The lo-fi/lo-art history of Cuddlebot begins with Port.
Just before the Christmas of 1995, the kind-cousin-Jim of BBU and CPTR offered to let them borrow his 4-track and a Boss DR-550mk2 Dr Rhythm drum machine. On the 27th of December, BBU proposed the idea of recording a short EP. Over the next few months they worked on the project on some evenings near Olympia, WA. The instrumentation consisted of Dr. Rhythm, a Casio CT-650, a bass purchased from Sears long ago, the 'I-love-you Board' (a Yamaha PSS 170), and the 'Supa’ Stang' (a Fender Mustang with a hole in the body that lets you grab and bend the pickups and connections for some really odd effects). Of course it would rarely stay in tune for more than a minute. BBU traded his old skateboard for it so we really couldn’t expect much. BBU also found two old mic’s at a garage sale that same week. One was a standard $3.25 black rod mic, and the other was a quite classy looking mini 50’s-esque teardrop grey and chrome unit with a small table stand.
The 'Super Stang'
Sounds for your Personal Psychological Adjustment
The name for the group ‘Port’ was decided upon the same night the first song ‘Montego’ was completed. The teardrop mic was first used on the recording of ‘Love that Glove’, for which it was in a coffee can for an affordable reverb. At the same time, there was a very large cardboard box (bigger than a refrigerator) in the hangar, which they stood in and hit during the vocal recordings. The next track to be completed was ‘Wheel-a-go’ which was a solo BBU effort, based on a short story he had written. ‘Blanket of Smog’ featured eight separate keyboard parts, three drum tracks, two guitar tracks, two sample tracks and one vocal track, bounced down on the four track until it sounded like mud (it was a learning experiment for CPTR). The final track, ‘DSM-III’ was done only by BBU and featured a sample of Eddy Arnold.
BBU decided that 'Sounds for your Personal Psychological Adjustment' should be one sided tape so that after listening to the first side, the listener could record whatever they wanted to on side 2. They could then go back and listen to it and self-analyze the sounds and make observations about their mental health. This is why the track listing for side 2 features an outline of someone’s head with a question mark in it and the accompanying words, ‘Reserved for Sonic Self Analysis’.
Next, CPTR came up with the face logo and BBU the Dodge-esque logo. BBU also worked on the cover art. Tapes were copied and printed in batches of about 10. The first avenue of advertising was CPTR’s car, a 1967 Plymouth Valiant Signet, Burgundy which cost $150. BBU painted 'Ask me about your personal psychological adjustment, only $4.00' across the back of the car in white rustoleum paint.
The sales pitch
Soon after ‘Songs…’ was released, BBU moved to Bellingham, WA. CPTR opted on moving permanently into Centralia for work and rented out an office, later to be christened Port O’ Main (and BBU’s place, ‘Port-North’). The office was in a building that used to be a police station. It was around this time that GGRG (CPTR’s friend) became an honorary member of the group. Although he never contributed to performing or songwriting directly, his artistic input, material contributions and feedback were indispensable.
Towards the end of 1996, BBU quickly discovered a way to record and easily transfer songs between Bellingham and Centralia: Music Trackers. During the recording of ‘Songs…’ Port experimented with Midi, but didn’t find that the poor transposing and lack of versatility for sampling their equipment afforded worked. CPTR primarily used Impulse Tracker and BBU, MODplug Tracker. They could lay down a few tracks and then e-mail it or FTP it over the internet, back and forth, almost instantly and build songs together in an efficient manner. The idea of a soap opera-influenced theme album had been considered, after finishing ‘Donna’, which was an ode to Tori Spelling’s character on 90210, back on the 4-track in the hanger.
As they became more comfortable with the trackers, BBU and CPTR thought it would be a good idea to start brainstorming some thoughts on how to go about doing a theme album. Teninotwoone0 soon became the plan. The name is a play on the name of the town, Tenino (WA), which had its own speedway and a little league baseball field with a GRAVEL infield, if that explains anything. A fictionalized Tenino would be the setting. The first track for the album to be finished (but wasn’t ever released on the album) was ‘Abalixer’, which had a narrative structure about a flying cougar that haunted the town. ‘Headlice’ was the next track, solely written by BBU and was the first to really show the possibilities of a tracker over a 4-track. Eventually there were enough songs to complete the LP, but Port had no budget to get CDs pressed. BBU, ended up purchasing a burner to solve this. Homemade and Lowbudget, but warm and loving. Port had finished their first LP ‘Teninotwoone0’, but they had spent almost a year on it and realized that only a third of the songs had really anything to do with the T90210 concept. So, the whole deal was reconsidered and postponed for a bit.
Cuddlebot Steps Out
Conceptually, Port was interested in deviating from the tone of most of the electronic music at the time, which was largely house or industrial. Deviating in the sense of writing electronic music ‘people could cuddle too’, without being too maudlin. This idea eventually became the basis of a song idea by BBU which was to write a narrative soundtrack around two characters: ‘Cuddlebot VS. Orgasmatron Death Machine’. The song follows a conflict between the two characters with Cuddlebot primarily represented in one channel and ODM in the other. Most of the robot sounds were done by recording bottles opening and bottle caps and coins rattling around on a wooden board. It was decided that ODM, was a bit too on the nose of a parody of certain musical groups, and so the title was changed to “Stepping Out With Cuddlebot” and the listener was then invited to come up with a villain of their own. Port grew quite attached to Cuddlebot, and he became the mascot of the label, which was ‘Cuddlebot Records’ at the time.
It was decided to take the 50% of the tracks on Teninotwoone0 that were the strongest and make the real first Port LP. Nearly all of the tracks that were carried over were reworked and remixed. Trackers were a bit cumbersome at times and probably an entire week of evening were spent getting the panning right on ‘The Fax Bomber of Love’. ‘Lord British’ was the first song written on a real piano and not a Casio. It had been written in 1995 and recorded four separate times until the final tracker version was done for this LP.
Mid-Summer ‘98 at the Port O’ Main office it became so hot that a wind tunnel was constructed out of garbage bags, duct tape, and an ordinary box fan. The next night we had a dance party, made the wind tunnel vertical and painted/decorated it until it became inflatable Cuddlebot costume.
For ‘KLUV 73.5 FM,’ CPTR’s friend Allison offered to play sax on it which we sampled and then integrated into the tracker.
‘Cuddlebot Steps Out’ was released in early 1998.
BBU playing the 'I-love-you Board' and CPTR on bass
About two weeks after the release of ‘Cuddlebot Steps Out’ BBU visited Port-O’-Main with plans to go see Dub Narcotic with GGRG. BBU and CPTR decided to go to Goodwill first to look for old keyboards. After finding a slew of great little keyboards for $2.88 a piece, we dug through the records and tapes. BBU found some good tapes for sampling and realized that they were supposed to meet GGRG an hour ago. Gathering their gear and heading for the counter, they passed the answering machines on the way and couldn’t resist checking them for tapes that might have bits that could be sampled. They bought four tapes and returned to Port O’ Main. GGRG was there waiting patiently. They tried out some of the keyboards and then moved on to the tapes. The first few were had some decent recordings that might be usable for short samples and the feeling was that the $.28 was worth it.
They then popped in unmarked answer tape #3 and entered a new world. They let it play for a few seconds not believing what had been found. Then rewound it, let it play a bit more, rewound it further in order to see how long it was. What they had discovered was a conversation between a girl and a boy, approximately 19 years of age, breaking up over the phone for a good 40 minutes! All three were fixed around the tape player for the next 10 minutes and then they heard the girl on the tape say “...remember when I gave my number to that guy in port?...” At this moment they realized that this had to have been a direct gift from beyond. Backing up... an unmarked tape, taken at random from an answering machine, ended up having a conversation between a girl and her boyfriend breaking up for 40+ minutes, and then wasn’t erased but given to Goodwill to be stumbled upon by amateur musicians? It was a great time.
‘The Tape’ reinvigorated BBU and CPTR’s interest in Port and they worked nearly every night for the next year on what would become ‘Breaking Up (with Cuddlebot)’. Ryan (from Candy Keep) kindly took the photos for the cover art and liner notes.
Tapegerm and Half O’ Port
After ‘Breaking Up’, JmUNdoK (musician and writer for the online zine ‘The Kettle Black) invited Port to join the fledgling collective Tapegerm, where each month a group of musicians would create samples, pool them, and then create tracks using only (or primarily) those samples.
However, BBU decided to take a break from music and CPTR ended up spending the next few years working with his friends on a 3CD set titled ‘Half O’ Port: A Collection of Work’.
About six months after the release of ‘Sounds...’, in the Spring of 1996, CPTR joined a 4 piece indie rock group by the name of ‘Candy Keep’ as the bassist. Eventually the drummer left and it became a 3 piece with the lead guitarist moving to drums. A four track cassette EP was recorded, titled ‘Old Friends are the Dearest’. They got a 7” record deal, but the label folder before it could be released. The 7” was recorded at Recordings with Brian Smith the proprietor/engineer/producer in Aberdeen, WA, and was later released as the CD ‘It’s Starting to Snow’ by Cuddlebot’s Recordings. Candy Keep later split up in the summer of ’98, with Mark and Ryan going on to form ‘Lands Farther East’ and then form/join some well-respected math/indie-rock acts (e.g., ‘The Rooftops’).
After leaving Candy Keep, CPTR started a group with his friends Brett and Adam called ‘Zillion Kisses’, which was interested in writing poppy post-punk music. After 3 EPs (‘released’ on Cuddlebot’s Recordings) and playing a prom, they split up (amicably).
After releasing the Half O’ Port collection, CPTR continued to write and record electronic music. Eventually, in 2015, he decided to revive Cuddlebot, the friendliest robot, and work on very sappy, and slightly off-kilter, electronic pop (mostly instrumentals). In early 2016, Cuddlebot then released an EP, ‘Forestry’, followed by the ‘Weeks’ EP in late 2016.