By Team Backbeat
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Seated around a cluttered coffee table in a Congress Park home, the four members of Denver's New Ancient Astronauts are engaged in a lively but tangent-prone bull session. Among the evening's many unexpected digressions: Were rocks the planet's first musical instruments? Was Journey the first emo band? Is Michael Jackson an extraterrestrial -- or merely a convenient distraction from the ongoing mess in the Middle East? When the debate turns to crowning the greatest astronaut who ever donned a space helmet and moon boots, each bandmember chimes in without hesitation.
"Chuck fuckin' Yeager-meister," declares guitarist Kasey Elkington. "He had three broken ribs when he broke the speed of sound. The dude couldn't even inhale. That's bad-ass! Chuck Yeager: test pilot, party animal."
"I like Alexei Leonov," counters drummer Tony Bell, giving props to Russia's beloved cosmonaut who took the first walk in space back in the '60s. "During [Leonov's] first moon walk, they didn't really make the hatch big enough for an inflated suit. So he had to deflate his suit to get back in. It was almost a near space fatality."
"Sam," sax player Aaron Schilling says. "The first chimp in space."
"Buzz Aldrin," White adds as an afterthought. "Buzz Aldrin knocked some reporter out for saying that the moon landing was fake."
Well-versed in space trivia and conspiracy theories (though they were all in grade school when the Challenger's infamous O-ring malfunctioned in 1986), New Ancient Astronauts specialize in free association -- especially when it comes to music. As an experimental hardcore band that revels in spastic blasts of saxophone, chaotic guitar, frenzied rhythms and disorienting tape manipulations, the quartet remains stylistically proficient on several sonic fronts. And though Bell describes the act's overall sound as "ballsy, glass-humping rock and roll," the band's Web site proudly proclaims, "We don't give a rat's ass about being genre-specific."
"As much as we love metal and punk, we're huge jazz fans," Elkington notes. "We're huge funk fans. But we don't go a hundred percent in one direction. Especially when we free-form downstairs during practice. It's pure, pure -- never to be heard again, never to be duplicated. So to go back and try to re-create it wouldn't be natural for us. We don't play the same song twice."
"Songs create themselves a lot of times," White adds.
A perpetual work in progress, the New Ancient crew formed in the spring of 2002, but its members have played integral roles in scads of Front Range bands; an incomplete list would include Superbuick, Agents of Chaos, Ben Hogan, Zen Gilligans, Furious George and the Monster Groove, and Sheriff Shithead and the Mustache Band. On last year's self-titled EP, a loud and raucous affair engineered and produced by Black Lamb's Ben Ryan, the group split the difference between intergalactic travel and earthbound aggression. Paying tribute to Henry Mancini and the Mermen's Jimmy Thomas (on the surf-flavored "Peter Sellers"), the Astronauts reserve their heavier tendencies for an ode to the blinding power of Vitamin E ("Sundiver") and a dark meditation on life's final roundup ("Absence"). They even go to the trouble of memorializing the idiot box during a crash-happy interlude called "Broadcasting the Dead."
"I got on top of a ladder and chucked the TV down on a carpet of bottles and cymbals," Bell explains. "It's the closest thing we've ever done to performance art. We'd like to keep topping it every single album -- you know, involve semi trucks backing into dumpsters, that kind of thing."
Will the Astros shatter their previous efforts on Children of the Vortex,their forthcoming full-length slated for release next spring? Stay tuned. In its current, unfinished stage, the long-player -- something Elkington offhandedly describes as "32 tracks of evil" and "coldly optimistic" -- already sounds more concise than its predecessor. Morphing from a full-throttle rhino stampede into drifting ambient soundscapes, the effort draws inspiration from several unlikely sources, including Hawaiian surf legend Duke Kahanamoku and a deceased German shepherd named Garrison.
"I think the music we make is a little slice of the culture that we've created just being friends," Bell says. "It's our inside joke that we're making public."
"We try to poke people in the eyes and make them think," White adds, "as opposed to reaching down their pants and giving them a hand job."
But unless the group changes its name to Nü Ancient Astronauts, the mullet rockers of Cowtown probably won't ever give 'em the chance to yank their hang-lows.
"The metal scene in this town definitely needs a sense of humor," White continues. "It doesn't make sense to me. And why is a place like Omaha more booming than Denver? Maybe it's the same reason Akron was so cool in the early '80s. There's nothing to do there."
At least attempting adventurous music in the Queen City merits an occasional reward.
"A guy who opened for us in this horrible nu-metal band actually broke up his band after hearing us play and started a jazz-metal ensemble," Elkington says. "We've gotten plenty of good compliments, but that one's pretty intense."
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