Kentucky Route Zero’s android musicians are releasing a whole album

To read more from Kentucky Route Zero’s Cardboard Computer, be sure to pick a copy of Kill Screen’s relaunched magazine, Issue 9.


Junebug, of Kentucky Route Zero’s duo of robotic musicians, is releasing an album. Self-titled and comprised of 11 tracks, the release is an elaboration upon one of the game’s highlights: a late-night performance in a nearly-empty dive bar called the Lower Depths.  

Ben Babbitt, one-third of developer Cardboard Computer and the musician responsible for Kentucky Route Zero’s soundtrack, also provides Junebug’s singing voice and instrumentals. After working to craft her sound for Act III’s Lower Depths performance, Babbitt, buoyed by an enthusiastic response, decided to expand upon what was at that point her only song, the haunting “Too Late to Love You.”  

“I really enjoyed it and thought it would be fun to make more of it,” Babbitt said in a recent call. “There was a whole conceptual framework already there and a palette and an aesthetic and everything. I could just dive in again and make more and see how it developed”.

seamless integrations of humanity and machine

Babbitt didn’t start work on the album immediately after Act III’s release, but the work still grew out of the template established by “Too Late to Love You”—further song sketches in Junebug’s voice eventually leading to Babbitt’s decision to record an entire album. The choice to release a Kentucky Route Zero-adjacent record—not a soundtrack, but a proper album by one of the game’s fictional characters—might be unprecedented, but it doesn’t feel incongruous for Cardboard Computer, who has released a digital art gallery, an in-universe play, and a real-world phone system between Zero’s acts.

“We, collectively, have established this sort of looser way of making things—creating a world—and making many different kinds of things that aren’t necessarily all videogames,” Babbitt said.


Junebug, that’s the album, is an immediately compelling idea, not just because the prospect of more songs in the vein of “Too Late to Love You” is exciting, but because Junebug is one of the most fascinating characters in Kentucky Route Zero. She rides a motorcycle with fellow android, bandmate, and constant companion Johnny, who is tucked into a sidecar. Half of her head is shaved, the other half covered in a flop of colored hair. When she dances to her music, she sways with otherworldly precision, trading black leather jacket for a high-necked gown. Junebug’s look, like her music, represents a multi-generational sort of cool. She is her own invention—a collection of disparate parts assembled into something new.

“I really, really like how proactive [Junebug and Johnny] seem to be in creating their identities and being very intentional about how they present themselves,” Babbitt said. “They don’t just comply with their assigned identities.” His music is a crucial part of the robots’ depiction, but he often references the work of Cardboard Computer’s other two members (Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy) when discussing the characters. To Babbitt, though, an important element of Junebug and Johnny’s characterization is their refusal to accept “the idea that we become who we become and have no real agency in that process.”


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Despite the whirring servo noises that match their movements, and their ability to instantly transform their appearance, it is easy to forget that Junebug and Johnny are robots. They represent a more modern understanding of technology than the utilitarian metal creations popular in 20th-century sci-fi. Junebug and Johnny aren’t tools so much as seamless integrations of humanity and machine.

Junebug’s voice is striking—Jónsi by way of Jimmy Scott—but, like her character, it isn’t robotic, despite the fact that her vocals are the result of a computerized recording process; Babbitt’s natural singing voice modified through software. “Maybe the most obvious answer to the problem of making a robot voice would be to use a vocoder or something,” Babbitt said. “But that’s so uninteresting, and presents a certain position on technology that feels one-dimensional and reactionary.”

Static Between Stations by Junebug

Babbitt remembered being surprised when he first found Junebug’s voice, but said it became increasingly familiar to him as work on the album progressed. “I have a lower singing voice and I’ve always been really moved by voices that, to me, sound very different from my own,” he said. The notion of the transformative potential of technology recurred in conversations with Babbitt. He compared the unique qualities of a natural singing voice to the shape of a face—and likened the process of altering it through software to a makeover.

“It became like vocal drag”

“It became like vocal drag, which is totally fascinating to me,” Babbitt said in an email. With software, Junebug’s voice (and her style of music) was made possible. Recording her voice made “a certain way of singing accessible that was previously inaccessible to [him].” Technology can enable the creation of something new—something both of and outside of ourselves. As Babbitt said, it allows for experimentation with “different ways of being.”

The ability to use technology to alter oneself could apply to Junebug, the android character, as well. Just as she and Johnny change their appearance to suit the moment, she may have changed her voice, too, “to sound the way she wanted to sound.”

Human and machine, fiction and reality, aren’t opposites in Kentucky Route Zero or, really, anywhere else. Tellingly, Babbitt described recording Junebug’s vocals as a process of “internalizing that voice and it feeling less like a kind of cold, artificial, technologically aided process, and more like a strange re-embodying [of] the technology.”

“Or embodying,” he added. “I mean, it was an embodiment in the first place, I guess.”


Situated around the halfway point of Kentucky Route Zero’s third act—itself the middle of the entire game—Junebug and Johnny’s “Too Late to Love You” performance is an oasis of emotional clarity amid the darkness and confusion that surrounds it. The performance is melancholy, but it’s also unambiguously beautiful. Junebug’s voice, androgynous in its high alto pitch, is ur-human, a universal cry that manifests the pain, want, and hope just beneath the surface of Zero’s characters.  


Junebug is made up of songs that follow suit, layering aching strings and vocals over precise drum machine loops and warm, Angelo Badalementi-esque synthesizer pads. The latter are electronic, but they’re coupled with Junebug’s insistent vocals and the recurring acoustic reference point of lush string sections (multiple violin, viola, and cello tracks arranged by Babbitt and performed by his parents, who are professional musicians). It’s an approach inspired by the minimalism of “Too Late to Love You”—which was “just a synth pad and [the kind of] drum machine you would find inside of an old console organ”—that was expanded only slightly to accommodate a wider range of sounds. Babbitt refers to his work with Elliott and Kemenczy on “Too Late to Love You” (detached from, but inspired by “old heartbreak country songs”) as the primary musical reference point for the album, but also cites ‘80s pop from the likes of Kate Bush, Michael Jackson, Sade, and the Cocteau Twins, as well as the simple, meditative arrangements of Alice Coltrane’s Turiya Sings.

“I definitely wasn’t trying to make a retro, nostalgic thing, even though I totally get that [the album] has a lot to do with a specific, earlier era of music and aesthetics,” Babbitt said. He imagined, instead, Junebug and Johnny recording at a fancy studio, “invited by some out-of-touch producer,” and trying to come up with a number one album from their “totally weird and idiosyncratic viewpoint.” Accordingly, both software and hardware (“I’m not a purist at all in that way,” Babbitt said) were used to create the album. Babbitt, working from Hotel Earth, his friend and collaborator Theo Karon’s studio, said he was “interested in limiting, to a certain extent, the palette of sounds” on the record, intentionally setting himself a constraint and “seeing what could come from that.”  

The result is an album that, like Kentucky Route Zero as a whole, feels both intrinsically of and outside of its time. This makes a lot of sense. The game Junebug stems from constantly blends the past and modern day to tell a story of the pain that affects those caught up in a change that renders their way of life obsolete. The ghosts of miners, the farmers preserved in a museum, the debt-laden bartenders and diner owners—even the struggling musicians Junebug and Johnny—are trying to live through a monumental paradigm shift that seems to have left them behind.

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In spite of this, these characters find absolution in technologies used just as much to preserve the past as supplant it. They build artificial ecosystems to save a species of cave bats from disease. They create a living simulation inside a computer running on moss and circuitry. They communicate with spirits through the analog waves of television and radio broadcasts. Most importantly, even the poorest and most desperate spend hours sitting in a rundown bar waiting for Junebug to arrive and lift their spirits with a song built on country vocals and an electronic backbeat: The Entertainment. When it comes, Junebug’s song lifts the moldering roof off the Lower Depths to reveal a starry night sky stretching to eternity.

When I say that it would have been easy for Kentucky Route Zero to take, like more cynical artists have, a simpler, more pessimistic approach to technology—to romanticize Kentucky’s rural past while excluding the potential inherent to modern invention—Babbitt’s response is telling: “I think that’s a mistake.” With an opposite opinion, it isn’t likely that the album would exist at all.

There’s no current release window for Junebug’s album. You can preview a track on Bandcamp.


To read more from Kentucky Route Zero’s Cardboard Computer, be sure to pick a copy of Kill Screen’s relaunched magazine, Issue 9.