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Q&A: Shit Robot

Marcus “Shit Robot” Lambkin gears up for the release of his sophomore album with a deck set at the Fixed fiesta.

Photograph: Marcus Fischer
Shit Robot

It’s shaping up to be a good year for automatons, with Daft Punk scoring big at the Grammys and the original man-machines themselves, Kraftwerk, playing NYC in April. (And hey—Robocop!) Then there’s this: Shit Robot, the producer known in human form as Marcus Lambkin, is about to release his sophomore LP, We Got a Love (DFA), another collection of classic-house modes reimagined for the modern age. That’s likely the sound that the onetime New Yorker (born in Dublin and now living outside Stuttgart, Germany) will be doling out when he deejays the Fixed affair on Friday, February 7 with Barcelona hotshot John Talabot.

This album is your follow-up to 2010’s From the Cradle to the Rave. Did you manage to avoid the classic “difficult second album” syndrome?
I did, though I actually felt like I was under a lot of pressure after the first one! I had so much help on that one, and there were so many lucky things that happened—people being in town at the right time and things like that. And it was received so well that I immediately started thinking that I really better come up with something decent the second time around.

How did you overcome that pressure?

At first, I basically tricked my brain into not worrying about it. I wasn’t really even trying to write a second album; I just kept going into the studio and concentrated on making music. In the back of my mind, of course, I knew the goal was a second album.

That sounds like a nicely casual way to go about it. Did you begin that process after the first album came out?
Not really. After the last one, I was on the road for a while; I was on tour for a year, actually. And then after that I was just trying to work on a few twelves, just to see how that would go. So I really was only working on it for a year or so.

You worked on this album both at home in Germany and here in New York, right?
I basically just sat at home here writing songs and getting things together, and anytime I was in New York I would just hook up with friends and say, “Hey, do you want to meet up in the studio and do something?” I did that with a lot of people, like the guys from Midnight Magic, Andrew Raposo and [Morgan] Wiley. I did a few days with them; I did a few days with Pat [Mahoney] and Jee Day from Museum of Love; and then I did two weeks at DFA with Matt Thornley, just hammering out stuff. And then I had to start seriously thinking about who I wanted to work with regarding the vocals.

You do have a nice lineup of singers. There’s Holly Backler, who sang with Manuel Tur and Lovebirds, for instance; Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem; and the Rapture’s Luke Jenner. But a couple of the guest vocalists on the album stood out for me: Reggie Watts and house legend Lidell Townsell.
I met Reggie at that last LCD Soundsystem show at Madison Square Garden a few years ago. There wasn’t any great bonding or anything; I didn’t even consider doing anything with him. But when I was thinking about vocalists for the album, I thought of Reggie, and so I e-mailed him—basically, I sent him the music to “We Got a Love” and said, “What do you think about this?” And he was like, “Yeah, let’s do something!” He just went into the studio and winged it.

He seems like the “wing it” type.
Yeah, he just goes and goes, singing away and never repeating himself. I have, like, six tapes of gold! I just chopped it up and made a song out of it.

And how did the Lidell Townsell hookup happen?
Well, [1992’s] “Nu Nu” was a big favorite of mine from back in the day. It was one of the songs that every DJ would use the a cappella from so they could have their special “Nu Nu” mix. And I always loved that. I just reached out, and he turned out to be this awesome, super positive, old-school Chicago guy. He said he didn’t usually sing on other people’s stuff—but he was so intrigued by the name Shit Robot that he had to at least see what was going on. For once this stupid name worked in my favor!

It was bound to happen sooner or later.
And it was so great to find out that he was this very happy, great guy. He was like, “Hey man, this is great—let’s go!” He did such a good job, with all these harmonies and everything. I had actually originally sent him music for another song, but his vocals were just so good that I figured, Okay, I have to scrap this thing and write something better.

You seem to have a propensity for the classic house sound, and a lot of your tracks seem to reference that sound to some degree. You seem to have a particular fondness for piano bangers, for instance.
[Laughs] Yes, that’s true.

Are you consciously trying to allude to that kind of house, or is it just because that’s the kind of music that you grew up with?
I think that, for everybody, their golden era—when they first had their rave or club experiences—will stick with them. For me, it was when I was going to warehouse parties and illegal raves when I was growing up in Ireland. You know that magical thing that happens when you walk in, with the lights, the smoke, the people, the atmosphere and the music…? It just stays with you. Even when I go back and listen to some of those tracks, I might say to myself, Oh my God, this is such crap—it’s so badly made. [But] they still have this magic for me. And that magic is what I’ve always been chasing. I’m always trying to recapture that.

Fixed: John Talabot + Shit Robot is at SRB Brooklyn Friday, February 7.

Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum