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Third Man Records: Your Turntable is not dead!
Third Man Records

Man or Astroman?

Man or Astroman?

There's some undeniable connection between the South and occurrences of extra-terrestrial form. From other worldly jazz guru, Sun Ra, to German Rocket Scientist, Wernher von Braun, Alabama has always had more than an ample share of connections to outer space. Such is the case with Man or Astro-Man?, arriving/crash landing (whatever you wish to call it) in a small college town in Alabama some years ago. Realizing that in order to integrate into human society, they would have to downplay their true identities and take on aliases, most conveniently in the form as students. Studying industrial design and film, the group began formulating a mode in which to learn more about their new earthly environment. They soon became attracted to pop culture, they decided that the cliche of a being a rock band would provide a perfect vehicle in which to traverse the globe and further their research. Full integration into Earth society would thus commence for what was soon to become known to the world as Man or Astro-Man?

Rediscovering records long stashed away in parents' attics or hidden behind racks of old magazines at dilapidated thrift stores in Alabama, the entities of Man or Astro-Man? became enamored with the scratched up sounds of Link Wray, The Ventures, Dick Dale, Duane Eddy, The Marketts, The Safaris, and other instrumental guitar oriented music of the late fifties and early sixties. For them, instrumental music provided a great escape from the sappy, pretentious lyrical drivel emanating from the, then newly christened, "alternative" FM radio. At the same time, offbeat stage set ups and designs by Kraftwerk, The Spotniks, The Residents, Devo, Sun Ra, and Captain Beefheart had a great impact on the rapidly developing troupe.

It was however, a forced existence in a hopelessly conservative town that led Man or Astro-Man? to be foremost influenced by what they hated instead of what actually appealed to them. In all earnestness, you could say Man or Astro-Man? was far more influenced by college football and muscle-bound fraternity loons than science fiction. The band propelled itself, especially in the live setting, to be as ridiculous as possible, mocking serious "alternative" acts and, along with them, the music industry itself. On a potential early signing opportunity by Island Records, Man or Astro-Man? told the label they would sign only if they agreed to get rid of the Traffic back catalogue and lose the "palm tree" logo.

Around this embryonic time, Man or Astro-Man? became friends with like-minded noisemakers such as: Shadowy Men on A Shadowy Planet, The Mummies, The Phantom Surfers, and The Mono Men. The band also played innumerable shows in the Southeast with a scene of bands that included Southern Culture on the Skids, The Woggles, Hillbilly Frankenstein, The Subsonics, and The Flat Duo Jets. Developing around the liberating resurgence of surf and garage music, the band soon caught the attention of Estrus record mogul, Dave Crider. He was taken aback by their eighteen and nineteen year old caffeine-induced energy and punkish take on instrumental surf music. Crider released the band's debut full-length simply entitled, "is it...Man or Astro-Man?" (1993). The Estrus Records ideals that revolved around the art and packaging concepts of designer, Art Chantry, fit exactly in place with the Man or Astro-Man? modus operandi. "Destroy All Astro-Men" (1994) and Project Infinity (1995), as well as numerous EP's were all released by Estrus.

Due to licensing difficulties through Estrus in Europe, the band contemplated working with a new label where their records could come out simultaneously worldwide. From their recent shows with the Jesus Lizard, Tar, and The Mekons, and recording with Steve Albini, the band was alerted that Touch and Go was an extremely artist-friendly label and could be a good home for future releases. Never having met a major label a&r person who wasn't a slime-bag, and opting not to be MTV's novelty band of the week, the band decided that Touch and Go would indeed be the best possible label on which to release all future albums.

Experiment Zero (1996) was their debut Touch and Go album. Recorded in just three days at Man or Astro-Man?'s own Zero Return studio in Alabama with Steve Albini, it stands as one of the great modern instrumental guitar records. Wanting Experiment Zero to stand as the completion in the long evolution of the surf-based music which had originally inspired them, the band began to evolve at a greater velocity than ever before. They further morphed, extending their use of samples, computer programming, homemade instruments, electronic gadgetry, tape splicing, and other bits of random archaic technology. Both the 1000X EP (1997) and Made From Technetium (1997) were darker steps into futuristic soundtrack music and a move away from of the their old aesthetics. While critically acclaimed, long-time fans had a lot of adjusting to do. Man or Astro-Man? continuously reinvented its music and the live performance even through a line-up change that would produce EEVIAC (1999) and A Spectrum of Infinte Scale (2000).

Over their constant global journeys, Man or Astro-Man? played in 28 countries and 49 states (everywhere except Delaware--this was done mostly out of spite, but also partially out of lack of demand). They did 8 sessions for the late John Peel. They were huge on South American MTV for one summer. They hit 2 deers with their van on various tours. One member once threatened another member by shaking a water bottle in their face. They played Columbus, Ohio at a place called Stache's 14 separate times. They only had their van broken into once, but the robber just stoled guitars from a short-lived member of the band. They were banned from college radio in Atlanta for 3 years after causing mild hysteria by announcing that a plane had crashed on I-85 during rush hour traffic. After not being able to agree on what music to play on the van stereo, they instituted a "headphones only" rule in 1996. They tried to get sued by NASA over a T-shirt design but were unsuccessful. The biggest crowd they played for was 40,000 at the Lowlands festival in the Netherlands and the smallest crowd was for 2 people at an in-store somewhere in Southern Australia. Fitness legend / Three's Company star Susanne Summers became a fan of their first record after meeting the band at a battered women's convention.

Third Man Releases

  • Man or Astroman? Live at Third Man Records
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