Spirit Rockers

Ghostland Observatory's eerie beats will inspire you to hit the dance floor

The only thing more fun than a rip-snortin' live performance by Austin, Texas, dance-rock duo Ghostland Observatory is a phone conversation with singer/guitarist Aaron Behrens.

Topics range far and weird, from the merits of Vanilla Ice's theme-song contribution ("Ninja Rap") to Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, to the lasting legend of pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes, to the post-apocalyptic cartoon series Thundarr the Barbarian. Ghostland Observatory--which consists of Behrens and co-songwriter/keyboardist/drummer Thomas Turner--isn't afraid to get wild and wooly.

Take, for instance, Behrens himself, who with every show dons the darkest sunglasses, braids his hair Willie Nelson-style, wears the tightest pants and unleashes the sexiest stage moves since 1999-era Prince. But Ghostland Observatory is no retro-'80s flashback for the hipster set. Instead, the duo exists for the sole purpose of freaking people out and kicking them in the ass long enough to make them want to dance.

"I'm a hippie at heart," says Behrens, in what may be an effort to tie his band to the larger rock 'n' roll canon. "I'm a big fan of the whole '60s free-love vibe, which is a result, I believe, of staring too long at my dad's Jimi Hendrix album covers. They were probably acid-laced, causing my brain to absorb the drugs."

Despite the rave write-ups on the band in the wake of last year's Paparazzi Lightning, released on Turner's own Trashy Moped label, Behrens says Ghostland Observatory is all business and not as much hedonistic pleasure as you would imagine.

"I walk a fine line," he admits, "and there are some temptations of the devil, yes sir. But I'm engaged and have a 3-year-old daughter. So that keeps me grounded."

How in the world does Behrens' fiancée handle his lascivious performances, which at times seem to incorporate maneuvers borrowed from a drug-addled Tijuana stripper?

"Oh, man, she loves it," he says. "Our shows give her a chance to bust out of mommy mode."

Mommies aren't the only girls who want to have fun while listening to stomping bass-heavy tracks like "Sad Sad City," with its sci-fi synth melody and Behrens' existential lyrics pleading for interspecies union ("Outer space / Is a lovely place / A long, lost love with a primal face"). Or consider "Ghetto Magnet," a full-throttle garage rocker beamed down to Earth from a galaxy far, far away, where the drum kits are made out of titanium steel.

After crash-landing in Tucson, Ghostland Observatory will play a few more West Coast dates before venturing to London, England, for a couple of club performances.

"We hear they got this new wave scene going on there," says Behrens. "We're going to show them how we do it here in Austin."

Like their Texas peers the Black Angels, who have also basked in recent critical acclaim, Ghostland Observatory take what they do seriously. Behrens and Turner believe in avoiding snakes and bad ethics, and making sure to have a good time. That means, according to Behrens, no selling of their music to Coca-Cola, M&Ms or Hummer.

"If you've got something that's good and real, and you're willing to put some work into it, you can make it," he claims. "You'll have something that lasts in the long run."

Still, Behrens remains tantalized by the notion that Ghostland Observatory's music could push a product. The pop-culture references abound.

"Maybe our music could be used to advertise one of those board games in between Saturday-morning cartoons," he thinks out loud. "You know, like Rapid Fire? Or maybe an electronic game like Simon Says."

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