Twinkiebots keeps itself entertained
by Leslie Wylie
Brandon Biando is a human fault line, so to speak. On one side’s California, site of his childhood and long-term teenage pilgrimages. On the other, there’s Tennessee—Lenoir City, to be exact—current residence and birthplace of his band, Twinkiebots.
And fault lines are odd junctions, as anyone who’s passed through one understands. From the ground their presence is subtle, characterized perhaps by microscopically fractured asphalt or streams that veer suddenly, inexplicably off course. From the air, the agitated geography becomes more visible; the line’s narrow ridges and lakes bleed into one another, giving it the impression of one long, dark shadow.
But surface perception is only part of it. Only from an internal level can the truth be understood: the perpetual grinding, the restless shifting, the utter boredom of it all.
It’s a sensation 21-year-old Biando can relate to. “I’m from California so I have some kind of weird attachment to it, but I also have a weird attachment to here,” he says with a yawn in his voice. “Usually whenever I move back to California it’s because I’ve been so extremely bored here. [Knoxville] isn’t the most exciting place in the world. But then I get to California and I feel the same way, so maybe it’s a mental problem. Maybe I’m not satisfied with any place.”
Thankfully, his earthquakes rattle loose in the form of music. Twinkiebots, with its electro-surf folk-pop aesthetic, is a product of cultural friction between his past and present geographic locales. His West Coast upbringing manifests itself in freewheeling song structures and a tremulous, cupboard-clattering kind of energy, but there’s a sense of Southern elbowroom at work as well.
Though California is hardly known for being uptight, Knoxville is a different kind of laid-back. The music community isn’t cutthroat, and record label scouts aren’t stationed quietly in the back corner of every show. Bands have the freedom to experiment without fear of consequence.
“I guess it’s different [in California] in that there’s always some band to go see and there’s a lot more places to go see shows, but it’s harder to get a show,” Biando says. “You could fart into a microphone and get a show here. It might not be the best place to play, but at least it’s an okay place to play. That’s a cool thing, I think.”
As a result, quirkiness is considered a local virtue—which works out well for the envelope-pushing Twinkiebots. The band’s lyrics, in particular, wander blithely off course, morphing into Shel Silverstein-esque fantasy sequences. Songs like “I’m The Letter In Your Scrabble That Finished Pyschobabble,” “My Pet Elephant,” and “A Pretty Day Is Just Ugly Without You” are as whimsical as grade school poetry, illuminated by bright blotches of color and haunted by dark resolutions.
Biando explains, “There are a lot of similar acts around here. The musicians who are standing away from whatever is going on and from everyone else are getting attention for being different.”
Twinkiebots started out three years back as a one-man band, just Biando, a four track and his fascination with layered sound. “I wondered what it would sound like with this over it and this and this, just kind of instrumental stuff, just kind of out there, some electronics.”
He later recruited musician friends to develop his blueprint compositions into a full-scale musical project. The current lineup includes Nick Huinker (second guitar), Jack Glandon (keys), Danny Sale (bass), and Chris Rusk (drums). To date, the band’s membership roster has been something of a revolving door, with musicians drifting in and out. “The way the band is, kind of whoever’s in the band is in the band because they want to be in the band,” Biando says.
Such disorganization and impermanence are essential elements to Twinkiebots’ success. Its shows are sporadic, and its albums are hard to find. Biando openly admits that he’s too lazy to market his band or its music. He brings a handful of merchandise with him to shows, but usually leaves it outside. “I don’t want to look like a goon walking around with a bunch of CDs,” he says.
But nonchalance can also be a form of self-protection. The less you put into something, the less you have to lose—like living in a refrigerator box on the San Andreas Fault so you never have to worry about disaster insurance. Strangely enough, considering the local scene’s fickle preferences, it’s an ideology that makes some sense.
“If people are really good they get recognition for being really good, and 45 minutes later it’s not cool to think they’re good,” he says. People find something better, or they decide that it’s not cool to like this anymore.”
What: Twinkiebots w/Cold Hands, Variac and Plex Plex