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A Q&A with Oakland’s The Phenomenauts
Photos by Samantha Wilson
There is a place where the kids used to jump and jive, a planet full of hip cats and space cadets searching for a crazy night. The Phenomenauts, the Bay Area’s foremost space-themed rock band, must have taken a trip to this planet before settling at their command center in Oakland.
The Phenomenauts, consisting of Commander Angel Nova, Major Jimmy Boom, AR-7, Professor Greg and Nick Wayzar, travel the globe in the name of Science and Honor, spreading rockabilly vibes and stories of intergalactic battle to the masses.
City on a Hill Press recently sat down with The Phenomenauts’ lead vocalist and guitarist Commander Angel Nova before one of their show at Nickel City Arcade in San Jose to talk about life, space, The Aquabats, and just why “Earth is the Best.”
CHP: How were The Phenomenauts formed?
AN: Me, Jimmy Boom and Joebot 1.0 all were jobless musicians and we realized we could make money playing on the streets. So we got some white jumpsuits and karate helmets and played some 80’s covers – messed them all up, Blondie and Billy Idol polka style. We got big crowds and everyone liked it but we weren’t making any money. We were called Space Patrol back then.
CHP: I take it Space Patrol didn’t work out?
AN: We kept it up for about a week. After that my girlfriend and Jimmy’s girlfriend left us, and Joebot 1.0 was gay and single so he didn’t really have that problem. We just realized it wasn’t going to work. But all the songs we wrote were so cool that we wanted to record them. Figured we should form a real band.
CHP: How did you develop your signature “Rocket Roll” sound?
AN: We were into rockabilly, punk rock, new wave, garage rock. Took all of these things and slapped a space them on it. Rocket Roll.
CHP: Why space-themed?
AN: I bought a car for 60 dollars and it ran great, but didn’t look great. I noticed one night when I was watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 that in the back stuff was just glued on and painted the same color, and it just made it look spacey. So I thought, “Hey I could do that to my car.” I did it and it looked really cool. Everyone was driving around staring at the PhenomaBomber, and I realized if I had a band name on there it would be a moving billboard.
CHP: You recently added a few replacement members to the band to take over for Corporal Joebot and Captain Chreehos. How are things going?
AN: It’s great. We’re happy, they’re talented. AR-7 is our vocal/guitar robot and Nick Wayzar is the amazing bass player.
CHP: How did you come up with your titles?
AN: Honestly, we just decided on whatever sounded coolest with our names. I mean, Major Jimmy Boom just sounds fantastic.
CHP: And your motto is “Science and Honor.” Are you science nerds?
AN: Space is where it’s at. Science too. We believe in it wholeheartedly.
CHP: That’s right. You went on tour in the beginning of your careers with The Aquabats, and they’re all about science and magic. Seems fitting.
AN: [laughs] That is correct.
CHP: Is there any rivalry when you play with The Aquabats, considering there are so many similarities?
AN: Well we were surprised to see how much we had in common, they’ve got cadets and a Commander…kind of eerie.
CHP: How does one become a Phenomenauts cadet?
AN: You just have to want it badly enough. You know it’s the easiest and lowest level of ranking in our team. There’s also the Vector Squad street team, and even Vector Squad elite.
CHP: Well what am I supposed to do? I have dual cadet citizenship.
AN: They [The Aquabats] have way more cadets than we do, so I’ll just hope that you pick the right team.
CHP: Why do you consider Oakland to be the capital of the Earth?
AN: I don’t know. I didn’t make this planet. It’s just always been that way – and I’m glad though, makes things convenient for us.
CHP: Your shows are known for being effects heavy, full of lasers and all things intergalactic. Do you do your own effects?
AN: Oh yeah. We build them, we control them. We developed the Streamerator ourselves.
Note: The Streamerator 3000 is a giant ray gun, manned by Professor Greg, which shoots the audience with endless streams of toilet paper.
CHP: How did you manage that?
AN: We saw someone on Dave Letterman do it with paper towels and we thought, “We can do that.” The Professor built a second stage on it so you can fire 2 rolls at once, revolver style.
CHP: Who designs your costumes?
AN: You mean our uniforms? We designed these ourselves, and since then we’ve had some help, but the design is all ours. They’re just made better.
CHP: The band’s lair is dubbed the Command Center. It’s shrouded in mystery; I only know it’s somewhere in Oakland. Will you talk about it at all?
AN: Yeah, it’s in the Earth’s capital. We built it as our home. We have shows there sometimes – awesome shows. And yes, there is a hot tub under the stage. Steam and Chlorine babe. [laughs] I was showing it to Peelander Z earlier today. They seemed to enjoy it.
CHP: Is it true that there’s a Phenomenauts foosball table somewhere on the premises? Or have I been grossly misinformed?
AN: Oh no, it’s true. It’s The Phenomenauts versus the regular foosball guys. We’re trying to make them into robots or something, but who has the time? Maybe another band; Us against Teenage Harlots would be fun. [laughs] No! The Aquabats.
CHP: Screw the no-rivalry thing.
AN: Yeah, we should foosball fight The Aquabats.
CHP: Is there a specific reason why you choose to begin all of your shows with the song “The Year 2000?”
AN: It just goes well. We’ve been playing it forever, and really it’s all about the countdown in the beginning. Maybe someday we’ll change it.
CHP: I have no complaints about it. Are you working on a new album?
AN: Yes, and of course we’ll tour. I have about five songs pretty much still in my head, and AR-7 has about three up in that helmet. We still need to wreck ‘em before we record them.
CHP: So I noticed that the “For All Mankind” album folds up into a rocket ship.
CHP: I don’t have a question for that, I just think it’s awesome.
AN: [laughs] Captain Chreehos (former bass player) designed that.
CHP: I noticed that this isn’t the PhenomaBomber we’re sitting in. What exactly happened?
AN: The first one we blew up in a movie called Punk Rock Holocaust, and the second one just died.
CHP: Come to think of it, I was pretty sure I saw an ad for it on craigslist.
AN: Yeah, that would be it.
CHP: Any words of wisdom to leave us with, Commander?
AN: [laughs] No, I think the students of Santa Cruz got it covered.
CHP: Please play a show in Santa Cruz.
AN: For you, we will.