Droids Attack is a very funny band, but it’s no joke. The three piece from Madison, Wisconsin will blister your car’s clear coat from 100 feet, but they’ll do it with a wink. “In a lot of our lyrics we hide inside jokes,” guitarist/vocalist Brad Van says.
“Our next record is more of a comedy album,” bassist Darwin Sampson adds. “It’s a big, conceptual musical piece, but lyrically you’re going to be scratching your head, saying ‘What the fuck are they doing?'”
“It’s more like if Weird Al Yankovic was writing stoner thrash music,” Van says.
Weird Al would’ve never occurred to me, but an electrified Tenacious D crossed my mind. There are the superficial comparisons: Van, Sampson, and drummer Tony Brungraber are all in their forties–a very D-like time to be crossing the country in a van in an effort to rock our fuckin’ socks off. There’s also the fact that singer Van is bearded and heavyset while his virtuoso sidekick Sampson long ago sacrificed his locks to the rock gods in exchange for excellence in bass noodling.
But that stuff doesn’t matter. Where the D and the Droids cross paths is that both bands mix their love of metal and humor with high degrees of musicianship. Up front Van is a riff machine, pulling references from Black Sabbath to Tool but very much doing his own thing. He’s not some cookie monster screamer on the mic, either–the guy’s got vocal chops.
Brungraber has been playing drums since he was a kid, starting with his own family. “We played a lot of polkas, waltzes, country, standards–we even wrote some original stuff that was more rock and roll,” he says. I joke that I don’t hear much polka in Droids Attack’s music. “It’s there–just listen subtly,” he says. Is he joking? I don’t know, but when the house lights go down later that night, Brungraber lays down the sort of crisp, relentless groove that only comes with years of practice.
And over on stage right is his partner in the rhythm section, bassist Sampson. He’s actually the band’s third bassist, but it’s hard to imagine Droids Attack without Darwin holding down the bottom end. The bassist’s passion for music shows in his technical prowess. “I love playing live music,” he says. “I’m never going to stop playing and creating music.”
Their latest album, Sci-Fi Or Die, is littered with gods, fantastic weapons, and ancient mysteries. I ask why science fiction and metal seem to intersect so frequently.
“I think a lot of metal fans get more into the medieval knights and dragons and sacrificing virgins and witchcraft. Sci-fi is more the progressive bands. For us, we just dig a lot of the same humor and entertainment,” Van says.
“With sci-fi there’s always the potential for apocalypse, and apocalypse and metal go hand in hand,” Sampson adds. “The potential for extinction is fascinating to people. It’s terrifying, and metal is supposed to be terrifying at some level.”
“I wish Tipper Gore would start smashing our albums. That would make us seem more terrifying,” Van jokes.
As long as she doesn’t smash mine. Sci-Fi Or Die has been in my power rotation since I picked it up, and it belongs in yours, too. Follow Droids Attack on Facebook for links to merchandise and tour dates. You might even find some hidden polka references.