Brian Teasley of Man or Astro-Man? on Sci-Fi Shtick and That "Crazy" Eastside Records Gig
Surf rock space oddities Man or Astro-Man? will touch down tonight at Crescent Ballroom.
Like certain cosmological phenomena streaking through the infinite heavens above, a chance to see Man of Astro-man? pulling a live gig in Phoenix is a rare occurance. It wasn't always that way; the science fiction-obsessed surf-rock space oddities used to set course for renowned local rock bars like Boston's (now as defunct as the shuttle program) with great regularity during their heyday in the heart of the 1990s.
Then the jumpsuit-clad band went their separate ways for the better part of a decade before relaunching in 2010, leaving their fervent fanbase here in Arizona with nothing but old flyers and memories of a legendarily crazy and packed concert in the parking lot of Eastside Records' original Tempe location in 1995. That all changes tonight, when Man of Astro-man? touches down at Crescent Ballroom as a part of the second night of Du Hot Club De Bizarre.
It's been more than 12 years since the band last performed in the Valley back in September 2000 at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, which -- in a nice bit of synchronicity -- was owned by Crescent proprietor Charlie Levy.
Up on the Sun recently got a chance to speak with Man or Astro-man? guitarist/vocalist Brian Teasley, also known by his stage name "Birdstuff," about memories of past concerts in Phoenix, their latest album, working with the always-colorful Steve Albini, and being on infamous rock label Touch and Go Records.
Teasley also mentioned how the band still rocks matching jumpsuits, dispenses audio clips from schlock sci-fi between surf anthems and power chords, and -- naturally -- is looking forward to their return to the Valley.
"Phoenix is one of those cities where we've just had an affinity with," Teasley says. "Hopefully some old school Eastside folks will come and we'll get to hang out."
Get ready for blast-off.
Up on the Sun: Exactly 20 solar cycles have passed since Man or Astro-Man's first album in 1993. What's been your favorite moment?
Brian Teasley: I hate to pick. There's so many amazing ones, so many awful ones. It's like that after playing in a band for this long. I think getting to meet and have mutual admiration for all these famous bands, like getting to tour with The Cramps or hang out with The B-52s or have the guys from Devo get their copies of your band's record signed by you. Weird little things like that, where your heroes acknowledge you to some degree, are probably what stands out most.
We've definitely had strange experiences too, but that just comes with the sheer voluminous amount of touring that we did. I think we toured more than any band in the '90s, or at least I've never met or heard anyone that toured more than we did, unless it was some Grand Ole Opry kind of show.
Speaking of which, you played Phoenix many times, including gigs at the old Boston's that involved a Tesla coil.
Yeah, we had a Tesla coil. Wait, which one was the place where they did, like, Planet of the Apes style, where they kept the underage behind the fence or something? Was that Nita's Hideaway or was that Boston's? Those bars were always fun places to play.
My favorite show that we ever did in Phoenix was when it was like 120 zillion degrees in the parking lot of Eastside Records [in the mid-1990s] and hundreds of kids showed up and it was so crazy, so much fun. It was like pass-out-from-heat-exhaustion kind of hot, but that was probably my favorite thing we did there.
The old Eastside Records store on University Drive in Tempe.
So just how crazy was the Eastside show?
Really, really crazy. I think partly it was the unpredictability of it. I think no one really knew that so many people were going to show up. You think of a typical in-store, where a band plays five songs and it never has the energy of a real show. And in this case it ended up being, like, such an impromptu thing. I'll say this: it was kind of like...you know the U2 "Where the Streets Have No Name" video? This was the Man or Astro-Man? equivalent of it. Everything we do is on a budget-rock small scale so that was our U2-up-on-the-rooftop-moment.
Former Eastside owner Ben Wood told us in 2010 that the show was so crazy that the landlord banned concerts at the store.
Wow. That's great that after we played they banned live performances, because we're in it to ruin other people's experiences with other bands [laughs]. No, no, no. That's crazy though. Yeah, that was so much fun. Ben and those guys were always awesome.
Y'all have a long history with Ben, right? Our very first tour that we ever did, opening for The Mekons, there was this guy showing up at like every show. We asked, "Hey man, are you making these long drives? You could ride with us or we could put you on the guest list?" He didn't want that and was like, "No, I'm fine" and he was flying from show to show. And it was Ben Wood. He flew to like six or seven shows in row. He's an awesome guy. We used to hang out at his place with the saltwater pool. He would order Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and pizza. He'd wanted to make sure you were covered. Ben treated us about as well as anybody has over the years, as far as staying at someone's house.
Ben and Eastside were one of the reasons Man or Astro-Man? had such a huge following in Phoenix, right? Plus he also released your seven-inch Needles in the Cosmic Haystack in 1995.
Yeah, Ben wanted to do it. He did a Servotron seven-inch as well. It was cool. I think a lot of the groundwork Ben had done for us [in Phoenix] before or after he did the seven-inch with him. It was cool because it was so organic.
It was so before the days of the hyper-velocity of how blogs can make a band happen. And it happened all because of word of mouth from these cool guys in town that had an influential record store and really pumped our band to a bunch of people. Not to be an old fogey, but in a certain sense it just seems a more genuine way to have people enjoy your band.
Basically, the way things are now is that you get a review on Stereogum and Pitchfork and every other journalist in the world copies that review. And if it's a good review, it's like a rocketship to the stars. But back then you kinda had to earn it, and that experience really sort of consummated that idea.
A flyer and ticket for one of the last Man or Astro-Man? shows in the Valley (in this case at the long-defunct Nita's Hideaway) before their hiatus.
Why did Man Or Astro-Man go on a decade-long hiatus?
I think the honest answer is that there was such an overexposure to each other. A friend of mine toured with the Ramones and their crew for a six-week tour in Europe, and he said that, literally, none of them talked to each other. At one point Dee Dee said to somebody else that it was fucked up the way the shower curtain was in the hotel last night. And that's the only conversation he remembers them having for six weeks.
And when you tour so much, you get so overexposed to each other, even though it's people you knew from high school and there's a brotherhood to it. It gets to where you think that you've heard every story that person has to tell, and you know their opinion on everything.
How bad did it get?
Well, let me say this: back when the waterboarding thing was crazy and in the news I saw a Discovery Channel thing about the CIA. They asked this former operative about interrogations and he talked about sticking people in a very confined space, fucking with their schedule, and disrupting the normalcy of their lives. They don't know when they're gonna sleep or eat and they're blasting low rumbling sounds at them all the time. So I was like, "Fuck, that dude just described being in a band!" (Laughs) Well, the shitty part of it, anyway. The fun part is getting to meet people and getting to play music.
So I think with the band we just got to the point where it felt like it was a time where we weren't getting along and we needed to kind of figure things out. Everyone was moving in different directions and needing different things out of the band. And we felt like we'd had a better run than we should have.
Was it fun reviving the band full-time in 2010?
It was kind of like finally getting a date with the hot girl in high school that you always wanted to have a date with. Or the girl that you did one time, and it was awesome, and you wish you could've kept hanging out? Getting to revisit the band was kind of like that. Or maybe like sex with that same girl on the refrigerated walk-in at the 20-year high school reunion in the [basement] of a Sheraton. You know what I'm talking about, right?
If only we did. It wasn't a pure hiatus, since y'all did a few shows--like the Touch and Go Records 25th anniversary in 2006.
Yeah, that was two shows we did for Corey [Rusk] at the Touch and Go festival. And if literally somebody said, "Hey, can I stick an ice pick in your eye for Corey from Touch and Go?" we would've been like, "Yeah, just do it quick and get it over with." We played those two shows for Corey with no intention of doing any more, just because we were huge fans of Big Black and the Butthole Surfers and The Meatmen and all the early punk rock stuff on Touch and Go, and to get to be part of that label...
I mean, honestly, you asked what was a defining moment for the band...I think getting to be part of the Touch and Go family was one of the biggest thing of my life outside of the band. That was kind of like being a Dodgers fan and getting to grow up and play in the major leagues for the Dodgers.
On Man or Astro-Man's last two albums before the hiatus (1999's EEVIAC and 2000's A Spectrum of Infinite Scale), your sound diverged from the early years. Less surf rock and more electronic samples and Shellac-style power chords.
I think EEVIAC's kind of a shitty record, honestly.
Yeah. I think it's like a band trying to figure out what the fuck to do. Like, it's partly really surfy and trying to keep a foot in the old stuff, and [also] trying to completely redefine the band. But that last record we did [Spectrum] is actually kind of cool, with the second lineup. I mean, it's kind of like more proggy and heavy and weird and experimental, and it wasn't that accepted, but there are some weird cult people, a little more musician-y people, that are into the Shellac/Six Finger Satellite/Trans Am kind of world, that really like that record.
And I think that record's good, but EEVIAC, the first one we did with the second lineup is just like... I don't know, but I can't listen to it. It's one of the ones that I've listened to least--or I don't listen to. There's some good songs on there, or some songs that people like. Whatever. I don't think it sounds that good. I'm sorry to rip our band a new asshole [laughs].
Tell us how you really feel. In all fairness,y'all were trying to make a departure from being completely surf and sci-fi and more into electronic and noise?
I don't know. I used to write for a fanzine called Chunklet for a really long time, and I reviewed one of our records and really slammed it. I should do that for all the Man or Astro-man? records. Because here's the thing: I can give way more scathing reviews of our record than anybody at any fucking Pitchfork-type [blog], because I know what went on. I could say, "Brian, who was Star Crunch, was hanging out at the lake, and he showed up late, and we had to do that guitar track in 30 minutes, and it didn't come out as good as we wanted it."
See? I could totally destroy it because I have all the insider info. So maybe I should do that.
[Laughs] Your response was great. "Riiiight."
So do you disavow EEVIAC or even Spectrum?
No, not at all. I'm really proud of that last record. I think we had to get through EEVIAC to do that. And honestly, when we were drawing the biggest crowds -- like we did two nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco on that tour -- after we parted ways with Star Crunch [in 1998], there was kind of this motivational vengeance of "we're really gonna do it." And we had a great stage show for that; I just wish we had made a better record. God! This is me basically telling people not to come to our show, right?
I doubt it, since you've got a significant following here.
No, I'm joking. I can just be über-honest sometimes.
Especially with your own material.
Yeah, yeah. On the positive side, what I think is good about the band now, and I think The Jesus Lizard was this way when I saw them play in a real similar way, there's no way that our band is going to have the same appeal and energy as a bunch of 19-year-old kids from Alabama jumping off speakers for an hour.
But at the same time, we still are connected to what we did, and we're still a high-energy band. And I think if we're different, we're different in a good way... What our band may lack in that realm of having insanely youthful appeal and a "What the fuck?" thing going on, we're kind of a heavier, more intense band now.
So much with Man or Astro-Man? and having so much of the sci-fi world and such a mythos, a lot of times it's like Fugazi and politics. We spend a lot time talking about everything but just being a band. And at the end of the day, the main thing that we're trying to do is just be a tight little rock 'n' roll band, and I think we achieve that the majority of the time. That's the thing I'm most proud of about our band.
Do you still have the sci-fi stage shtick?
Yeah, the new stage show's really cool too. We have this guy named Nick Gould who goes out on the road with us and he does all the visuals for of Montreal and Yeasayer. And it's a multiple-screen projection and lighting rig setup where we have a lot of the visuals from the record that kind of come to life with all this artwork and animation. So yeah, we still pull out all the stops to put on a show. We still consider ourselves probably more entertainers than artists, to a large degree.
The new album, Defcon 5...4...3...2...1, seems like a good balance between the old and new Man or Astro-Man? Was that intentional?
People have been really positive about the new record, but they're like, "Man, it's kind of a departure." And, really, if you go back and listen to the last two records when Star Crunch was in the band, which were 1000x and Made from Technetium, its kind of a progression of that, where there's a little more vocals, it's a little heavier, it's a little weirder, and the guitars are kind of in an alternative tuning...things like that. It's been a steady progression for the band, and you want to have a record after such a hiatus to sound like your band, and not completely try to alienate the people that have supported you for so long. But at the same time you're not the same musician; you're not in the same head-space.
Since you're apparently Man or Astro-Man's harshest critic, what's your take?
I think it came out well. I think it was really well-recorded by the people involved, Steve Albini and this guy Daniel Farris. They did an amazing job and as somebody that's an audio guy myself, just having [an album] being recorded really well is halfway to having it being remembered and documented in a way that I can be satisfied with. Because you make so many records over the years, like we did so many, that some you like better than others. And there's always some records you do and don't want to listen to, and I think this will be a record that I'll revisit for sure.
Is Steve Albini still as, um...colorful and outspoken as ever?
You know, he still is. Maybe more so. None of us have changed at all when it comes to recording. Like, when we get in the studio together, we all have the same dynamic we did in 1995. The same dumb jokes. The same pedantic banter between us. The same small, personal jabs that are kind of half-stupid. Fun.
It's just awesome recording with Steve, if nothing else for the stories and the fun of it. And getting to go up there to [Albini's studio Electrical Audio] was really a class reunion. I came out with nothing but the highest respect for Steve. He's just good at what he does and I'm glad we chose him to do the majority of the records.
Man or Astro-Man? is scheduled to perform on Thursday at Crescent Ballroom during the second night of Du Hot Club De Bizarre. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $23.
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