Homeless Astronauts

Skanking with Gals Panic

There's a really weird vibe hovering in and around the coffeehouse. Down on Barton Springs Road there's a motor crash. Two cars traveling in opposing directions just couldn't seem to agree on who should get first go at a coveted left turn. Back on the second floor, a friendly writer guy is nervously embarking upon his first interview in more than five years with an actual rock band. He views rock bands as so much hot air buoying the gondola of big egos and shallow ambition.

Enter Gals Panic, who surround the reticent guy at a shaky wooden table. He clutches his notepad and whirring microcassette device in one hand and an iced latte in the other,
watching the musicians taking confident gulps of their respective powder pink and neon green sodas.

The members of the quartet speak to him of their adventures in the music biz. A young man known as Jeremy "Jerm" Pollet is the image of loquacity. He is a nice Jewish boy from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the offspring of two lawyers and, appropriately, the band's manager. But not only is he the band's manager, he's also a member - the guitarist. He was at one time a road manager for transvestite diva RuPaul who he calls "A sexy guy," and has just completed work on a degree in English at the University of Texas, but will not reveal his final GPA. "I'm afraid we're gonna be on the road somewhere and some club manager's gonna ask for my GPA and we're gonna lose the gig," says Jerm in a mildly self-effacing tone. But Steve "Six Million Dollar Drummer" Austin, a Florida State man himself, pipes-up, "Weren't you Magna Cum Laude?"

On one end of the table, perhaps too consumed in his soda to speak, is singer Lance Fever. Mr. Fever is a man of short physical stature, standing somewhere in the lower five-foot range. In this mellow context, his height is obvious. But when on stage, his presence and control of the crowd is so all-encompassing that he seems much, much taller. He takes on an entirely different persona in his rude boy leather jacket with a Texas flag plastered across the back, sounding like the quintessential NY bad-boy rapper though he actually hails from Lubbock. He and Jerm worked together at Olga's Kitchen in Barton Square Mall a couple of years ago. "Before we were bandmates," recalls Jerm, "We were dough-puck hockey rivals."

Sitting opposite Mssr. Fever is bassist Cardinal Connor. He is from Mississippi, and adds only a few words to the conversation in his syrup-tinged accent. When one holds such high sway in the Catholic Church, one doesn't really need to say much. The writer finds the men charming and without pretension. Their intelligence is refreshing. Some nice Southern girl would certainly do herself proud to take them home to momma. I'd bet they'd even clear the table after dinner and help wash dishes.

"Everything is Skar-mageddon and the Ska-lars. If O. Henry were alive today, he'd be toasting for a Ska band."

- Steve Austin

But below the surface, the men of the Panicking Gals are not without their points of contention. Some anguish is detected. Cardinal Connor's teeth gnash like a corn mill upon the mention of a certain three-letter word. Jerm wheezes. Fever and Austin drop back in their chairs as if they'd just heard that Nestle had bought out all their mechanical (songwriting) rights. There is a question of identity.

The unsuspecting writer says, "Ska," in an ill-fated attempt to describe the band's sound. "Hey," blurts Austin at the writer, then adds in an authoritative tone akin to a parent calmly but sternly reprimanding a child for cursing on the playground, "we try to avoid that word." "There's just something so ingenuine about that scene," adds Jerm.

Austin then jumps back in with his patented Six Million Dollar Man Doing Something Athletic Sound FX, and works himself into a good, honest, vein-popping lather: "The kids who are often in on ska have this idea that they are onto something that no one else is, like it's some big underground thing," he explains. "I think it was convenient for us to call ourselves a ska band when we went out on tour. We could call up clubs sight unseen and try to book a show and they'd say, `don't know if we can book you,' and we'd say, `Oh, we're a ska band," and they'd go `we gotta couple of ska bands on Thursday, you'll fit fine.'"

"One guy recently called us a combination of Devo, the Beastie Boys, and Dead Kennedys," Jerm adds, "That's the description I've been using recently [while booking]. I think that's accurate. We played some ska fests. Those guys are like robots in the audience. They'll dance to anything. They don't listen to the music. I felt depressed after the shows." Says Fever: "I like ska music a lot. It's a matter of being pigeon-holed and saying that that's the only thing we can play and that's the kind of band we are. That's not the way it should be. The Clash played a lot of ska tunes and no one called them a ska band."

But GP do seem to like the punk scene though they don't want to be called a punk band. "We played a bunch of shows with Rancid," says Jerm, "I love punk kids, punk shows, and punk music. Punk kids aren't afraid to make fools of themselves. I think they are very enthusiastic and very real. You don't get that at ska shows." Jerm says he needs a three-word phrase as a marketing tool to quickly characterize the band for busy club owners. But how does one describe GP in three words? In the same way that House of Pain is called an "Irish Rap Group"?

"What we've been calling ourselves lately is Homeless Astronauts," he says.

"It's a real thing about space that we're creating, " says Fever, "We're sending ourselves via this CD (I Think We Need Helicopters) and transmissions (including director Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath, in which the band appears in a club scene) out into space and trying to become bigger spirits."

The writer glances at his note book, and in a moment of inspired hyperbole scribbles three words:

Coolest Austin Band. n

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