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During a period when pop music was overtaken by uninspired, pedestrian rock and MTV-ready teen bands, bland R&B, and ultra-commercial hip-hop, I Am Spoonbender burst out of the indie underground with a sound so futuristic that it made even the most adventurous of contemporaries seem somehow status quo. Drawing on elements as wildly divergent as B-movie kitsch and avant-garde art and film, from new wave and electro-pop to experimental and electronic interests, the band's music was somehow both backward and forward looking, oddly grounded in the noir-like mood of old-school weird science but going beyond the paranoid razor's-edge of cyberculture toward destinations unknown. Beyond simply a pop band, I Am Spoonbender was a distinct concept. The project was about noticing the beauty and details of objects that most people take for granted in everyday life, finding hidden connections, exploring the subjective nature of reality, and extrapolating meaning from synchronistic or seemingly coincidental occurrences. The theory and philosophy behind the band was born out of the band members' experiences with chance, telepathy, altered states, the occult, psychic phenomena surrounding communication devices, and other extrasensory and paranormal ideas, all of which informed and were informed by the music. Although their esoteric blend was decidedly not commercial, in the conventional sense of the word, I Am Spoonbender helped launch pop music past the trappings of 20th century pop music and into the 21st century.
Dustin Donaldson (synths, drums, vocals, production) co-founded avant-metallists Thought Industry in the early '90s and spent two albums playing drums in the band before relocating to San Francisco from his Michigan home. Once there he joined political pop-punkers Pansy Division on tour and an album (widely considered their strongest, most adventurous work). On his suggestion, longtime friend Brian Jackson (bass, synths, ProTools) made the trek to San Francisco from Michigan in 1995, ultimately earning his master's degree in East/West psychology at the city's California Institute of Integral Studies — at which he studied with visionaries such as Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas — while building with Donaldson a state-of-the-art recording studio, Seismic Séance. In early 1997, the two started I Am Spoonbender — a reference to the telekinetic phenomenon, Uri Geller (who eventually would call them his favorite band) — and began work on their first "transmission," Sender/Receiver. Halfway through the making of the debut album, Robynn "Cup" Iwata (synths, vocals), formerly of Vancouver sugar-pop girl group Cub, joined the band.
Donaldson continued to play with other artists during the extended recording process, joining guitar legend Link Wray as his touring drummer and playing synthesizer on tour and record with Damo Suzuki and Michael Karoli of avant-rock gods Can, while also keeping busy with several visual art, acting, and musical side projects. Iwata, too, kept busy with her art projects (which included the highly collectable Sog Mongeys-sock monkey type dolls), design, and illustration work for innumerable indie labels and artists (including designing, with Donaldson, I Am Spoonbender's logo, album sleeves, clothing, merchandise, and website), and hosting one of Canada's largest new music radio programs. Jackson continued working toward his doctorate at CIIS.
Sender/Receiver was finally released in 1999 on Gold Standard Laboratories and earned widespread acclaim from all sectors of the critical community for its bold, cinematic vision, landing in numerous year-end Top Ten lists and polls. Originally only a studio concept, the trio decided to add a fourth member and make I Am Spoonbender a full-blown live band. Marc Kate (synths, turntables) joined in March of 1998, one month before the first live performance. Prior to his entrance into the fold, he studied with cultural studies pioneer Dick Hebdige, radical performance artist Tony Labat, B-movie master George Kuchar, and minimalist film luminary Ernie Gehr. The band quickly developed a unique live show full of deconstructed electronic pop, syncopated new wave rhythms, and plastic op-art style, and they applied to their music such film techniques as jump cuts and dream sequences with numerous other experimental impulses. Over the course of the next couple years, I Am Spoonbender shared the stage with a litany of their most interesting contemporaries, including such lauded acts as Mogwai, Cibo Matto, Royal Trux, Wire, Money Mark, Einsturzende Neubauten, Macha, Lesser, Mike Patton, Secret Chiefs 3, and Man or Astro-Man?.
The band's second recording, the EP Teletwin, was released at the end of 1999 by Little Army Records as a limited "three-sided" 12" featuring two concurrent grooves on the second side, allowing chance the opportunity to dictate the group of songs heard. Early 2000 saw a bevy of new releases from the band, including an Australian single, a Japanese single, the European release of Sender/Receiver, and the CD reissue of Teletwin, as well as numerous compilation tracks and a remix project for, among others, the Locust. Seismac Séance studio, too, kept Donaldson and Jackson busy mixing and mastering projects for artists as diverse as Neurosis, Bobby Conn, Kit Clayton, Stillupsteypa, the Need, Fennesz, Deerhoof, and Quintron. That May, Jackson left the band and went on to form Memory Systems. Two years later, the band continued; I Am Spoonbender Sender-Receiver and Shown Actual Size [EP] appeared in mid-2002.