The musical origins of Salt Lake City experimental-jazz duo Robot Dream can be attributed to George Michael and family bands.
Rob Bennion, 33, a DJ who plays saxophone and flute, sang before he spoke, his mother told him. "I just loved learning to play songs by ear, figuring out the notes for myself," he said. "To be honest, I wanted to be a drummer, but the middle-school band wouldn't let me in without piano training, so I chose the sax because of the song 'Careless Whisper' by Wham! I was a big George Michael fan, much to my dad's disappointment. He confiscated my George Michael tape which I had ordered off of one of those '10 tapes for a penny each' subscriptions when he heard the song 'I Want Your Sex.' "
He was attracted to the idea of being a rock star. After all, his favorite movie, "Back to the Future," featured a musician as its hero. "Funny I ended up playing the saxophone one of the least rock-star instruments out there," Bennion said.
His comrade, Bart Olson, 36, a percussionist, offers a different kind of story about his musical beginnings: He was forced into it as a family obligation. "One day my parents told us the TV was broken and gave us all instruments to learn," Olson said. "I started out playing the fiddle in a family band of eight kids in Spokane, Wash. I was the frontman at 8 years old."
Both ended up graduating from Brigham Young University, with Bennion earning a degree in Portuguese and Olson in international studies.
Now they perform regularly around the area, including regular gigs at Gracie's. With their friend Conn Curran they will perform a benefit show for Hurricane Sandy victims on Dec. 13.
Both answered questions about musical memories, inspirations and where their unique name comes from.
What are some of your most memorable experiences in music?
Olson • I was once signed to Capitol Records with Ryan Shupe & The RubberBand and performed for 40,000 in Camden, N.J. I also performed on "Good Morning America" on the street in New York. I played with one of my drumming idols, Will Calhoun, a member of the band Living Colour, at the Owl Bar at the Sundance Resort, along with the amazing singer-guitarist Matt Harding. I played with the band Monkeygrinder with the bassist for Neon Trees, and [I was] a pirate with a real peg leg who blew fire into the crowd and scared half the crowd to death.
Bennion • Playing six nights a week in a "mama-san" geisha-type bar in Japan, where [members of the organized crime syndicate] Yakuza would often come. The club would clear out when they got there, but they were always nice to me, tipped really well and reminded me a lot of a bunch of good-natured Polynesians, because they were big and tan. When I was 16, my band which Bart played drums for opened for Dance Hall Crashers, one of the bands I idolized as a teenager. We then convinced them to let us play onstage during their set and I was in heaven.
What inspires you or, rather, what does not inspire you?
Olson • I'm inspired by the sound of machinery, found objects at junkyards, West African hand-drumming, video-game music and old sci-fi movies.
Bennion • I'm inspired by people who love what they do and it shows. A contractor came and installed washer and dryer hookups for the tenant in the basement of my house, and he did such a great job he took such pride in his work. I love it when people do what they can take pride in, rather than something they hate. It really isn't worth it to make a career out of something that drives you nuts. And recently I was very inspired by jazz singer Karrin Allyson, who I just saw perform at the Capitol Theatre.
Are you drawn to more fun music, or more serious topics?
Olson • Probably more fun music overall, although I love mixing in some introspective lyrics sometimes.
Bennion • I think I take music way too seriously in general. All music is serious to me, whether I am mashing up Crystal Castles with Hall & Oates at a club downtown or playing a jazz ballad for a wedding in Park City.
If you could play Jim Matheson one song, what would it be?
Bennion • I would probably play him a nice classic love song on my sax so he will hire my jazz band to play for his parties or daughters' weddings. Does he have any daughters?
If you could play Mia Long one song, what would it be?
Bennion • Same as above.
Where does the band's name come from?
Bennion • Robot Dream represents the different modes we perform in. "Robot" being the electronic-dance music and "Dream" the down-tempo, chill-out music we play. We are currently recording a 2-CD set, one hour of high-energy dance music titled "Robot," and the other CD an hour of down-tempo trip-hop [with a ] slower vibe.
Describe the Salt Lake City music scene.
Bennion • There are some great acts around here, people who work hard and put their all into it. My little brother, singer-songwriter Chris Bennion, continually amazes me. I performed with him and some other up-and-coming bands in Logan [recently]. [Local singer] Conn Curran is another artist whom I love to work with such talent. I love the Twilight Concert Series, Utah Arts Festival, and many other concerts and musical events supported strongly by music lovers here.
If there's a member of the audience who is talking or being bothersome during your set, what do you do?
Bennion • Play more aggressively.
Hurricane Sandy benefit concert
The concert will feature Robot Dream playing with Conn Curran.
When • Thursday, Dec. 13, 9 p.m.
Where • Lumpy's South, 8925 Harrison St. (300 West), Sandy
Tickets • $10 donation/cover charge at door also gets you a free Conn Curran Christmas CD.
Info • All proceeds will be donated to Hurricane Sandy victims.