Young people of today, please take note: If you’re going to be in one of those bands that dress up all funny to play music, don’t do it halfway. Go the whole nine yards. Get a look that matches the music and take it to the max. Follow the example of Minneapolis Tron-rock foursome Manplanet, a band whose members are color-coded from their hair and vinyl bodysuits right down to their nails and the drinks they consume onstage.
“It started off as with just the suits,” says Jeff Ham, a.k.a. Jefferson White, singer, guitarist and main songwriter behind Manplanet, whose live shows have been compared, for obvious reasons, to scattered crayons and agitated handfuls of Skittles. “We just kept adding things as we thought them up.” The Manplanet lineup is filled out by Tim Holly, a.k.a. Tim Crimson, on bass (red); Atom Prince, a.k.a. Atom Blutron, on synthesizers and guitar (blue); and Pete Greene, a.k.a. Pete Green, on drums and synthesizers (green). Actually, all members of Manplanet play synthesizer here and there.
Ham is a bit evasive as to the actual concept underlying Manplanet, although he does admit that the band is neither from space or humanoids out to enslave humanity with pop music, a la Man or Astro Man. And where outfits and gimmicks quickly become tiresome when the music fails to measure up, Manplanet tunes are hardly an afterthought to all the costumery. They’ve released two CD EPs of fabulous space-race bubblegum, Skylab and An Introductory to Musicianship, both strong on songwriting and long on songs about space stations and robotic concerns.
Actually, you might say that Manplanet is basically writing the same couple of songs over and over, but Ham always manages to top himself with new metaphors connecting chicks and space: blasting off, love interests as streaking comets, returning from orbit and burning up it in the atmosphere. The music seems strongly influenced by Weezer and Weezer’s side-project the Rentals, with molasses-thick guitars and New Wave keyboards veeping and vooping everywhere, but it never comes across as derivative. How could a band with a song about Skylab be derivative?
Of course, it’s not all spec-food sticks and zero-gravity bliss when you’re a crew member on the spaceship Manplanet. They’ve still got some earthbound hassles to contend with. For one thing, Ham confirms that band members and their hair get no shortage of funny looks while driving across the country looking like a matching Sorry pieces, even without the uniforms. And those nifty vinyl suits the band can be seen modeling in promotional photos were recently stolen from the back of a club where they were hung up to dry after a typically sweaty show in Philadelphia (“Hey,” says Ham, “It is vinyl!”). The theft of the suits forced the band to play its first-ever plainclothes show the following night.
“Yeah, that sure sucked,” Ham agrees. “You can’t get that material just anywhere, either. I think you have to send to New York to get it. Some shop that sells bondage gear and stuff like that. But the girl who makes our outfits is working on some new ones that should hopefully be ready in time for this show Monday.”
Girl who makes your outfits? You mean there’s an entire wardrobe department behind the Manplanet space program?
“No, just a friend of ours who makes our outfits. She used to be in this all-girl band who had a song called “Manplanet.” People always ask us about the name, and it’s just a song they made up. We’re not actually pretending to be from a Man Planet or anything. Or looking for a planet populated by men exclusively.”
As for the color-coded regimen of stage beverages, it seems like the green, red and blue members of the band would make out a little better than Ham, whose choices are limited to clear or light-scattering white. Does he end up drinking a lot of Zima, which is not only clear but comes in a neat space-age bottle?
“Um, no,” he laughs, “There’s all kinds of clear things that mix with Sprite or 7-Up. Like vodka.”