Founded —or perhaps first landing on Earth — in Auburn, Ala., in 1992, Man or Astro-man? was one of the hardest touring and most prolific bands of the 1990s, injecting their surf instrumentals with punk energy, attitude and humor. They raided decades of pulp sci-fi culture for their multimedia, hyperkinetic live shows, which spotlighted their thrift-store mad-scientist creations — robotic props, banks of video monitors beaming out Japanese monster battles and a working Tesla coil firing electric arcs over the heads of their audience. Between 1993 and 2001, the band released 12 albums and dozens of singles and EPs, along with playing countless live shows.
"In 1996, I was onstage or in the studio 347 days of that year," says drummer Brian Teasley (aka "Birdstuff"). "It just fried my brain. I got where I couldn't talk to people when I got home. We were so voracious in our playing and had such gargantuanly long tours, it took its toll."
That toll first affected the band's core lineup in 1998, when lead guitarist Brian Causey (aka "Star Crunch") left to manage his record label Warm Electronic Recordings and pursue other musical projects. Teasley and multi-instrumentalist Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard (Robert DelBueno, that is) continued their musical and space explorations for three more years before calling it quits.
Teasley played in several bands and eventually settled into managing the Birmingham, Ala., club The Bottletree Cafe, while DelBueno founded a biodiesel company — which he continues to run while pursuing his mad-scientist experiments via props and unusual musical instruments.
"He was always that kind of guy," Teasley says of DelBueno. "You'd say, 'What if we had a brain bubbling in a giant aquarium?' You'd forget that you suggested it, but two weeks later he shows up for practice with it."
The original trio stayed busy with their own projects until two years ago, when they reunited and began scheduling limited tours. But this time, they all view the band in different terms from the young space punks of the '90s who were so eager to build their reputations.
"We call it our re-enactment instead of a reunion," Teasley says. Over the past two years, Astro-man? has self-released two limited-edition singles, and they plan to release a full album in April. But the band's main goal is to keep the music fun and not let the business side devour the enjoyment of playing.
"It's so cool not being part of the music industry," Teasley says. "We don't have any deadlines or anyone to answer to. It almost makes it like we're a high school garage band again. We are lucky in the sense that we did work hard and people still come to our shows. And I don't take that for granted at all. But we don't have to play those games now. It's like a force field that keeps in the fun."
Even though Man or Astro-man? is each member's "second job," they're still serious about keeping the music sharp and entertaining. For touring, the original trio has added Avona Nova (Samantha Paulsen) on rhythm guitar, and the "Coco-tronics Laboratory" continues to produce new instruments along with keeping the Tesla coil tuned up and ready to fire. For Teasley though, the bottom line is putting on a show that the fans will enjoy and avoiding the creative vacuum that consumes many reunited bands.
"I don't think we're a sad parody of what we once were," says Teasley with a hint of punk modesty. "I like to think we don't suck."