Science Man will be playing Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar on Sunday the 9th of June, closing off the festival of high intensity tunes – details here.
EV: Shall we jump into the interview?
JOHN: Sure, yeah. I’ll do my best to not fuck this up
EV: I mean, I don’t know if you can fuck this up. Just so long as you answer to the best extent?
JOHN: I feel like I’m under oath right now.
EV: No no it’s-
JOHN: You swear to tell the truth to the best extent of your knowledge?
EV: Just whatever works for you. It’s a chill interview. So, when you first started Science Man, from what I’m aware of, you started it in the back of a van with a drum machine and then it became a solo project from there. So how did you come to incorporate science experiments?
JOHN: So, I’d like to believe that I had this whole thing cooked up in my head ahead of time and then I would just like “I’m gonna do this”, but the whole thing started falling into place as I did it. I didn’t even know what the hell I was gonna do with these songs or if was gonna play them in front of people or if it was gonna be a recording project. I just knew that it was gonna be something that I played everything on it and since I didn’t know how to play drums – I suck at it – I just started screwing around with that and writing songs while I was on tour with Radiation Risks. I would be using this tiny little recording device that powers off a USB, plugged into my laptop. They were like “what are you thinking of calling it?” and I was like “I don’t know, this is so dumb” and for whatever reason I just thought of – if someone presented you with intelligent facts, made a case to explain something – like it’s the culture in America right now – there are alternative facts – so it was like, what would someone say to you? “What are you some kind of science man??” You know, just this insult of intelligence, so I started calling it that. Once that kind of stuck, it just snowballed from there.
What the fuck is Science Man? I don’t want to wear like a lab coat. He’s more of a super villain. From there it kind of went to the point of – well now I just kind of need to blow stuff up on stage.
EV: I mean, yeah you’ve got to pull through with what you’re calling yourself.
JOHN: Yeah, I’m an all or nothing kind of dude so… If I’m gonna do this, I’ve gotta go all cards on the table. Fucking go for it. So that’s kind of how it escalated, just one thing after the other and next thing I know is I’m wearing a gas mask, buying chemicals from a dude that’s a science teacher. I’m not allowed to tell people where I got this stuff from because it’s illegal for civilians to have or whatever. SPEAKING OF, if you’ve got a connect up in Ottawa I’m gonna need you to hook me up with your local uh- if you’ve got a college that I can break into. I’m gonna need some stuff to do the show.
EV: Will do! That being said, given that you’re blowing shit up on stage, and not supposed to divulge where you get these chemicals, have you had any issues with venues being kind of hesitant or not allowing you to do that?
JOHN: Not every time! I keep it kind of PG sometimes. I mean… When I was on tour for the last couple of weeks, I planned out three different things that I could do. I don’t know anything about science. I’m a bartender so some of the time I would do things that are basically I would put them in beakers and make it look like I was doing something, but I just made a giant Tikki drink. I would burn a sugar cube with over proofed rum and shake nutmeg on it so it looks like fire is going on. People would be like “WHAT IS THAT?!” and I would be “it’s just a delicious coconut tiki drink, do you want some?” It looks really ominous when I have a gas mask and gloves on.
I’m not trying to get blacklisted from venues. I tell them ahead of time. Can I use smoke bombs? Can I use this stuff that sprays everywhere? Usually it hasn’t been a problem. I can feel it out and if it’s a tiny place and I’m in a basement, I’m not gonna do the thing that sprays corrosive suds all over the place because if it gets into somebody’s eyes, I’m fucked, you know?
EV: And I mean, you want to be respectful of the spaces too.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah exactly. I’m not a jerk, I ask “is this cool?”
EV: When I listen to the LP, there’s a clear distinction of many musical influences on the sound that you’ve produced. Are there some conscious influences that stand out or do you kind of do your own thing and see where it takes you?
JOHN: I think the only decision with this as opposed to anything else I do is that I was trying to focus on a particular energy – this rhythmic pounding, rhythmic drumming, catchy, high energy weird kind of rock and roll, punk, whatever the fuck you want to call the music I make. I want to harness that energy. It sounds like everything that I like. If you’re listening to it and you think it sounds like these four bands, they’re probably four bands that I like. Someone said to me, it kind of reminds me of if David Yow teamed up with Big Black to cover an Elvis song. That’s fucking WAY cooler than what I do. I don’t know if it’s conscious but maybe it’s blatant.
EV: It’s all things you listened to when making the record?
JOHN: Yeah… Well when I’m writing music I’m not listening to anything. I’m just trying to do me.
EV: How and when did you discover that you could just be a one man band? Was it a difficult adjustment for you?
JOHN: It’s only been that I’ve been doing this. I think it’s been about a year in June. My friends from DC – Misled Youth – were coming to Buffalo to play a show and I was booking a show and needed another band to play. I’d just finished recording the Science Man tape and I didn’t know what I was even going to do with it. I was going to find people to be the backing band but then it got to the point of me not having time to teach somebody how to do all of this. Then I had this – “maybe I could just have this be me”. I didn’t know how the hell to do that.
You know how some people just have an iPod? I wanted to kind of be bigger and more theatrical. I contacted a friend of mine who’s a sound engineer and asked how to put in guitar amps and how to make this sound big – I want to make it sound like there’s a band in the room. I didn’t know what the hell my friend Johnny Angelo, a recording engineer in Richmond, Virginia, was doing. He talked me through it and at that point I’d already hit order and things were coming in. I was like “I guess it’s only me now!”. I fell ass backwards into it.
EV: It’s working out!
JOHN: Yeah, I’m having a blast!
EV: In the very beginning, did you ever have the fear that the drum machine wouldn’t come across as full bodied as it did? Right now it sounds like a full proper drum kit – like someone’s sitting behind it.
JOHN: I wasn’t thinking of whether or not that was gonna work when I was recording it. I wasn’t thinking about if this drum machine wasn’t gonna be good enough, I just can’t believe I figured out how to do this. I look back at some of those songs, “I wrote this? What the fuck? ” I don’t think that critically about it while I’m doing it. It wasn’t until late when I was trying to figure out how to do it live and I was sitting by myself that I was like “this sounds… not good.” Fuck, what do we do now?
It’s a one man band but every step of the way someone has helped me. The first time I played a show, my friend Tony at Mohawk Place was like “oh here let me help you” and just started fumbling with all the EQ’s on there. I took out my phone and took a picture of it. I have the settings saved on my phone. I think it sounds good. I don’t know, you’ll tell me in a week. “What was that wall of garbage noise from that guy in the gloves?”
EV: I don’t think that’s gonna be my reaction but we’ll see. I think you’re gonna deliver given the crazy shit that you do. Now that you’ve gone on a couple of tours, what’s the hardest thing about touring as Science Man?
JOHN: Being alone? Well, first of all I’m not usually alone. I can usually convince someone to get in the mix for a little bit. Honestly the hardest thing is, I didn’t realise how much free time I had when I was just the singer of Radiation Risks. We would screw around on the internet and make these social media posts, or I’d write whole albums worth of songs. I’d read entire books. Now I have to drive and set everything up. There’s so much more to do. I don’t get to fuck around as much. I love doing the work for it. My advice is never do this to yourself. Remain the lead singer! I like it but don’t do it.
EV: Since you’ve toured quite a bit, what’s the best show you’ve played? Or your view of the best show you’ve played?
JOHN: Here’s one that first pops into my head. On this tour I just did, I played Saint Louis and there was all these great bands – all bands I really like. We played this cool venue and for whatever reason they had two stages. They wanted me to set all my stuff up on a separate stage. It’s all goofy punk kids having a good time and that’s the energy of the room, and I get up there and do my whatever it is the hell that I do and after the set was over. I thought it went well – Biff was telling me he was talking to Martin who runs Lumpy Records – he put out some of the Radiation Risks stuff – I guess Martin came up to him and was like “what was that?”. He was baffled by it. This guy who makes all this amazing cool punk, I apparently baffled him. Biff was like “isn’t that pretty cool? You weirded out the weirdo!”
EV: Do you have any pet peeves when you go to perform on stage?
JOHN: No I don’t – I don’t know what the hell happens. Usually the set starts and then it’s over. I guess the only thing that makes me mad is when my equipment doesn’t work the way I want it to. That sucks! When the sound cuts or when the lights – I mean I can’t complain because I don’t entirely know what I’m doing.
EV: Is this a situation where Biff’s like “I’m kind of an electrician.”
JOHN: un huh, un huh! Yeah I’m gonna fix this for you buddy. Yeah I’m basically flying by the seat of my pants. So my biggest pet peeve is myself is what I’m saying here. I’m the real problem.
EV: To finish off, do you have really insane or crazy tour stories you wanna share?
JOHN: Tour stories? Oh my god, a million of em! Okay, here’s a really funny story I’ll tell you. I was just in Berlin for a week and I played a show there – I was also on vacation with some friends – but this will put it into perspective because I feel like people always ask “what’s your craziest tour story” and I feel like I never have a good one off the top of my head because when you get into this world, this stuff just happens every day all the time.
The day of the show, we all got up and had a handful of hours walking around, getting something to eat. As we’re walking down the street, coming in the opposite direction is a guy wearing only a light blue bathrobe with white trim that was wide open. He was only wearing the bathrobe so he was, you know, showing the goods. He had this GIANT falafel in one hand and he was walking down the street, gnashing this falafel, trying to get somebody’s attention, “hey wait up I have my…” He’s just dong out, flap open, walking around. He walks past all of us and none of us say anything! – eh naked guy with falafel, that’s our life now.
EV: I don’t know what to say to that? How do you process that?
JOHN: I don’t know, I was in Berlin, maybe that’s what they do. […] If you open yourself up to the weirdness, it’ll come to you wherever you go.
Just a reminder that SOTO Fest III is taking place this week from June 6 to 9 in Ottawa and Science Man will be playing Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar on Sunday the 9th of June, closing off the weekend of high intensity tunes – details here.