Has technology surpassed our humanity? Synthy indie-pop duo Dropkick The Robot grapples with this quandary in song. On its debut EP, Gadgets, the rural Illinois-based duo juxtaposes lush electronic soundscapes with classic pop songcraft, and often uses technology thematically to explore disconnection in the age of connection.
Dropkick The Robot count such diverse artists as Radiohead, Beck, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, producer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and modern jazz genius Brad Mehldau as influences. The vibrant creativity represented here bespeaks the duo’s own panoramic artistry. Both are formally trained musicians having earned degrees from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This aspect of their artistry is distinct from many because they live in a house that was designed and built around a studio they run, Jettison Studios situated on 3 acres in rural Illinois, 45 minutes outside of St Louis. Dropkick The Robot record, mix, and master all its own tracks and Daniel and Kara view the studio as an artistic extension of songwriting. Daniel currently teaches Digital Recording Techniques at Southwestern Illinois College. In 2014, Mehrmann was selected for the prestigious Mix with the Masters in Avignon, France where he earned the once in a lifetime opportunity to apprentice under Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Josh Ritter).
Kara is a jazz-trained pianist who has the distinction of being chosen to be part of the IAJE/BET Jazz- Sisters in Jazz Collegiate All-Stars where she performed at jazz festivals in Italy, France, Holland, Canada as well as the Kennedy Center on the Millennium Stage. Currently, she teaches jazz piano at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.
Aside from their impressive pedigrees, Daniel and Kara have a flair for clever and heartfelt lyrics, and a knack for contrasting classic pop songcraft with lush and fizzy electronic textural touches. Previous to Dropkick The Robot, Daniel won an honorable mention in the Pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his song, “Comfortable.” In 2013, with Kara, as Dropkick The Robot, the pair won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize in the Electronic Category for the song, “Missed Out.” Dropkick The Robot also earned a semi-finalist award in the International Songwriting Competition for the song, “As Seen On TV.” Currently, the twosome is a semi-finalist for their song “Fall” off of Dropkick The Robot’s EP release, Gadgets.
Daniel and Kara first met in college. Dropkick The Robot emerged from the fertile scene surrounding Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Initially, the band was more of a conventional indie rock ensemble with Kara on keyboards and Daniel handling a lion’s share of the songwriting responsibilities. By 2013, Dropkick The Robot found themselves a duo. Pooling their prodigious talents as musicians, Daniel and Kara rediscovered the band. Buoyed by the sonic and compositional possibilities of electronic music, studio technology and their creative chemistry, they restarted Dropkick The Robot.
“When we started, I just played the keys, but I always wanted to sing and write songs. By 2013, I had amassed some song ideas. I asked Daniel if we could collaborate,” Kara confides. “We ended up finding a real connection there, a songwriting partnership.” Daniel returns: “Kara is the first person I’ve co-written with in my entire life. Her musical knowledge, her talents and her professionalism have been essential in this new era. She’s really helped me grow.”
Dropkick The Robot’s debut EP, Gadgets, is the reward for this bold and winding artistic journey. The album traverses ebullient synth-pop, indie folk, refined balladry, and touches just a little on frisky dance club beats. It’s a six-song release brimming with expert songcraft and adventurous artistry. Gadgets opens with the uplifting “Good Together” which is almost a house indie-pop hybrid—if there is such a thing—with undeniable grooves and angelic hooks. It’s a call to embrace love no matter what. Other EP highlights include “All Great Love” and “Fall.” “All Great Love” features the bare beauty of Kara and Daniel singing together with delicate accompaniment. Slowly the song unfolds, unfurling ribbons of hooky vocal melodies and layers of soaring skyward musicality. The smoldering indie-rock ballad, “Fall,“ is sung by Kara and is an intensely personal relationship song. “Putting it out there was a detox,” she says.
The EP’s title track is its conceptual centerpiece. It’s an insightful unpacking of loneliness and isolation in the era of constant stimulation and communication. The video for “Gadgets” intriguingly adds layers to the dialogue. It’s a performance style visual short shot in the basement with a high concept video overlay, featuring exploding cellphones among other playful jabs at technology. However, it feels like it was filmed in a warm lo-fi manner. This duality epitomizes Dropkick The Robot’s powerful sense of contrasts in themes and musicality on its first official release.
The EP concludes with the sweet simplicity of a folk song. “Lately” embodies naked expert songcraft, it’s basically vocals, harmony vocals, piano, and guitar. “At the end of the day, we don’t have to use all that technology. We’re songwriters. The songs are the most important aspect of what we do, and they can stand alone,” Daniel says.
Up next, Dropkick The Robot will be touring regionally, and releasing a steady stream of content. Gadgets is already garnering acclaim from choice media outlets and their musical contemporaries, and the duo are feeling the momentum. “We are going to push the ball down the field. We feel really motivated, and just excited about all the growth that lies ahead,” Daniel says. Kara concludes: “We are ready now. We have endless unfinished musical ideas, and we can’t wait to share them.”