In Conversation With ... SADBOT.
Right from the beginning of my time my parents are big into music. My dad has been a musician his entire life and so was his dad, it’s a thing that's always existed in our family and my mum is hugely into music as well. I just grew up listening to music, it was always on, music was always a massive part of why I liked things like watching TV shows. I thought music was always a really interesting part of how humans exist with each other. I sort of got a bit obsessed with that and I still am!
The last time anyone in the music industry has seen me was probably at some RedFaces festival somewhere, I have been alright. We had a condensed career where we were signed to Sony. It was great, it made me confident in the idea that music was something I could dedicate part of my life to. I am kind of privileged in the fact that I was given those opportunities. I had a weird summer after RedFaces, we decided we were going to finish it in summer 2019. So I had a weird summer when I was like “I don’t know who I am anymore.” But I got over it in the end and we are still all the best of friends and still love each other a lot. I have been good though.
In terms of my journey to this, which is “sadbot”, we all knew we were going to continue making music after RedFaces. It was never a competition, we all supported each other. We knew that we had kind of taken RF as far as we could take it and it wasn’t a decision based on any malice; it almost felt like an evolution. We felt like we could grow and go do other things and I think that's important not just for artists but for people.
Part of the way through RedFaces I started making electronic music on my phone, it sounded crap but I kind of got a bit obsessed with how synths sound and how electronics sounded. There was a certain type of sound or mood in music that made me tick and I slowly figured out that it was the feeling of nostalgia and sounds that evoked it. I realised that made a powerful response in me so I tried to seek out what that was and went through bands like Tame Impala and Pond and eventually stumbled upon Kavinsky - a French House artist who takes inspiration from the sounds of 80s and 90s paraphernalia and tricks you into thinking you were there. I thought that was really interesting.
The pandemic gave me a lot of time to take my time with sadbot which is good as there is so much pressure within the music industry to release things really quick and get things to this incredibly high and often unrealistic standard within a short amount of time. Often that can affect the quality of what comes out. I am definitely a perfectionist so that has given me the time to be perfect, but on the other hand it's not really given me a time frame: the song that I am about to release I could have spent two or three more months just tweaking. I think at the end of the day what is important is that I am saying things I want to say and the pandemic gave me some emotional headspace to sort of get all those things down.
I feel like a lot of artists feel like they have to do things a certain way because that is the done thing and having a lot of time to yourself has made me realise that trusting my own judgment is a really powerful thing to do as an artist. But also because of the space it's given me it's made me a lot less afraid to ask for help from people because most of us are sort of in the same boat.
I have definitely had some weird moments in the music industry where I've been told I'm not a ‘skinny legend’ or I need to do this with my hair. I remember being told I need to look a certain way or dress a certain way and obviously any standardization I have felt has been felt a million times by women, but I think those acts in general need to be stamped out because there is no one way someone should live their life and when you enforce the idea that there is one way you should live their life, that is what leads to these social imbalances I think. We have to make more of an effort to have these discussions and we need more groups like you guys (but not plain clothed cops please).
I don’t think musicians should be scared about being political, because when you write music it’s affecting the world in a big or a small way, so why shouldn't you be able to have an opinion about the world you are releasing your music into? Everything in your life is affected by politics and I think you should be encouraged to have an opinion on it. Art is a form of expression so why would you not express that side of you as well?
I think there's these unshakeable standards within society that only come into question when something this big visibly affects everyone. Before, all those things that affect marginalised people/ groups it's quite easy for people who aren't affected by them to ignore and go, “that's their problem”. Whereas when something affects everyone and then highlights the issues that
certain groups have, then people tend to go “I should probably do something about this”.
There was a Welsh mining community in the 80s, obviously the 80s were a horrific time as you had all the Thatcher cuts and general strikes were banned and horrible things were happening to the working class. They teamed up with a local LGBT group, I think the most powerful form of change that you can instigate is when you start to figure out that everyone is more or less fighting the same battle. We all have our different privileges and we all have our different non privileges, but these people from different walks of life were kind of fighting for the same thing which was equality and justice. I think people should realise that the coming together of all oppressed groups is a force that is unmatchable by anyone on their own. So it is only going to change when we work together, it's all about intersectionality.
I think the main thing we have got to do and something you've got to in act a long term change. I think we have all had a really awful week and my heart goes out to all women everywhere. It’s kind of not enough for lads to be like “if i were there I would have beat him up” because that doesn't solve the issue you have to prevent it as well. Because these issues are so ingrained there's such an idea of how bands should act and how men should act and how women should act that we have to challenge these preconceptions and biases and that is mainly down to blokes doing it I think because as white blokes we probably hold the most privilege in society and we do have to recognize, as white men, that we don't have to think about some of the things that women do or black people do etc. I think one of the most important things we have to start doing is having these conversations with our male friends and get rid of this idea that if you call someone out on something that it’s a personal attack - it's more of a want to make a tolerant, safe community where everyone can feel safe together.
I think the things bands can do is start to question themselves and the people in their band and crew about the sort of things they say or the way they act because there are also little things that you might not even notice that might make someone feel incredibly uncomfortable, believe me I have seen it at shows. Especially being in the underground Indie/ rock/ pop scene, you see it at those close sweaty shows you see disgusting things and just stupid things that shouldn’t be happening, those should be equated. I should be just as angry about these things as the big horrific things as it all serves to further divide the social standing of men and women and everyone in between. It's a difficult topic.
The roots of all of this is institutionalized sexism because when some people see women (unconsciously or not) as someone that is ‘below’ you, in a sick twisted sort of way it justifies their actions. I think that needs to be tackled and that goes into all areas of society as we have seen this week. So it is a tough thing to break but it does come back down to the music industry as well. There needs to be a fundamental change of the way that we view sexism: it’s not like a seedy dirty thing that some of us experience, it's a worldwide engrained phenomenon that we need to tear out from the roots rather than tackle the surface issues.
Part of that is over masculinization (particularly in music from my experience). There's definitely a pressure for blokes to be (obviously not excusing anything) this certain way in bands. I remember when we were touring there were quite a few bands that were trying to fit the ideal stereotype of a ‘band guy.’ There’s not a book on how to be a bloke and importantly there shouldn’t be a book on how to be a bloke and just as much as there shouldn't be a book on how to be a woman or a person in general. I think when you reinforce these ideas of what a man should be and what a woman should be that just further divides the two and distorts the ideas of gender in society.
This type of idea of what women should be and what men should be doesn’t just affect cis men and cis women it affects gender expression. How must non-binary people feel about these social normative standards? I think that it's not just a remodelling of how we see women, it's a remodelling of how we see people. Regardless of how they express themselves and who they are, they should be afforded the same rights.
It’s probably completely psychological but it is a fact of my biology that I have cried a total of 6 times in my life - I can count the amount of times and that is weird. Telling my girlfriend that was how it was she was like “what? I cry everyday?” and why shouldn’t I cry everyday? - I laugh everyday! The weird policing of what sort of emotions men should and shouldn’t express, is again rooted in sexism because if you show the signs of acting like what a woman ‘should be’ that’s perceived as weak. The whole thing is just twisted.
One thing that really changed me quite profoundly was in 2015 Currents came out by Tame Impala and the album completely changed my life because it was the first time I was hearing a man sing about his emotions and the things he was going through. They weren’t perfect and he wasn’t this perfect man that had been dumped and all that. Suddenly to me it was cool or normal and respected that a man was expressing himself three dimensionally through art and not just being this leather jacket mannequin of a man. I think if I had that earlier and I understood or was exposed to more music that was like that earlier I would have maybe cried one or two more times.
Love/Paranoia was the one that messed with me a bit as it was quite honest and self-critical. But that was the stuff that was important to me when writing this sadbot stuff because essentially the song I am releasing is rooted in a breakup. I wouldn’t call the stuff I am doing a “breakup album” but when that happened I think I assumed I would go into writing about how great I’m doing on my own, “I don’t need you” etc. But actually I was quite critical of how I acted. There's feelings of regret, nostalgia, hopelessness and eventual acceptance. I think all those feelings and emotions of personal development are something that shouldn’t be shied away from men writing about because they are important and they happen to us, we just don’t express them. I think we should express them more because they are important and make us more empathetic.
I am very much in two minds about releasing new music, I am very excited to finally release something as it's something I've been really passionate about and really excited with my friends and the old band for ages. I am a little bit nervous as to what people will think.
The initial thing with sadbot was that I was going to write a score or a set of instrumental songs, to some sort of TV show or film that was going on in my head that would never be released and that was the project. But slowly I was like “I actually want to make this a pop record” so I blended the two! Me and a few friends have been writing a weird sci-fi narrative or mythology to go along with the songs. So there's a world we have invented that is a bit of an alternative to go with the music, I don't know if/how we will release it but it is definitely something I want to make people aware of as that has been fun as well. So I have been writing some of these songs as if they go along to the Netflix TV show or whatever. It sounds ridiculous I know but it’s been an interesting way to write and I am looking forward to getting the whole thing across. It has been really nice to be a bit self indulgent, doing it on my own has been good for that. Whatever people can take from it I think is cool!
sadbot’s new catchy summer tune ‘Happy Just To Be Yours’ is available on Spotify:
You can keep up with sadbot on instagram @_sadbot or the face behind the music @ike_white.
There is also a groovy lyric video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7aRiVmxpWE, Graphics done by @boyboygraphics.
Alice Dunham & Tom Suffield