Give Alf an electric guitar and a few Dick Dale records, lock him in the attic for a night, and the results might just rival Man or Astro-man? and their musical barrage of space-age surfscapes. The members of Man or Astro-man? aren’t quite as furry as television’s Alien Life Form, but they’re also trapped on earth until they can fix their interplanetary wheels.
“Originally we came from a place, not a planet,” began founding drummer Birdstuff, backstage after a recent show in Providence, R.I. “Planets are very archaic devices, we actually came from a grid sector, grid sector 23-V61. Star Crunch and I took the intergalactic starship-your guys’ station wagon-out on a joyride, and somewhere we mis-vectored.”
But it actually wasn’t their fault they got lost, or so said Birdstuff. They like to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Coco the Electric Monkey Wizard, a companion the built out of old Atari 2600 parts to help relieve their boredom.
“We sacrificed our game system to have a companion, let him take control of the helm, he misguided us, and lo and behold, we crashed in a small town called Auburn, Alabama,” Birdstuff said of their earthly origins.
If their music seems too far out there for the average Pearl Jam and R.E.M. digesting audiences, it’s no mistake.
“I guess it’s either to out credit, or our fault, but we’ve made the band a seemingly elitist sort of thing,” Birdstuff explained. “We’ve geared it that way, but that’s what’s always driven us and what we’ve loved about music – bands that have just done these things for wacky obsessive aesthetics that really have nothing to do with shifting units or becoming famous, but more to do with having an over-the-edge love for pop culture or something that’s zany beyond belief.”
In that regard, Man or Astro-man? clearly classify. With Star Crunch providing a rousing backdrop on his solar six-string, the cybernetic Coco serves up a smorgasbord of sound effects and sci-fi gadgets, occasionally adding vocals over the bass and rhythm guitar of Dexter X, this decade’s missing link to Devo.
“We’ve always had a rotating fourth member,” explained Birdstuff. “Mr. Dexter X was in another band, Super Nova, and they had a lineup change and he ended up with his little space thumb out in the air. He’s a very scary, square-jawed, robotic freak – we like having him in there.”
On the earthly lever there are roots to their otherwise madcap antics and space-age surf hymns. While some bands look to other artists for their influence and inspiration, Man or Astro-man? look to the cultural climate in which they were forced to exist
“Basically it was being trapped in the state of Alabama for 20 years without any social outlet, going insane from boredom in a tiny town that was run over by Wal Mart and McDonalds with a complete lack of culture and music,” said the atom-smashing stickman. “We were never really influenced by any scene, we were more influenced by what wasn’t out there and what we didn’t know about than anything tangible. Then we pieced together this over sensory, multi-media, nerd-extravaganza.
“We never really had an editor say to us, ‘you know, bands that are playing for the percentage of the door don’t usually carry around a 12 televisions on their fist tour.’ Because of that, if there is anything to be cherished out of Man or Astro-Man?, it should really be credited to ignorance.”
The Man or Astro-man? stage show is a spectacle in itself, packing enough visuals to match the band’s massive audio attack. Dressed in space suits, Dexter and Coco look straight from the set of “Lost in Space,” surrounded by video screens and television monitors. Polar opposites when performing, Dexter plays the straight man to a tee, rigid as a board and stone faced in the midst of Coco’s manic barrage of gadgets, gizmos, tweaks and aural turbulence.
“It’s an atom-smashing, sonic collision of what happens when the distant future crashed with the very, very distant past,” ventured Birdstuff. “Basically, Man or Astro-man? brings you yesterdays technology tomorrow, from the land that time forgot … Alabama.”
Whatever .. There comes a point in some interviews where you just have to stop trying to make sense out the seemingly nonsensical. Once you submit yourself to the Man or Astro-man? aura you begin to appreciate the band for what they are, a brilliant conglomeration of surf, punk and theatrics that out – muscles the majority of today’s melancholic music and mundane presentations.
“We never really wanted to fancy ourselves as a band with some statement or heralding some message, we just wanted to be the accompaniment to this overall experience,” Birdstuff explained. “It’s all in the numbers … As a band we only wanted to be 50% of what was going on, but we wanted everything that was going on – if a normal band is 100% - to be 350%. So by being 50%, we are still being more than the 100% of other bands.”
Does the mathematics get to confusion? If so, Birdstuff is more than willing to explain it for the other half of the brain.
“It’s a matter of verb tenses … The future is the present for us – being that we always live in the future, we are station in the present … I guess what I’m really saying, in a round-a-bout way, is that we really hope to improve our grammar.”
(Man or Astro-Man? will be performing with Dirty Three at the East End October 11)