Astronauts, etc.

I can remember the exact first time I heard Anthony Ferraro’s voice under the moniker Astronauts, etc. Bandcamp put together this great city guide for local music in Oakland, and since I had just moved into the neighborhood from San Francisco I felt compelled to dive into what I could learn about an area that I had taken so little time to get to know (I know, I know. But the Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube are really daunting before you get used to them.).

“Sometime Tomorrow” by Astronauts, etc. is the second track on the compilation. It’s lyrically-focused and subtly driving. It’s energetic, but that kind of energetic that follows you as you walk slowly on a cold, sunny day. I immediately found the group’s Sadie EP, a collection of songs that are mostly electronically produced and then proceeded to stumble onto Mind Out Wandering, which came out in September of last year.

Fast-forward to now, and I’m sitting at Awaken Cafe, waiting to meet with Anthony Ferraro, the frontman and brains behind Astronauts, etc. Oakland is a city I barely know, but one that I feel like I got a better glimpse of due to Mind Out Wandering. Ferraro was with friends when I arrived. But he also had a copy of Infinite Jest to the side of his chair. This image is one of the most defining ones I have of him. He’s social, involved and engaged in the conversation, but a part of him is reserved and quiet, as if he’s taking in the moment and slowly letting it digest.

Ferraro is a classically-trained musician who studied musicology at UC Berkeley. He got into pop music later on in his life and grew up more on the classics than anything. After being able to become a full-time musician, including touring with Toro Y Moi, he spent a good amount of his free time cooped up in his bedroom recording Astronauts, etc.’s early releases, including Supermelodic Pulp and Sadie.

“It was really a combination of loneliness from recording alone in my bedroom to really experiencing the sound of a full band that pushed me into recording with a full, live band for Mind Out Wandering,” said Ferraro about the album. The switch is evident. For example, I feel like I’ve grown up with “Up For Grabs,” a track that is featured on SadieMind Out Wandering and the recent Mind Out Wandering (demos) that Ferraro released on Bandcamp.

More importantly, the first line (I know that I’m a pain in the ass / But I heard your heart is up for grabs) is arguably my favorite of Ferraro’s lyrics. The first version (featured on Sadie) is heavy on bass, dreamy and slow; it’s reliant on electronic sensibilities and elegant piano playing. The version on Mind Out Wandering is polished and centered around much more instrumentation. You can hear fingers slide on an electric guitar through the chord changes. A harpsichord replaces the synth. The heavy bass is substituted with a soft drum kit. The song’s essence is still there — it’s just telling the story a little differently.

“I made Mind Out Wandering on the cusp of listening to a ton of different music,” said Ferraro, “and a big part of how this album came to be was with my experience of touring with Toro Y Moi and of my desire to make a lot of different types of albums.”

The album was recorded at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, and specifically recorded analog, directly to tape. This was a move that Ferraro found to be a good starting point for his first LP, to lay a foundation for Astronauts, etc. that was real and raw in sound and presentation.

“It’s a record of 2015,” he said. “It either chronicles how I felt at that time or how I felt for that month. I wanted the record to be an anchor for where I’m at.”

With tracks like the transcendent “Place With You,” which has a palpitating rhythm section and dream-like chorus that takes listeners for a ride, and “Upward Swing,” a piano-centric ballad with the heart-wrenching lyric “What if she caught me on an upward swing?”, Mind Out Wandering anchors a point in time for Astronauts, etc. It set a foundation that put the falsetto-singing, keyboard-playing musician onto a very visible map. The addition of the live rhythm section (and more) is just one step forward in many for Ferraro and his band, who swears by his excitement for the next steps for Astronauts, etc.’s sound and style.

“I want to make a lot of different kinds of records…yeah.”

You can check out Astronauts, etc. next month for Noise Pop 2016 and listen (or find) five songs that Anthony Ferraro has been listening to lately below:

  • “Only A Shadow” – The Cleaners From Venus
  • “Like A Ship (Without A Sail)” – Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Chorus
  • “The Electrician” – The Walker Bros.
  • “Our Prayer” – Albert Ayler
  • “I’ll Find A Way (To Carry It All)” – Ted Lucas
    [NOTE: Cover version used in lieu for the Spotify playlist below]

Astronauts, etc.
The Independent (Noise Pop)
Tuesday, February 23, 2016.
7:30pm, $13 (21+)