Third Shift Spotlight: The Protomen Interview

I wanted to do an interview with The Protomen. So they practically kidnapped me, again. But this time, I was expecting it.

Let me take you back in time for a second. Well, more than a second. Many years ago, when I was writing for the MTSU newspaper Sidelines, I had the privilege of being able to interview The Protomen when they were just beginning their journey as a team of robot warrior storytellers. If you’re hearing about them for the first time, The Protomen are a Nintendo synth-rock opera outfit based loosely on the popular video game series Megaman. They wear robot face paint and western attire, they cover Queen, and their shows are normally nothing short of epic.

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The Protomen

The interview that happened years ago was like no other. I showed up at the rendezvous point, or so I thought. I was blindfolded by their security team and escorted by car to another location. I was led through a dark building and was taken to a room where the band was on a TV screen. I had a microphone in order to speak to The Protomen via live video feed. This was my second story as a writer for Sidelines, so needlessly to say, I was certainly out of my element. But the highly secretive nature of this interview led to a great write-up. I immediately became locally famous as the reporter who shared secret info about The Protomen with the public after my interview with them was printed in Sidelines. Afterwards, I felt privileged to have been captured. So much so, that I agreed to do it again.

So now, I’m a contributing writer for No Country For New Nashville and we are two days away from our SXSW Send-Off Show on Saturday. Graciously, The Protomen have agreed to play our event. We have a formidable list of sponsors including Third Shift Amber Lager, Elevent ProductionsEast Nashville Underground, and Electric Western. 

And yes, like I said, they kidnapped me again. This time the rendezvous point was the Metro Center post office. Kilroy and an anonymous robot security guard showed up in the parking lot. I knew it was Protomen security as soon as they pulled up, so I began to assume the position, that is, of being prepared to be blind-folded and taken hostage. (There were other people on the premises. I could only wonder what they were thinking as they saw me being captured.) Apparently I have a big head, because it took Kilroy longer than normal to get the blind-fold around my head. Then he put me in their security vehicle and the crazy journey began. The driver was certainly reckless. He swerved constantly as if to instill fear in my veins. I put up with it, and even cracked a joke, saying “Rough roads, huh?” As I recall, he laughed subtly with a mad man snicker. The car eventually stopped abruptly, and I was escorted out and began to walk with the escorts leading me in an unknown direction. I was stopped and I could hear a motor chugging along, working really hard. I was led into a vehicle of some sort. They took the blindfold off.

Whoa! I was inside The Protomen RV, and it was clearly the party machine of the future. I saw Commander and Panther sitting at a table, enjoying some fine beverages. They had a plethora of Dr. Pepper, the party drink of choice in my opinion. Panther was decked out in his nightclub best, like he had just made the business deal of his life and decided to dress the part immediately. They had a microwave, a great sound system, and a oodles of cash just lying around. Panther offered to give me a tour of the luxurious RV premises. At that moment, Murphy came walking out looking like a half-naked oil tycoon, only sporting a robe and a backwoods cowboy hat. Commander was ready and willing to pour me some fine beverage. He stared at me incessantly while pouring and said in the most creepy voice imaginable “Say When!” So I did, and then he offered me the glass with a delicate, swirly shake before setting it in my hand. I started with my questions:

NC (No Country):  Since your band Protomen, is the plural of Protoman, does that therefore indicate that all of you, either as individuals or as a group, take on the characteristics of Protoman when you perform, such as reckless independence, distrust, and imbalance, or is the band meant more as a reminder to remember the story and legacy of Protoman?

P (Protomen): We are the Voltron of Protomen. We are one. The answer to that questions depends on the business skills and acumen of each member.

NC: How are The Protomen of 2003 and 2004 different from The Protomen of recent years? How has your sound changed? Would you still categorize it as Nintendo synth-rock opera?

P: Well, we have an RV. We are sponsored by Dr. Pepper. We have wine glasses and goblets. We are better than The Rolling Stones. Also, we no longer play concerts ourselves. We have hired doppelgangers and we pay them minimum wage to play shows in our place. We give them pre-recorded tracks to use and we don’t do the tours anymore. The minimum-wage doppelgangers gave a great performance at the last 12th and Porter show. We don’t let these doppelgangers tour in our RV. They tour in a fleet of Geo Metros. However, we have agreed to play this free show because we like free beer.

(At this point of the interview, The Protomen offered me a Hungry Man TV dinner. From the choices they offered, I chose the salisbury steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, and brownie selection. Murphy had a little trouble with the microwave, but soon enough, I was chomping down on a delicacy. I ate fast, but felt like a million dollars afterwards.)

NC: How did The Protomen go from being a novelty act that played a few shows a year to a touring force?

P: Our first actual tour was in 2006. We played in Memphis, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. This was before we understood touring and we didn’t make any money. But the turnouts were decent and we learned a lot from that first tour.

NC: What are your future goals and what do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?

P: We want more money. What is love without money? We’re active in the studio even though we’re not playing any shows and we are in the process of recording Act III. We want an entire world full of flash dance shirts. We’re working on a soundtrack for a Protomen movie summer blockbuster. It’ll be like Independence Day meets Top Gun starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. We also want to work directly with the guys who made Ancient Aliens. We’re actually going to play SXSW because we want to get out there. Commander owns casinos. There’s great barbecue in Austin, TX.  The last time we were at SXSW, Panther met Bill Murray and we almost got in a fight with the owners of Cheers. But, Austin is a rad place to be.

NC: What kinds of people make up your fan base? Is your crowd still made up of younger, Nintendo-avid fans, or has it expanded to diehard Queen fans as well?

P: TMZ ranked us the best Queen cover band in Nashville and more people know about us through that press than anything else, even more than all the Nintendo press we have received. A lot of kids, however, do come to see us because of the Megaman connection. But other times, kids just want to hear rock. One time our guitarist drank beer given to him by an audience member and he ended up rolling on ecstasy. We prefer all ages venues, but some young kids are very strange. Some cry when they get bumped around or pushed. But all ages shows are a way to teach kids about rock ‘n’ roll. We’re planning an Australia tour next summer.

(Kilroy chimes in over the intercom: “Things are gonna change, I can feel it. Also, I’m taking up knitting.”)

NC: How did you guys start to cover Queen?

P: A band called Evil Bebos was going to break up and they wanted to play their last show by playing all Black Sabbath covers at Exit/In. They wanted us to play the show and we of course would have to cover a band that was equally as bad-ass, so we agreed on Queen. We liked the challenge of attempting to cover their music. Exit/In was set up for doing live recording at the time, so we decided to have them record our live performance at that show. We had to do a lot of research and mapping for the vocal parts of Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s not a lot of room for error on live recordings. Once you do it, there’s no going back and fixing mistakes.

NC: Do you think that Protoman and Freddie Mercury have anything in common?

P: Queen was independent in that they didn’t care about genre, they just wrote good songs. In the end, no matter what genre or how you play the song, it’s still gonna sound like you. Queen had a huge swath of musical range.

NC: We see an interesting dynamic when robots have human-like traits between mechanics and logic of robots, and in turn, emotion, independence, and the unexpectedness of humans. Do you think that we want the best of both worlds when we create these types of characters?

P: It’s only natural to give non-humans human traits. There’s actually a robot tethered to the internet. It processes all human interactions and synthesizes them. It’s constantly learning ways to understand humans. But ultimately, I think you will never surpass humanity in the form of machines. Humans have to write stories.

(Kilroy again chimes in via intercom: “Dreams are for sissies.”)

NC: If you were going to compare the Robots Wars in Megaman to anything in real life, what would it be?

P: The music industry. Robots have no soul and neither do the bigwigs. Technology makes a soul deplete more. The new blood comes in and destroys the old blood.

Before I left the premises of the RV after the interview, Commander proceeded to perform a miracle. He made Jello instant pudding in less than six minutes. I was dumbfounded by the rapid process. Although it took ample time to look for a spoon that was never found, I managed to enjoy the instant chocolate pudding with a fork. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to an interview. The Protomen kindly drove me back in their RV to my car at the Metro Center post office. They seemed highly concerned about the remaining contents of the pudding bowl as it jostled frequently during the ride back. 

As I was walking down the RV steps, I asked “Could No Country borrow your RV for Bonnaroo?”  The answer was a resounding no, when they pushed me out the door and slammed it before squealing off into the Metro Center sunset.

Disclaimer: The Protomen would like the world to know that they have lots and lots of money. Their RV is overflowing with it. They have many amazing sponsors such as Hungry Man, Dr. Pepper, Jello, and Bing, although Panther immediately ordered Kilroy to sell Bing stock in my presence. They also want to make it known that they made the RV safe before I entered by checking to make sure that lot lizards were not trying to tear down the RV walls. Lot lizards are basically hooker zombies. 

Disclaimer to disclaimer: Hungry Man, Dr. Pepper, Jello, and (formerly) Bing are not actual Protomen sponsors.

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