Jason Torbert leads a deceptively Clark Kent life. He affixes his stare to a computer by day with short, office-job hair and a conspicuous lack of a tan. He awkwardly turns his unassuming frame around to make eye contact, but only when absolutely necessary.
But look a little longer, and ask a few more questions, and Torbert's animated, illustrated life will emerge.
He is the one-man mastermind behind Goddamn Electric Bill, an electronic hopscotch of post-rock, indie and ambient sounds built in his bedroom. He is on a first-name basis with former Cure keyboardist Roger O'Donnell. He has more MySpace friends than all of you combined. And no one was ever supposed to hear about it.
“This was just a release for me,” Torbert says, sipping a bit of the froth from the top of his beer and then returning his gaze to the opposite side of the bar. “It's a weight off my shoulders.”
The music industry is nothing new to Torbert. He spent seven years as the bassist for a popular punk outfit called Cigar-“we were huge in Canada,” he says-before they called it quits. He tried his luck at a few other projects, but decided that the band atmosphere wasn't for him. Needing a release, Torbert started recording everything he could think of-bass, guitar, keys, Rhodes, sitar, mbira, percussion, landscape noise-and left the imperfections on tape. The sessions turned into his first Goddamn Electric Bill full-length, Swallowed by the Machines.
“All over this record there are flubs and weird notes because it's not like I planned this,” he says. “All the songs just worked themselves out as I went along.”
When O'Donnell heard some of Torbert's demos online, he invited him out to the English countryside to record for his 99X/10 Records.
“We became friends instantly,” Torbert says, a bit star-struck. “He would get up and make me breakfast and then we would record in his little studio with gold records hanging all over the walls.”
While much of the resulting record is full of the dark sounds of conflict and bitterness, it is the one anomaly-a playful, meandering dittie called “Lost in the Zoo”-that carries Swallowed by the Machines away.
“I knew immediately what to name that song,” Torbert says. “I pictured children and this dark feeling of being lost... this innocence that we all have in us, that we disguise sometimes.”
The name Goddamn Electric Bill is an exclamation. But much like Clark Kent, Torbert is conspicuously absent from his own compositions. There are no vocals on Swallowed by the Machines. No flashy guitar parts. No pictures of himself. Anywhere.
“Electronic music is so easy to disappear into,” he says. “It feels much more like me.”Check out Goddamn Electric Bill at www.goddamn electricbill.com.