There are three things you will always find in a Broken Robots song: a solid groove, intriguing lyrics and an ocean of truth.
“Runaway,” the Wood Dale-based rock band’s newest single and video release, gets carried along by those undercurrents, but it shifts direction and takes listeners ashore on another facet of the same story. Rich with electro-grunge flourishes that are a hallmark of Broken Robots’ music, the new song and video, out Sunday, reflect not only two overlapping inciting incidents, but also their emotional cost.
In March, lead singer Kat Baker’s longtime friend vanished, leaving behind no way to track him except for a surveillance video police found of him boarding a train in a different city. To hear Kat talk about the song she wrote, it’s clearly about that loss.
Except when it isn’t.
“We’re very method writers. When we write something, we’ll start a song and we won’t finish it until there’s a resolve on the issue, usually because there’s a spark of creativity for me as a lyricist,” she said. “I have this intense emotion or situation I have to deal with, and then I write the first part of it. Then I deal with the issue and I get to write the second part of it. But this never resolved, so we had to take a different approach lyrically and with the storyline.”
While this was going on, Broken Robots — Kat, her husband, Tony, on guitar and Lonnie Phillips on bass — was buffeted by the shifting winds of the music industry, pulling the band in different directions creatively.
“The song then kind of goes into chasing after this stuff,” Kat said. “Big music industry people and opportunities and whatever, while letting your friends’ mental health go astray and not being there for them. And then realizing you were chasing the wrong thing the whole time.”
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“You get tunnel vision,” Tony added. “It can work out one out of 100 times because you put all that effort into something, but you’re not realizing the walls around you are falling down. And those walls are your friends and your family, and you’re paying for it. You’re chasing something that shouldn’t be chased, and you can justify it internally because it’s art.”
The new single and video tracks the upheaval — and that innate desire to bolt — when less-than-ideal circumstances come to bear.
“This year has been weird in general,” Kat said, “so I don’t even know if all of what we’re talking about is rooted in serious reality or just paranoia, too, because it’s been a really bizarre year.”
“Which adds to the essence of ‘Runaway,'” Tony added. “We got to that state where all three of us, in our own ways, were just freaking out. … There’s a little bit of aggression in the song’s second half that needed to come out from this whole frustrating experience.”
Kat’s vocals bring a disenchanted charm to the searing song, the tone of someone exhausted from the tumult and who is now looking back on its ripples from outside the storm. And the “Runaway” video, while not a literal interpretation of the situation, heavily reflects that need to escape in its constant motion and animation, courtesy of Loon Base Studios and the team.
The release also marks a new era for the band as the trio becomes a foursome with the addition of drummer Anthony Friedli.
“I actually have a partner now,” said Lonnie. “I’m not like the third wheel on the tricycle. We’re a four-wheeler now, bro!”
Friedli joined Broken Robots for the first time onstage for a Halloween show Sunday, and from here on will be part of the band’s upcoming music.
“You have to imagine Tony and Lonnie were soul mates first, and then I kicked the door in and I’m like, ‘Alright, guys, here we go,'” Kat joked. “It’s a dynamic that does create a lot of competition in our music, but I think it’s actually going to chill out from what I’m seeing now with the fourth member. Our music is chilling out a little bit. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be neurotic, but it’s going to maybe be a little bit more of a vibier neurotic.”