Many small time bands have aspirations of reaching the mainstream. Each band goes about it in different ways.
The Phenomenauts, a punk/rockabilly band from the Oakland area, has their own unique methods which mostly involve breaking their way into venues in a ‘commando performance,’ (notable venues include the California Music Awards and the Warp Tour). The band is best described by Captain Creehos, ‘you know ‘Doctor’s Without Borders,’ well we’re ‘Band’s Without Genres.”
Traveling on a tour through Southern California in their space age Phenoma-Bomber, The New University was able to sit down after a set at the The Knitting Factory in Hollywood.
New University: How did the band start and where did the Phenomenauts originate?
Commander Angel: A few of us, myself (Angel), Joebot and the drummer Jimmy, were all unemployed so we figured we could make money on the street and not have to get jobs … It was a success except for it wasn’t a monetary success. We’d get a huge crowd and they’d applaud, and give a dollar … We decided we’d record the songs because we put so much work into them. We recorded them … So we made some real songs. Then we called up Chris to come play bass because it was just a three-piece and he came in. We picked up Professor Craig.
New U.: How did the Phenomenauts pick the space and astronaut theme?
Angel: I had a sixty dollar car; I figured I could glue a bunch of crap on it and make it look like a space ship.
Commander Joe Bot: I remember you told me you wanted to do something different. We were already doing something different, 80s songs and crazy jump suits.
Angel: Everyone would look at the car when I drive it around, so I figured if I put a band name on there we’d get a ton of publicity. Also I’m a big advocate of mankind exploring the universe and quit being so stupid, Phenomenauts don’t believe in race religion or borders, that’s old world crap.
New U.: How did your live show come to incorporate all the effects?
Joe: As far as our live show is concerned, we had this guy, Emilio, who was living at the Command Center at the time. He works for a fire extinguisher company…at one our early shows he spray CO2. We were already in costume so it looked really cool.
Angel: We decided to put as many crazy effects as we could. We wanted to make a really entertaining show, have a good show, and maybe learn a little about science even though they just happened to…
Joe: The toilet paper gun, the Toilet Paperator, we brainstorm new ideas. We continue to do this to this day, what could be an entertaining thing that we could add to the show.
New U.: And how did the Commando Performances begin?
Angel: We decided to go to the Warp Tour, we were just gonna play outside. And we start setting, but the officials come out and say no way…We saw where all the other bands were going in, and we just went in with the other bands. As we were walking around, the security guards who kicked us out saw us, which is pretty impressive across the warp tour. We hustled out and hid behind these dumpsters for about half an hour. Between the two bands changeover we set up and start playing, until a guy taps my shoulder and says the other band didn’t show up and we’re like ‘Ladies and Gentlemen we’ve been upgraded to a stage!’
Joe: Moral of the story, a well placed dumpster does wonders for a band’s success.
Angel: The next year we decided to do that across the United States, but the next year they asked us to come [to the Warp Tour].
New U.: What about the future of Phenomenauts and the Command Performances?
Angel: I would love to never do a Commando Show again because they’re so unnerving, but I imagine we always will.