The city is on the brink of collapse. An army of robots led by a power-hungry scientist watches your every move, monitors your every activity. You’ve lost the love of your life, your career, your reputation and your will to live and you’re barely halfway through Act II.
For those unfamiliar, you’re in the midst of what is possibly (nay, probably) the greatest rock opera you’ve never head of, an epic story of greed and corruption and misery loosely based on the original Mega Man series. But don’t let that fool you; while the origins of their tale relate to late-’80s video games, their sound is wholly their own.
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We were fortunate enough to meet up with all nine members before their set at MAGFest 11, and discuss their upcoming album Act III, getting roofied, Peter Jackson, border crossing, how to survive a robot apocalypse, how to survive a zombie apocalypse and why your shoes matter, among other things.
Ed. note: This interview will be illustrated with photos from their set; you can find more shots and our review right over here.
***SPOILER ALERT! THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL OF THE FOLLOWING: ARMAGEDDON, INDEPENDENCE DAY, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE END OF THE HUMAN RACE, THE HOBBIT, NAZIS***
So first of all, welcome to DC!
All: Thank you.
Panther: Aren’t we in Maryland? Are we actually in DC?
Commander: Don’t you fuckin’ lie!
Murphy: I think we’re like, 10, 20 miles away or somethin’.
Commander: I looked at a map. I’ve seen maps before.
Panther: He’s a cartographizer.
Commander: I’m a tarkotophizer.
Panther: That’s not a word.
So [before the interview you mentioned] you guys got in yesterday, you said you didn’t get a chance to see any of our sights…
Murphy: I look out the window and I can see lights in that direction…
So if you guys could have gone to D.C., what’s your D.C. run-amok sort of a day?
Bakker: I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything in D.C.
Murphy: I can tell you mine… I’ve done the only cool thing you can fuckin’ do.
Murphy: ID4. I did the [Independence Day] Tour. I started off, I spent a full day following the John Wilkes Booth trail that he went on and hid for two weeks after he murdered Abraham Lincoln. So I started at Ford’s Theatre, went to the museum–I bought a map there of his route and then I went to all the places and drove all day and looked at all the markers and documented. Oh, and I ate food at some Chinese place that was the Mary Surratt house, where they did all the conspiracy meetings at that hotel, the boarding house she had. And it’s a Chinese restaurant now or somethin’. That’s the most endearing thing I’ve ever done in D.C. aside from play rock shows.
So the first time I saw you was in a bowling alley in Richmond and now you’re playing this big convention but you’ve also played huge festivals like SXSW and Bonnaroo–
Panther: …other bowing alleys…
Commander: Under other bowling alleys.
Murphy: In Louisville, Kentucky, they’re pretty awesome.
Commander: [Laughs] Yup, they’ll put you under a bowling alley.
What’s the craziest venue you’ve ever played?
Commander: Like, weirdest venue itself or the craziest–
[All mumble agreement]
Murphy: CIA in North Hollywood.
Oh, I thought you meant the J. Edgar Hoover building.
Panther: [Laughs] No, no. But that’d be cool too.
Commander: It’s run so strangely and people there don’t really know they’re running a venue, they think they’re running a freak show–I mean, it’s a great freak show.
Murphy: They’ve got enclosed mummies and weird rooms…
Commander: Yeah and two-headed boys in bottles and stuff. It’s like Jeff Mangum went to the place and wrote songs… It feels like you’re in a Rob Zombie movie in there.
Nice. And what’s the craziest story?
Commander: Uhhhh…. fans? Vancouver’s probably got the craziest fans.
Murphy: They’re the wildest.
Panther: When we got done playing a show, someone walked around and gather up piles of broken eyeglasses and shoes.
Murphy: Yeah, the kids fell over. We have video footage of this where kid fall over on the stage; a couple of the kids fell over because the stage was so low and on the last song, Robert Bakker stood on the kids with both boots on their backs and just fuckin’ played guitar to the audience and the kids were laying down.
Bakker: They were fighting over a stupid hat.
Commander: So one kid gets his hat knocked off and this other kid next to him just grabs for the hat ’cause he thinks The Protomen threw this hat out to him. So they’re fighting over this one kid’s hat the entire time and they’re gettin’ crazy like, “It’s my hat, noooo,” and like, “No, it’s mine, I got it, they threw it to ME” and so they fight for a while–
Bakker: I got so annoyed…
Panther: Was that the same show that Ringo Segundo got roofied?
Commander: YES! Yes! Same show!
[Laughing, referencing earlier conversation] How has this happened to you guys multiple times? Why do you keep getting roofied?
Commander: I dunno. Rock and roll.
The Gambler: It’s ’cause we’re sexy and people want to touch us.
Panther: I guess it wasn’t roofies…
Murphy: It was liquid ecstasy, that’s what it was, liquid ecstasy. Whatever the name for it is and this guy had a beer and I don’t know if he offered it to him or–
Panther: No, it was for his girl. He was trying to roofie his girl. It was this guy!
[Ringo Segundo enters the room]
Commander: He was trying to roofie his girl? [Laughs] That’s awful.
Murphy: Anyway he ended up gettin’ a hold of Ringo that night.
Ha! That’s pretty good. Or not, for Ringo.
Panther: Wellllll, he was gentle.
The Gambler: We had to cross the border that night. That’s the best.
The Gambler: Someone had to wake up Ringo and he was all shirtless and he’d just crawled up like a baby and tried to sleep it off on the drive to the border and he wakes up–
Murphy: And they were callin’ you cute names. They had little cute names for you–
The Gambler: Yeah, they were all like, “hey, shirtless.” Coming back into the United States from Canada is always a fun experience.
Murphy: And he doesn’t remember that, either. He didn’t remember it at all. So yeah, Vancouver. It’s kind of wild.
So yeah….. Vancouver. OK, you guys, I really want to talk to you about a robot apocalypse.
Commander: A robotacryspse.
Panther: Well we just passed the regular apocalypse. The Mayan one.
Murphy: The old boring-ass one.
Bakker: And the Christian apocalypse. That was 2011.
Panther: We’ve gone through so many apocalypses at this point.
Ringo: I wrote a song called “The Second Coming of 1892”. [said in a fairly disturbing whisper] I should show it to you guys.
[said through nervous laughter] Haha, debuting on BYT. …So yeah, robot apocalypse. How would you survive one?
Panther: Hm. Well, it’s not like the zombie apocalypse where you could just climb into an attic somewhere.
Murphy: Well, if it’s robots, I mean, we know, we saw ID4, and obviously how they fixed that is Jeff Goldblum injected a virus into their system and a robot apocalypse is obviously just gonna be on some kind of network like Skynet. So I think we already figured out how to do it, we just have to figure out how to hack their system.
Panther: What if while the robots are going around killing humans just like, pop-up ads pop up in their eyes that’s just like, “Make your cock bigger!”
Isn’t that a Futurama episode…?
Panther: Maybe. Oh shit, it might be! [Laughs] Futurama just figured it out.
Murphy: [Laughs] He didn’t know where he got it from. …OR the apocalypse could just last for a day. Meaning like if it’s robotics, all the machines and vehicles are just killing people and demanding that you give them fuel at the gas station that you’re held up at with Emilio Esteves and then eventually they just stop because it lasted for like a day. Maybe that’s the robot apocalypse.
The Gambler: No, it’s going to be like that episode of The Simpsons where they’re at Itchy and Scratchy Land and the robots–
Murphy: I hate all of you. I hate you for not getting my reference.
Panther: I didn’t get it. What was it?
Murphy: Maximum Overdrive.
Panther: Oh shit.
I didn’t get it either. Sorry.
Murphy: You didn’t see Maximum Overdrive?? Fuckin’ ACDC does the soundtrack! And all the score is ACDC riffs. And Stephen King directed it! And it’s so good. There’s parts that are just awful.
I believe all parts of that.
Murphy: So basically all the apocalypses have already happened in movies and we’ll just follow whichever things we’ve seen fixed before.
Panther: Right. We’ve got the instructions now.
Murphy: We’ve got the books.
OK, so let’s say like in Terminator 3 where you wind up in a bunker somewhere; what do you keep with you for survival?
Panther: Oh man. I’ve never thought of that.
Murphy: I should know this…
Panther: Extra underwear.
Murphy: Why would you need extra underwear?
Panther: I don’t know, I’ve just found that if you’re touring and you’re living in the bunker of a bus, you can get away with not having anything except extra underwear. That’s the only thing a man really needs, is all I’m saying.
Murphy: I’ll tell ya what, I want extra socks.
Panther: Those are nice–
Murphy: I actually benefit more personally from extra socks over underwear.
Murphy: Really. So….. socks and underwear.
You guys are caught in the middle of a robot apocalypse and you pack socks and underwear?
Murphy: Oh no, no, wait. Let me rephrase all of this: good shoes.
Panther: Aughhhhh you’re right!!
Murphy: I fuckin’ win. I have a whole shoe thing. People make fun of me for it but you never see me wearing sandals or anything unlaced because you never know when you’ve gotta run. I believe in tight shoes that are on there good. If your shoes fuck up and you’re running and say they fall off, and you fall, you’re probably done. Say you’ve gotta run outside on hot coals because the world’s burning. If you’ve got some badass shoes, you can go anywhere. That’s more important than covering your ding dong.
Panther: Yeaaaahhhhh but the world’s not worth saving if…
Murphy: If you’ve gotta uncover your ding gong?
Panther: I think that’s what I’m getting at, yeah.
Fair enough. So you say we get through everything. Let’s say we don’t. How would the world fall under darkness?
Murphy: Well we already wrote that story!
Do you think it’d be robots though?
Panther: I think just the cell towers go down and people would kill each other.
Murphy: Oh, it’s fuckin’ Fight Club, man. Credit scores all go back to zero and we have to eat each other to live and there’s just riots. Who’s in control then? Those who own the most land. Back to the old days.That’s who has all the power and then it’s just strength over strength then.
Panther: That’s not gonna wipe out the human race. That’s just going to cause a bunch of new countries to happen.
Panther: … So…… virus.
Murphy: Right, like ID4. Virus is where it’s at.
Panther: No, no, not like a robot virus. Like a real virus. Like the flu. Whatever cough everyone in this band has right now–
Panther: Yes! Contagion. … That was pretty scary. That’s why I’m gonna stop that shit.
Murphy: No you’re not.
Panther: But that’s not going to wipe out the human race either. It’s just gonna kill, like, 10 percent of the population.
The Gambler: It’s just gonna kill me.
Panther: It’s just gonna kill The Gambler. And me. I’m goin’ down.
Reanimator: I’ll get over it in a week and laugh at your ass.
Murphy: Yeah I’ll get over it. Or I’ll just carry it around for six months and keep goin’.
Panther: So what wipes out the…? ASTEROID. Armageddon.
Murphy: We have to drill.
No, ’cause then isn’t it Steve Buschemi, he’ll save us all? Somebody sacrifies themselves at the end?
Panther: No, he goes crazy. Bruce Willis saves everyone. Man, if you’ve got people reading this who haven’t seen Armageddon, they are gonna be pissed off at us that we’re ruining that movie.
I’ll put it at the front of the article “Spoiler Alert…”
Murphy: … I remember the shit out of that fuckin’ song ’cause I wor at a Pizza Hut and they played it every fuckin’ day five times and every time I’d be like, “Where’s the goddamn Joe Perry solo??”
The Gambler: Also, ‘where’d da cheese go??’
Murphy: ‘Where da cheese go?’ Where da motherfuckin’ cheese go at??’ Ween reference. This is how our interviews go.
This is great. The best interview ever.
Murphy: You will not get any fucking answers at all.
Well now I’m gonna ask you about Act III and I probably won’t get any answers on that either but….. What’s the deal with Act III? Do you have a release date? Release time? Release year? Release season?
Panther: Summer, spring… probably spring.
Panther: Nooo. No, no. Just a spring. A summer.
Ringo: Murphy, tell her when you wanted it to come out.
Murphy: July 27, 2013. That’s what I told fans for a while because it’s the 20-year anniversary of Siamese Dream. It just makes sense.
Panther: We can still tell ’em that.
Murphy: Oh, I’ll tell ’em right up to that day. They always come up and ask me the way you just did like, “hey, when’s Act III coming out? You can tell me.” And then I just shoot [the dat]e out and they go, “Oh. OK.” They never get excited. The whole thing is they want me to tell them something no one knows ’cause we haven’t announced it.
So do you have it written? Is Act III written?
Murphy: A lot of the script is written. Well, not on paper. It’s been discussed a lot of times. You know at the end of The Dark Knight Rises how they didn’t write it down?
Bakker: If you write it down, it’s just going to end up on the Internet.
Murphy: Even if we scribble it on a goddamn napkin…
Can you give us a hint about how things go for the human race?
Panther: It’s probably not gonna go well.
Murphy: You know, I believe in sunshine and we just resurrect the dead and everybody’s happy. Or I don’t believe any of those things. One or the other.
Panther: I will say we started out writing a tragedy.
Murphy: Yeah, it was a tragedy from the first fuckin’ song. No sense in changin’ it now, goddamnit.
Panther: We might change it right at the last minute.
Fair enough. And you guys are working on a cover album as well. Are we going to hear the cover album before we hear Act III?
Murphy: That’s true.
Do you guys have a release date for that?
Murphy: Not an official one but it’ll be in 2013.
Panther: July 27th.
Murphy: Which actually might happen because we want it to come out in the spring and if we have problems it might get pushed to the summer.
Nice. So you guys released that Roy Orbison cover, “I Drove All Night” on tape and that’s going to be on that album. So you released that on casette, you record both analog and digital, so are you going to keep up that process for the cover album and Act III?
Murphy: Right. Act I is like, 95 percent analog. Act II is 100 percent digital. Act III I would love to be all analog on the front end as much as humanly possible ’cause the sound we record and the end of the world, yada yada yada and synths… it just makes more sense and it sounds better. But we can’t do it entirely that much. We know we’re going to have to pull some digital world in though. You can’t get the sound you get from analog. It’s always what the sound calls for and what the feel is. Luckily we have an education and can half-ass get that across.
Do you guys have producers for Act III?
Murphy: We do not. We have The Protomen. That’s all we have right now.
Panther: That’s all we’ve ever had though.
Murphy. It is. Alan Shacklock came around too and helped with a lot of things…
Are you going to work with him again maybe?
Murphy: He’s working on the cover records with us and there’s other projects we have in line. And we don’t really know about Act III. We’re actually still in the air. We’re demoing and figuring out where it feels–
Panther: Trying to map it out, really.
Murphy: You can’t just grab a producer before you have the real sound of the record too. That doesn’t always work well.
I mean, working with Meatloaf’s producer, I feel like he probably understands your epicness.
Murphy: Well he does in some senses, and that’s why Act II worked. Songs from this record like “Breaking Out” and things of that nature make sense.
Panther: And he’s an enormous Morricone fan–
Murphy: And that first half of Act II was ann Ennio Morricone influenced and we found out he was in Nashville; it made entire sense.
Panther: But yeah so Act III is going to be a different animal. It may make sense, because we’re the same people, to not work with the same guy to try to make the sound different.
Awesome. So I think that’s pretty much it.
Panther: We didn’t even talk about Karen Allen.
Murphy: We didn’t even talk about Karen Allen or that hot girl from that other movie. … I don’t know anything she’s in.
Panther: Man, from in Indiana Jones? Raiders of the lost Ark?
Murphy: Was that the hot one.? I don’t remember her at all. …
Ringo: She was in the new Indiana Jones too.
Murphy: Oh I heard that was a fuckin’ awful, awful mess. I didn’t even bother.
Reanimator: [somberly] They raped him.
Panther: Here’s the thing, let’s talk about the fucking Hobbit.
The Gambler: I liked The Hobbit!
Panther: People were pissed about Indiana Jones 4 but The Hobbit is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life.
Murphy: His angles are good and arguable because his technological experience was different. He saw the high frame rate 3D.
And you hated it.
Panther: Not knowing what that meant, really. I hated it.
The Gambler: So you hated it for that reason.
Panther: No, I hated it because it’s just a drawn-out lack of story. When I saw it, I had no idea it was a trilogy. I thought, “This is the longest, worst movie” and then I got to the end of the movie and went, “Oh no, I haven’t even seen ALL of this shitty movie.” I was so angry. …
Right, so that’s going to be a thing that people sit through.
Panther: I’m not. I’m not going to see the other two.
Should we close on some last words for Peter Jackson?
Murphy: OK, I do have a problem. My biggest problem was in Lord of the Rings, the big badass beast they made from all beasts, all those motherfuckers were humans in costumes and built up and big and whatever. You could have done that for the bad guy that was blue with the one arm in The Hobbit. There was no sense in the CGI for him.
Should I put a spoiler alert for that too? And Armageddon?
Panther: Maybe. That and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They open the ark at the end. It doesn’t go well.
For the nazis. Nothing ever goes well for them.
Panther: That’s true. Spoiler alert just to nazis.
Murphy: …it looked lazy to me. That’s the only problem I had. The man’s better than that because he proved it 10 years ago. That’s why it didn’t make sense.
Any more last words for Peter Jackson?
Murphy: Oh yeah! Another one: make Dead Alive 2. End on that and make another movie again. So much money now and clout. Give it up, man.