When Broken Robots heads down to Texas to play the South By Southwest Music Festival later this month, the foursome has a new energy to share with fans.
“Who Am I?” — the band’s new single out Friday — steps back from the post-grunge-influenced vibe encompassed by the rest of the band’s catalog. While the song still feels like it may have grown up in the ’90s, it taps a different vein of the era, swapping the band’s usual industrial growl for a heartfelt outpouring of honesty atop a gently strumming guitar. Less Shirley Manson and more Sheryl Crow.
Up to now, the band’s Kat and Tony Baker have both straightforwardly and metaphorically related their history and struggles — finding their creative voices while fighting off the haunting specter of drug addiction — in their music. But “Who Am I?” is different, leaning more into memories of who they were and remembering how far they’ve come. Together with longtime friend Lonnie Phillips on bass, the Bakers use the song to recall the lies, the deaths, the desperation. But the musical upturn of the chorus gives the song more than a glimmer of hope, which the accompanying video confirms.
In the video, Kat’s stylish and cinematic first turn in the director’s seat, she makes a trek to a cemetery carrying a bouquet of blazing red poppies she borrowed from a display in her grandmother’s home — a nod to both her Ukrainian heritage and past struggles with opioid addiction. It ends with a memorial to those affected directly or indirectly by addiction as a way of closing this chapter in their lives.
“I think we are just really ready to kind of put that to rest in a way. That ‘Drug addicts who got their shit together and now they’re making music and that’s all they are.’ It’s a cue to kind of move past some kind of threshold that we feel,” Tony said. “Recovery is the most important thing in my life, but I thought it was the only thing for a minute there. It was like ‘No, no, no, it’s the most important thing, but it’s not the only thing.’ When we started realizing that, it was kind of freeing because there’s a lot of self doubt and a lot of negative self-reflection in that mindset, too. ‘This is what I am.’ No, you’re so much more than that.”
“Not necessarily being a ‘recovery band,’ but having that in our story where we’ve overcome it and now we’re beyond it, you know?” Kat said. “We have changed, and it’s a good thing for people like us to see.”
“To see you don’t have to stay there,” Tony added. “You can move on and then really start building a new life.”
The Bakers said “Who Am I?” is a song they’ve been working on for about three years, but they held off recording and releasing it because it is so sonically different from past offerings. But having celebrated five years clean in 2021, they said it was important to them to share this before embarking on the band’s next step.
“It’s not necessarily moving completely away from it, but kind of getting it out of our system and then going and refocusing on something else,” Kat said. “We’re opening up a new chapter internally with the band, and we’re kind of ready to move forward.”
While the single sounds different from Broken Robots’ former releases, it’s a solid stand-alone piece as the former trio forges ahead into that new chapter, which includes an upcoming EP with the band’s new drummer Anthony Friedli, the SXSW performance at The Empire Control Room in Austin on March 17, an East Coast tour in April and a return to Chicago on Friday, May 13, for an EP release show at Martyrs’ with Daybreaker, Nora Marks and Heet Deth.
“The new songs are going to be about trying to be happier, trying to be less anxious, the process of becoming that way,” Kat said. “We’re trying to go a little bit lighter, but we’re us, so of course there’s some dark stuff, too.”