Since 1996, Jay Vance (a.k.a. JBOT) has been a prisoner of robots he originally created to serve as his onstage death metal band. That's the gist of Captured! By Robots' bio — that, and Vance has a problem playing with others, necessitating animatronic bandmates. But the reality of the situation proves to be more like the fictional backstory than you'd think. After a decade, Vance has become a slave to his creation.
"I just think of us as a band, whose members don't happen to be human," he explains. "I almost want people to ignore the fact that they're robots and just go with it. Because, who cares? I don't even think of the robots as robots, even though they are."
Though Vance is the lone human in a band comprising computer-programmed robots that actually play their instruments, he has a habit of using "us" and "we" rather than "my" and "I." It's not that anything he says suggests he's suffered a psychotic break; this isn't that kind of story. Vance is just a loner who admits to not leaving the house that much. It was his inability to get along with bandmates that ultimately drove him to turn to robots. ("It was fucking nuts and I figured, hey, I can build a better band than this. So I did.") But one does wonder if he's been telling the story so much that he's begun to live it, too.
Captured! By Robots
Captured! By Robots is scheduled to perform on Thursday, November 29.
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"I just think of us as an everyday rock band," he says of his masters, which include DRMBOT 0110, the Ape Which Hath No Name, the Son of the Ape Which Hath No Name, the Headless Hornsmen, and, of course, his alter-ego, JBOT. "I don't classify it as art rock or noise or experimental. People just have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that they're robots."
With no prior knowledge of robotics — but no desire to collaborate with humans, either — Vance set about using a trial-and-error method to create his first robots with one intention: "Build robots to play with and make great music." His first robots were primitive compared with the ones he plays with today, but that's only because "with each tour season, we try to do something to make them better and better," he says. "I take whatever technology comes out to update them."
Now a full-time slave, Vance has been dragged by his robot masters across the United States and Canada, but trips overseas remain a challenge. "Transportation can be a real pain because we can't just take a train like a lot of other bands do," he says. "We need a truck to move around."
But Vance sees no end in sight, and his ambitions remain high. "Whether one day we'll be playing stadiums with rocket ships blasting off behind us . . . Well, who knows?" he says. "We're just going to keep making it bigger and better, as much as we can."