A few weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Apogee/Perigee” from the April release Afterburn by Richmond, VA’s Energy 2000. The band’s style is heavily influenced by retro outer space themes, and their expansive, cinematic music matches the thematic vastness of their cosmic concept. They were gracious enough to do a quick Q+A with Bored In Pittsburgh.
What is Energy 2000’s mission statement? A tagline for the band, if you will.
We’re just a couple of humble space travelers on an intergalactic quest in our hydrogen fusion powered ‘68 Air Stream disco love machine.
Onboard we have fusion engineer Vlad the Cosmonaut on guitar, Danny the Milk Man on bass, cosmic outlaw Electric Pony Boy on keytar, Mikey “the guy” Ngai on saxophone, Groovemaester on synth and effects sorcery, and myself, Dr. Mixdown, on guitar.
Your music features the recurrent theme of outer space. Did you start off planning to be a “space rock” band, or did that evolve naturally?
My brother Taylor (aka Groovemaester) and I started the project a couple years ago when we stumbled on this massive repository of old sci-fi radio shows from the 1950s, these incredible shows like Dimension X and X Minus 1 (https://archive.org/details/oldtimeradio). We’re both pretty fascinated by the medium and how imaginative and immersive the experience of listening to those shows must have been in the days before television. We started messing around with chopping up the stories, layering them with super repetitive synth/drum loops and echoey guitar parts in Garageband. Real primitive stuff, but it got us excited about exploring that sort of sound and aesthetic. Since then we’ve tried to stay true to that hypnotic sort of quality that the early Bandcamp tracks have. We’ve always been huge fans of Dark Side of the Moon, listening to it all the way through on road trips together, so it was kind of a natural progression to become a space rock band once we got the other guys onboard. And then once we discovered the NASA transmission audio it all sort of came together.
Y’all are wearing homemade space suits in your Bandcamp picture. I have to ask, do you perform in those?
Yep. Vlad’s Moldovan grandma hand-stitched those bad boys and we didn’t want to let her down by not wearing them at every opportunity. We’ve had some scorchingly hot summer days in Richmond, like that time we played at the Watermelon Festival in mid-July and practically melted into silvery puddles of sweat, like little beads of mercury.
Your new album Afterburn features what sound like audio recordings from early space flights. How did you find these and what made you want to include them on the album?
The idea of incorporating the NASA transmissions came out of delving more deeply into the stuff on archive.org. I’ve always been obsessed with the space race of the 1960s and the colossal engineering feat of putting humans into space. And especially the whole cultural impact of those early astronauts, like the Mercury Seven, how in the public imagination they became these audacious, larger-than-life celebrities living it up at Cape Canaveral, zooming around in their black corvettes and blasting off into orbit. There’s just so much great audio from those missions, so many beautiful descriptions of earth from outer space. I’m in love with the idea of looking down on Earth from that vantage point, the whole psychological experience of being isolated up there and looking down on this little corner of the universe we all share. So I feel like inhabiting that sort of head space always got me excited about laying down guitar tracks and weaving them all together.
The bulk of our discography incorporates that transmission audio, partly because it’s hard to exhaust that material. We did six whole 6-track EPs about John Glenn’s 1962 orbital flight on Mercury-Atlas 6. The audio from Afterburn comes from Gordon Cooper’s record-setting mission aboard Mercury-Atlas 9, where he blazed through 22 orbits before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced or inspired your music?
Some big ones are Desolation Wilderness, Papercuts, The War on Drugs, The Clientele, Khruangbin, Atlas Sound, and Yellowbirds.
Any interesting/weird/memorable concert experiences?
We have this one song called “Supreme Architect” that features snippets of the Apollo 8 crew reading from the book of Genesis. We played it at an outdoor show in Richmond and afterwards this crazy enthusiastic guy invited us to play at his church, thinking we were some sort of Christian rock band I guess. We played at the church, got 300 bucks and some delicious burritos, and afterwards everyone hung out at the Sheetz gas station next door til like 2 in the morning drinking milkshakes.
For one of our first shows we somehow convinced this Asian fusion restaurant to book us for three hours on a Saturday night. We played for about 12 minutes in our astronaut suits in front of this weird neon aquarium until the owner came out and asked us halfway through our third song if they could just send us home with a couple drinks because as she said “No one is here. Everyone went home.” Even the waitresses had left! So we packed up our stuff and went back to Vlad’s place and ate some leftover pizza. I remember at that show Juan and Vlad got in a fistfight in the parking lot over a piece of chewing gum.
What are some other Richmond, VA bands or artists worth checking out?
We used to play with this guy Inland Ocean pretty often. He’s got some great stuff, very Bon Iver-esque. I’ve also been impressed with this guy Erik Phillips, who used to go by Cat Be Damned. He’s got a cool lo-fi mellow sort of vibe going on. One of our favorite Richmond bands was Black Girls, who have this excellent surf rock/southern swagger style (the song “Get Off” is a great example).
One final spacey question: what’s the coolest fact that you know about space?
Back in the 1950s there was this idea among psychiatrists that astronauts, upon reaching the upper atmosphere and the boundary of space, would suddenly enter some psychotic state of euphoric detachment and ignore all communication from ground control, preferring to drift off into the cosmos rather than return to earth. The scientists who proposed the concept called it the “breakaway effect” or “space euphoria” or my favorite, “the deadly rapture of space.” I just think that’s such a beautiful idea.