Astronauts, etc.

This month, Anthony Ferraro’s plan is to record his first full-length album at Tiny Telephone under the appropriately cosmic moniker Astronauts, etc. The project’s name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the sudden rise in pluralities with other band names: (Woods, Girls, Temples), but that’s where his subtle snarkiness starts and ends. Genuinely friendly and calmly composed, he cites Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi as a mentor and friend, and was invited on tour as their keyboardist shortly after graduating from UC Berkeley.

Between touring with Toro y Moi in 2012, he began to drop songs on Soundcloud and eventually self-released the super-lush and atmospheric EP Supermelodic Pulp. On his forthcoming EP Sadie (out September 23 on Hit City Records), Ferraro’s unassuming falsetto rises over rumbling and blitzing textures tightly constructed to simulate weightlessness. NPR’s All Songs Considered recently premiered single “Up For Grabs” and called it “full of hooks that hid just below the surface, under layers of murky keyboards and skittering drum machines.” 

See Astronauts, etc. perform in their hometown at Leo’s, the brand new venue in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, where they’ll open for Be Calm Honcho and Big Tree.

The Bay Bridged: You’re a classically trained pianist – was it a focus in college?

Anthony Ferraro: I don’t have a performance degree, but I focused on it personally. It’s the world I’ve lived in most of my life. It’s hard for me not to listen to a pop song and deconstruct it into its component parts, and how it would be organized from a classical standpoint. But when I go about making music I try not to start from a classical place because that doesn’t allow for much breathing room.

TBB: Could you name a couple of your favorite composers?

AF: I’m a big fan of Impressionism, so probably Satie, Debussy, Ravel. Those are my main guys. I was a big Romantic fan for awhile, but I like how the Impressionists bend your sense of tonality. They don’t adhere to a certain key. Things are a lot more fluid, a lot blurrier.

TBB: I’ve read that you’re part of the non-market collective.

AF: Yeah! I guess it’s a collective. Is that what we’re calling it these days?

TBB: *laughs* That’s what the website calls it. I have so much interest in that actually, because it’s a bunch of local bands and you guys seem very supportive of each other.

AF: Yeah, it’s just a lot of friend love. Our main concern is not to be exclusive, which can be difficult because it grew around particular bands and we’re trying to extend, not membership, but participation. We just threw a big bash in a warehouse in West Berkeley and it was great – at this old steel foundry. We had music and art on the walls from artists within the scene.

TBB: I know that Trail and Ways, The Seshen, Waterstrider are all a part of it – are there more bands on the periphery?

AF: Bells Atlas, Perhapsy, Idea The Artist – those are the ones that are popping out right now, but there are definitely more.

TBB: You guys put together a compilation.

AF: Yeah, we put together a little covers compilation, which actually went toward funding a non-market zine.

TBB: Will members of Waterstrider and Bells Atlas perform with you on-stage at Leo’s?

AF: We’re going to be a three-piece at Leo’s, normally we’re a four but Derek (Barber) our guitar player double-booked so we’re going to take that opportunity to do a more stripped-down set. Derek is our guitar player and he plays in Bells Atlas, and then Scott (Brown) is the bass player. He’s in Waterstrider and like 10 other bands – he’s gigging pretty much every night of the week. And then our drummer is Aaron (Gold). They’re all jazz kids. They all went to school in Michigan.

TBB: And then they decided to move out here?

AF: Yeah, not really together, but it’s funny, there’s a sort of contingent of Michigan jazz folks out here who compose a big part of our music scene. They’re all fantastic players who can learn new music really quick. We’re actually heading into the studio on Monday. We’re in there 12 days to record a full-length album.

TBB: Where are you recording?

AF: Tiny Telephone. I love that everything is analog. I’m excited to go the live instrument route after making an entrance as an electronic-ish artist. I’d like to react against that in a big way and see what I can do with non-electronic music.

TBB: Do you ever feel like Astronauts, etc. is put on the back burner for Toro y Moi? How do you keep a balance between the two?

AF: Chaz has been sort of a mentor since I met him. When he asked me to join I was excited beyond expression. Toro y Moi is definitely my main gig I would say. Not to say that Astronauts is a side project, because it’s my main project in terms of my involvement. With Toro, Chaz does pretty much all of it on his own for the recordings and we come along to play it live, but none of us have an investment or stake in the actual records. Astronauts, etc. fulfills my recording artist side of things, and then I can hop on the road for a longer span with Toro to tour and travel.

TBB: You met Chaz while making him coffee, right?

AF: A very serendipitous cup of coffee. He moved to Berkeley and I think it was two days after he moved that he came into Philz. I recognized him, but it took me a second to place his face. I wasn’t super familiar with his music. I started listening to him, and we struck up a friendship. It evolved into me joining eventually. He heard I was graduating, and invited me to be his keyboard player. Good timing.

TBB: Then he

[Chaz] did the artwork for Supermelodic Pulp?

AF: He did. I love that artwork. Hopefully I’ll get him to do something in the future again. He’s almost a graphic designer first, at least how he tells the story. He went to school for it and I think he really, really enjoys aesthetics in general. Visual aesthetics are just as important to him as musical ones. It seemed natural for him to do the artwork.

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TBB: Speaking of Supermelodic – I love that album. My favorite song is “Labyrinth”. Could you tell me a little about the making of that track, or the catalyst?

AF: Sometimes I like to write really creepy songs. It’s sort of a creepy love song, like maybe I love you too much, maybe I’m a little too invested in you. Maybe you don’t even know that. It’s hard for me to say what any of the songs are really about sometimes, but that one feels more like a narrative than a lot of the other ones, and the narrative is: I want to trap you. The labyrinth being a person and personifying a maze. On each release I have a token creepier song and sometimes I think that people don’t realize how dark of a song “Sadie” is or maybe how dark I intended it to be, but “Labyrinth” and “Sadie” are maybe analogues for each other.

TBB: What can we expect for Astronauts, etc.’s future?

AF: I guess my goal is to never make the same record twice. One thing that I’m grateful for as far as having a classical background is that I have a theory base to draw from so I can pick up instruments as I need to, and so I’m excited to recontextualize things with every record and use completely different palettes. Whether it’s electronic or all live instruments. I don’t ever want to rule anything out, but I always want to have inconsistency in a good sense. A consistent voice, a consistent character, but I want the context to always be evolving. That’s what Chaz has done and I really admire him for that.

Big Tree, Be Calm Honcho, Astronauts, etc.
Leo’s Music Club
September 20, 2014
9pm, $12 (18+)