By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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In the military, they call it a debriefing. In other circles, it's an exit interview. Three of the people at this table at Sol's in Deep Ellum work as animators, the other is an architect and, until recently, all of them played in the same rock band. So it's probably best just to call it lunch.
Whatever the term, this is the last thing the members of Robot Monster Weekend will do as a band. It's early March, and the group finished mixing its first (and last) full-length over the weekend. In a few days, singer-guitarist Mike Gargiulo will leave for White Plains, New York, and a job with Blue Sky Studios, the animation concern that made last year's Ray Romano vehicle Ice Age. By then, drummer Franko Covington also will be gone. He's in town for only a few days, waiting for a new work permit before heading back to a London architecture firm for at least the next eight months. The band is over.
The only thing left is to get together one last time to talk about Funeral Candy, the album they're leaving behind. And it's worth talking about, 10 songs in just over 21 minutes that are more fun than being the groundskeeper at the Playboy Mansion, even managing to make light of death. "It will be just like my birthday, except I won't be there," Gargiulo sings on "When I Die." "Everyone will come and see me...It doesn't sound so bad/Don't know why my death should make me sad." It's not silly, but it doesn't take itself seriously, playing by the simple rule that closes out the disc: "Everything we know we learned from the rock-and-roll show." More than anything, Funeral Candy is a warped children's album, a fitting end to a group whose members are thirtysomething going on 13. And, sadly, going their separate ways.
It's a sad moment for a group that was anything but during its too-short time together, with their songs about "sex and beer and Frankenstein" and cartoon flowers decorating the stage. Yes, yes, very sad. Well, you know, kind of.
"We used to have parties at DNA every weekend, because everybody was young, it was the first movie, everybody was excited. You know, 'Whooo!'" the band's other singer-guitarist, Aaron Thedford, explains. DNA is the animation studio in Irving where he met Gargiulo and bassist Carl Schembri while they were working on 2001's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. "Mike got drunk at so many parties. He just made an ass of himself." He pauses. "Sorry. "
Everyone laughs, including Gargiulo, the literal butt of the joke. They don't have much time left. Might as well enjoy it.
"It was kind of like a running joke, though," Thedford continues. "They'd always have pictures the following Monday of him, like, passed out in the pantry." More laughter.
"My thing is I just didn't ever have a really good tolerance for alcohol," Gargiulo says in his defense. "I mean, I'd go through periods where I'd get more of it. But it just didn't take very much of it."
It didn't take much to be won over by Robot Monster Weekend. After all, Turn Down Your Sorrow It's...Robot Monster Weekend, their debut six-song EP, clocked in just shy of 12 minutes. Onstage and on record, the band had the exuberance of longtime fans who'd crossed over to the other side, four guys who played music because they loved it, not because they thought it would amount to much. Which is exactly what they were.
The band got going in 2001 when Gargiulo and Thedford realized that not only did they like the same music (XTC, the Replacements, most of the bands on Rhino's Nuggets boxed sets), they were both trying to make their own. They figured if the project made it out of their respective bedrooms, the furthest it would go was maybe one of Club Dada's open-mike nights. They weren't even sure if they could work together.
"I'd hung out with Mike a few times, but all I knew is that we both connected really well and we were both huge Guided By Voices fans," Thedford says.
"I always wondered if being in a band with another writer, another songwriter, another front person, if it would be like an ego thing or something. 'Oh, he's trying to go in this direction, and I don't really like it,'" Gargiulo admits. "But we never had any conflict about anything like that. I always felt really happy that Aaron had songs and he was singing them. I never felt like, 'OK, I can't wait until he finishes his song so I can start mine.' Nothing like that."
Soon enough, the duo recruited Schembri and rounded out the new band with Covington, whom they found through a flier he'd posted at Good Records advertising his search for a band to join. (To keep the GBV connection going, they first met Covington when Bob Pollard and company came to town, touring behind Isolation Drills.) Over the next few months, Robot Monster Weekend played sporadic shows, mostly to audiences full of DNA employees they'd pestered to attend. That was probably for the best, since there were kinks to be worked out.
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