Of course, it's more likely that Man or Astro-Man? are exactly what they appear to be: geeky sci-fi junkies playing a highly experimental brand of instrumental surf rock and touring the country endlessly. Evidence to the contrary isn't exactly plentiful, and the band's explanations of their curious plight aren't always convincing. But the beauty of their deception is that they will freely acknowledge that it's all a hoax, and do so in a rather manipulative manner. And in a weird way, that only makes them seem more like some freaky breed of alien.
On their seventh release, Made from Technetium, Man or Astro-Man? revel in their interplanetary obsessions with typical vigor. From the computerized voice introduction and laser synthesizers to the '50s science-fiction movie samples, the members of the band obviously are in full control of their own spacy reality. Even so, why do space men want to play rock and roll?
Band spokesman Birdstuff beams in a response: "Being in any form of technology that is bringing yesterday's technology into tomorrow, you must function within a greater pop culture. Rock and roll seemed like a very appropriate vehicle [in which] to travel around the planet looking for pieces for our ship."
Be it fantasy or reality, Birdstuff's response binds Man or Astro-Man?'s very essence. This is a band that is serious about its hokiness. On stage, the members wear space suits; their CD artwork is full of Cold War-style sci-fi images; song titles reference space travel; and their stage show includes dozens of television sets, a tesla coil, film projectors, plastic tubing and a Jacob's Ladder (that electricity-shooting contraption seen in mad scientists' laboratories in old horror movies).
It's not as if there are no clues that Man or Astro-Man?'s claims of otherworldliness might have basis in truth. First off, what reasonably sane Earthlings would actually call themselves Birdstuff, Coco the Electronic, Star Crunch and Dexter X? Second, there's Birdstuff's heightened sense of awareness -- ESP, perhaps?
"Ever since you called here tonight, I've had strange premonitions in my head that something bad was going to happen to me," Birdstuff says. "You've kind of scared me a little bit. I just have a queasiness that I haven't had in some time."
The cause for his uneasiness? I discover later that we share a mutual friend to whom we both owe money. That person called me soon after this interview. Coincidence? I think not.
Man or Astro-Man? have made various scouting trips to the Johnson Space Center, where they were entertained by an 11-year-old boy's antics in a zero-gravity simulator. When one of the parts broke, Birdstuff says, the boy had "one of the most genuine looks of fear I'd seen on anyone's face. That was worth the admission charge." (Only an extraterrestrial could find pleasure in a child's fear.)
When pressed about the apparent failure to rebuild their ship and do away with Earth, Birdstuff admits that things aren't going well. "Coco's been leading us around trying to find parts of our ship, and we haven't found anything," he says. "I hate to sound pessimistic, but I don't think we're doing much of anything, much less destroying an entire planet. It's kind of sad. Coco's about to be replaced, I'm afraid."
That leads Birdstuff to sidetrack into the future of the band -- an odd tangent, at that. "The current plan is to forget the plan of finding the parts of the ship, and we're just going to move to Fort Lauderdale and get really buff and wear neon clothes," he says. "I think we're going to cancel the tour, work our way up to Beach MTV, maybe get a slot opening for Sugar Ray."
It becomes resoundingly clear that part of the band's modus operandi involves trying to undermine its own credibility. Heaping support on that theory, Birdstuff reports that he wants to put out a solo yodeling record -- or that, maybe, he's simply losing his mind.
"You're talking to a very disillusioned space-man at this point. I know you're going to think I'm fucking insane, but I'm starting to think that I'm not from outer space, that I was just this geeky guy who listened to music and watched sci-fi all the time," Birdstuff confesses in a rush. "[I] just had no friends and found three other stupid guys to start a band and wear goofy clothes with."
One thing that's certain to come from Man or Astro-Man? is heaps more recorded output. So far, the group has 25 singles and two EPs, in addition to the seven full-length CDs. And less than a month after Made from Technetium's release, the group was back in the studio again.
"If you can't go for quality, you've got to go for quantity," laughs Birdstuff. "If we can't make a really valid attempt at being artistic, then let's just make a bunch of stupid fucking kind of retrofitted surf music and throw some samples on it and maybe people will be stupid enough to buy it."
Man or Astro-Man? performs Wednesday, October 15, at Westpark Entertainment Center, 5000 Westpark. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8. Delta 72 opens. For info, call (281) 933-4636.