By Michael Hamad
1:40 PM EDT, August 20, 2013
Put an alien on the flier. That’s how you get New Haven musician Jose Oyola to go to your show.
“If it has an alien on it, I’m there,” Oyola said.
Space is the place for Oyola, whose band the Astronauts headline Spacetron, a multi-band event at Hamden’s Outer Space and Spaceland Ballroom on Aug. 24. Other booked acts include Hubbell Mountain, Sun Dagger and Head With Wings. There’ll be LED hula hoops to play with by Veronica Vixen (who appeared in Oyola’s “Struve (Born in the City)” music video). When you walk into the Outer Space, there’ll be face-painting, a photo booth and some people making space-themed caricatures. When you walk into the Ballroom, two projection screens line the sides. There’ll be balloons, confetti and television screens during the Astronauts’ set. The whole shebang was organized by Oyola, with support from his label, Obscure Me Records.
“I feel like Connecticut needs to step it up a little bit,” Oyola said. “Make the New Yorkers want to come to Connecticut. Make the Bostonians come down to New Haven.” It’s only $15, and everything’s included: face-painting, photo booth, your picture gets printed out in 15 seconds. “It’s something I just want people to come out to and have fun.”
Oyola’s interest in space goes beyond psychedelic-music associations and a few Pink Floyd records: He actually knows something about space. “I don’t know if the earth is really blue,” Oyola sings on “Outside,” a song (at 3:15, one of the longest) from his recent album, Give, Give, Give. Take, Take, Take.
“[Outside] is one of my favorite songs on [the album] because it’s such a simple message,” Oyola said. “I like leaving things ambiguous. My girlfriend’s always calling me a nerd. She listens to my songs and she knows I’m saying something about space. She knows that it’s a piece of information, not just imagination.”
“I don’t know if that’s really true / I want to go outside / I don’t know what it’s like in outer space / I don’t know if the sun will melt my face / I want to go outside.” It’s a childlike song, with two chords that alternate back and forth through the whole thing under Oyola’s melody and some pleasing harmony vocals. “My dream, since I was a kid, was to see the earth from the outside,” Oyola said. “I think if everybody was given that opportunity, we would fight a lot less. [Space] seems far, but if you get out there, it’s like 23 miles. That’s about halfway to Hartford [from New Haven], just in a different direction.”
In 2009, Oyola played flute, his primary instrument, for a band that broke up. He joined another on bass. Eventually, he got sick of having a limited role and started learning how to play the guitar. His friend Sam Perduta, from the New Haven band Elison Jackson, took him on tour; he had a 12-minute set. “We went all the way down to New Orleans,” Oyola said. “I had a 12-minute set, four songs. After that, I got back and thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’” He wrote an album and played out with a rotating cast of musicians. Now, the Astronauts is a full band with a fixed roster.
Many of the songs on Give are under two minutes long. “When I first recorded that album, there were 10 songs running about 28 minutes,” Oyola said. “It was a nice introduction. I was listening to a lot of White Stripes at the time. They’re short songs that get the point across right away. The songs now — we have a whole new album that we are recording — are longer songs. Sometimes I think with guitar and vocals there’s only so much you can do before the audience gets bored. They get tired of hearing the same thing over and over. I like two minutes, two-and-a-half minutes: here’s what I have to say and move on to the next thought.”
Oyola, a self-described control freak, started his own band partly because he wanted more say in how the music was shaped. “There are ideas that I wanted to nourish and get out,” he said. “Playing flute is completely different than playing guitar, because I can’t do two things at one time.” He likes the crowd’s gaze and the sway he has over them. “At the same time, I’m a physics major, and I really like space, and that’s why I talk about it a lot. I try to just match it up with human emotions, but I like being almost educational. Space is something massive to think about, but it can be as big or as small as you want it. I want to be educational: ‘You can look up, and this is what you’re looking at in the sky.’”
The response to the Astronauts’ live shows has been positive so far. For his part, Oyola tries to mix things up as much as possible. “I’m a big believer in the album having a completely different life than the live show,” he said. “I’ve seen bands that sound just like their album, and that’s great, but I could have just listened to it at my house. I want to go out and feel something, and that’s what I hope to bring in with Spacetron.”
The full band wants to get into the studio as soon as possible, but the direction of a new album is something they’re going to have to figure out. “We don’t know if we just want to go into the studio for a couple of days and just run the set with the full band or if we want to go through a full production,” Oyola said. “The songs are ready. It’s just a matter of getting into the studio. We have a few shows that we want to get through before that. We want to put out an album because Give was more of an acoustic version of everything. We have a new 7” coming out the day of Spacetron, and that’s more of what we sound like now.”
If you go to Spacetron, meanwhile, in addition to the face-painting and caricatures, be prepared for visuals, new songs and spontaneity.
“When I go to shows, I don’t like taking pictures or anything like that, because I like the storytelling behind all of that,” Oyola said. “I feel like there’s more mystery behind that. I feel like if people hear about the show, they’ll come to the next one... I like keeping people on the edge of their seats.”
Featuring Jose Oyola and the Astronauts, Hubbell Mountain, Sun Dagger and Head With Wings, Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m., $15, Spaceland Ballroom and Outer Space, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, tacohutmusic.bigcartel.com
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