The Music Of Phat A$tronaut, From 'The Funkier Parts Of Connecticut'
While members of the band Phat A$tronaut like to say they hail from the “funkier parts of Connecticut,” they clearly mean musically.
Their upbeat and danceable songs about love, politics and how people connect are often inspired by daily life around them.
That includes watching TV.
Phat A$tronaut front man Chad Browne-Springer said he once wrote a song after seeing an episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" set in Houston. It was a moment he could have easily missed.
"In the background of that episode is a sort of chant similar to the one in [our song] 'Motherland,'" he said.
Browne-Springer has an ear for riffs, as does Phat A$tronaut guitarist Mark Lyon.
“Chad and I met each other on a gig I was backing up,” Lyon said.
New Haven and Hartford have vibrant alternative club scenes, and both musicians frequently played — and still do — with other bands in clubs.
“We got along really well,” Lyon said. “And I asked him if he would want to start a band.”
Lyon played him a simple line of music he'd composed, and Browne-Springer said that moment made it easy to say yes.
"To my recollection, he had a riff in his arsenal already that he'd been sitting on for a couple of years, and presented to a couple other singers — and it didn't work out," Browne-Springer said. "But then he played that, and I pretty much instantaneously had an idea."
Lyons's riff and Browne-Springer's lyrics became the song "Greene Eyes" on Phat A$tronaut’s first album.
The seven-member band of 20- and 30-somethings also includes Ro Godwyn on harmony vocals, Dylan McDonnell on flute and saxophone, Travis Hall on drums, Brendan Wolfe on bass and Stephen Gritz King on keyboards.
Phat A$tronaut has a strong club following, and even listening to their albums, it’s hard not to dance. Their sound is a mix of funk, soul and R&B. Some songs are composed using unique time signatures, with influences that range from jazz to heavy metal. They’re fans of Prince, Frank Ocean and D'Angelo.
In the studio, and sometimes live, Browne-Springer has experimented with running his vocals through a vocoder.
“I'll do some looping and vocal manipulation, so I sound like a rapping chipmunk,” he said.
Harmony singer Ro Godwyn said she sees herself as a utility player in the band, complementing Browne-Springer's lead vocals and deciding how to transition from one song to another.
“I try to think in terms of what can I add to what's already here, as opposed to create something out of nothing,” Godwyn said, adding that she also writes and performs her own music.
Phat A$tronaut is diverse — by race and gender, and also by musical training. Some members studied classical, others jazz. Some didn't study music at all.
The game plan, or at least the dream, is that they all can make a living working as Phat A$tronaut. For now, most have day jobs working in an office, a coffee shop, or teaching music.
A couple of months ago, Browne-Springer quit his day job to focus on music. He toured — without Phat A$tronaut — and spent some nights on his sister's couch. That's how he ended up writing the lyrical song "Puppy Love."
A music video features the couch and an incredibly photogenic Yorkie named Milo.
Lyon, who also manages the band, said Phat A$tronaut has had a challenge selling its first album, The Fifth Dimension, in digital distribution.
“We put it on Bandcamp and Spotify — stuff like that — and Bandcamp gives you stats on how many plays there are and how many downloads. And that record really kind of slipped under the radar,” he said.
Lyon said Phat A$tronaut is holding on to some recently recorded songs, all mixed and mastered, until they come up with a better business plan. (The group also submitted an entry to the NPR Tiny Desk Contest.)
It does seem almost anyone can record and produce these days, but because Phat A$tronaut isn’t just one thing, Godwyn believes that's a selling point.
"Everyone [in the band] is collectively stepping out of their corners of punk or jazz or funk or R&B or soul and kind of meeting in the middle," she said. "I think that with a band like Phat A$tronaut, where we struggle a lot with even naming a genre, that puts us in a good position."
A position, she added, in the middle of a hypothetical room drawing those listeners out of their own corners.