(Robert Ragosta flips off the camera happily, right, with his bandmate Andrew Sclafani, left)
Theatrics, energy, progressive sound, and passion are the rules of the music game for This Good Robot, the band that guitarist/backup vocalist Robert Ragosta is a member of. Ragosta is only 26, but he’s spent a whopping 18 years playing instruments — needless to say, he knows his stuff. Quinnipiac has had This Good Robot perform before, and whenever they come around Connecticut, I’m sure to be at their shows because of how fucking good their music and stage performances are; I was lucky enough to be able to reach out to one of my favorite musicians from one of my favorite bands and ask him a few questions.
1. You play with both Patent Pending and This Good Robot, two bands that have a long history together. How did you end up with both bands, and how do you handle being in more than one project at a time?
Michael, the lead singer of This Good Robot, and Joe, the lead singer of Patent Pending, are both my older brothers so obviously there’s quite a bit of history between the three of us. When I was 8 I would learn little things on guitar and then show them how to play em too so we’ve been playing music together and helping each other write in some way or another for at least 18 years now. We all grew up on a mix of oldies, show tunes and punk rock thanks to our parents and older sisters but it was Joe who really got into pop punk when he got Patent Pending going. I was so young at the time that I couldn’t really join the band but I was always around to work on ideas and help load in and out of shows so over the years it’s evolved into me being a part of the crew. I’ve found myself selling merch, guitar teching, filling in on drums, bass, guitar and even one show as lead singer. I am not, and never have been an official member of Patent Pending but I take pride in all the work I’ve been able to do with them over the years. Michael was the original singer in Patent Pending but eventually left to start This Good Robot which is much more in tune with his musical tastes. At that time I was still playing with my old band and Patent Pending was booking a big show on Long Island. Both This Good Robot and my band at the time, Mania In Urbania were up for an opening slot on the bill so instead of one band getting the boot off the show, us and This Good Robot joined up and played a tag team set with 8 of us on stage. After that night we never played a show apart again. This Good Robot absorbed Mania In Urbania and we became an 8 piece shit storm that no local venue wanted to deal with. This Good Robot is my full time band but I stay involved as much as I can with Patent Pending. Recently I helped them write the script for a mockumentary they released called “Mario and The Brick Breakers” which is a behind the music for a fictional Mario and Luigi rock band. Definitely worth looking up on youtube.
2. Anyone who’s been to a This Good Robot show knows that you (as well as other members of the band) go absolutely crazy on stage. What artists/acts influence your stage performance, and if you can remember the first time you decided to move on stage, what was that like?
I’ve never really intentionally attempted to imitate anyone in particular on stage but if I had to pick an influence it’d be easy to say the first time I saw a live video of At The Drive-In I was absolutely blown away by their stage presence. Between Omar salsa dancing while whipping his guitar around his head and Cedric ripping stage lights off the ceiling and throwing them into the crowd while quite literally chewing on his microphone, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. That’s when I started viewing live musicians in a whole new light. Nothing bothers me more than a band that stands still while playing live. What’s the point?! Why not just tell people to listen to your record at home while looking up pictures of you standing still on the internet?!
3. I remember hearing in an interview that you’ve been playing instruments for most of your life (and those who are fans of Patent Pending/This Good Robot are well aware that you come from a musically inclined family). What instrument did you start with, and how do you feel you’ve evolved as a musician since then?
The first instrument I ever came in contact with was our family’s piano. I would sit at it and just make noise for extended periods of time. I can’t imagine that having been enjoyable for anyone else in the family but for me it was a blast. I never learned to properly play a piano though which I do regret.
I got a guitar for my 8th birthday and started taking basic lessons just to learn how to play some songs. After a few months I quit lessons and continued my learning by listening and fumbling around the fret board alone. Retrospectively I’m glad I didn’t let anyone tell me the rules of how to properly go about playing and writing on guitar. I always played sports so I had teams and coaches that I had to work with to accomplish a goal but with guitar I was in charge which was a nice change of pace. No one was there to tell me what to do which is a good feeling.
4. Have you ever played a prank on another band you’ve been on tour with? If so, what was the best prank you’ve done?
I was working for a band called Every Avenue around the time when “icing” people was popular. That’s when you hide smirnoff ices for friends to find and when they do they have to chug the whole thing. We were out with a band called Sing It Loud in Texas and I hid smirnoffs all over the stage so before they started playing each one had to chug one. That wasn’t the prank though. The real prank was during load out that night I hid an extra large smirnoff in their guitar tech’s equipment. It spent the night slowly warming in their trailer. The next day was around 100 degrees in Texas. By the time their guitar tech was setting up his station it was late in the afternoon and that smirnoff must have been as close to burning hot as it could be without evaporating. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great night for him.
5. Alright, now some specific This Good Robot questions. When the band formed, you guys were an 8 piece – now you have 6 members. How has the band’s sound changed since its start (or has it not)?
All of the predominant writers are still in the band so stylistically we haven’t really changed all that much. If anything we’ve only become better at playing these songs because of how much we’ve matured and practiced as players over the years. Specifically live we just have a little less in the way of auxiliary percussion and maybe a synth line is missing here or there but altogether not much has changed.
6. As a Long Island native, has the music scene been supportive of your projects, or did you find it hard to find an audience?
The Long Island music scene has been extremely supportive of my band and family over the years and we’ve made some of the best friends we’ll ever have here. That being said, some nights we feel excluded. Some nights shows can be extremely clique-y but that’s just the reality of being a musician. People show up to support their friend’s bands but stand outside smoking cigarettes instead of watching anyone else. How do you know you don’t like a band if you’ve never seen or heard them? It’s more about the people around you than it is about the scene as a whole. We’ve played shows with bands when we know we just don’t belong. It’s a shame but it’s the reality of social dynamics whether you’re in a band or not. Sometimes you just won’t belong but that shouldn’t be enough to make you stop because the next night you’ll be with the people you love playing the music you love so the Long Island scene will always be home to me because of the relationships we’ve built here and all that we’ve accomplished through it.
7. Can you explain This Good Robot’s creative process for writing new material, and what you contribute to it?
Sometimes it starts with a concept like “what if we did a story about a dude time traveling back in time to meet himself for a brief moment before disappearing?” so we’ll write bullet points for a story and then go back to try and build a melody and chord progression. Other times it starts with a melody in the shower being hummed into a cell phone and sent over to the rest of the band. There’s no real equation that we use time and time again. It’s more organic than that. We all come from different musical backgrounds so sometimes I’ll bring an idea to the table that I just can’t finish and one of the other dudes will point out that I’ve been thinking about the song all wrong and that we should try it a different way. We’re all around for each other to depend on when we need a little straightening out because finishing songs alone can be difficult if you are too close to the project. You become biased towards your own ideas even if they’re bad because you’ve only thought about the song in that one specific way. The rest of the band is there to kick your ass back to reality where shitty ideas are still just shitty.
8. The first time I saw This Good Robot perform, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was covered, and I was blown away. Does the band have any interest in covering more songs live/doing a cover album at any point?
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! We are constantly talking about ideas for cover songs. We’ve filmed some acoustic covers and posted em on youtube and we’ve done a few others for our podcast (This Good Podcast on iTunes and sound cloud) but I don’t think we’ll ever do a proper cover album. There’s also a few videos of us covering The Faint’s “Agenda Suicide” live so I can’t say we won’t be doing more covers in the future but I’d be shocked if we decided to do a proper cover release.
9. The entire band wears formal clothing while performing on stage. How did this choice come about, and how much does changing out of it after the show suck?
Changing out of it is the worst! It just sticks to me and makes me cold after twenty minutes. The choice to dress up for shows came about from the dramatic aspect of what we’re trying to do. All of our songs are stories or parts of stories that we’ve written and we try to convey that theatricality live which would be tougher to do if we all wore flannels and beanies like every other band in the scene. We needed to do something subtle that would draw a distinction between us and the sometimes 7 other bands on a bill. We wanted people at shows to remember us as the band that stood out instead of the band with the beards and cargo shorts.
10. Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians?
Play music that you want to listen to!! Don’t join some pop rock band that uses backing tracks for bass and guitars when they play live just because you think they’re going to make some money. If you ever join a touring band you are going to miss birthdays, holidays, weekends, weddings, funerals, births, friends, and family. There’s no easy way around that fact, but it is much easier to deal with when you are working towards something that you truly believe in. I have met too many musicians who play in bands that they would never listen to and, surprise surprise, those bands never end up lasting very long so do something you’re going to take pride in. Write songs that you are going to obsess over because you love them because otherwise you’re basically just playing karaoke. That, and buy a tuner! There’s nothing worse than watching an out of tune band stumble through their set.
This Good Robot has their first full length set to release in early 2015. You can find a teaser for the album’s first single, “Super Spy”, here:
The band’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMUisMj9mToTVKhSvKomQTw
And their official website here: http://www.thisgoodrobot.com/