It was 20 odd orbits around the sun ago that four college students from Alabama crash-landed into the indie rock music scene, notably during the peak of its plundering. The year was 1992, and Seattle had become the rock world’s cash cow. Yet, flying under the fuzzed-out frequencies and radio-frills grunge from the Northwest — all the way in what might as well be another planet: Auburn University — was Man or Astro-Man?
The group were a whimsical, high-energy foursome, counter to the usual mopey air that was rock’s then attitude of the month. They were tight musically, as opposed to, well, intentionally off-key or purposefully desirous of shitty production value. And they played surf-rock, albeit a noisier brand of it with marked punk influences, sci-fi themes, and amusing, impressive experimental flourishes emitted from various machines, whether intended to be used musically or not.
Despite these handicaps, geographic, tempermental, and otherwise, the group garnered a ton of respect and a rabid following for its technical wizardry — drummer Brian Teasley, bassist Robert Del Bueno, and guitarist Brian Causey are all hailed as masters of their respective instruments — and for a radical Devo-esque stage presence. (Shows included the famous Tesla Coil, an electrical device that shoots lightning and makes for, according to Teasley, surprisingly easy packing.)
Their touring schedule (during college we might add) was just as epic. From 1992 to their hiatus in 2001 they played over 1,500 shows in 49 states and 31 countries — 500 of those just from the end of 1994 to the end of ’96. To offer a comparison, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame states the Ramones played 2,263 in 22 years, which, also according to the Hall, is comparable to the Grateful Dead’s schedule.
Next consider all the gear the band schlepped along: stacks of old TVs, satellite dishes, old computers and printers, inflatable rockets, assorted lights, various tubes, and of course the Coil. And all this doesn’t include the recording of eight albums, two EPs, one live release, six BBC Peel Sessions, and dozens of singles and songs on compilation albums (some of which were put together to form three separate compilations of their own). It’s the stuff of exhaustion.
Friday marks their first time in South Florida in over 15 years — though a set of clones described as “an experiment in Rock n Roll franchising” in the vein of Stomp or the Blue Man Group came in ’98 – as part of a three-date Florida tour that hit Orlando yesterday, hits Miami’s Churchill’s Pub tonight, and Jacksonville tomorrow. It also marks the first time we’ll see an Astro-woman in the official line-up with Avona Nova stepping in as the new rhythm guitarist.
Salty Eggs caught up with Brian Teasley via telephone in his hometown of Birmingham, where he was handling some construction work at the Bottletree Cafe venue and restaurant that he co-owns with his artist wife and brother-in-law chef. As you would expect of any Alabamian, he is exceedingly polite and kind-hearted. He’s even been known to give away his drum kit.
You were just in Chicago at West Fest? How was that?
We were kind of compacted for time because we played the festival at 7 [p.m.] and then we had a club show at 10:30. So we were just hauling ass to get everything done. But it worked and it was a good consolidation of time.
Were the shows at least near each other?
They weren’t too far away, so it was lucky logistically speaking. And the festival had some backline gear so at least it wasn’t like we had to take everything back and forth. But we didn’t get to see any other bands or hang out with anybody.
Does the Tesla Coil pack up quickly or does that take awhile?
It actually breaks down and packs up quickly. It’s just heavy as hell, that’s the main thing.
I liked Birmingham a lot more than I expected I would when I saw MOAM play at the Bottletree in 2010.
I mean there’s a strange dichotomy and duality of Birmingham where it’s a big city, there’s almost a million people here. But it’s like, if this makes sense or is clear to understand in any sort of way, it’s got the best stuff of big cities and the best stuff of small cities, but it’s also got kind of the worst of big cities and the worst of small cities.
Strong Reaction Booking contacted you in April about playing Miami, and the contracts were signed and the other cities booked in May. Do tours usually come together that fast?
We’ve been meaning to come down to Florida, because we always had fun down there. But at most, we can get out a week or two at a time. So there’s no way to hit the Midwest or east coast and get it all the way down to Miami or whatnot. So we just decided to put it together in a weekend. We used to play in Florida all the time. In the ’90s we’d go down there. We’d do like seven or eight shows in a row sometimes, which almost nobody does now I don’t think.
Wow. I don’t even think Florida-based bands do that. And it’s lucky if touring bands make it south of Atlanta, much less Orlando. But what brings you down here in the middle of summer?
We try to plan and make touring decisions based on unsound principles of weather. We go to the hottest places when it’s really hot, and we go to coldest places, where there are blizzards, in the middle of winter. We’ve always done that because we’re stupid. And we never think about it. So we probably should have come to Florida in January or February, but you know we’re there now. I mean we will be there soon. And we’ll just enjoy the heat. There’s tons of toxins we’ve been building up over the years that need to be sweat out. So it’ll be good.
The whole idea is just to travel and have fun. And meet people that have a shared collective consciousness, as far as having fun with music, and what good music is.
Well you guys are from a different planet so you’re not used to the weather patterns.
Not a different planet, but in Astro terms.
Other than the Tesla Coil, what cool toys can we expect at the Florida shows?
The dot matrix printer, and the theremin, and all Coco’s homemade apparatuses for sure.
Do you have any travels planned next?
We just did a tour of South America. I think we’re going to go to Europe in the fall. And then when we have a new record out, we’re going to do some touring around that. But nothing like we used to. We used to tour 200 plus days a year sometimes. So nothing like that. I don’t think we’re up for it.
I imagine few are.
[Laughs] Not to do it year after year. It definitely will make you bat-shit crazy.
Was that the thinking behind the clone tours? To have someone else do it?
It was more than anything, a thing where I think in a lot of ways the whole impetus and inception of Man or Astro-man? is bands — any band, every band — drives around in a van for eight hours a day, or however long, and people come up with silly ideas, people come up with wacky ideas and most bands don’t follow through with those wacky ideas because they’re either stupid or ridiculous or very hard to put together for a variety of reasons and we were always the people that followed through with our ridiculous ideas.
I think it was probably something that we had had along the lines of being in a band for way too long and being like we should franchise and be the rock and roll band version of Kentucky Fried Chicken! And sometimes those type of things are almost like bar bet dares to see if we could actually do it. And, so yeah, we did it. [laughs]
I was on some of it. I was out with the Gamma clones, which was the all-girl version of the band. And it was fun. It was fun going out and kind of seeing my own band but just selling T-shirts at the same time. [laughs]
It was definitely interesting.
Did anyone else from the band go with the male clones or were they on their own?
I think Coco went out with the Alpha [male] clones … for awhile. You know, I did too. I did a West Coast with them. Because strangely their drummer, like I forget even what happened it’s been so long, but he broke his hand and I had to play the last two shows with them. Which was a bizarre curveball for everyone involved. And it was interesting for me because they played the songs a little differently, like anybody putting their own inflection on anything. It was like I know this, but you guys are doing it weird. It was interesting to be … it was definitely an alternate reality type experience for sure. Just playing with the band who’s not your band.
And the band formed just after high school right? You were all like 18 or 19?
Yeah, like the summer in between high school and college. That’s when we first started getting it together.
It’s strange to think. Because it definitely doesn’t seem as long ago as it is. But it’s funny the way people’s minds get clouded. I mean we actually started like in ’91, I think, or something, and people come up to us all the time and say, “Man I saw you guys in the late ’80s.” And it’s like, wow that was two or three years before we were even a band! But yeah it’s been interesting just the whole clouded nostalgia of time.
Just out of curiosity, but what’s your opinion on DJs?
I think it’s, oh gosh, I don’t really have a hard line. I’m not one of those people that are like they’re ruining music! Or people should listen to live music! I don’t really have that whole kind of stance. But in a way whenever we have DJs or even hip hop guys you see how streamlined and efficient and awesome it is for the logisitics of it. Guys show up an hour before they play with two turntables or something, and then that being one person rather than a whole band. People that are super pro live music can dis on it a lot but those guys that are successful at it definitely have it figured out. [laughs]
I don’t fault people for trying to have the ease of a setup. But that said personally, I’m not the kind of guy, I don’t go see DJs or I don’t go dance at dance clubs. I’m more just making a comment on being in a band: you haul tons of heavy gear around and you drive all over the place, then you have tons of people involved with the process and other bandmates and all this kind of stuff. I’m more just trying to make a comical side about those guys are actually the smart ones.
Ha, based on your Chunklet persona I didn’t expect a self-deprecating answer to that question.
Ohh yeah, no I mean there’s definitely everything that we do or did with all the Chunklet stuff. There’s comedy involved in that. So you get this exaggerated, hyperbolic version of who you are with either writing or on a film or DVD. So ya I’m generally a pretty sweet guy I have to say. [laughs]
Yeah I’d have to say so. I remember after the Touch and Go Fest show you gave away your drum kit.
Yeah, yeah well it seemed more appropriate that the audience have it then I did, since you know … Just kind of, I don’t know. I don’t know why I did that. [laughs]
That wasn’t planned it was just something you felt like doing?
No, no. It definitely, definitely was not planned. I 100 percent guarantee it wasn’t planned whatsoever.
Did you ever get any of the parts back? Did anybody give them back to you? Or did everyone just take it home with them?
I had somebody try to give me back my floor tom or the rack tom or something like that. But I wouldn’t have given it away if I didn’t want people to have it.
It was funny seeing people putting these drum parts in the back of a taxi cab trunk when they were leaving.
Yeah, yeah I saw some photos somebody sent of a guy at the airport with the kick drum or something.
Oh actually I saw that guy! He was at the show for a while. He said he knew you guys. Like he used to be your roadie or something cause he was just standing around with it.
I actually have a picture of him cause there was this kid sitting next to him, and I thought the kid was with him, but he wasn’t. It was just this random kid in the middle of the festival drawing the Star Trek Enterprise on a page torn out of his composition book.
Yeah, I have that picture somewhere. It’s pretty funny.
[Laughs] Oh the memories.
Man or Astro-Man? With the Ultras S/C, the Instant Whips, and Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers. Friday, July 20. Churchill’s Pub, 5501 N.E. Second Ave., Miami. Show starts at 8:30 p.m., tickets cost $15. For more information, click here.