Indie pop isn’t the first thing people associate with Albuquerque, N.M. The city is better known for hot air balloons and green chilies, but it did give us folk-rock favorites The Shins.
Now, Lousy Robot attempts to tread a similar path out of the desert. It’s made progress in spreading its music nationally through television, finding its tunes on MTV and Bravo. And bassist Dandee Fleming’s favorite placement? “Man v. Food.”
“It was in Detroit, the episode about the world’s largest hamburger. I heard it organically, didn’t even know it was being placed on the show,” he said. “One of my friends hit me and said, ‘That’s you.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never eaten a hamburger that big.’ Then it dawned on me that our song was playing.”
Finding their music on the boob tube is surprising in more ways than one. The perky, upbeat melodies certainly seem like a perfect match, but the cynical, disheartening lyrics residing underneath don’t. It’s been described as “the happiest music ever about feeling sad,” and the despair often takes a few listens before it manifests.
“When people see us live, they come up to us and say, ‘These songs are actually kind of sad, aren’t they?’ They definitely are,” Fleming said.
Anguish has always been at the heart of songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Jim Phillips’ work, and the rest of Lousy Robot was OK with that … but decided to fight that gloom with a little gleam.
“What ends up happening is we have this song that is musically upbeat and poppy, and the lyrical content isn’t necessarily so,” Fleming said. “A little bit of it is a conscious decision. We want people to be able to dance around and have a good time at our live shows, so we go that direction.”
People say, “These songs are sad, aren’t they?” Yes, they are.
The success they’ve had is a testament to that. Since forming in 2003, the ’bot has released three albums, including this year’s “Hail the Conquering Fool.” Having shared the stage with the likes of adored Oklahoma bands Colourmusic and Shiny Toy Guns — and Stillwater’s People, People, come Thursday night at Opolis — the group seems well poised to become Albuquerque’s next big export.
“Sometimes people around here think that because The Shins came out of Albuquerque, no other band can get that big,” Fleming said. “They can, though, as long as they’ve got something worth listening to.”