The Forecast: Yesterday and Today : Pop music: Roderick Romero’s band, Sky Cries Mary, harks back to space rock and looks ahead with computer technology.
When three bands from Seattle tour together, it’s guaranteed that the word alternative will creep into concert bills.
It’s a word that makes Roderick Romero of Sky Cries Mary cringe. His band is touring with Hovercraft, a band that includes Eddie Vedder’s wife, Beth, and Sweet 75, featuring ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic.
“I really hate that term, alternative . It has no meaning to me anymore, especially these days, when so-called alternative acts are high on the charts,” Romero said on the phone from his hotel room in San Francisco, on a California swing that brings the triple bill to the Coach House on Thursday.
“I don’t think music should be classified, but if our style of music had to be, I would prefer we be called a space-rock band.”
The space-rock branch of rock’s family tree is nothing new. Pioneered in the early ‘70s by such English bands as Hawkwind (whose lineup once included a pre-Motorhead Lemmy Kilminster), the music was so titled because of its common theme of intergalactic space travel and contact with other beings and a style of music that was spacey and hypnotic.
“I love Hawkwind and early Gong,” said Romero, who was introduced to both groups’ music by Mudhoney singer Mark Arm. “He gave me [Hawkwind’s] ‘Space Ritual,’ and I was amazed. After that, people were giving me tapes of all these old progressive bands, and I was shocked to find out just how many bands were doing this type of music.”
In its heyday, Hawkwind staged extravaganzas with psychedelic light shows and a dancer named Stacia while playing long, trance-like songs with plenty of feedback and driving beats.
Sky Cries Mary has captured this spirit on its latest release, “This Timeless Turning,” the fifth album of its eight-year career. But before the band became a latter-day hippie extraterrestrial group, it was very much on the dark side, with its roots closer to Throbbing Gristle than the likes of Hawkwind.
Soon, however, the intensity of the music started to take its toll.
“When we played industrial, it was very negative. After awhile, I started to realize that this heavy industrial music was becoming a vortex that was destroying me as a person,” said Romero, 29. “I didn’t want to continue playing that style of music but wanted to focus more on the humanistic and organic side of the music.”
Romero and the band’s singer, Anisa Romero, are married. The other members are guitarist Michael Cozzi, drummer Bennett James, keyboardist-guitarist Gordon Raphael, bassist Juano and Todd Robbins who, as “DJ Fallout,” supplements the band’s music with prepared tape samples. Also contributing is David Kushmerick, whose use of slide projections is key to Sky Cries Mary’s stage show.
“David comes to all of our rehearsals and uses his slide projections in sync with the music. It’s amazing what he does,” Romero said.
Although some space-rock bands preached drug use as an essential component for enjoying their music, Romero said that drugs are not part of the Sky Cries Mary’s message.
“We’re 98% clean,” Romero said. “A lot of the members of this band have been through a lot. And now, there just isn’t room for drugs.”
Until recently, the band was known for indulging in heavy-handed theatrics. But when the stage show started to steal attention from the music, Romero realized it was time to tone things down.
“I was watching this Genesis tape from when Peter Gabriel was in the band. At one point on the tape, Gabriel is talking about one show when he came up in the slippery-man outfit and was unable to get to the microphone. It was so funny because that same thing happened to me. It was very Spinal Tap, so I started to scale back on the theatrics.”
For this 19-date, monthlong tour, Sky Cries Mary is sponsored by computer software giant Microsoft. It’s another step in the band’s evolving relationship with high technology. In 1994, Sky Cries Mary presented the first-ever live rock concert via the Internet, beating the Rolling Stones and their “Voodoo Lounge” Internet concert by a week.
Between acts, Microsoft and Sky Cries Mary will be demonstrating CD Plus, a new format that integrates music, video, graphics and sound onto the same disc.
“We didn’t contact them; [Microsoft] contacted us,” Romero said, adding that the band is not getting any money from Microsoft. “It was really weird. We just jumped in our car and drove down to their headquarters, and they opened their doors to us.”
Though it might seem obvious that Romero’s space-rock band would find a successful marriage with the latest computer technology, he is quick to point out that the band’s primary mission remains to pass good music onto those who want to listen.
“If we can give an hour and a half of hopefulness to people, then that is great,” Romero said. “For us, the music is a cleansing thing for not only the artist, but the audience.”
* Sky Cries Mary, Hovercraft and Sweet 75 play Thursday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $14.50. (714) 496-8930.