Interview with Leftenant AR7, Commander Angel Nova, Chief Engineer Atom Bomb, Professor Greg Arius, Major Jimmy Boom, Chaos Agent Ion
By Bill Jones
Photos by Chiara Corsaro
West Oakland’s The Phenomenauts have been performing a delightful blend of punk surf rockabilly ‘n’ roll, New Wave and pop known as “Rocket Roll” (maybe not-so-coincidentally) since the turn of the millennium with an unwavering dedication to science and honor, and a science-fiction-inspired live show that has to be seen.
And though the band still has a home with Springman/Silver Sprocket Records, its latest mission is a fundraiser campaign for a yet-to-be-named (by fan vote) upcoming album. We conducted a roundtable interview with Phenomenauts members Leftenant AR7, Commander Angel Nova, Chief Engineer Atom Bomb, Professor Greg Arius, Major Jimmy Boom and Chaos Agent Ion in March to discuss how things are going with the fundraiser, what fans can expect from the new album and, of course, what’s new in the world of science. We hope you space cadets enjoy it.
For the new album, you guys have elected to go the route of the fan-fundraiser this time. Why did you feel it was the right way to go for The Phenomenauts’ upcoming album?
AR7: The Phenomenauts have always been a DIY band, from the very beginning — although, this is more like DIT, as in Do-It-Themselves, since the fans are the ones paying.
Angel: It reflects our can-do attitude. Having a big label pay for everything for us was never The Phenomenauts’ style anyway. Plus — sour grapes. Those record label guys are jerks — no offense to our record label guy.
Atom: Nah. Screw ‘em! What’d he do for us anyway?
Greg: Um, he set up our whole fundraising site for us.
Atom: Oh, yeah — that guy.
Why did you decide to do it on your own, rather than the popular Kickstarter method?
Greg: Because we can.
Angel: Yeah, it’s not our first space rodeo.
Atom: It was just as easy to do it ourselves. Plus, we get all the money.
Angel: Yeah, it costs a lot of money to live the luxurious life of a moderately successful niche rock ’n’ roll band from West Oakland, Calif.
Are you happy with how the fundraiser is going so far?
Atom: No. [Everybody laughs]
Angel: We’re happy, but we’d be a whole lot happier if it was going a whole lot better.
Jimmy: We’re not as good at fundraising and its responsibilities as we are at writing and recording rock and roll songs.
Angel: Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should. [More laughter]
Where are you in the process? Are songs already written and just waiting to be recorded? When do you hope to have the album out?
Atom: Well, the website says we’re supposed to release the record in July, right?
Angel: The songs are 75 percent written, 25 percent awesome. You do the math.
AR7: It’s shaping up to be the best Phenomenauts full-length LP I’ve ever played on.
Ion: It’s the only Phenomenauts LP you’ve ever played on, stupid robot!
In terms of the music and lyrical content? What should fans expect?
Angel: Well we were thinking about having it be a big departure for the band, and making it all space and science related. [Laughs] I think, musically, it’s more diverse than anything we’ve ever recorded. It’s gonna have some huge, epic stuff on it, and some all-over-the-place eclectic songs. There’s one song called “Broken Robot Jerk” that’s the most complicated, crazy song we’ve ever written.
Atom: Thousands of lines of code have gone into our AR Unit in order to effectively play that one.
AR7: Yeah, that’s why I’m the only one who can play it. Also, lyrically I think it’s our most atheist album ever.
Is it ever difficult trying to keep things diverse when your focus is science and honor?
Atom: Diverse? What’s that?
Ion: Three of the song titles on this record are just puns on old Phenomenauts song titles.
AR7: So we’ve clearly run out of ideas.
You’ve got a very long list of possible album titles on the website, and fans can buy votes for $1 a pop. Are there any in particular for which you’re rooting?
Greg: The Eagles Greatest Hits. [Laughs]
Angel: We’ve all been paying a lot of money into it to make sure it’s not The Eagles Greatest Hits, but Greg’s got deep pockets. We sure hope the fans will help!
I see you guys are offering some laser tag- and bowling-with-the-band options. I always wonder if these meet and greets offered by bands turn out to be incredibly awkward. Are you worried at all about crazies coming out and buying these packages?
Angel: We’ll laser tag the hell out of any crazies that even try!
Ion: But we did let one of them join the band, so we got over that really quick.
AR7: Are you talking about yourself?
Ion: Yes. No. Yes.
Greg: Remember that time those nihilists came and burned up the Phenomenator?
Angel: Those men are cowards, Greg.
Greg: Why do houses burn down, but cars burn up?
What is interesting right now in the world of science?
Angel: Oh my science — they found a planet today! I only heard half the story on the radio, but they were saying it was in the Goldilocks Zone and that it might be habitable for human life!
Atom: Yeah, the discoveries in extra solar astronomy are constantly astounding. [Pushes up space goggles]
Professor Greg: I’m extremely intrigued by the possibilities of 3D printing biomatter — like meat and replacement organs.
Angel: Professor, print me up an F-bone steak! [Laughter] I’m also into DNA…
Atom: Sharing? [Laughs]
Greg: Transmission? [Laughs]
Angel: You guys are high-larious. No, scientists are talking about storing data in DNA. A half cup of DNA can apparently store 100 million Full HD movies.
Jimmy: Wow, really?
Angel: Yup. As long as it’s the same movie, and as long as that movie is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. [Laughter]
Ion: They found out that the ice sheets on Europa…
Angel: On my what?
Ion: … on Europa are leaking, and that it’s salt water underneath everything. Seems like that would be the best place for discovering life within our solar system.
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