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Artist Profile: The Amino Acids

A Detroit-area instrumental surf-punk band is calling it quits after more than a decade of taking the stage in “human form”. WDET’s Rob St. Mary introduces us to the strange sounds and pseudo-history of the Amino Acids.

(click the audio link above to hear the story)

“It’s merely a freak in their genetic code that has brought them to this planet… and I’m sure they don’t plan to harm us… at least not yet.” (music fade)

Paraphrasing from the band’s My Space page - the extraterrestrial parasites that would become known as the Detroit-area surf-punk band the Amino Acids crash landed on Earth sometime in the early 1960s. At the time, they failed to find host bodies so they went into hibernation. After awakening in the late 1990s, they were successful in finding host bodies. But for some reason they formed what their press release calls - “an abrasive, instrumental surf-core band”. The band’s personas… who do not speak to humans… have shared little information about what planet they are from or the reasons they decided to play music instead of the usual clichés of cinematic alien invasions – such as slaughtering the masses, enslaving humanity or other types of destruction and mayhem.

Dave Taylor, who has played the role of the guitar player “the Reverend Angry Larry”, says back in the late 1990’s he was in a surf band called the Moonpies.

“When I was younger I used to call people “Amino Heads” if they worked out. I don’t know… it was just a stupid that we used to do. So, I just said we’ll call ourselves “The Amino Acids” because without us you would die. So, that’s just how the whole thing got started… just kind of a cross between Devo and the Mummies.”

Taylor says several other bands also influenced his musical tastes at an early age.

“And then was I was nine I bought a Ventures record. And so, I started playing Ventures songs… but I was playing Black Sabbath prior to that… so, I just kind of mixed the two.”

From its inception, the four piece band has shunned vocals. Instead, the Aminos have sampled dialogue from 1950’s and 60’s science fiction films. And the band uses a Theremin – an early electronic instrument known for its spooky, ethereal sounds to give the music an edge. But Taylor says just creating music wasn’t enough. He says he wanted a stage show of some sort in order to keep people’s attention. Growing up a fan of the theatrics of KISS and Alice Cooper, Taylor and the other band members put together costumes and an act that become the Amino Acids live experience.

Former bass player “His Magistrate Jules Renault” – played by Chris Urbanski – says the band dresses in black Dickies work outfits and Chuck Taylor high-tops along with maniacal grinning masks.

“They look like alien bank robbers with a tube coming out of the top of their head with constant smiles on their faces.”

Dave Taylor and drummer Scott Boyink – who portrays “the Senator Thompson Aldous Speck” – say the masks featuring a frozen smile can be quite unnerving to some audience members.

“Grown men and bikers would go “Man, you guys are just scary!”. That became a theme for a little while… when… we really knew we were on the right track when we started getting that comment exactly… “I love your music and I like coming to your shows, but I just can’t watch you play.”

But those who brave their shows often see more than just four musicians bashing out tunes. Boyink says the set dressing has usually included stacks and stacks of televisions playing old science fiction films. And some of those old TVs… brought to shows by fans… have been sacrificed on stage.

“Because a venue were being such jerks that… we smashed a guitar and a TV on stage. But, that just got bigger and bigger for a while. It got so big that we couldn’t even manage it as a prop any more. It was 14 TVs and you have to show up the night before a gig and bring ‘em all in.”

And since their formation over ten years ago… the Amino Acids have played close to 500 shows locally and nationally. On Saturday, the band will play a farewell show. Taylor and Boyink joke that the Aminos are ending because they have run out of steam.

“We’re washed up. We’re washed up… we are out of good ideas. We never had any good ideas. So, we’re washed up completely. We were done from the start, so, it’s kind of amazing that it carried on.”

But on a more serious note… Boyink says the band is taking the business advice of bar owners who have hounded them for years about their tendency for over-exposure.

“Scotty, what are you doing, man? You guys play too much! You’re playing at my bar and then your play at this other bar. You guys don’t have the same crowd. I think that you’re really not that worried. Then we would do OK there. Still, you guys play too much, you play too much, you play too much and it’s like… we’re addicts!”

But, with a passion for the music…Taylor says the Amino Acids could re-materialize on stages around town from time to time while he’s playing in other bands.

“And you never know… if you come out to see the Minoan Brain Eaters or the John Deere Tractor Beam… the Aminos might just show up.”

Saturday night’s farewell show at Smalls in Hamtramck will feature several former members… making it a reunion of sorts for the surf-punks from outer space.

Oh, and if you plan to attend, Taylor says feel free to bring any old TVs, guitars and basses. They will receive a proper sacrifice as part of the show.

I’m Rob St. Mary – WDET News