Few bands have traversed the Gobi Trail with more dogged insistence than the Ominous Seapods. Since their formation in 1989, this assemblage of self-described “north country freaks” has toured hither and yon across the continent performing their signature brand of primordial rock and roll, oozing music that emerges from the murkiest mungewaters seeping forth from the bowels of the earth’s molten core to overwhelm the listener with its molecular force and its cerebral recesses, music that presumes you can go anywhere you want to go.
Attending an Ominous Seapods show is like being in the middle of a frat-house foodfight between Carl Jung and Herman Munster, like visiting a universe more absurd than even the most extremely fucked-up episode of Green Acres, like playing dodgeball with Godzilla’s premenstrual mother, like going on safari in Antarctica wearing nothing but moccasins and a burlap bag. But the extremity is never truly menacing, owing to the gentle presence of the band members themselves. The sonic onslaught is tempered by the thoughtfully wry humor and personable intelligence of guitarists Dana Monteith and Todd Pasternack, bassist Tom “The Old TP” Pirozzi, drummer Ted Marotta, enigmatic keyboardist Brian “Dark Horse” Mangini, and Marty “The Asshole Soundman” Racine.
Ominous Seapods shows are legendary for their insane psychedelic jamming and excursions into avant-garde performance-art of a perversely comic nature, dubbed “Oratory Theatre” by the Seapods themselves. Sketches about getting cops stoned and the various offenses of Gennesse Cream Ale against the digestive tract and masturbating in the shower and mass murder in the name of buffalo wings or waffles weave in and out of the music like a helix. Although lately, the Seapods have eschewed the funny-trippy shtick, there remains this inherent sensibility that the show should be “a show.” Pod-heads attending an Ominous Seapods concert expect to be blown away every time. It’s the freaking Seapod ethos.
Thus, much admired for their artistic integrity and diligent endurance throughout years of relative obscurity, the Ominous Seapods have attracted a fiercely loyal and rather colorful coterie of die-hard followers, folks with names like Big Daddy Seapod, The Bourbon Cowboy, Darth Mighty, Attic Fox, Tony the Masshole, Lynn Guppy, Mr. Blood, and BK Broiler, among others, acolytes who share the religious conviction that “Seapods Rule,” who engage in a cryptic worship of the number “211,” who attend shows together in various costumed configurations, and who converse in a little corner of cyberspace called “Pod-Net,” the official Ominous Seapods online discussion group, where the irony runs thick and fools are not suffered gladly, a gathering described by the Seapods’ Dana Monteith as “a virtual zoo of totally sick mutants.”
After a series of independently released CDs, including “Econobrain” (1994), “The Guide To Roadside Ecology” (1995), and the critically lauded “Jet Smooth Ride” (1997), the Ominous Seapods caught the attention of visionary manager Jonny Zazula, who signed them to his Crazed Management agency as well as his Megaforce/Hydrophonics record label, for which the band recorded the accomplished live CD “Matinee Idols” in 1998. Later that year, founding member Max Verna left the band and was replaced by current lead-guitarist Todd Pasternack. Following the departure of Verna, the Ominous Seapods spent the next 18 months doing relatively little touring, choosing instead to concentrate on writing new material and recording their recently released CD, “The Super Man Curse.”
The hiatus is over, for sure. With a refurbished website and a revitalized sense of purpose, the Ominous Seapods are poised to establish their place in the Gobi pantheon. Recently, before embarking on an extensive national tour, they sat down for the following interview, speaking enthusiastically about their new sound, their new record, and what they see as their “new future.”
BS: How did the transition from Max Verna to Todd Pasternack affect the sound and feeling of the Ominous Seapods?
TOM: At the time it seemed like such an abrupt event, but looking back on it now, it actually was quite a smooth transition. The Ominous Seapods’ journey never really had to change course. It was all just another step in our mutated evolution.
DANA: About a year and a half before Max split, he started to lose his interest and dedication. Although he still played great, his lack of energy really started to bring the band down. There can’t really be any dead weight in rock and roll. It is about energy. So when Max left, despite the fact that it pissed me off and left me feeling betrayed by my friend and companion, I look back and think it was the best thing he could have done because his heart was no longer in it. Two years ago, when we asked Todd to join, he was the one and only person who could fill the bill. The dude has a rock and roll heart. Todd has given the Ominous Seapods a new life and has brought us together as a band. We are all having a blast again.
TOM: When Todd first joined the band, the rest of us all knew we had to take it up a notch to keep the intensity while Todd found his place. It basically forced us to get better and grow as musicians and adapt. So as Todd really found his niche, it was within a slightly different environment from what Max played in. The result I think is a more integrated band sound. Also, when the time came to write new music we all took a more active role in that as well, so many of the songs now are written by two or three people or the whole band as opposed to just one, which was almost always the case in the old days
TED: We also listen to each other a lot more now. Any member of the band can lead a jam in any direction at any time, and we really respond better to each other’s ideas. I think the Ominous Seapods now have cohesion, whereas before it was a Max song, then a Dana song, and so on. When I listen to the new album I hear a much more unified expression. It has more of a flow than it used to.
TOM: It’s like we lost the lungs we needed to breathe underwater, but we gained the ability to live on land. The Ominous Seapods organism didn’t change, but it adapted to its new environment the only way it knew how: by playing rock and roll.
TODD: Since I wasn’t in the Max-era, all I can say is we rock harder. No more “jam-till-the-Gobis-come-home” shit. No offense, but I always liked the Pods’ songs more than the freak-out comedy, before I was in the band. Fuck, I loved the song “Jet Smooth Ride” the moment I heard it. Yeah, it’s got a bit of a jam, but it always went somewhere. It still does. We’re still goof-ball people, but we take the songs more seriously now. I think we actually have something to say.
BS: You guys have, in fact, always maintained the importance of good songwriting. Why is solid songcraft essential in a genre (Gobi music) that mainly promises extended improvisational excursions into the nethersphere?
DANA: You need a jumping off point. I believe that the song is the jumping off point no matter what genre of music: Jazz, Rock, Funk. The great composers and bands all had great songs where you would walk away and the melody would still be in your head. Melody and lyrics trigger memories and emotions that exist along a non-linear continuum. The song ties us into a place in our soul where we feel emotions and memories past- present-future all at once. It describes, circumscribes, and circumnavigates the human spirit.
TODD: We can do the jam-thing; I’m certainly not putting it down. I love seeing a tune in the set where we get to GO, get to freak out as a unit, not know where the fuck it’s gonna go, how long we’re going to be on the journey—Are we going to stop over here and have a bite?— and finally get together on an idea and bring it home to the song. I love it. BUT…if you don’t have a good song to leave from and come back home to, what the hell is there to hold onto? Or maybe that’s the point of the jam. I don’t know. For some bands it’s about, “Let’s jam so long the people forget what fucking song we’re playing and WE forget what song we’re playing.”
TOM: There are definitely differing schools of thought on this subject. People want to be moved by music, especially in this genre, where the music is not driven by one or two radio hits. Now to me this whole movement starts and ends with the song itself. The jam may be very expressive in its own right, but to me if it doesn’t start and end with a good song, it has only achieved part of its potential. Coming back from a jam to a good song is like ending a journey by meeting up with an old friend and spending some time visiting with him as opposed to just constantly launching from one trip right into the next.
TED: It’s amazing to me how many bands there are out there that simply do not write good songs. Sometimes we feel like the black sheep in the Gobi community because songwriting is our focus. We attempt to craft songs that will stand the test of time. Whether we achieve it is a matter of opinion, of course, but that is our sincere aim. Sometimes a song just cries out for an extended jam, and we go for it. But sometimes an eight bar solo is just as compelling; it really depends on the vibe of the song. But fundamentally, for us, there has to be a good song to fuel a jam. There’s a certain sub-genre in the Gobi scene wherein the ride itself is what is emphasized and not the song it stems from, and that’s fine because many people like that. I myself grew up listening to groups like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and the like. All these bands had wonderful instrumental sections, but they all were nestled within brilliant songs. And you can prove this by the fact that many of the songs written by these bands 20 and 30 years ago are still as alive as they ever were. All you have to do is surf the radio for a while and eventually you’ll come to a classic rock station playing one of the bands I mentioned. A jam is a great moment that happens, but a great song transcends the moment. I kind of doubt that very many of the bands in today’s Gobi scene will have songs that have a shelf-life like the bands I mentioned.
BS: Where do the lyric ideas for your songs come from? Do you have a process for collecting images and turning them into songs?
DANA: Lyrics come from a perception of reality through the twisted filters of personal experience. I have about 7 notebooks scattered around the house, my briefcase, and the van, in which I’ll write things down that pop into my head, daily observations, mutations, emotions. These thoughts are usually triggered by something going on in the moment and strike just as fast as they are ready to leave me.
TOM: I generally wait until something inspires me and then blabber for a while into my journal. What inspires me could be a person I meet or a bizarre event or just a line that seems to pop into my head. Sometimes weird things trigger it.