I owe a lot of people a lot of thanks for making this happen. First, the well-oiled machine at Hellcat Records, where both Nekromantix and Horrorpops are signed. Hellcat’s lightning-fast response times are nearly unheard of in my experience. I might send them a little thank-you in the mail. I’m super-impressed by their work ethic — not something you usually find at record labels.
I also owe a big thanks to my good friend and fellow J-kid Jayne Liu, who worked with me on ye olde Phenomenauts feature for [X]Press way back when. I chose her because, as I told her in my initial e-mail, she’s good with live shots, and can hold her own when working around the screaming, flailing, shin-kicking masses.
Thanks to all my sources for helping me out, hooking me up, and playing phone tag with me. Everyone I talked to was a really interesting person. Not a boring one among them. I wish I could write about them all separately. People are fascinating. I love meeting them.
And I don’t know who provided the adorable illustration, but thanks to him/her as well. (I’m sure most psychobilly kids would recoil at the word ‘adorable’, but LOOK AT THOSE HAPPY SMILING MONSTERS IN THE BACK. Cute as hell.)
I’m not going to copy and paste this story, because, well, it’s 3,000 words. So put on some comfy clothes and settle in with…
After a long break from writing due to some family trauma, I’ve returned with a small box in the back of the Metro this week. It was on the front page of Metroactive as of this morning. Not bad for 250 words.
THE Phenomenauts are gods among geeks these days, but it wasn’t always as such. Ten years ago, singer/guitarist Angel Nova, drummer Jimmy Boom and former ‘Naut Joebot 1.0 set up camp on Fisherman’s Wharf, busting out ’80s covers on accordions and ukuleles. “We thought we’d show up in costume, make a whole bunch of money, and go home rich and cool,” says Nova. Under the name Space Patrol, they hopped out of a van in white jumpsuits and attracted the attention of passersby. “A lot of people took pictures, but not a lot of people gave us money.”
They still don’t get paid much more than most local indie acts, but they’ve gained a few more fans since then. The Phenomenauts have come a long way since hustling tourists on the wharf. Not only is their name known far and wide across the Bay Area and in certain geeky circles, they’ve got a slightly bigger budget to work with. These days, it’s Have fog machines, lasers and toilet-paper gun, will travel. The band has become legendary for its ghetto-rigged live shows, featuring audience-interactive toys, gadgets and games, and has attracted legions of devout followers who dress alike, organize into regional chapters and write themselves into the Phenomenauts storyline.
Constantly playing and prepping for the release of The Electric Sheep EP on Aug. 6, the band is busy unleashing new songs on its audiences. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do in the future; the industry’s changing so much,” says Nova. In appropriately futuristic form, Electric Sheep will be available for download only. No matter what they do, it’s always in the name of their ubiquitous slogan: science and honor.
And for old times’ sake, here is the story that started it all. I’ve got more material on these guys than I know what to do with.
I’m pretty sure nobody is reading this (yet), but I’m going to throw this out there anyway.
I’m considering submitting one of my features from my last year of school to the SPJ Awards. I think there is prize money involved. At the very least, there is some sort of convention in Vegas where I will shake a lot of hands.
I have two features I think I did a pretty darn good job on, and that I think would give me a good shot at winning something.
The first is “Invasion of the Cadets”, from the May/June 2009 issue, and it can be read here. ‘Cadets’ was a project that started in late January and is still going on. I got the idea when I decided to swing by a Phenomenauts show at Slim’s a few days before school started, and a man in a helmet gave me a flyer about the upcoming Phenomenaut fan convention at Disneyland. I had always known their fans were pretty gung-ho, but I didn’t know they were motivated enough to meet up for a day at a theme park nine hours away from the band’s home base in Oakland. I got in contact with some people from their street team/fan club/whatever and the more people I talked to, the more complex the story became. The version that ran in [X]Press barely scratched the surface. There is a much bigger story here than just ‘here are some goofy people that like to dress up in costume and sing songs about space’. There is so much psychology to the band and to the Cadet movement itself. I am dying to write a longer version of it. I still take notes every time I go see them.
Also, keep in mind that I will be sending in PDFs of the pages in the actual magazine, not links to our snoozer of a site. The art on the ‘Cadets’ looks pretty cool.
My other option is “Return of the Bellows”. This one is about the accordion beginning to surface in independent music. It can be read here.
My gut reaction is to turn in ‘Bellows’. I had a lot of fun writing ‘Cadets’, but often times I feel like the story is only interesting to me and people who already know about the band. ‘Bellows’ has a broader appeal, and I feel like the writing is much better. I know I’m never going to be able to write a better lede than ‘Aaron Seeman still smells like propane’. However, I was also told by a lot of my sources that the story was kind of old news, and a whole bunch of journalists had come sniffin’ around lately to write about it.
I’ve never worked on a story as hard as I worked on ‘Cadets’. I’ve never done that much reporting. In the same word count as ‘Bellows’, I was able to squeeze in six sources, whereas Bellows only had three; two and a half at best. The writing in ‘Cadets’, for the sake of efficiency, is very newsy, but the story, I feel, is inherently more colorful. The characters are much clearer, and the details are very telling. For a contest called ‘Mark of Excellence’ awards, I want to make sure I show that not only can I write, I can report.
I’m too close to both of these stories, so I’m leaving it up to you. I’ll leave this up for a week or two and ask some human beings before I make my decision.
Also, feel free to leave comments! Talk to me. This blog is pretty lonely right now.