I'm willing to bet you love a concept album, though you probably don't even realize it. I mean, who doesn't love Tommy by the Who? Or Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie, or The Wall by Pink Floyd? (Okay, to be fair, many of you frickin' hate The Wall, but you get what I'm saying.)
A local West Seattle cowboy, best known for his namesake band Brent Amaker and the Rodeo—a modern country five-piece that dresses head-to-toe in classic western garb, with Stetson hats, matching suits, and cowboy boots—well, this local cowpoke, he had a dream! He dreamed of outer space and also of the future here on Earth. He read several books by a brilliant futurist and transhumanist named Raymond Kurzweil—the director of engineering at Google and the author of books like The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, and The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Amaker specifically took Kurzweil's theory of the Singularity (in a nutshell, a complex idea that, soon, human life will be irreversibly transformed and we will transcend the limitations of our biological bodies and brains, with the help of, errrr, um... let's just say, lots of computer technology and maybe a robot or two) and set about making music about it. To make this concept album, Android Amaker, he enlisted some of Seattle's most diversely talented artists. Electronic-music maestro Vox Mod did all the audio, Amaker himself (not straying far from his classic, deep Johnny Cash baritone) did the vocals, and musician/artist P Smoov (who you may remember from party-rap outfits Mad Rad and Fresh Espresso) produced the sound and a music video for the project. Amaker then planned to launch the conceptual odyssey in a one-night-only multimedia experience. For this, he enlisted fashion designer Chris Jones (who makes suits and garments for his menswear line Like a Rock Star), visual artist Frank Correa, technical adviser Matt Hickey (who writes about technology for Forbes magazine), lighting designer Josh Black, and modern-dance choreographer Molly Sides.
I met with the Android Amaker group before a recent rehearsal to try to find out more about the one-night-only show, the debut album, and the Singularity—the future moment when technology and humanity might finally merge and form new life.
Are you really futurists, then?
Brent Amaker: I am, for sure. That's what this whole project's about—bringing like-minded people together to get the idea of Singularity out there. I'm lucky I live in a world of really talented artists from lots of different disciplines. It's been amazing to collaborate with them like this on a conceptual project. I'm a big fan of conceptual artists—bands like Devo and their idea of devolution.
Chris Jones: Ooh, and I love Quadrophenia by the Who. The idea of the four personalities of Pete Townshend representing the four members of the band, and how an individual can be made up of numerous people is really interesting to me. Speaking of fours—I made four different suits for the men of Android Amaker. The designs were inspired by the music on the album, and also the films Dune and The Fifth Element.
Amaker: In Kurzweil's book Transcend, he discusses what clothing might be like in the year 2034—the idea that we'll be able to scan our bodies, and all of our clothing will be custom fit, like 3-D printed clothes.
Matt Hickey: There's a company in Japan that makes self-cleaning underwear. These already exist—you can buy them right now!
Molly Sides: I don't think clothing in the future will change the fact that we will still be human bodies—the same bones—moving underneath our individual suits of skin. The main thing that's going to change is the world is going to move at a much faster pace.
Amaker: Yet the faster we go, we will still continue to look backward to see where we've been.
Vox Mod: My role in this was to explore both the old and the possible future—to make a cross-pollinated western sci-fi sound for the record. I'm inspired by Brent's music, and he is by mine. They're very different from one another, but we do share a mutual interest in technology. There's also some retro tongue-in-cheek stuff involved, but that's part of the storytelling aspect of any good concept album. Things can't be overly abstract, or too brand new, or people have nothing to grab a hold of—nothing to relate to.
P Smoov: When I was recording and producing the album, I worked toward healing the wounds between Vox Mod—who has a driving electronic sound—and the straight-up cowboy music that Brent Amaker does. They're definitely worlds apart and totally different, but as Android Amaker, I think they start to become equal. And Singular.