CD REVIEW: Mike Keneally – Scambot 1

I’ve found it really hard to write about Scambot. I really should have done so months and months ago when the album was released. But man, this album hit me so personally and deeply that to talk about it almost feels like opening up to a stranger about a relationship or something. But ok, here goes.

Scambot 1, as the name may imply, is the first in a series of albums about a chap called SCAMBOT (Serial Consciousness Agent [Military division] – Bringer Of Truth). The story still has much to play out (although the CD booklet is an invaluable part of the experience), and when the whole project is done there will be a graphic novel to fill out more of the narrative. At the moment I think of the music as snippets from the soundtrack of a movie I haven’t heard.

This film analogy extends beyond such a literal interpretation of the music’s rightful place in the world though. For me Scambot evokes that feeling of channel surfing late at night and finding something exotic and bizarre yet highly emotional and fulfilling. Llistening to Scambot 1 reminds me of watching the Zagreb Films retrospective at the Melbourne International Animation Festival last year. It’s hard to pin down, but the music and even lyrics feel like they speak to me in another language I don’t understand, yet break through this imaginary language barrier to communicate via feelings instead (regardless of the lyrical content which I of course do understand). Obviously I’ve been emotionally affected by music before or I wouldn’t have an entire blog, if not life, devoted to it, but man, Scambot grabs me good.

So what does the music sound like? Well for me it’s kind of like an amalgam of some of the more contemplative moments of Keneally’s Boil That Dust Speck, Sluggo and Nonkertomph albums – that kind of Radiohead-meets-Zappa blend of emotion and complexity that Keneally always does so well (and listen for some deliciously subtle playing by longtime Keneally cohorts such as Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Marco Minnemann, all of whom turn in spectacular performances). One of the charms of Scambot, and it can be said of Nonkertomph too, is that it can become hard to pin down exactly what is the main instrument of the song, to the point where you suddenly have the stunning revelation that, duh, the entire song is the main instrument. This ain’t no straight guitar-bass-drums-vocal thing. The orchestration is deep, real deep, and if you’re used to listening to a standard band format it can be kinda hard to find your ‘in’ with Scambot. But once you do, you’re gonna wanna curl up in there like a warm kitten.

Personal highlights for me are in the little details. The melody from Life’s Too Small playing under the opening snippet of a cooking show about how to prepare rectangles in Big Screen Boboli. The ‘My arm is doing that wiggly wiggly beckoning finger thingie at me’ section of Tomorrow, which has the power to instantly lift my day. The ‘If I get ambitious I’ll work on the dishes’ bit from Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 1. The Berlin-era-Bowie-esque urgency of Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 2. The gentle wah wah touches in Hallmark. The push-pull interplay of the guitar overdubs in Saturate. The CSNY-ish harmonies of ‘Cold Hands’ (a song my 3-year-old loves to bits). And Gita. My god, Gita!

Mike Keneally’s music can be an acquired taste so if you’ve never checked out his particular and peculiar talents, maybe you should start with Sluggo! or Guitar Therapy Live. But if you’re tuned in to where Mike’s taking us on this incredible journey, or if you have an affinity for music that taps into something a little deeper than 4/4, you need to make room in your life for Scambot.

By the way, if you can spare the $$$, check out the Special Edition, which includes Songs & Stories Inspired By Scambot 1, an entire second disc of music which goes deeper into the storyline while pursuing myriad musical tangents for your personal amusement. Already I couldn’t imagine Scambot 1 without the bonus disc and booklet – it makes the experience even more rewarding and immersive.

CLICK HERE to buy Scambot 1.


NEWS: Mike Keneally’s Scambot 1 ships next week!

Mike Keneally’s been one of my favourite guitarists for, jeez, about 12 years now. After seeing him live with Steve Vai in early 1997 I tracked down a copy of his debut CD ‘hat’ and that became the soundtrack of my year. A few months later I also got Boil That Dust Speck, and from then on have followed each new release (you totally have to hear ‘Sluggo!’, ‘Nonkertomph’ and ‘Wooden Smoke’).

Mike’s new CD, Scambot 1, begins shipping next week. Pre-orders have been open for a while and I can’t wait to get this album in my little mitts. You can order it from Moosemart. The following is an email update sent to Mike’s mailing list today.

Scambot 1 Starts Shipping Next Week!*

Yes! And to celebrate, I’m going to do a couple of live chats next week over at Chat #1 is Monday, Nov. 2, 8:00 pm East Coast time. Chat #2 is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 12:00 pm noon East Coast time.! Come chat with me!

Scott Chatfield sent me a small boatload of questions about Scambot; here’s my responses:

Q. In a nutshell, what is Scambot about?

A. Antagonistic consciousness manipulation, a/k/a soul control.

Q. Who did you write Scambot for?

A. Anyone who makes time to sit down with a good set of headphones and a clear head, and listen to an entire album from start to finish. I still love to listen to whole albums whenever I can. I think it’s a fantastic art form.

Q. When you began the project, did you have a clear vision of its direction, musically and narratively?

A. Not at all; it started as a drawing, a one-page comic strip continuity I drew in my sketchbook while I was working on Wooden Smoke in 2001. I made up this little character named Scambot, spontaneously drew his character design. He seemed grumpy, and he had a weird friend who felt compelled to loudly defend him against critics: “Scambot ain’t RONG!” he said. I showed it to Scott Thunes in 2003 and he shook his head and said “I don’t like it.” I realized then there was something intrinsic in the character of Scambot that made me need to rescue him, make SOMETHING interesting of him. Over time I developed this idea of simultaneously devising a narrative (which might possibly mutate into a comic strip or an animated cartoon or a stage presentation or whatever) alongside a set of new music which would be influenced by the narrative, and that new music would inspire further narrative work which might inspire me to draw new characters, etc. Each prong of the creative fork inspired the other prongs to further achievement. The final important component of creating Scambot was that I imposed no schedule pressures on the process; it would take shape at its own pace. I ended up releasing 6 or 7 other projects while working on Scambot, starting with the release of Wooden Smoke in 2001 to Wine And Pickles in 2008 – while I was putting together all of that stuff, Scambot was developing in the background, and finally in 2005 it became my primary concern. Enough music was created to form the foundation of three volumes of music, and the plotline was developing in a way which made me realize that I really wanted to take my time in telling the story as well. Instead of trying to complete the whole trilogy and release it as a set, it made obvious sense to release it in installments.

Q. Scambot 1 has some very accessible songs along with some of the most complex, layered music you’ve ever produced. How would you suggest that a listener approach this record?

A. With an open mind and an adventurous disposition. And feel free to pause every so often; it’s 67 minutes long, it’s a lot of music. Maybe take time to mentally “turn the side over” every 16 minutes. Or crank the whole thing loud from start to finish, whatever gets you off.

Q. Are the story and characters an integral part of Scambot’s music, or can story and music be enjoyed independently?

A. I discovered early on that I didn’t want the plot of Scambot to demand undue attention; the plotline and characters, ultimately, were a kind of ruse to inspire me to create different kinds of music. The story is a luxury – the point of the album is the way it sounds. I didn’t want to clutter it up with dialogue and exposition – it’s such an abstract story anyway, and it didn’t need to be spelled out letter by letter in the audio. The story – at least, the initial stab at it – is in the CD booklet for people who are interested, and it adds depth to the listening experience.

Q. Did the Scambot characters arrive in your imagination fully formed, or did they develop over time?

A. These are good questions! I sketch junk all the time, and most of the specific character ideas arrived after drawing them. What happens is a face or body shape will materialize in my mind – I’m not thinking about inventing characters or even of something to draw, necessarily – and I’ll quickly sketch it out. If it looked interesting, it was likely to be drafted as a Scambot character, and then I’d invent a backstory and a way to insert them into the plot. I just wanted to create something long-form and intriguing, and would accept input in any shape and form.

Q. Do you see the Scambot saga manifesting into other media in the future?

A. Oh yep. I have an urge to do a comic strip, heavily influenced by the 60s strip Odd Bodkins by Dan O’Neill. The plan is to present the strip online, running concurrently with the 3 albums as they’re released, and eventually collect the strips in a book once the whole trilogy has been released. I’d also be real delighted to see these characters animated. And eventually I will take some representation of this music to the stage, although I don’t think I’d consider a heavily narrative stage version until at least Scambot 2 has been released. But if possible (given other projects going on, including work on a second album of Steve Vai solo piano reductions, a collection of new songs co-written with Andy Partridge, and my touring as guitarist with the [adult swim] metal band Dethklok – the new album The Dethalbum II recently debuted at #15 on the Billboard pop chart, and as I write this we’re halfway through a six week tour with Mastodon, so there’s momentum for us to continue touring in 2010), I’d love to take an ensemble out next year to perform Scambot music. It won’t be easy to construct the instrumentation for a group that can do justice to all the textures and styles in the album, but it’ll be fun.

Q. I can’t count the number of times I walked into the studio to find you leaning back in a chair listening to mixes, headphones on, eyes closed, and a gigantic smile spread across your face. How do you feel when you listen to Scambot 1?

A. I imagine, exactly the way I looked then. I love it. But I also feel that the styles covered on this first volume have been thoroughly dealt with here, and that the next two albums will differ significantly in style. I envision Scambot 2 being much heavier and faster, and Scambot 3 as airy and slow.

Q. What were your most pleasant experiences making the record? Most difficult or frustrating?

A. I honestly can’t categorize my feelings what way. The whole experience is one huge pleasure blob to me and I’m very excited about continuing work on Scambot 2 (I’m targeting early 2011 for its release).

Q. How can the second disc from the Special Edition, Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1, enhance a listener’s appreciation of Scambot?

A. First of all I want to be clear that the second disc of the Scambot 1 Special Edition is not Scambot 2 (which is about one-third recorded right now). Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1 uses plot material which fits into the continuity timespan depicted on Disc One. Some of the songs were intended for the main disc but didn’t fit for time reasons. The majority of the material was created specifically for this disc, done very quickly and spontaneously, as a spasmodic, cathartic response to finally finishing the first disc after so many years. The raw approach of Disc Two contrasts the relative polish of Disc One and I think they work nicely together as a listening experience. Also, if you’re concerning yourself with the narrative as it appears in the CD booklet text, there are major tentpoles of the plotline which are fleshed out musically on Disc Two. So you would want the Special Edition in order to hear the whole story.

What else is up. The Dethklok tour roars onward. Tonight was a sold out gig in NYC (and I met David Cross backstage – I nearly swooned). Tomorrow night is Halloween in Washington DC. Seriously, see this tour if you can. We’re just over halfway through, you got plenty of chances. I hung out for most of the day with Paul Green, that was fun. I’ve got a couple of Cream Tribute gigs with Kofi Baker in early December. The guys in Mastodon are all outrageous and entertaining to hang with. And I’m completely deliriously sleepy right now.

Chat with me this Monday and Tuesday at!
OK! Nite nite!

Love, me: Mike

* Editor’s note about Scambot 1 shipping: Orders will begin to be filled next week in the sequence they were placed. Since there are hundreds of ’em, it will take several days to fill them all, so your patience and understanding is kindly beseeched.

Scambot 1 Standard Edition

Calling the first volume of Mike Keneally’s Scambot trilogy “ambitious” might be understating things a bit. For five years Mike held it close to his heart as his main project, employing nine engineers and many musicians at six studios.

“We devoted intense energy to every second of the album,” says Mike. “There is a plot, and a bunch of characters. The CD booklet contains a very long story I wrote which lays out all of the action. Musically speaking, it’s about two-thirds instrumental. It encompasses a little bit of straightforward-ish rock and pop, a lot of rigorous composition and arrangement, some obsessively intricate vocal and instrumental harmonies, some improvisation which has been orchestrated, some digitally-manipulated musique concrete, some purely uncategorizable stuff and, I think, some of the most interesting melodies I’ve come up with. It is a peculiar album but I think very satisfying as a journey, and emotionally it hits a lot of different moods.”

And here’s another clue for you all: Scambot 1, Mike adds, is “dedicated to anyone who still listens to entire albums with their headphones on.”

Scambot 1’s songs:

Big Screen Boboli
Ophunji’s Theme
Hallmark (see video HERE)
Tomorrow (download song for free HERE!)
Cat Bran Sammich Part 1
You Named Me
Cat Bran Sammich Part 2
Cold Hands
We Are The Quiet Children
The Brink
Life’s Too Small
Behind The Door

Scambot 1 Special Edition

The Scambot 1 Special Edition includes the complete Scambot 1 CD, plus a second 53-minute CD crafted by Mike entitled Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1, all packaged in an attractive Atticus Wolrab-designed slipcover made of genuine cardboard. This Special Edition is made even more special because Mike is individually numbering and signing the first 3000 copies!

Here’s what Mike has to say about Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1: “This is a very uncompromising album, with a lot of guitar improvisation, demanding sonorities, alien vocal textures, truly insane song structure and many crucial pieces of the Scambot plot continuity. Plus a very entertaining credit sequence. If you are intrigued by the conceptual world of Scambot, it’s heavily advisable to hear both albums.” The great majority of the music on Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1 is unique to it; three of the pieces are remixes of songs from Scambot 1, plus one demo.

Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1’s songs:

Ahmmm…Ms. Loring…
Tiny Red Bug
Tomorrow (Karaoke version)
It Begins
Hallmark Fantasia
Broken Chair
Saturate (demo version)
Some Crazy Mishap
The 3rd Eye
Hallmark (2006 acoustic album mix)

Scambot T-Shirt

The first commemorative Scambot T-shirt is a simple but elegant affair. As tradition dictates, it’s a black 100% cotton pre-shrunk heavy duty garment designed for years of Scambotian wearage. On the front is Mike’s white, orange and black rendition of Scambot himself, along with both of their names. Somewhat high upon the reverse side are the prophetic first words Scambot hears, from the song “Hallmark” (“What did you see? Can you remember?”), along with the web address. Clothes that ask gentle questions are a good thing, we think. It’s yet another Atticus Wolrab design, as if you didn’t know.

NEWS: Mike Keneally wraps up Scambot Volume 1

Hot off the presses (well, Myspace actually), Mike Keneally says he’s finishing work on the first disc of his multi-album mega-project, Scambot, at this very minute.

Here’s an excerpt from Mike’s Myspace blog posting:

I’m finishing Scambot today

volume one of it, anyway…I’m posting regular updates from the studio on my Facebook and Twitter pages if you want to check out that action. Right now we’re bouncing down the final mixes of each song from the album in sequence.

SPOILER ALERT! Here’s the names of the songs on the album:

Big Screen Boboli
Ophunji’s Theme
Cat Bran Sammich Part 1
You Named Me
Cat Bran Sammich Part 2
Cold Hands
We Are The Quiet Children
The Brink
Life’s Too Small
Behind The Door

You can follow real-time Scambot updates on Twitter.

Also, here are the dates for Mike Keneally and Bryan Beller’s Taylor tour:
Monday, May 11, 2009 Buddy Roger’s Music 7647 Beechmont Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45255 7:00 p.m. Admission $5 Info: 513-232-0777

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Guitarworks 996 South State Road Greenwood, IN 46143 7:00 p.m. Admission $5 Info: 317-885-1510

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Tumbleweed Trading Post & Guitars 7831 Airport Highway Holland, OH 43528 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 419-861-3512

Thursday, May 14, 2009 Firehouse Music 3125 28th Street SW Grandville, MI 49418 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 616-532-3473

Friday, May 15, 2009 Midlothian Music 15645 South 94th Avenue Orland Park, IL 60462 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 708-389-4041

Monday, May 18, 2009 Music Makers 3611 W. Willow Knolls Drive Peoria, IL, 61614 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 309-692-9000

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 Heid Music 2201 South Oneida Street Green Bay, WI 54304 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 920-498-2228

Thursday, May 21, 2009 Cascio Interstate Music 13819 West National Avenue New Berlin, WI 53151 7:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 262-789-7600

Friday, May 22, 2009Steilberg String Instruments 4029 Bardstown Road Louisville, KY 40218 7:30 p.m. Admission $5 Info: 502-491-2337

Monday, May 25, 2009 Martin Music 1659 Poplar Avenue Memphis, TN 38104 6:00 p.m. Admission Free! Info: 901-757-9020

NEWS: Mike Keneally’s SCAMBOT holiday special

The ever-awesome Mike Keneally has just released the SCAMBOT Holiday Special as a free bonus for shoppers at his website, or as a $5 download.

If you buy $50 worth of merchandise f you’ll receive a free copy of the limited edition CD-R, The SCAMBOT Holiday Special. Now the SCAMBOT Holiday Special is available as an instant download for only $5 at MooseMart. (The only way to get the physical CD-R hand signed by Mike is still to by $50 worth of MK stuff at MooseMart.)

Listen to The SCAMBOT Holiday Specette, a one-minute sampler, here.

According to Mike’s latest website update…


This is what the cover of The Scambot Holiday Special would look like if there actually was a cover, which there isn’t.

Two days ago (Dec. 4) was the fifteenth anniversary of Frank Zappa’s passing. I’ve been obsessively listening to his music in the car for several months without being specifically conscious of the upcoming significance of Dec. 4, but when I realized yesterday what day it was, I was struck by how strongly Frank’s presence has been exerting itself in my life lately. Sending out strong love and gratitude to Frank right now.

Possibly as a result of all that, I think he had an unusually strong influence on the construction of The SCAMBOT Holiday Special, but I also feel strong echoes of Firesign Theatre in it, and of Brendon Small’s work on Home Movies. And also, very specifically, the influence of variety TV shows from the ’60s to the present. So that’s a little listing of some of the influences on this insane little thing.

This is an interesting little holiday presentation which I’ve written and produced here. It’s about fourteen-and-a-half minutes long; five tracks, with tracks 1, 3 and 5 acting as framing devices for tracks 2 and 4, which are full-length studio recordings of the songs “Holiday Face” and “Salve-Dependent Scorpions.”

“Holiday Face” is a new acoustic instrumental recording done specifically for this CD. It reminds me compositionally of “Thanksgiving” but has an even more intimate studio vibe than that song, and I tracked it with Mike Harris engineering at Chatfield Manor. Me on all instruments: two acoustic guitars, bass, organ, tambourine and other percussion. Bunch of vocals and a wah-clavinet solo at the end that I’m really happy about.

“Salve-Dependent Scorpions” is an alternate take of an instrumental piece from the upcoming multi-volume work SCAMBOT. The basic track was recorded on analog tape by Tom Trefethen, and has me on Hammond organ, Rick Musallam on electric guitar, Bryan Beller on bass and Joe Travers on drums. (This was, surprisingly to me, the first studio session of the Guitar Therapy Live version of the Keneally Band.) Later at Chatfield Manor we overdubbed two takes of Evan Francis on alto sax, and two takes of me on lead guitar. The version which will be on SCAMBOT will be entitled “The Scorpions” and will feature such completely different guitar and sax performances that it’s essentially another composition. Have to admit to a strong Frank influence on the guitar performance.

Tracks 1, 3 and 5 of the The SCAMBOT Holiday Special (“The Quest,” “The Swordfight” and “The Owl”) are twisted little combinations of electronic music done on a Moog, other added effects, and dialogue/narration/singing which advances a peculiar narrative (I originally wrote it as part of the actual SCAMBOT album-slash-comic book story continuity). I couldn’t find a way to wedge it into SCAMBOT comfortably, but it now forms the conceptual backbone of this Holiday Special. It’s in these short segments, which illustrate a surreal imaginary late-’60s television holiday special about a quest of some kind, that the Firesign and Brendon influences come to the fore, but there’s also some heavy Lumpy Gravy and Läther influence in there. I can’t help it, sorry.

The CD-R was mastered by Scott Chatfield at the Manor, and served up fresh to those of you who wisely choose to treat themselves and/or their loved ones to fifty bucks worth of quality Moosemart merchandise (a copy each of the hat. and Boil That Dust Speck special editions, for instance, and you’re already there. Just saying).

I downloaded it the other day and I freaking love it, plus it’s totally awesome to have a preview of sorts for the monumental SCAMBOT project.