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Metal gone mad
The macho bombast of Robby Road Steamer

Six feet, two inches of undulating muscles and rippling chest hair, a feral baritone booming from beneath a combed moustache, flared trousers stuffed you-know-where with a plump beanie pig, Robby Road Steamer is a metal monstrosity. He is id unchained and libido unleashed. Straight outta the suburban hinterlands, he is the North Shore’s great white hope. His friends’ hot-shit bands notwithstanding, it is he who is Massachusetts’s great gift to the metal world. And there’s nothing funny about it. He’s celebrating the release of his second album, Okay Computer (Yellow Trout), by dropping double bombs: a solo show this Saturday at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square and a full-on rock spectacle upstairs at the Middle East next Friday.

Robby emerged in 2001 as lead singer for a band called the Sweatpant Boners. Their debut, an album of hellacious heavyosity called Cruisin’ with the Masters (Devils Head), featured songs with titles like "Pee with Your Father," "Her Respectable Holes," and "Number 2," and that led some to write them off as joke metal and cast Robby as just a buff Weird Al with a rabid wrestler’s voice and a fetish for the orthodontic devices of barely legal girls. But other listeners, slowly and quietly, became converts. In a parallel world, apart from the trendy Boston rock scene, beyond the pale in Salem and Danvers and Revere, his fans multiplied. Now, with Okay Computer, an orgy of noise softened in spots by a few heart-on-sleeve ballads and some sung-spoken Springsteenisms, his legend grows. And though a reconstituted Sweatpant Boners serve again as his band, Robby Road Steamer now stands as his own man.

"I wanted to separate myself from the sophomoric image that came with the Sweatpant Boners," he says over an empty table at the Cambridgeport Saloon. (He abstains from rock-star potables in favor of copious quantities of Gatorade.) "I wanted to move on from poop humor. Take it to the next level. I’m tired of going through the motions. It’s time to get that easy money."

Cruisin’ with the Masters boasted help from Robby’s pals Adam Dutkiewicz (drums) and Ken Susi (guitar). Dutkiewicz is now guitarist for metalcore mashers Killswitch Engage, who played Ozzfest last summer and could be seen co-hosting MTV2’s Headbangers Ball a few months back. And Susi’s band, Unearth, signed to legendary label Metal Blade, are currently slaying ’em on this summer’s Ozzfest. (It’s been reported that Kelly Osbourne herself is smitten with Ken.)

One might guess it was Dutkiewicz’s burgeoning fame that kept him from contributing more than a few backing vocals to the new CD. But Robby says otherwise. "He was fired. He wasn’t metal enough. You wanna do your fuckin’ folk music? Go start your own band! Go start Killswitch Engage! Go get on Ozzfest! And Ken from Unearth? Same thing! I taught him everything he does in that band. You buy that new album [Oncoming Storm]. You pull it apart, you listen to it. You can see my influences." Susi, who grew up in Danvers with Robby, at least was invited back to contribute some guitar and record Robby’s lung-busting vocals. "I said, listen, can you put away your fuckin’ folk project for a couple weeks? Put down the assorted backstage cheese platter and come back and play with a real fuckin’ metal band."

It was a motley crew that convened at Carlisle’s Blue Jay studios (co-owned by Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson) to start recording this past spring. Peet Golan from the band Waltham played bass. Derek Kerswill from Seemless did the drumming. Berklee grad Nick D’Amico played keyboards. And lead guitar is credited to Aaron "King Wizard," a hyperactive African-American cabbie and comedian. (At least that’s what we’re told, though much of the guitar work bears an uncanny resemblance to the playing of former Waltham and Damone guitarist Dave Pino.) Robby ruled the musicians with an iron fist. "If you show up and you’re not wearing tight hip-hugging red leather pants, and you’re not licking your guitar and trying to get it pregnant before every song, you’re fired."

A few words about Okay Computer’s title. First, you can’t copyright album titles. So Radiohead can kiss Robby’s toned ass. And as you can see in a video clip on Robby’s Web site (www.roadsteamer.com), Vanilla Ice himself says that "it’s not the same." For one thing, Radiohead had the release party for OK Computer in Cambridge, England. Robby is fêting Okay Computer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But more important, it’s meant as an homage of sorts. "We’re taking probably one of the greatest albums of the ’90s," Robby says, "and we’re making it that much fuckin’ better!"

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Issue Date: August 27 - September 2, 2004
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