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Insects VS. Robots Shows How Far Apples Can Fall From a Tree

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Giles Clement

Definitely Not Cowboys

Let’s get this out of the way: Micah Nelson, son of Willie Nelson (yes, that Willie Nelson), is in Insects VS. Robots, who will be playing two shows in Southern Oregon this month. Here’s the thing though: that parentage is probably the least interesting thing about the band.

“It’s kind of false advertising, because our music is so different,” says bandmember Jeff Smith.

It really is. The band calls itself symphonic psychedelic space gnome thrash folk-core art rock, and jokingly list acid guru Timothy Leary as their booking agent. A more concise summary of the band’s general sound might be described as Zappa meets Mr. Bungle at a barn dance, where the pair then decide to rewrite the laws of nature. Songs frequently run over 10 minutes, moving from folksy numbers to balls-out space jams to moody rockers. Willie asked for babies not to grow into cowboys, and mission fucking accomplished.

“As long as it’s musically captivating the whole time, there’s no rules,” says Smith.

It’s a style Smith says is birthed the band’s habit of writing songs by trying to work out the sound of a story members will share at practice, like how its song Eucatastrophe was based off Hans Cristian Anderson’s story of the sandman

“We all put our heads together and say where is this story going?” he says. “It might go for 11 minutes, like a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t ever been made.”

Hill credits that technique to the influence of classical music, which tends to compose in a longform linear fashion like a narrative, rather than a simple verse chorus structure.

Even the band’s name comes with a story.

“After band practice one night, a couple members were talking about what would be left after the apocalypse,” Hill says. “Growing up in LA you’re very aware of apocalyptic landscapes. A lightbulb went off: the insects and the robots.”

But Hill says that over time, people filled in the blanks to make that name about all sorts of clashes between the natural and the artificial.

Once birthed, that sound needed nurturing. And despite its not-remotely-LA sound, Insects VS. Robots fit right in with the autonomous artist’s republic of Venice Beach.

“We are kind of separate form the rest of the LA scene,” says Smith. “It’s good musically. It’s a bit less pretentious. Less serious. Our shows are known for people dancing and getting crazy. A lot of times you don’t get that in LA. People are too cool. It’s informed a lot of the looseness in our boundaries, not feeling like we need to be part of a particular scene.”

But once fully matured and ready to launch, Smith says it didn’t hurt to be part of Team Willie.

“Who is a better musical hero to be associated with?,” he says. “He’s been insanely supportive. Any way you can have doors opened for you is great, but the door will only stay open if you have the talent.”

And after a few years of doors being opened?

“Now people are like, ‘Oh, great band,’” says Smith. “And then they’re like, ‘Oh that’s Willie’s son?’”


Insects VS. Robots

9pm, August 1

Johnny B’s, 120 E. 6th, Medford



9pm August 5

Club 66, 1951 Ashland St., Ashland



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