PICTURED: Catch the Phenomenauts at Rock City Studios on Nov. 22 and Harley’s Valley Bowl on Nov. 23.
Commander Angel Nova and Leftenent AR7, vocalists and guitarists for the Oakland-based punk band The Phenomenauts, live, breathe and thrive on science and the wild world it inspires. From humble beginnings in a decked-out $60 beat-up car decorated to resemble a space ship to drawing the attention of famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the Phenomenauts have carved out a unique niche for themselves in this space we all share.
Angel and AR7, along with fellow space travelers Major Jimmy Boom (drums), Lunar Captain Ripley-Clipse (synth/keys) and Chief Engineer Atom Bomb (bass), will perform at Rock City Studios in Camarillo on Friday, Nov. 22 and at the 10th Annual Nardcore Turkey Toilet Bowl in Simi Valley on Saturday, Nov. 23.
Nova and AR7 spoke with the VCReporter from their Command Center in Oakland.
VCReporter: Where did the Phenomenauts begin their journey?
Nova: I had to pick up a friend at the airport, so I bought a car for about $60 and it ran great but it looked terrible, so I glued a bunch of stuff on it and it looked like a space ship. When I started getting attention, I thought, “If I had a band, I could use this as a billboard.” So we formed a space-themed band. We were really into science, so it’s funny how it kind of started with the car.
AR7: Has the car been officially retired?
Angel: The car has been retired in the last couple of weeks.
How did you all meet?
Nova: Myself and Jimmy Boom are the only original members and then everyone else, we met Atom, he was playing with a different band at the time…
AR7: Well, you built me.
Angel: Of course.
AR7: Because I’m a robot. I was built in 2008.
How did your friends react to the concept?
Nova: They were excited about it. We actually started playing on the street and called it Space Patrol, the original name of the band. We were doing interesting covers of new wave songs or ’80s stuff. We did a Billy Idol song that was kind of polka. That was kind of how it started. We were so happy with how we had rearranged all the songs that we wanted to record it; we didn’t want to lose it. In the process of recording it we decided to become a real band and not just a street-performer band in the amazing year 2000.
You guys followed Warped Tour around, have played pop-up shows out of nowhere. You have a guerrilla way of marketing music. What has been your favorite outside-the-box performance?
AR7: We were in Germany and a guy who we kind of knew tangentially had this tiny bar and when I say tiny, maybe you can fit 30 people in if they can fit in, maybe 20. He asked if we wanted to play so we played. We squeezed in to one side of the bar and Jimmy Boom just mounted his snare drum on top of the kick drum and had the hi-hat on the inside of the bar and the rest on the outside of the bar. We put our keyboard on top of the bar and stood in a row, the five of us, and played. Angel got on top of the bar and walked around. It was a full show with 20 people there and us.
Nova: One of the funnier moments was, I was standing on the bar and I saw a tip jar and out of appreciation for the guy putting on the show I dropped a tip into the jar and everyone started laughing. I found out later it was written in German “tips for the band.”
How does the sound fit into this punk-spacey, rock ’n’ roll theme?
AR7: There’s been sci-fi references in rock and roll since the beginning. Some of our big influences like David Bowie and Devo and artists like that have science fiction and science at their core.
Nova: There’s a hopefulness in it, too. If you’re imagining a spacey future, you’re imagining humanity didn’t kill itself. Imagining what can be and what could be is a hopefulness. It’s such an important time to promote science, which is under represented, especially in this country’s politics right now.
AR7: One of our big focuses is on science and promoting science. Our motto is “science and honor.” We’ve done a lot of events and shows in the past that are actually related to science and sci-fi and have played at science museums, the March for Science, World Skeptic’s Day, etc.
I saw that you released “I’m with Neil” and in support of NPR’s Science Friday. Why is promoting science important for you?
Nova: Science is just the search for truth. There’s no agenda. If the science is wrong, science wants to know it’s wrong. It’s so important that people think scientifically and don’t just believe whatever, especially now with all the nonsense like Trump just lies constantly, now that there’s no shame in politics — in the U.S. at least. You need to find out what’s true and what’s not and science is the best way to find out what’s true and what’s not.
How should someone prepare for your show?
Nova: Dress spacey. Be ready to have fun. It’s really fun to participate, there’s a lot of singalong stuff.
AR7: There’s a lot of crowd participation. We have a modified leaf blower that blows rolls of toilet paper on to the audience. It’s called the Streamerator 3000. You’re going to have an amazing time if you participate with everybody.
The Phenomenauts will perform on Friday, Nov. 22, 7-11 p.m. at Rock City Studios, 2258 Pickwick Drive, Camarillo. $12-15. For more information, call 805-383-3555 or visit www.rockcitystudios.net. The band will also perform at the Nardcore Turkey Toilet Bowl on Friday, Nov. 23, at Harley’s Valley Bowl, 5255 Cochran St., Simi Valley. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/nardturkeybowl/.