Sometimes it takes a singular event to move an artist to creativity.
For Jeff Robbins – founding member of the late-90s alt-rock band Orbit and, currently, 123 Astronaut – the election of Donald Trump was a call to do... something. While not quite reaching a call-out-by-name protest album (think Neil Young’s Living With War), 123 Astronaut has put together The Friction, an energetic and raw EP with a singular focus on getting on with it.
“I don’t know that I would call this protest music,” Robbins says. “But I do think that there’s a certain self-assurance to it, tempered with an amount of openness and vulnerability. I was always hesitant to use words like ‘hope’ and ‘love’ with Orbit. But today, those vulnerable words feel like protest slogans.” With howling garage-blues vocals, gritty Fender guitars (whammy bar included) and a driving Double Trouble-style bass and drum rhythm section, 123 Astronaut captures agitation pushed to the point of creation. A very complete and short collection that makes a real point in the polarizing context of our times.
What is immediately clear through the chaotic frenzy of riffs, rhythms, solos, and a well-placed brass section on the song “Stars,” is that 123 Astronaut recorded The Friction to capture an energy with less attention placed on perfection in favor of a broad look at the big picture. Does this EP have soul? Does it feel real?
The answer is yes.
“Recording can sometimes deprive people of the humanity of the music,” Robbins says. “With 123 Astronaut, I’ve avoided the perfection and overproduction that comes with so much music recorded in the digital age. In the ‘90s we would record guitar after guitar to create a giant wall. That also had the effect of making each instrument less intimate, masking any imperfection in the recording. I’ve been trying to make 123 Astronaut a bit more simple, honest, vulnerable, and connected.”
It is this movement towards the honest, vulnerable, and connected that 123 Astronaut continues to find refreshing in the seemingly un-freshness of the bass-drums-guitar setup. Like a good game of chess, the basic rock and roll setup offers endless variation, even when it may seem that it’s all been done before.
The stripped down, bare-essentials approach to making pure, loud music was a draw for Robbins to dust off his songwriting chops and form 123 Astronaut. “It makes sense that [heavily produced music] is taking over,” Robbins says. “But it just makes a rock band that much more of an anomaly – a unique and spectacular event – to haul in all of this heavy equipment and then perform live. It’s loud, it’s visceral, it’s immediate, and it’s emotional in a way that’s not prepackaged or careful... raw feels fresh. It also feels especially good to me to let loose and scream into a microphone with a blaring guitar behind me. I’ve been too quiet for too long.”