Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Sexbots

If you ran in to Ilima Considine at the grocery store, you might not recognize this petite mom of two as the dynamic force behind The Sexbots, a provocative experimental electronic/art pop act based in Portland, Oregon.  The Sexbots have a strong performance art component and never shy away from issues of sexuality and relationships.  Ilima provides vocals, songwriting and all around art direction while guest beatmakers like DJ Ceez and Qmulus contribute to the music production.
Ilima says "In some ways I'm a desperate housewife.  I have these two kids, and I have to sneak away to do this.  I spend most of my time at home in an apron, trying to take care of these kids."  This may be hard to believe if your experience of Ilima is the persona she portrays as the front woman of The Sexbots, who is a confidently sexual though sometimes androgynous woman with a vaguely exotic ethnicity, which belies her Irish/Chinese heritage.  Yet in speaking to Ilima about the release of The Sexbots new album, Junk Sick, I found her to be disarmingly soft spoken and genuine.  A track from Junk Sick, "The Only Thing," made Knix Picks for Best New Tracks in October, so I was curious to learn more about the maestro behind the music.
On becoming The Sexbots:
Ilima originally comes from a conservative Catholic family, the second oldest of 11 kids.  Before moving to San Diego from Massachusetts at age 15, she attended Catholic school and worked in a library as a teen.  A self-described sheltered child, she was "going to do what I was supposed to do, which is like work 80 hours a week, and retire early and then paint in your dotage."  Ilima says she decided to become a visual artist when she decided not to go to law school.  "On the morning of the LSAT, I decided I couldn't do it.  I couldn't follow that life track."
When she first moved to Portland, Oregon at age 19, Ilima was doing installations with a performance component to them.  Then she started playing in bands which "took over her life.  I still have elements of being a visual artist and thinking of my body that way, so that never went away."  Classically trained as a violinist, Ilima says she wanted to play in bands for years but didn't because "I didn't know anyone in bands and those are people on TV, and how can anyone end up like that?"
Ilima describes going to an all ages festival because she could take her then three year old daughter and seeing a band called We're From Japan.  "They were amazing.  They all looked like they worked at a gas station, and I realized if they could do it, if they can make those sounds, then I could do it too, and I went out and bought a bass and that was that.  I've been in bands ever since."  Ilima says, "Electronic music was something I'd stayed away from for years because people in Portland have this kind of indie snobbishness.  I kind of got ambushed into it, but it felt very natural when it happened."
After a band breakup, Ilima says "People started approaching me and saying I want you to sing for me, but I can't be in a band.  I was like, well, there are enough of you guys that instead of having ten bands that never play shows and never go anywhere, if you're willing to let me call it by the same name, and I'll do everything else, I think we can do this.  And that's how it became The Sexbots."  Some of the people she collaborates with, she has never met.  Ilima says they are E-mail pen pals, sending MP3's back and forth until it becomes a song.  "The miracle of the Internet is I can work with anyone on the planet and make beautiful music.  Weird connections end up being some really long lasting friendships and musical collaborations."
On low budget music videos:
Out of all of The Sexbots music videos, Ilima has directed all but two or three herself on a minimal budget.  She says the most she ever spent was $100 for the first video and that was for vodka for all the extras.  Besides that video, she's never spent more than $10, including parking.  She says making videos is "like making dinner.  You see what's in the cupboards, and then you use it.  Half the time it's like, 'Well, we have all these stuffed tigers lying around.'"  Which is why you see her children's stuffed tigers featured in one video, and you can often see her kids running around in the background.
On having kids and being a performer:
"I won't say it's easy.  It's not easy.  Sometimes it's very hard.  I couldn't give up either of them, and if I wasn't doing music, I'd be a discontented and grumpy mother.  I wouldn't be much good to my kids.  Portland is a great place where you see other women who aren't letting age or kids slow them down.  I look at them and think 'Gosh, I'm an underachiever.  Why am I not living like these women?'  I wanted to play in bands for years, and I didn't.  Portland is just an amazing place to be in, and seeing other people and realizing the possibilities."  In support of her work, Ilima has received grants from both the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
On describing The Sexbots as art pop:
Ilima herself is described as a trans-disciplinary artist, but the term art pop to describe The Sexbots "is actually a term I started using as of this album."  There is a strong electronic element to her music, but Ilima feels that "electronica is a wastebasket that can encompass anything from Kraftwerk to Lady Gaga.  It's not a useful term.  The Sexbots would get booked for electronic music festivals but electronic dance music is not really what we are.  Indie labels would say we were too electronic.  I was trying to market us as song and dance music, but the whole time we were really like we're artsy fartsy depressing, but we have cool beats.  I came out of denial that we are artsy fartsy, and that's never going to go away even though it's completely uncool in Portland to make pop.  We're art pop.  It is what it is.  I sing about relationships and domesticity and the way you get torn when you've been with someone a long time and have a crazy history."
On the name The Sexbots:
Ilima says she wanted a name that implies that it's electronic and sexy.  "Sexbots is a Blade Runner reference even though it's not a term used in the movie or the novella, but everyone knows that it means these replicants.  The replicants, they look good.  They look like they know what's going on.  They can fake it.  But as soon as you ask them any question, they're completely clueless.  I was like I haven't had a boyfriend in three years.  I look like I know what's going on, but I have no idea.  Plus, it's easy to remember, so it works.  At the time, in Portland, there were all these bands with like seventeen vowels and punctuation, and you had to Google them because you couldn't remember how to say them.  I wanted something you could say and remember and spell."
On the inspiration for Junk Sick:
"There's a neighborhood just outside of Portland that's super cheap and a little sketchy.  Not sketchy like you're going to get jumped, but sketchy like it's where hipsters go to die from OD'ing on heroin.  I was visiting this photographer there, and he says to me 'What's wrong with me?  If I don't drink every day I feel junk sick.'  I had never heard the term before, but as soon as I heard it, I knew what he meant.  And the thing was, my boyfriend, we'd break up and I'd be so upset, I would literally throw up.  And so, when he said junk sick, I was like that's how he makes me feel.  Junk sick.  Like wanting something so bad you want to throw up, which is ridiculous.  I've never felt that way about anyone, and most of the album is about him."  For the record, Ilima's favorite track on the album is Magic Eyes.  "Every album is personal, but this album took it to a new level of very personal without the schtick - that character I play on stage who expresses what she really thinks, making it easier to say things.  People have been responding well.  It's been crazy and good."
On her public persona:
Ilima is openly bisexual, but while she is monogamous in a relationship, she says she does a lot of shows in drag and sometimes plays up that side to feel safer traveling.  "If people assume I don't screw men, they don't try so hard."  Of the strange things that have happened to her at shows, she said sometimes she gets weird presents.  "One time some guy gave me a baby Jesus, and I kept it to prove it happened because otherwise it's completely unbelievable."
Final thoughts:
"There are times when I feel like you practically need an engineering degree to be a musician.  You can't just pick up a guitar and go.  Everything is digital, and the game is changing constantly.  You're figuring out, okay, we're not doing Myspace anymore.  What are we doing?  So much is online.  Imagine a musician trying to do anything without a website and an online presence."  Even so, Ilima is still a DIY artist.  "I have a little help managing it now, but 95% of everything is me.  When you E-mail directly it is me answering.  I still have a day job, but it's getting better. What could maybe support one starving musician who couch crashes a lot is not enough for a home and two kids, so I'm still plugging at it, but it's definitely getting better."
As Ilima wisely says, "If anybody feels like the things I do are things they can't do, I mean you can.  You're never too old or too awkward.  I mean, I'm a midget with glasses and if I can do it, you can too."
Connecting with The Sexbots:
Plans are in the works for a tour with upcoming dates booked in Japan and other locales beginning probably in April 2014.  The Sexbots are very open to both new collaborations and bookings.  "If someone wants The Sexbots to come out and do a show, it's not too hard to make it feasible with presales.  Anyplace that has a PA, we can plug and play."   Ilima can be contacted directly either by her website or her personal E-mail at ilimaconsidine@gmailcom, and Ilima herself will reply to inquiries.

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