Interview with Otto Bot by Vittorio Carli

 

“Blaster the Rocketman” combined a born again Christian perspective with a mostly punk sound, and sci-fi horror film inspired lyrics. This may seem like an unlikely combination to some, but Blaster the Rocketman made it all work gloriously. The band's love of goofy B movies is evident, but it also but they also has a serious side. Many of the band's songs are highly critical of scientific attempts to secularize the modern world.

Classic sci-fi and horror film references abound on their CDs. The band's song, “Deploy all Monsters, Now” makes a pun out of the title of a Japanese monster film “Destroy Al Monsters!” which featured Godzilla, Mothra and most of the other giant Japanese monsters (The film was recently remade as "Godzilla Final Wars.") Their song, ‘Frankenstein Monster wants a Wife,” puts a humorous spin on “Bride of Frankenstein” and contains the lines (“She's all sewn up/ With nowhere to go.”)

I was introduced to the band's music in an unusual way. I teach an English class at Moraine Valley Community College . One of my students last year was Josh Robieson, a kilt wearing drummer from the Irish music influenced Christian punk band, Flatfoot '56 ( see http://www.flatfoot56.com). Josh did his research paper on the lyrics and career of Blaster the Rocketman frontman, Otto Bot. He even leant me one of the band's energetic, entertaining and quirky CDS, (“The Monster Who Ate Jesus”), and I was immediately hooked. I was initially able to contact Otto because Josh forwarded me his e-mail. Thanks Josh!!

At times Otto's singing on the disc was slightly reminiscent of Jello Biafra, and the band's music incorporated elements of jazz, industrial, eccentric pop, and rockabilly.

Lead singer, Otto Bot (renamed Otto NoBot) has a new project called Voice of the Mysterons and a post Blaster transatlantic project is currently in the works. He has since moved to Scotland to minister, but he was kind enough to let me interview him by e-mail. Anyone who loves Captain Beefheart, Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers is okay in my book!!

How did you get started in music?

My father is a rock n roll piano/keyboard player, so I grew up on records and cassettes of rock and jazz that came from 1940s onward. I always loved it. I was obsessed through most of junior high and high school—instead of doing homework or having a ‘social life' I just laid my head down each day after school between these two large floor speakers (that actually weren't that loud because it was a crappy stereo) and listened to music for hours on end—punk and heavy metal stuff mostly, though I always loved old rock n roll. When I was 18 someone asked me to sing in a band and that was how Blaster started. We went through many hybridizations, but it was always my younger brother (‘Heater Hands') and I who formed the song-writing core.

People have compared Blaster the Rocketman to the Dead Kennedys, but you said you hadn't listened to them much. What are your musical influences and/or favorite bands?

I probably sound ungrateful and snobbish when I always distance myself from D.K. It's a compliment to be compared to them, but it's simply true that when we made our first two albums I'd heard only a borrowed copy of In God We Trust, Inc. a few times through. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It must have made its mark.

The musical influences on those albums were the ever present ‘old rock n roll' (mostly 50s and 60s, not so much ‘classic rock' hair band stuff), Misfits, Dickies, Ramones, Violent Femmes, Nirvana, Fugazi, Faith No More, Rocket From The Crypt, Weezer, Man or Astro Man? and obscure ‘Christian bands' like Scaterd Few, Nobody Special, Crucified, Life Savers Underground, Fluffy, and Breakfast With Amy, and the vocals on Disasteroid (1 st ‘album') sounded a lot like a local Indiana band I liked at the time called Scary Tweezers.

By the time The Monster Who Ate Jesus came out, our influences had diversified quite a bit. We were into Squirrel Nut Zippers and a lot of ‘old timey' music and rockabilly. We loved Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. I loved anything Mike Patton touched.

All of these more or less remain my influences. My favorites are Captain Beefheart (only discovered in the last two years—all those wasted years!), Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Mike Patton, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Misfits (at least the album Earth A.D. —I never tire of it), Rocket From The Crypt, Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Weezer, Fugazi, Minor Threat, and more O.C.B.s (Obscure Christian Bands) like Danielson Familie, Soul-Junk, Mental Destruction (pure industrial noise from Sweden) and One21.

How has religion influenced your work and life?

I'm tempted to say, ‘Not at all.' I would call my spiritual experience a relationship with God (what Jesus Christ taught), not religion (which smacks of man-made systems). But I know what you mean. Nor am I against ‘organization' as such. Without it we'd never have a scene with shows and recordings. The question is always what do we organize around, for what purpose, and with what ‘materials' and by what methods?

Having clarified that, I would say that my ‘relationship with Jesus' much more than influences my work and life; it essentially is my work and life. I don't mean that to sound more ‘pious' than it is. I'm a boob just like every other human. I don't have all the answers and I don't ‘get it right' much of time. In fact, part of my Christian belief is that whenever I do ‘get it right' it's not even to my credit, but due to God's grace slowly changing my life into one that looks like the life Jesus lived. As a Christian I hold that God has given us this life to enjoy (even through the suffering) and that every single thing we do (careers, family, art, etc.) can be a ‘thank you' to the Creator for His gift of life. I write my lyrics and sing my vocals from that perspective. I'm a creature reflecting the image of my Creator. The energy and passion of punk music and the imagery of horror/science-fiction lyrics capture what life is about for me. I can speak of both what is wrong and what is right, of both what is ugly and what is beautiful, (and how we so often mix these up and miss the depths and complexities of reality) through these media. In my own way I earnestly desire to tell people of the God who loves monsters and of the Christ who suffered for us and with us to rescue us from the moral monstrosities we so obviously have become (‘beautiful ruins' you might say, for I don't deny human worth or nobility).

I personally think God has the weirdest and wildest imagination of all (think deep sea creatures and deep space phenomena—and indeed how weird you and I are when we really think of it!). My lyrical/vocal laboratory misfits can't hold candelabra to His strange and majestic creation.

Do you feel that people uncritically accept modern scientific theories like evolution?

The more I study that issue, the more certain I am that people do just that. Not enough people are thinking and researching for themselves on such monolithic paradigms like macroevolution theory. I know not everyone is gifted with a scientific mind (I'm not), but everyone is gifted with a mind! We can all think it through on some level. Thankfully, the ‘Intelligent Design' movement within the scientific community is slowly but surely distilling new information and alternate theories that just may explain the evidence (which all ‘sides' share) more satisfactorily.

It appears to me that true and proper macro evolution (one ‘kind' of animal changing completely into a new ‘kind' of animal) has never been physically observed in real time (finches changing into other types of finches don't count!) or indeed even could be observed by the nature of the theory. When people see drawings of ‘ape-men' and ‘evolutionary trees' from one single-cell organism up to man they think they've physically seen evolution! It's a theoretical interpretation of biological facts. Is it the best one? Does it fit?

How did you come up with the persona of Otto Bot?

I'm afraid there's nothing to it. It popped in my head and sounded catchy enough for the moment and so that's how I was credited on The Monster Who Ate Jesus . I'd always gone by Otto in the band (that's my middle name). I'm not so happy with the Transformers association now that all's said and done. Oh well. These days, for purposes of Blaster identification, I go by the modification Otto NoBot.

Even though Blaster the Rocketman has been described as a punk band, there are also rockabilly, surf, and jazzy traces in the songs. Do you think the band fits into any genre?

Hm. Not really I suppose. I still usually say we're ‘punk' but then proceed to all kinds of vague qualifications and clarifications. The spirit of Blaster is always meant to be punk (which is a form of ‘soul' music, I maintain). We've always tried to squeeze any and every musical influence into that framework that we desired. When you have an interesting riff or rhythm or idea it's just so hard to reject it and say ‘no, that's not our style.' We always just say, ‘It is now!'

Johnny Cash said that his TV show in the seventies was cancelled right after he announced he was saved. Have you detected any anti-Christian bias in the rock world, and is it harder for Christian bands to get radio play or publicity?

I think many Christians, including myself, would say they've more than ‘detected' it, they've been positively blasted by it. Blaster, for example, has been mocked and sworn at on any number of occasions where we ‘dared' to speak of our faith from the stage—once, in the basement of a home that belonged to some witches, we were shouted down and had the plug pulled. We carried out our gear to the soundtrack of some blasphemous song about ‘Jesus is in my pubic hairs'. That was one of our favorite gigs.

I don't terribly mind this myself, nor do I find it unexpected. To me, that's the nature of being a disciple of Christ. Jesus said as much: ‘If the world hated me, they'll hate you because you belong to me.' That may sound like a bit of a ‘martyr complex', but I'm not looking for trouble. I'm simply facing what I perceive to be the facts. I'm prepared to take it on the chin from those who misunderstand and I'll do the best I can to remain loving in the face of conflict and to reason with people and hope for the enlightenment of those who are ignorant or misled or jaded.

I hasten to add we've also met many open-minded folk who were willing to engage in passionate, but rational, discussion.

However, I would say bands comprised of Christian members are more thoroughly in the underground and mainstream scenes than ever before, thanks not least to the likes of the beloved Johnny Cash. Open-mindedness from all sides can be nothing but a good thing. But we do all (Christians or non-Christians) have to stay true to what we believe without compromise unless or until we've been persuaded otherwise. Open-minded respect and kindness can be given in the context of personal integrity to one's beliefs and rational dialogue with others not likeminded. All the while we'll unite on whatever level we can (e.g. music).

What would you say to people that claim it is contradictory to play punk or metal with supernatural themes from a Christian standpoint?

Well, first of all, I'd say some punk bands and many, many more metal bands have always had supernatural themes, many of which assumed some points of Christianity (e.g. Satan's existence) and then used Christianity as their foil. From what I understand, in Scandinavia and other parts of the world, the ‘hard music' scenes are much more concerned about spiritual issues (usually spiritual ‘darkness' or what they perceive to be spiritual light—Wicca, etc.) than the socio-political issues so dear to the English-speaking and I suppose generally ‘Western' scenes.

This is not unlike the macroevolutionary debate. First, an evolutionist defines science as that which is purely concerned with natural/material causes in an assumed closed natural/material system. Then, if some scientists make discoveries that point to supernatural causes they're conveniently labeled ‘unscientific' by sheer definition. It makes no difference that genuine scientific method leads to supernatural ramifications; the evolutionists have already assumed philosophically a definition of science that excludes the supernatural.

If one defines punk or metal as ‘hard music played by anyone but Christians' or ‘hard music with lyrics that contain any perspective but that of a Christian', then yeah, Blaster being a punk band is a contradiction in terms. Again, I don't mind so much. Make up a new label if you must. I think posterity may laugh at the fussy distinction, but hey, do what you have to do. Personally, I roughly define ‘punk' as something like a certain form of raucous popular music for and by those who feel musically and/or socially ‘out of step' (to borrow from Ian MacKaye) with the world around them. The international punk and metal scenes surely already encompass any number of contradictory philosophies. If you want to say the one unifier is that they're all ‘anti-Christian' I suppose you could. Except that there are loads of punk and metal bands comprised of Christian members and who espouse a Christian worldview. (Oh yeah, I forgot, those aren't really metal or punk bands!)

I don't mean to disparage definitions or to espouse philosophical pluralism. We give names to things for the sake of precision in language and thought. For example, I wouldn't say just anyone can call themselves a ‘Christian' despite the fact that they hold beliefs contrary to that faith. They would need to take on a different name or add a radical modifier to ‘Christian'. The question is whether ‘punk' or ‘metal' are self-contained religions or ideologies. Maybe they are. But I tend to think they are terms more like ‘science' that describe an art or a discipline in which many ideologies or philosophies may participate.

The title "The Monster that Ate Jesus'," reminded me of the Ministry song, "Jesus Ate My Hotrod". Were you aware of the earlier song?

Yeah, I've heard it. Even before The Monster Who Ate Jesus was titled. The only lyrics I can recall on the Ministry song are the 50s ‘ramma lamma ding dong' type stuff going on (if I remember right). I think it's called ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod' is it not? I really don't remember and I'm pretty sure that song was nowhere on my mind's radar when I titled The Monster . That was actually the name of a really old prose-poem short story that I'd written.

Is there any intended correlation between the werewolf rights issue in your song or gay rights or any other movement? Is it anti promiscuity?

Yes to the first question. I'm inclined to think someone may have tipped you off on that one. I've told very few people that ‘Gay Rights' was initially in my mind when writing that. If you picked that up all on your lonesome then I guess the analogy and satire came through more clearly than I supposed (but not necessarily more clearly than I intended). I have to admit, if I were writing that song now I'm not so sure how I'd approach it. I don't know if I'd be as ‘in your face' with the satire as that. I believe the point it makes holds true, but I know it's such a delicate issue so prone to misunderstandings and indeed to someone being emotionally hurt (or worse). Up front, I do disagree with homosexuality as a lifestyle and I do love people who choose homosexuality as their lifestyle. It is completely possible to disagree with someone's choices and philosophy and yet love them. I do not hate persons who choose homosexuality . I do love persons who choose homosexuality . All we can do is rationally and respectfully discuss our views and hope for one another's enlightenment. Yes, it's touchy. Yes, it's intense. For both sides.

I don't believe those who choose homosexuality are necessarily morally worse than those who choose what I consider to be other immoral lifestyles (like, as you say, promiscuity in general, be it hetero- or homosexual). Unfortunately I couldn't fit in everything I wanted to say on that song. The extra lyrics and ideas are in the album liner. The liner notes for this song close with: ‘Despite the Lycanthrope's unrepentance, the Crucified One Who is Lifted Up continues to offer forgiveness to all monstrosities who will believe on Him.'

My Christian view is that we have all sadly perverted what we were created to be. We are monsters (in the evil, tragic sense) who need to be redeemed. In a song with my new band where I return to the lycanthropic imagery I say, ‘the bite is in the blood—the bite is in the blood of the “best” of us!' I have the curse of the werewolf just like anyone else; I'm in need of a gracious transformation from outside myself. That is what I believe Jesus has given me and gives to anyone who believes in Him. No one is beyond the reach of His forgiveness. He was sacrificed for all.

You have many horror movie references in your lyrics to sci-fi and horror movies like Bride of Frankenstein and Destroy All Monsters. Are you a fan of classic horror films?

I love classic horror films. I don't know if I could say I'm a fan because I don't really collect them or pursue watching them. I grew up watching a Friday late night local TV program hosted by a guy called Sammy Terry that showed horror films, many classics among them. I always especially loved Godzilla and werewolf films, especially the ‘transmogrification' scenes in the latter. I also really enjoy the classic horror literature that I've read like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (one of the finest novels ever written), Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , Poe's stories and others.

I've read that you are a fan of comics and cartoons. Do you have any favorite comics or cartoons, and did they have any influence on your writing?

There again it derives mostly from my childhood. I used to read comic books voraciously. I'm definitely a Marvel man, though I've become open to D.C. over the years. X-Men were probably by far my favorite. I used to walk around the school playground with each of two sets of fingers on either hand stuck together (Vulcan greeting style) so I could look like I had three fingers per hand like Nightcrawler. He was my fave, with Wolverine as a close second. I also read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from issue 1 for years before it became a rubbish cartoon and film and toy series.

I loved cartoons like Voltron, Robotech, Galaxy Rangers, Thundar the Barbarian, Thundercats, Silverhawks, etc.

So yeah, Wolverine and Voltron both made it onto the first two Blaster albums. There may have been others that I can't recall. The influence slowly crossed over to books though, especially C. S. Lewis's ‘Space Trilogy' and science fiction short stories.

Why did you decide to move to Scotland ?

  Through prayer and through counsel from people in our church we believe God ‘called' us to go to Scotland to do ‘missionary' work—that is, to help Christians here grow in their faith and to invite those who are not believers to consider the case for Christ and make an informed decision for or against belief in Him.

Is missionary work fulfilling?

It's fulfilling to know God. He ‘fills up' my life ( our life as a family) and makes me (us) complete. Yes, it's fulfilling to follow what you are convinced is His plan for your life. But it's also hard. It causes your character to grow. It's not easy to leave supportive and loving family and friendships that have taken years to build and deepen and leave all that behind to start over in a completely new culture. (Thankfully the language is same—more or less!—but not necessarily the mindset or customs.)

But it's been a blessed self-emptying. We're learning to really love these people of our adopted culture who have so graciously accepted us into their society. It's a privilege to ‘minister' to and with them.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

Voice of the Mysterons is our new band project. We've played our first three gigs in the past few weeks. We have two more coming up in the next few weeks. Things have gone rather surprisingly well so far. The reception has been quite enthusiastic. In fact, we've had to turn down offers for gigs so that we can get busy recording an album that needs to be done in a month or two! It is tentatively titled ‘They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven On Their Heads: Electromagnetic Rapture Rock for Abaddon's Lost Lads and Lassies'.

The sound is a bit hard to describe. The drummer of one of the bands we played with the other day said we sounded like Dead Kennedys meets Captain Beefheart! I was ‘chuffed' as the Scots say (‘pleased'). Dougle, the guy who's mainly the brain behind the musical side, is ostensibly going for something like Minor Threat meets The Dillinger Escape Plan. The drummer's a bit of an old-school prog and metal fan, so he adds a really strange rhythmic element—sometimes Latino, sometimes Iron Maiden. Go figure! We're all coming from different musical angles so it's quite a cauldron of sound. Dougle likes to say, ‘It's punk Jim… but not as we know it!' It definitely fits the punk criteria if for no other reason than that the songs average at about a minute and a half! It's been fun and creatively challenging. I'm looking forward to recording.

I also did the vocal narration for the upcoming second album of an instrumental ‘storytelling' band called Mercury Radio Theatre. (I describe there sound as Brainiac meets Fugazi.)

 

A ‘Son of Blaster' project is also in the long-term works. Some of the songs are in the process of being written. This is a transatlantic effort, so who knows when it will get done.

 

 

See http://pigseye.kennesaw.edu/~dkamal/theband.htm for more Blaster info.

 

 

Art | Cinema | Music | Miscellaneous | Contact

© artinterviews.com 2010

Photography by Richard Wilson