Robe. was the doom project of two twentysomethings from Indiana, Adam Cooley and Kyle Willey. Over their run, Robe. released dozens of albums on CDR and cassette, some of which had interesting backstories, including an album recorded in a bathtub and a box set whose every copy came with a different bodily byproduct. Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise was one of their most unusual records.
I met with Robe. member Kyle Willey over Skype to discuss a number of the band’s releases, including this peculiar CDR. Unfortunately, Adam passed away several years ago, at the age of 27. Kyle, who still misses his friend deeply, credits Adam’s dynamic personality and zest for innovation as key factors in Robe.’s sprawling discography. The idea for Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise was a classic exponent of his offbeat creativity. Kyle explained to me that Adam used to spend a lot of time listening to music in his car, often blasting releases that they had recorded together . Their work together was all about experimentation, and they started to wonder if it might be possible to record a full release in a car – intended to be listened to while driving.
To make it happen, numerous details had to be sorted out, including where to sit and how to power up their instruments. Adam suggested using a portable mixing board connected to the cigarette lighter via an adapter. They then figured out they could both fit in the trunk of the car, lying flat in opposite orientations, while a friend played trombone in the backseat. Adam played guitar and Kyle played bass; using the mixer, they could modulate the relative volume of the trombone. Another friend was behind the wheel, responsible for driving the band to Indianapolis and back, the trombone blaring just behind her. Because they were in a car trunk, it was a dark ride. This was made worse after Kyle dropped his flashlight as the car hit a bump; it fell under his back and lodged there, leading to an uncomfortable ride and two days of back pain.
After the drive, they chopped up the recording, isolating its best moments then shuffling the pieces together into a record they were proud of, naming the album and its songs after de-contextualized quotes from Edgar Allan Poe stories. The release was put out on CDR by an Italian label called Vade Retro, run by Steve Spettro, who also performs as Spettro Family. Kyle tells me that he is still occasionally in touch with him, and that the label even arranged for Robe. to appear in three issues of a still-running Italian music magazine called Blow Up, including a three-page interview published entirely in Italian around the time that the album was released.
Did I Not Bid Thee to Arise is available on Bandcamp. It’s an entrancing collection, primarily composed of droning guitar tones, though the trombone appears at times, deep in the mix, hollowed out by infinite layers of reverb. The one noisy freakout jam, “Into The Outer Night,” is almost a diversion, coming right before the album’s finest moment, the sepulchral “The Conquering Worm.” Suffice to say, you would never guess that this disc was recorded in a car.