Gentleman Jesse talks shop with Coco of Man or Astro-Man?

Close encounters of the nerd kind

When it comes to songwriters with a capital S, Gentleman Jesse Smith and instrumental surf rockers Man or Astro-Man? couldn't be from further regions of the universe. Both co-opt their own chunk of vintage American music. But Gentleman Jesse writes rich, power-pop hooks wrapped around veteran lyrics about relationships between human beings. Man or Astro-Man?, on the other hand, comes from somewhere beyond the stars, playing music that often resonates on frequencies humans can't even hear. Despite their inalienable differences, Smith and MOAM? bassist Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard find, while chatting over lunch at Manuel's Tavern, that man and Astro-man can peacefully coexist.

Gentleman Jesse: Tell me about your father.

Coco: If one goes back through the annals of Astro history, you'll discover that I was constructed. Finding out exactly who my father was, was a little more complicated; it depends on how you define father. I was actually constructed by the rest of the band, prior to us being a band, but the others that ended up forming the band built me, so I guess that means I don't have a father. Father's Day was just last weekend and it was sad. Thank you for reminding me of such a painful thing.

GJ: Are you still looking for the parts for your ship?

CC: Yes, we are. That's why we became a band in the first place. We didn't have any idea what bands were. We saw these groups of individuals traveling around with all sorts of equipment without getting questioned a lot, so we figured that's what we have to do. Our ship scattered upon hitting the atmosphere and we have to recover the parts. So we simulated a band. People always say, "That's so cool that you're doing this retro surf thing." We didn't know that it was retro. What we failed to realize was that the transmissions from your planet had to travel across great distances in space to reach us. That takes time. Our records were well behind what was actually going on and we didn't compensate for that. Basically, our music is the result of a math error.

GJ: You were Estrus labelmates with the Mummies. Why do extraterrestrials and the undead have such similar tastes in music?

CC: It has something to do with it being easier for Dave Crider from Estrus Records being able to take advantage of aliens from outer space and the recently dead. Crider thought, "Screw it, man. I can rail these guys 'cause they don't know how the record business works ... ."

GJ: What's it like when Man or Astro-man? writes songs? I start with a lyric and try to write a catchy hook around that, but you guys play instrumental music.

CC: It's a misconception that we're an instrumental band. All of the songs have words, but only a select few of them are sung within a frequency range that human ears can detect. The songwriting process probably isn't that much different from yours, but I don't have much to do with it. I am handed the sheet music that's already been written for me, complete with mistakes. It's right there on the paper and I play it as is, mistakes and all.

GJ: Have you heard of Gentleman Jesse?

CC: Yes, I have. Whether I like it or not, I'm stuck here in Atlanta, Ga. But what you have to understand is that this whole music thing for Man or Astro-man? is just a side venture. Ultimately, taking over the planet and then leaving is our goal, so I'm really at a loss as to why you as a human would want to make music. Why would a "gentleman" get involved with music?

GJ: Boredom.

CC: Are you really a gentleman?

GJ: That's debatable. I guess it all depends on how you define a gentleman.