Five years ago, Tony Baker was dreaming of a future musical project when he came up with the title “The Escape Artist.” He was in prison for drug possession at the time.
And while the reference to freedom seems obvious, he had a deeper twist in mind.
“I’ve been dealing with escapism my whole life,” Tony said. “A lot of people find different outlets, whether it’s drugs or sex or whatever kind of vice they need. I feel like everybody does something or can at least kind of relate to that.”
This week, Tony and his wife Kat, now living in Wood Dale, and longtime friend Lonnie Phillips of Lisle are releasing Broken Robots’ sophomore EP with that title he dreamed up in what feels like another life. A Saturday EP release show at Martyrs’ is sold out.
“The escapism thing is really big for us. I think Tony and I had this in common, and that’s what connected us when we first met,” Kat said. “It’s really scary because when you escape from your life and from your problems you end up coming back just long enough sometimes to feel like everything is coming at you like a freight train. It can be really scary to stop escaping and just face the world for what it is.”
Both Tony and Kat are closing in on five years clean, and their new five-track EP chronicles many of their struggles with homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues and, most recently, quitting smoking.
“We can’t use any of it as an excuse anymore. We can’t use it as a coping mechanism anymore, so we’re having to face things. And it is really scary, but it’s been making us better people overall,” Kat explained. “And a lot of these songs, if you listen to the subject matter in them, a lot of it’s about facing things head on and dealing with them rather than trying to run away.”
The EP’s five tracks seamlessly blend dark, jazzy bass lines, modern hip-hop influences and electronic touches over an indie rock base as they dive deep into honest introspection. In “The Escape Artist,” Broken Robots examines the lifelong consequences of one’s actions, the overflow of information, bias in media and social media, and the untold stories in the shadows of abusive relationships.
“Outside of the realm of writing music, we’re three people just becoming better over the last couple years and discovering a lot about ourselves,” Tony said. “And the songs kind of reflect that.”
But through it all they’re finding healing and a redemption of sorts, a way to tell their stories and perhaps help listeners with their own stumbles.
“People can be not very empathetic, and sometimes they can’t understand that not everybody’s on the same path,” Kat explained in an earlier conversation about the band’s single “Burn It Down.” “Just because somebody burns it down one or two times doesn’t mean they can’t build it back up and make something better than they had before. That’s the way life is.”
In figuring out how to get through the day to day, the Broken Robots trio also is active in helping others. In April, they played The Max Happy Fest in downtown Woodstock to help raise funds for the Warps Corp’s mission of building a community for children around skateboarding, music and camaraderie.
“It’s a big deal to me personally,” Kat said. “I feel so strongly about it because if I had something like that … I could have been a part of when I was that age, maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path I did.”
Even Saturday’s release show at Martyrs’ is about building connections and finding strength to support their friends and fans.
“I mean it from the bottom of my heart, it’s more than feeling cool after you play. I just really love mingling with people that have been through (expletive),” Tony explained. “They can hear in our music that we’re basically just about getting through it and moving on, and that’s the kind of mingling I just missed so much, man. Talking to people and feeling that our music has actually made a positive impact or is making somebody think twice about something. That’s the best thing.”