By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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Most stoner-rock bands draw from the same template: Black Sabbath. Kyuss. The Melvins. But when Puny Human constructs its songs, instead of consulting the gospels of St. Iommi and First Josh, the band's members summon divine inspiration from an entirely different book: St. Mark. Farner, that is.
"The thing about us is that we all sort of adhere to the Grand Funk Railroad principle," says drummer Iann Robinson. "If we're at a part in the song where we don't agree on something, we'll say, 'What would Grand Funk do here?'"
Grand Funk Railroad? The Cheez Whiz, Flint, Michigan-based band that made Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" famous in the 1970s? Surely, Robinson's kidding; he's gotta be. After all, he's on the payroll of MTV -- the supposed progenitor of all things hip since 1980 -- so it's his job to be on the cutting edge of cool. He must know there are about a bazillion other bands that would be cooler to list as an influence.
But Robinson's not trying to be cute. He's dead serious. And when he speaks of Grand Funk, it's with the religious fervor of a Mormon bishop pontificating on the virtues of Brigham Young.
"We just worship them," declares Robinson from his office in the heart of Times Square. "We first found out about them from a friend of ours who had an old vinyl copy of E Pluribus Funk. We had all heard 'We're an American Band,' 'The Loco-Motion' and 'Mean Mistreater' and all that stuff. Then we heard E Pluribus Funk -- with 'People, Let's Stop the War' and 'I Come Tumblin' -- we heard these songs, and me, as a drummer, I was like, 'What the fuck, dude!' We just freaked out.
"Then about two years after that, they did a reunion tour, and we went and saw them, thinking, 'Well, it might be a bum-out 'cause they're older.' And they just fucking nailed it, dude; it was like we were seeing them in 1974. Then we read their history -- they have such an awesome, dynamic history, and they're such great players; we all agree on that."
Today the members of Puny Human are united by music, but at New York's Hunter College, where Robinson first met twins Jason and Josh Diamond, they didn't share much common ground. Robinson was a homeboy dialed into the hip-hop realm, and the Diamond brothers were dyed-in-the-wool hardcore skinheads with an affinity for metal.
"I was just kind of getting out of rap music by '86 or '87. Friends of mine were taking me to hardcore shows, and I was like, 'That's okay,' but I still dressed and acted like a homeboy," Robinson remembers. "So I met [the Diamonds], and I thought they were the two coolest people in the whole world because they lived on their own. They had their own apartment in New York City -- which was no small feat, because even back then it was expensive -- and I went over there, and they started playing me all this shit that I didn't know anything about, all this metal. I knew about hardcore and punk rock, but I didn't know anything about metal. So they played me all this metal and really got me into it."
The twins may have exposed Robinson to all things metallic, but had it not been for his father encouraging him to consider music without prejudice, he might never have listened in the first place. Robinson was 24 when his father died of AIDS, and the event had such a profound impact on his life that it fashioned who he became.
It was fitting that his dad turned him on to Queen, he jokes, because his dad was gay.
"It's funny when you have a gay father, people think all he's going to get into is Streisand and show tunes," Robinson says. "But my father had really awesome, eclectic taste. My dad turned me on to a lot of bluegrass and American roots music. My father and my mother both always taught me that genres of anything don't matter, as long as it's good. I run my mouth and I talk a lot of shit, but if somebody puts out a record -- even if I don't like the band -- and it's good, then I'm fine with it."
Even though it's been nearly a decade since his father died, Robinson's customary smart-assed, cynical tone becomes reverential as he talks about his dad.
"My father was pretty much the only human being in the world that I felt gave a shit about me," he says. "I mean, my mom and I eventually worked everything out, but at that point, our relationship was pretty strained. My father was a great human being, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that bad things happen to good people. However, it also forced me to grow up. You know, I used to be kind of a dick. Everything that I do now that's kind of tongue-in-cheek and funny used to be really mean-spirited. I just had a big chip on my shoulder. Then I watched a sweet, wonderful man die, and it taught me to never lose sight that life is a pretty all-right thing. It made me wake up to what I was doing to my friends. I mean, I still fucking hate humanity with an unbridled passion, but the people that I'm close to, the people who are my friends, I would do anything for them -- which is not always how I was."