Lonely Robot began as sort of a sci-fi solo project for prog legend John Mitchell during breaks from his time with bands like It Bites, Arena, Frost*, and Kino. On his new record, A Model Life, John has left the sci-fi concepts behind and crafted an amazing, personal record that reflects on his life over the past few years. John recently sat down to talk about this record and much more.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell
On the change of lyrical focus from the first 3 Lonely Robot records – I think those first three albums were only ever gonna be, or the plan was, to always have them interlinked and well, a trilogy as it were, and I always knew that. You get to the last song on Under Stars, divisively called “An Ending” and that’s because I just felt that I can really take that sort of whole thing, much further. I liked the imagery of it, the funny little tin robot, and the whole funny animated thing that we made to go along with the third record, and I’m very proud of the songs on those first three albums. I thought there was some stuff on there, that I’m really, very fond of. The lyrics on those albums are quite otherworldly and whimsical, I didn’t I could take any further really, and I just wanted to start writing from a more personal perspective to try and exercise some of the demons through the wonderful world of music, as it were. 1:15
On if he could have written this personal of a record if not for the downtime of the pandemic – No, absolutely no way would have made this album a couple of years ago, it’s not a chance. So many things, obviously. I think the whole pandemic thing, just changed everybody. I don’t necessarily know for the better. I honestly think it kinda made me realize what a house of cards in my life has become, being the nature of the person I am and coming from me, I had a very strange upbringing in some ways. I don’t ever remember a time that I didn’t realize I was adopted. Obviously, when I was a kid, there was a bit of a stigma attached to it, and people just thought it was very odd. They thought it was a strange subject that you shouldn’t talk about if you knew that someone was adopted, which is actually nonsense. I’ve never not known that to be the case. But with being certain, there is a certain amount of baggage that comes with being adopted, and some people try and go and look for their biological parents because they think that’s gonna be some sort of a band-aid over that childhood, I never have. I came close at one point, but out of respect for my mother, who to this day is probably the single greatest woman that ever walked the earth, in my opinion, and the patience of a saint. Out of respect for her, I didn’t wanna open another Pandora’s box. My ex-partner always used to say, “Well, you should look at these programs like “Long Lost Family”, it’s like a Kodak moment between all these people who get reconnected with their biological parents.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s the Disney version of events”. But of course, if you were to look at the other flip side of the coin where it doesn’t always go to plan and you might end up with more feelings of rejection or whatever, so I just thought, “No, no, I’ve got enough going on with what I do know the information I do have in my experience of life thus far”, so I didn’t think that. At the same time, it does make me realize that through the pandemic and ending a long-term relationship, it did make me realize that maybe I’ve held on to a lot of other things that weren’t good for me as well, and in many ways, writing this album made me realize I need to let go of them, of a lot of very bad learn behaviors and baggage. I think the notion is that if you have these issues, and even going back as far as Kino I was singing songs about that, I find it very difficult to let go of relationships and things and belongings and I’m a bit of a hoarded, which you can probably see. You know you compartmentalize things and you objectify emotions and it’s just, “Well, that to the nature of my existence”. I’ve come to realize it’s not very healthy. Sometimes, you have to cut certain people out of your life, you feel a duty of care towards them. and really, you don’t. That’s one thing I did learn from all of this and from writing this album. If one thing so fundamentally large in your life can change, maybe some of the smaller things need to change as well. 3:02
On the melodic nature and accessibility of the music – Well, I can, I kind of realize some basic things. I realized, probably the music on the first three albums, in some places, it’s quite a lot heavier. This album is a bit more like Metallica versus yacht rock. I’m very fond of those first three records. But with this album, I just got the old Telecaster out and I was a bit more jingle-jangle than chuggy-chuggy. There’s a lot more CP70, I pay a lot of that on this. I don’t write on guitar, so it’s very difficult for me. Whenever I put guitars down, it’s always like, “Okay, so how am I gonna counter these keyboard parts or whatever”. For example, on the first album, there’s a song called “God vs. Man”, where there’s a big, rocking riff, there’s the odd thing like that, but this album is more about broken chords and arpeggiated, cleaner parts and more of that, and way more guitar solos than I have any right to be playing, so we banned them. 7:04
On playing this record live – Yeah, I think certainly, I can hear some of these songs (like) “Species in Transition” are going to sound massive. Yeah, I think there are some tour dates in place in February, but whether or not they come to pass, we’ve moved them twice already, and it’s not practical to do it because of the current Visa situation because of the whole Brexit shenanigans, which of course, I was quite disappointed about, to be honest with you. That’s the trouble when you live on an island, everybody has island mentality. From the first time you’ve written about it, I was quite disappointed. There’s a whole world of people that live in England at a certain age that remember some quasi-imagined version of England, some leafy, pastoral version of England where it existed in its own entity outside of the domineering control of Jean-Claude Juncker and Brussels or whatever, it’s nonsense. The reason the European Union exists is purely to stop us from ever going to war with Germany again. Whoever voted that we should leave the European Union is just some backward-thinking idiot as far as I’m concerned. I’m quite happy to say that on your podcast. I’m sick and tired. Everything as a musician revolves around traveling the world and going to Europe border free, and I’m thinking, “I can’t do that”. You could say, “Well, John, that’s very selfish of you. You’re only thinking about it from a musical perspective”. Sorry. Yes, I am, and I’m not of an age where, how’s it going to affect Granny Smith, age 83? I’m a bit annoyed about all of that, to be honest with you. It’s made it very impossible for people to go tour Europe without considerable expense and considerable effort. So we’ll see. 8:50
On touring America – Playing America, you always have to go to to get the thing with the visas sorted. But isn’t that the reason that Cruise to the Edge happens? You’re technically in “foreign waters”, you’re floating. It’s very clever, you’re playing a gig in piratical seas. Yeah, it’s annoying. It’s frustrating, of course. The thing about musicians and the thing that all of this has brought to light, I always make a joke about it saying, “Well, music, I suppose it’s a luxury”, and of course, the way people have, in my opinion, devalued music, I’m not here to slam Spotify, but it’s just the way that people consume music now in such a flip (way), move to the next song, I don’t like that, here’s the other. The whole notion of quick return or whatever, and I don’t know. There’s no polite word to describe it, but there’s a spasmodic nature of TikTok and all these things, it’s horrible. I used to love sitting in a room, listening to Pink Floyd with headphones on. Why can’t we go back to that? What was so wrong with that? We got vinyl back, but do we? Because about 45% of vinyl just sits on people’s walls looking cool.11:21Live Concerts From Your Favorite Artists on nugs.net. Start a 7 day trial.
On if he enjoys multiple bands or if he would prefer one stable band – Well, I mean, obviously, progressive rock or the paddling pool of progressive rockers, I lovingly call it, is rife with people playing on (multiple projects). I don’t want to swing the pendulum of blame, but I obviously do far too many things, *cough* Mike Portnoy also does far too many things. Lots of people do far too many things, we should always just calm down and focus, right? But it’s what you do. There’s not as much income flowing around from one, to use the word revenue stream, so you do have to prop yourself up with various different things. That being said, Lonely Robot for me, is my creative outlet. Arena is not really my band as such, let’s be perfectly honest about that, it was set up by Mick Pointer and Clive Nolan and it’s their baby and the buck stops with them. Same with Frost*, that’s Jem (Godfrey)’s band, although I have very much enjoyed all the time I spent writing with Jem and co-writing with him too, he has the final say in those things. This Lonely Robot is my jam, man, that’s what I do. I enjoy that because you know what, I’ve been in bands all my life, I’m sick of being in bands. Stop it with the bands! Bands are a kind of absolute nonsense version of reality where people think that a band should be like an absolute version of democracy, But, of course, there’s always somebody in a band who drags their heels, there’s always some slacker at the back that you’re carrying. There’s got to be a captain of the ship, there’s gotta be somebody. If you take, for example, It Bites, the band that I have played in the past, I would argue they would never have got anywhere if it were not for Frances Dunnery, because he was definitely the one that kicked them up the ass and said, “Right, this is what we’re gonna do”. He was the captain of the ship. Whatever their chemistry and dysfunctional relationship they will have with each other, it seemed to work for a very short period of time and probably got things done. I think with that band, perhaps they changed musical direction too often. I change my socks once a day, don’t change (musical direction). You went from the first album, which is like Duran Duran, into Genesis into some hard-rocking band who didn’t know if they were coming or going. I’m rambling. Bands. Enter Marillion who get in a room and jam with each other and then they record and then somebody glues it all together. I’m going, “That is the most deranged thing I cannot imagine, cannot imagine doing that, but it works for them. 13:40
On Arena – With Arena, the buck always stops with Clive Nolan, because it’s his baby. He writes music very, very differently from me. I always think of Arena as what I call a Japanese house, so you start with the roof and build downwards. It always seems to be a very back-to-front way of doing things. He writes the lyrics and vocal melodies last, whereas that’s the first thing that I do. Arena always has a way of doing things. Everybody plays riffs on this new and that we’ve got. I remember sitting in a room with Mick, and he’d play me things by various bands and say, “I really like that. Can you write something almost identical to that riff?” Isn’t that some sort of theft? I would write things and wed submit these riffs to Clive and they go and in the big hat of riffage, and then Clive says, “Well, I like this, bit, I like that bit”. My riffs, or however I originally intended my riffs to sound, get surrounded by different chords. I suppose it’s a collaborative point in one way, shape, or form, but obviously, in my megalomaniacal fashion, I just quite like the idea of me singing by myself going, “I shall have it my way, do it myself”, obviously that’s just born out of the fact that I’ve been in bands all my life. It is a compromise, and you get to a certain age and you gotta be bothered to compromise anymore, I suppose That’s how Lonely Robot came to be. Thomas Waber said, “You wanna do another It Bites record?” I said, “No, not really”. “You wanna do another Kino album?” “No, not really”. And he said, “Well, maybe we should do something new”. I’ve got a very good relationship with Thomas at the label. 17:01