MusicMusic Features

Athens Popfest Preview: Man or Astro-man Keeps the Current Flowing

For about a quarter of a century, Man or Astro-man has regularly beamed down from the cosmos to deliver super-bitchin’ surf-punk performances in seedy nightclubs all over the world. Band spokesman Brian Teasley, aka Birdstuff, recalls it all as a blur of memories, but a specific sort sticks out: countless backstage dressing rooms with one or more graffiti penises on the wall.

“There’s always at least one, no matter what backstage you go into,” he says. “It’s almost impossible to be backstage in a club in America—or anywhere in the world—and not find a dick on the wall.”

Such a profound observation isn’t surprising coming from Teasley, who has a background as a comedy writer and music journalist in addition to playing drums for Man or Astro-man. He also appeared as a drummer on St. Vincent’s debut album, Marry Me, and a host of other side projects. Now he’s the owner-operator of Saturn, a music venue in Birmingham, AL.

He has time for that because, these days, Astro-man invades concert spaces only on worthy occasions. So, it’s fair to expect a brain-frying performance from the band’s Popfest performance.

In addition to using theremins and bizarrely modified guitars to create a range of otherworldly noises, the group often performs in space suits and and brings a Tesla coil on stage. Impressively, after playing in proximity to the coil’s static crackles, bursts and pops for about 20 years, Teasley has been shocked by the machine only once.

“It hit me in Atlanta this winter,” he says. “There’s a video of it. I have a drum on my head, and it hits the drum and basically runs through my body. I was like, ‘Man, maybe our reflexes are getting slow in our old age,’ because I went a long time without being struck by lightning that we created.”

A drum on his head? That’s right: Astro-man has a long history of acting funny. In fact, frontman Brian Causey wrote and recorded the theme song for the TV series “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” and the band has longstanding ties to the creators of the comedy series “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Unsurprisingly, the group’s vast catalog is as goofy as it is rocking.

“We started around the time that alternative rock was just entering the fray, and people were taking themselves way too seriously, in kind of a Pearl Jam-y kind of way, I guess,” Teasley says. “In a lot of ways, we were more influenced by the things we hate than the things we like. We knew we didn’t want to be current, modern, vogue, serious, respected or high-minded. We just wanted to have fun and take the piss out of people a little bit.”  

Even so, the band used to rank among the hardest-working in the music business, recording something like 20 albums, EPs and B-side collections between 1993–2001, on top of playing up to 300 shows a year.

“We probably toured more than any band in the ’90s, and we played more shows in more countries than our brains could handle,” Teasley says. “Now, we’re getting back to the concept of being a high-school garage band, where we just do it for fun. It lets all of the pressure off, to not have deadlines and depend on [music] to make a living. You wish for that to happen when you’re young, and then it happens, and your music career becomes kind of a job.

“We’re getting closer to Square One the longer we go on,” he sums up. “It’s kind of like the rock and roll version of Benjamin Button.”