Synthetic Metalheads 

A decade into his shtick, San Francisco's Jay Vance is Captured! By Robots now more than ever.

Since 1996, Jay Vance — aka 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, but the reality of the situation proves to be more like the fictional backstory than you'd think. After ten years, the antisocial Vance has become a slave to his creations.

"I just think of us as a band whose members don't happen to be human," he explains while running errands around San Francisco shortly before the start of his upcoming tour I Got Married by Captured! By Robots. "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 comprised of computer-programmed androids 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 that he has suffered a psychotic break. Vance is just a loner who admits to staying inside a lot. He couldn't get along with his last bandmates, and the experience drove him away from unreliable humans.

"It was fucking nuts and I figured, 'Hey, I can build a better band than this,'" he recalls. "So I did." With no prior knowledge of robotics, and certain that human collaboration was out of the question, Vance set about using a trial-and-error method to create his first robots with one intention: to build robots to play with and make great music.

"I got my degree in and made my living off of music; that's what I did forever, so it was a matter of You do it, or you stop doing it," he says. "I didn't want to stop doing it, so I figured out a better way."

Vance's first robots were primitive compared to 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."

Most recently, Campbell Hausfeld Maxus air compressors — necessary for pressure-driven devices like a robotic drummer — have increased the amount of airflow possible, "which allows a lot of stuff I couldn't do previously," Vance says. "I'm going to have two of them relatively soon, which is going to double my airflow, which will double the amount of stuff I can do" — such as the intense hardcore drumming that drives the one-man band.

"[The show] keeps evolving," he continues. "All the robots will be rebuilt for the fall tour, and I'm building a robot opening band."

Got problems with the openers, Vance?

"Let's just say, on some shows I've done recently, the opening bands have been less than stellar. I'm just so tired of being disappointed all the time, so I figured I'd make a robot opening band."

The Teddy Bear Orchestra consists of tiny toy bears playing small instruments. "But they'll really be playing," Vance adds. "Not that Milli Vanilli/Chuck E. Cheese bullshit."

You do wonder if he's been telling the Captured! story so much that he's begun to live it, too. "I just think of us as an everyday rock band," he says of his masters, who include DRMBOT 0110, GTRBOT666, AUTOMATOM, the Ape Which Hath No Name, 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."

Vance is now a full-time slave to his robot masters, who have dragged him 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."

Yet 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. There's that "we" again.

"We're just going to keep making it bigger and better, as much as we can."


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