To say that the Space Neighbors are a Corvallis staple would be an understatement. The Space Neighbors hold down a heartbeat sound in our transient college town, with their now decade of intergalactic existence as a homegrown band. Their brand of lively, space-themed, cross-genre jams — mixtures of funk, rock, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, jazz… or what the Space Neighbors dub “Retro Future Classics” — is often accentuated by the band’s cosmic attire, having a boogie-fever effect on the average Corvallis crowd.
You can experience this effect yourself, along with a slew of new songs from the band’s third and newest album, Which Way’s Up?, this Saturday, Feb. 23, at their Album Release Party at DeMaggio’s Pizza.
Changes in the Space Neighborhood
There have been some changes since I last visited the “Space Pad” studio just over two years ago for an interview (hyperlink) detailing their second C.D., Crucial Pie (following Escape Pod in 2011). Since then, three core members remain: guitarist and vocalist Nick “The Nick of Time” Rivard, bassist and vocalist John “Yohan Solo” Navarro, and drummer and vocalist Rigel “VII” Woodside.
Others from the old Space Neighbors crew have since moved on in pursuit of other projects. Former vocalist Melanie Reid now performs in the stellar all-women local band ISO, while former percussionist GalexC has delved deep into the Corvallis noise scene, with his awe-inspiring DIY goblin ensemble — which, if you can’t imagine what that means, I advise you go see it for yourself.
Rivard, Navarro, and Woodside credit some inspiration for Which Way’s Up to Reid and GalexC, who helped compose some of the songs before exiting the band. Though the loss of Reid, GalexC, and other Neighbors of old conjure feelings of nostalgia for the remaining three, they note an ease in the production process, riffing between such a small cast, as well as a more consistent sound than in previous albums.
Which Way’s Up does feature one guest musician: saxophonist Brian Myers in the song “Collective Consciousness”, as well as contributing goat vocalists from Navarro’s own homestead in “Transcendental Goat.”
Which Way’s Up is the Space Neighbors’ first stab at composing a more cohesive album, complete with cover art, credits and lyrics displayed on the C.D.’s interior, and an A-side/B-side assortment of the eight featured numbers.
“We really wanted to focus on it being an album as opposed to a collection of songs,” says Woodside.
The Neighbors originally intended Which Way’s Up as a concept album, generating lyrics to the idea of visiting other planets on what the band calls the Bassline Spaceline Express, a cosmic cruise ship, “which travels through the galaxy,” Rivard imagines.
“The idea was that we won an intergalactic competition for writing a theme song for the Bassline Spaceline Express,” he elaborates.
“The ‘Universe Gots Talent’!” quips Navarro.
The Space Neighbors tried imagining what it would be like to visit other worlds along the Spaceline Express: “A lot with songwriting is empathizing or imagining yourself in the shoes of someone else, or even something else when we’re thinking of space… to imagine yourself out there with that kind of disorientation,” Rivard explains.
Elaborating on this disorientation, the trio references the album’s title, Which Way’s Up, which doubles as a lyric in the final song, “Find my Place in Space.”
“It’s like a playful disorientation, ‘which way’s up?’, because… it could be really confusing in space,” says Navarro.
Better known for the more upbeat numbers they slather on at shows, The Space Neighbors reveal a more reflective depth in songs on the B-side track of Which Way’s Up. The album intentionally opens with the catchy, crowd-pleasers “Jammin’ with the Aliens” and “Transcendental Goat”, and ends with “Collective Consciousness,” “The Machine,” and “Find my Place in Space” — the latter of which are Navarro and Rivard’s current favorites, respectively.
“Find my Place in Space” especially delves into the kinds of existential crises that could arise on a deep voyage into outer space. One section of lyrics reads: “There’s no way up. There’s no way down./ the stillness is profound/ I see no movement. I hear no sound./ I wanna fill the space somehow”.
Most excitingly, anyone who purchases the CD can ride along for the journey, while reading the lyrics displayed in the album’s interior, against a backdrop of art by Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler. Kapuler also created the art on the front and back covers, which the Neighbors think emphasizes the feeling of cosmic disorientation.
A longtime family friend to the Neighbors and prolific artist, Kapuler’s acrylic works are describes by Navarro as “psychedelic, otherworldly, multi-faceted paintings.”
The art, lyrics, and thoughtful arrangement of songs are just some of what makes Which Way’s Up worth buying.
The Space Neighbors have stuck with a space-theme allegiance since the band’s creation in 2009, granting them the grace of consistency for their audience while also allowing their Earthbound imaginations to soar spaceward.
“The cool thing about the space theme is anything’s possible,” says Woodside. “We definitely use space and time in the broadest sense to invent things to riff off of.”
They describe their creative process as a sort of free-for-all jam sesh: “A lot of times we’ll just pick up instruments and start playing and no one will vocally say a key or what kind of rhythm we want to be in,” says Navarro. “People will just kind of glom onto it and wander around for a little while… [until] suddenly we’re groovin’.”
“We’ve been successful here because we bring something that’s interesting and fun,” says Woodside.
“I think there’s a real community feel and vibe to our shows,” says Rivard, “Everybody’s friends.”
Compared with the many collegiate bands that come and go in Corvallis, the Space Neighbors have stuck around — somehow in spite of all their intergalactic travels.
“There’s a huge, fluctuating crowd,” says Rivard, “these kinds of waves that crash into us and then dissipate. Some nights the oceans is rockin’ — oh, everybody’s washin’ in.”
Ride the Space Neighbors wave to DeMaggio’s Pizza this Saturday in support of intergalactic, homegrown music at The Space Neighbors Album Release Party, starting at 9:30 p.m. Must be 21 or older. $5 entry. CDs available for $10.
For more info on upcoming shows, plus media clips, visit http://spaceneighbors.com/.
By Stevie Beisswanger