Robby Baca from The Contortionist confirms the myth about poor musicians

Somebody buy the man a pie!

I’m listening to The Contortionist’s Exoplanet album as I write this piece; it’s a beautiful, complex album and after catching up with guitarist Robby Baca, I’m even more aroused by the imminent tour and the new album. There was a moment when it seemed like The Contortionist might not make it to Australia as there were some visas issues; Robby isn’t even sure what happened; “Yeah, the visas took forever. I’m not entirely sure why but they took waaay too long.” Luckily it’s all sorted now and the band will be brutalising venues across Australia from the mid to late November.

You’ve just finished the Frak The Gods tour across America with The Human Abstract, Periphery and Textures, I can hear him smiling down the phone as he says “That was sick. I think it was the best tour that we’ve done so far.” So who goes mental on tour? You may be surprised to hear that, according to Robby “Probably Textures…crazy, old Dutchmen.” He laughs as he says this but doesn’t go into details. What happens on tour, stays on tour and all that…

I read in an interview with Jonathan Carpenter (vocals/keyboards) about the impact of working ‘normal’ jobs in order to keep The Contortionist going; is that still the case? “Yep. We’re all working the same jobs actually. It’s kind of like a warehouse job for now.” He sighs and adds “Yeah, still working…” Linus from Obscura made a similar point; does  everyone think you’re cashed up? He laughs “Yeah! There’s loads of cash in the line of work we’re in,” before adding “Not really, it all goes to our manager and all the debt we owe – we make enough to keep moving forward.”

I saw that a few US fans were pissed off that the band didn’t visit their states during the Frak tour – they must have some weird ideas on the cost of touring? “I think most people do realise that we’re not loaded but then there are some people who see a band and instantly think ‘They’re touring, this is their career, they’re making money, their records are in store’, I don’t think a lot of people realise the reality of playing music.” Which is generally poverty for your art, luckily these guys are in it for the love, not the money.

The Apparition EP (2009) was recorded at Voltaic Studio, in The Contortionist’s home town of Indianapolis but what about Exoplanet (2010)? I know Ken Susi from Unearth was in the producer’s seat for that one, right? “Yeah, we actually did that one in Massachusetts with him, and that was awesome.”

Is it hard working in the same band as your brother Joey (drums)? “Joey and I probably get on better than me and the rest of the dudes, honestly. When we were younger we used to fight a lot but now he’s probably the one person in the world that I could just get along with whenever…” Brotherly love; it’s a wonderful thing.

Do you have any break planned between now and the Australian tour? “Kind of - we’re writing at the moment so it’s a break from touring but I still have to see these assholes (he cracks up laughing at this point) everyday and we’re trying to write music so it’s kind of a break but kind of not.”

Robby likes to relax by just hanging at home with his girlfriend, he muses “As long as I’m not around these dudes then I’m relaxed.”

Is there much stress on tour? “Yeah. Usually towards the end of the tour is when we start grinding on each other’s gears a lot.”

The Contortionist’s work is incredibly complex; where do you even start to write? “Honestly it’s different for every song but for the most part I’d say one of the guys will bring half a song or just one riff, and we’ll start building it and piecing it together from there. We all have different ways of writing; John , our singer, he can sit down and write an entire song by himself but I couldn’t do that – I need input from everybody – there are a lot of different styles for writing that come together.”

Because the tracks are complex, are there any problems when you perform live? “We practice a lot but every once in awhile someone will screw up and forget something and make everybody else look stupid, but for the most part, we practice so much it’s like we’re not having to think about it too hard.”

Is it all heavily disciplined or is there any room for inspired jazz breaks and improvisation? “For the most part there’s a lot of discipline but after having played the Exoplanet songs for over a year now, we’ve definitely made room for improvising and if you see us live, and you’re familiar with the music, I’m sure you’ll notice that.”

It’s been a year since Exoplanet, what’s happening with the new album? “We’re writing right now. Actually we just finished, about five minutes ago, working on one of the new songs. We’re set to be in the studio in February and it’ll be released in Spring (US) next year.”

Will Australian fans get to hear any of the new songs? “If we can manage to get anything done because we don’t have any whole songs completed yet - we just have lots of pieces, so if we manage to get an entire song finished before we leave then we’ll definitely do that.”

Will the new album be similar to Exoplanet or will you be trying out some new styles? “We’re trying to branch out a little bit; we’re trying to get away from the ‘death core’ thing. We’re trying not to repeat ourselves too much. Obviously it’s still going to be The Contortionist and Contortionist fans are still going to really love it, I hope, but we’re also trying to bring in some new sounds and Jonathan is actually more involved with the writing process this time – actually on the last record he wasn’t involved at all because he wasn’t in the band but he’s bringing in some new elements as well, so that’ll be interesting. “

I’ve seen The Contortionist labeled as death core, math core, and even  Sumerian core; what the fuck is Sumerian core?! Robby has heard the term but doesn’t put much stock in genres, going as far as to suggest that there’s a kid sitting in his room somewhere “…just coming up with all kinds of crazy names,”

Robby explains that when he’s taking time out, he’ll often listen to a lot of ‘non-metal’ though he has been getting into a bit of Karnival: “Lately I’m listening to Brian Eno and Bon Iver…obviously Between The Buried And Me and Textures – I’ve been listening to them a lot.”
There are quite a few all ages gigs on the Australian tour, do you think it’s important for younger fans to get out to your gigs? “Yeah, I know there are some day and night shows at the same venue but one of them is all ages and one of them is eighteen plus, I definitely think it’s important to not just play venues where the younger crowd can’t come out. We’ve done some tours where there’ve been a stretch of shows where it’s all bars and the younger kids can’t come out and I do think it’s important to try to make it to where everybody can come and see us and not block out a particular age group.”

The conversation turns back to being a poor musician; are there any grants for bands in US? “Not that I’m aware of but that’s something I should definitely look into.” I explain about arts grants in Australia; while they are few and far between, some bands do manage to score one to ease the financial cost of touring or recording. Robby is intrigued; “That seems like something our government would probably not even be into.”

Finally, seeing as you’ve never been to Australia before, do you have any expectations about what it will be like? “Honestly, I have no idea. But from what I’ve heard about Australia, I’ve heard it’s beautiful and the people are awesome there. I have no bad expectations yet.”
I advise him to pack his shorts because it will be face melting hot. He seems pretty happy about that. “Really?! Excellent, because It’s fricking cold here right now.”

The Contortionist kick off their tour in Ballarat, 16th November. Be there or be slightly rectangular.