it going?
For Robot Girlfriend specifically, the sound of the song came about pretty organically. I had certain firm ideas, and specifically asked Peach to produce due to his expertise in organic-sounding “electro”-kinda music. I made a list of influences & sound ideas (everything from Basement Jaxx & Chemical Brothers to Beck, Gorillaz, Philadelphia Grand Jury and Pierre Henry’s Pshyché Rock) and sent that to Peach along with some demo recordings, and through a bit of a back-and-forth process we got to the sound & vibe of the final song – something that was mostly “influenced” by the song itself, and felt natural and supportive to the lyrics and melodies.
Though I specifically wanted to avoid anything that might’ve felt gimmicky (vocoders, beeps, and robot noises), we still ended up with a sound that’s specifically catered to this song, so whatever I end up doing next might not necessarily sound like a natural progression forward from this point. But maybe it does – who knows?
Are Robot Girlfriends really the way forward? What happens if your Robot Girlfriend becomes Ex Machina?
I’m really in two minds about this. On the one hand, if you’re any good at programming and your creation adheres to the Three Laws of Robotics, everything should end up fine. Also, it’s always good to install an easily-accessible “off” switch.
At the same time, I’m all for free will and wouldn’t want to keep a robot girlfriend against her will. It might be my greatest nightmare, but if she really falls in robot-love with my best friend, who am I to stop their blossoming (booting?) love?
Luckily for my moral dillemas, I don’t think robot girlfriend technology is good enough yet, so I don’t actually have to make that decision. Also, rust is a big problem. For now, I guess I’ll just stick to figuring out what makes real human girls tick…
[This is all completely theoretical, of course. I don’t really have a robot girlfriend so please stop asking if you can borrow her.]
Where does Robot Girlfriend fit in? Can we expect a new album soon?
I like my albums like I like my girlfriends – cohesive, thematically unified, and with a great body.
Umm, I meant “functioning as a unique, empowered individual”.
So Robot Girlfriend is a song that doesn’t quite fit into the landscape of any albums I’m planning or working on, so it’s purely a standalone single.
Having said that, I have been working on a next album (and have vague plans for more releases in the undetermined future), and I’m really hoping to get that finished and released some time next year. In between though, a single like Robot Girlfriend is a great way to test some ideas, and have an in-between “palate cleanser” that might subtly shift things in a different direction for what’s to come.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Winding down, mostly. Though this has been a busy year, there’ll be a few more gigs around Gauteng before Christmas, and I’ll spend all the time I can working on that next album…