Here comes Artificial Intelligence. No, it's not the Steven Spielberg sci-fi flick ... though, come to think of it, there is some alien sex involved.
Artificial Intelligence, also foreshortened to the more familiar "a.i.," are a three-piece Los Angeles jam band that has nothing to do with the beloved director or endless, noodly riffing.
"We want to play instruments, we don't want them to play us," said singer/guitarist Nick Young, 26, who started the band with his younger brother, drummer Zack, in the rec room of their parents' Hollywood home when the two were just out of grade school. "Only one person at a time can sit in front of a computer making music, so when you get three guys in a room playing together ... you don't think as much, you're just feeling it."
Along with keyboardist/synth bassist Pablo Manzarek — yes, that Manzarek, son of the famed Doors keyboardist, Ray — the brotherly duo has created a self-titled debut album (August 27) that's geared for both rock and dance clubs. Nick's soaring, helium shaman vocals are reminiscent of both Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell and Prince, while the beat-heavy songs incorporate elements of jungle, soul, dub, Rage Against the Machine-like rock and sexy funk. Though the sound is thoroughly modern, it was achieved in a quaintly old-fashioned way.
The trio spent six weeks rehearsing their songs before entering the studio with former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna (who's also done production work for U2, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day, among others) to record the 13 spiritually influenced tracks about breakups, big
booties, road rage, funerals, plane crashes and whales. They knew what "bells and whistles" Vrenna could add to their sound, but, Nick said, what they really wanted him to do was help capture the energy of their live playing, without too much computer trickery.
It was in keeping with a work ethic they developed when first hooking up with Manzarek in 1996. The brothers were forever in search of a third member to fill out the group and knew they found their match when they met Manzarek. "Pablo and I were the only guys left when all our friends went to college," Nick said.
Though he originally played drums as a kid, Manzarek, 28, decided to give keyboards a try upon meeting the Youngs. What he didn't realize, though, was that the style he would adopt — playing bass lines with one hand and crafting melodies on the keyboard with the other — was the exact same method used by his dad in the Doors.
"I don't know if it's hereditary," Manzarek said. "It just sort of came to me. But it doesn't bother me that people ask questions about it. I mean, of course my dad came down and checked out what we were doing and helped out a bit on songs. He was a big influence for everybody."
The trio started practicing together, mostly working up long psychedelic jams that would eventually be shaped into the album's more concise, if still a bit twisted, pop songs. "There were times when we'd go way off into outer space and then try to bring it all back home and have it make sense," Zack, 24, said of those early sessions. What he learned during the endless wanderings was that, while he loved the synthetic sound of the hip-hop beats he'd been making for years, the band wanted to make sure it could reproduce the songs live without using pre-recorded tracks or sequencers. Zack's solution was an elaborate matrix of live drumming and triggered drum effects that give songs such as the booming "One Man's War" and the outer space funk rocker "There U Go" their polyrhythmic effects.
The Youngs didn't exactly come by their major-label debut through the usual combo of hardscrabble clubbing and dumb luck, though. When the pool guy didn't show up one day, his replacement happened to be an "amazing" guitar teacher who Nick said inspired the siblings to pursue their dreams.
The boys played a few shows around L.A., but they concentrated more on putting together a demo, which, "somehow," found its way to David Geffen's house. That led to producer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash) dropping by to check them out. "I had no idea that all these record labels were all right around our house," Nick said. "At first it was really scary, because all these people start coming over to see you and you think, 'What do I have that all these people want? Maybe I should protect it.' "
What they heard was tracks like "Alien Sex," a sneaky calypso-meets-robotic-Prince freak-out which features lines about tentacles in places you can only imagine. The track was birthed on a day when the air conditioning broke down in the boys' home rehearsal space, according to Nick. "There are times when you're making hot, sweaty love and you forget everything else that's going on," he explained. "You could be in another world. On another planet."
Similarly, the album's greasy, Jane's-like-funk-rocking, Kama Sutra-quoting first single, "Bottoms Up," is about, well, tantric sex, "sexy fat" asses and opening up your, um, mind to love. "I was listening to this 10-minute jam we recorded when I was going over to this girl's place and I just happened to be thinking about her butt," Nick laughed.
"Electronic music can get so serious sometimes," he said. "Sometimes, I just want our music to be playful."