Absorbing the Hellish World of Science Man
Out of the lab and into the streets, Science Man is the ever-evolving and enigmatic one-man band project of DIY demigod John Toohill, who's mastered every sub-genre of punk from his countless projects, proving time and time again that he's a solid pillar in the Rust Belt of Buffalo's punk scene. Following the release of his last album, Nines Mecca, we caught up with Toohill to see how exactly Science Man evolved from a solo experiment into a full band of mouth foaming, deranged hardcore punk and how the new album's concept came together.
Science Man is the ever-evolving and enigmatic one-man band project of the Buffalo-based DIY demigod John Toohill, who's mastered every sub-genre of punk from his countless projects — including the krauty synth-punk of Brute Spring, the eggy new wave frenzy of Ismatic Guru, the abrasive bizzarro punk of Radiation Risks, the corrosive noise punk riffage of Alpha Hopper, and of course the blood-soaked surf punk of The Hamiltones — chaotic rock 'n' roll from all angles. Through every release, Toohill has proven time and time again to be a solid pillar in the Rust Belt of Buffalo's punk scene.
Following the wild assault of garage punk on 2020's Science Man II, Science Man has now mutated from a solo experiment into a full band of mouth foaming, deranged hardcore punk. Released back in March through Feral Kid Records and Toohill's own label Swimming Faith Records on both LP and VHS, Science Man's third full-length album, Nines Mecca, is a near 19-minute rush of blistering genre-bending hardcore punk and pummeling no-wave that summons the dystopian hellscape that awaits — it's a flesh-annihilating spectacle both musically and visually.
Back in February when we premiered Nines Mecca's unearthly instrumental "Adventure Spit," Toohill said that since this new record is faster and harder with its claustrophobic cuts of hardcore, he considered ditching the Science Man moniker and releasing it under something new. "I initially envisioned this album as a full band playing live and I've been horny for the dystopian future for as long as I can remember. Gimme any book, movie, TV show, album that casts a vision of the hellscape humanity is bound to create and I'll eat it up. Maybe I just didn't think we'd actually Philip K. Dick ourselves this hard," Toohill said through email. "I was just at home, marinating in all that while I played guitar alone in my room. I even considered ditching the Sci Man name and making this something else entirely. But I didn't. So… You get a raging hardcore band this time."
We talked more with Toohill to dive deeper into the Nines Mecca concept, its visual companion, how Science Man turned into a full band, and other experiments brewing up in his lab.
Paperface Zine: Take me through the origins of Science Man. What was your vision when forming this moniker?
John Toohill: Big dumb accident. Radiation Risks tour late 2017. I had just scored a shitty used laptop and a 2i USB powered interface. Programming drums on a $5 app to songs in my head, dumping them into GarageBand, then layering guitars/bass/vocals on top between shows while Biff [Eric Bifaro] was driving his loud ass van 100mph to the next gig. There was zero vision then. Just flopping down the highway, tracking simple songs to see if I could do it. That was the demo and half of the first album. The name and anything attached came later. My bandmates were like, "what the fuck are you doing right now?!" I joked something like "oh I'm just doing some real science man shit back here." Honestly it's kind of all MISLED YOUTH from D.C.'s fault. One of them boys demanded my dumb solo project play their Buffalo show. I had no band, but the music was done. So I plugged in a bunch of shitty amps and played as SCIENCE MAN. Everyone knows solo acts usually suck so I had to have a gimmick. Mixing shit together. Who knew I was gonna get stuck with it.
PZ: From 2018's demo to the most recent Science Man record, Nines Mecca, how do you think you've grown as a performer/musician under the moniker?
JT: I got a band now, so I've grown like, what, four people? I toured a shit ton in 2019. That is hard and moving a ton of gear sucks. It's basically evil karaoke and if my programmed lights glitch out, it becomes real obvious I'm just drunk, wearing goggles. Plus nobody knew who to book me with because apparently being a loud punk band isn't widely accepted if you are a solo act. You can't really jump on hardcore shows in a mesh shirt with a beaker which is lame and also kinda where I thought I should be. Who knows. It was fun, but I think by October I realized it was sorta becoming MY THING that people know me for and not just the silly, fun side-project I envisioned it was. So I got home and basically redirected the ship. I think if you look at it from Science Man II, the 7", and now Nines Mecca, it makes sense sonically. I didn't wanna start over again so I moved it closer to what I actually wanted to be doing. Finding a band and ripping it up with songs I'm writing. I think otherwise it's still me acting a fool. I haven't grown much there.
PZ: What's it like approaching the music of Science Man compared to your other projects like Brute Spring, Spit Kink, Ismatic Guru, and The Hamiltones? Have any of your projects ever crossed paths?
JT: Oddly, there is zero crossover. That's why there are different names for them. Different games with different rules. Like, The Hamiltones is basically Nick [Reynolds] and I picking up guitars, looking at each other, and saying "let's write a (insert dumb idea) concept surf album." We just get to work. I wouldn't really write material for that randomly alone.
PZ: How do you balance the numerous musical projects you're part of while also running Swimming Faith Records?
JT: I don't. There is no balance. It must be exhausting to be around me [laughing]. I don't know man, I just try to be doing something creative at all times so every action moves the whole cart forward a little. That's fun for me. I don't usually see it as work. If it becomes too stressful, I try to change it to be more fun.
PZ: Does the approach to your songwriting and creativity change across the various projects you're part of or do you just let it happen? Also, what was the focus of the songwriting for Nines Mecca?
JT: It depends. Is it MY project or something I'm doing with other people? I think I spend a lot of time contemplating the idea or the energy or whatever of a project in the back of my head. Then when the pot starts to boil over, I sit down with a guitar or keyboard and vomit it out. Usually a bunch of songs quickly. For Nines Mecca, I was just like: I'm starting a hardcore band again and when I find the right… oops I wrote everything and recorded all the music already. Shit. This is kind of just Science Man again then, isn't it?
PZ: While previous Science Man releases have embraced lightning-fast garage punk and surreal no wave, Nines Mecca is an odd set of genre bedfellows that unleashes scorching hardcore punk, bone-crunching metal, and brutalizing industrial punk (hinted by some past releases) all at once. Take me through how you put this album together so quickly?
JT: December 2020 to February 2021. No vax roll out yet. Everyone is mostly still at home except for going to our stupid jobs. I wrote like 16 or 17 new songs, but with "the second it’s clear, I'm gonna form a full band with these" in mind. I just got carried away and ended up recording them at home. Playing everything. Layering. Rewriting parts. I DO NOT have pro studio gear (you don't need it). I turned to John Angelo after I finished my version and was like, "this is gonna be a full band album. I'm probably gonna give it another name. Help me fix up this record so it's not just another Science Man record. What do we need to do?" We got to work on it. Didn't really rush anything. Tried a bunch of shit. Re-tracked some things. Voila! He even joined the band after.
PZ: Were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea? Were there any that really surprised you?
JT: Totally. I'm not like some savant that hears the whole thing in their head. I layer parts and kick shit around to see what falls out. I wrote and recorded a ton of songs then later decided which ten fit together best. Some wormed their way back in at the end. Like "Birth of Mountain" suddenly was one of the best songs on the album and it forced me to cut two other more "fun" songs to compensate for this new overall energy taking shape. It pushed the album into a darker place and songs like "Super Charger" suddenly fit in. So, yeah, there's probably three or four other fun jams you could have heard but, naw.
PZ: The new album is also accompanied by a video project you worked on with your partner Lindsay Tripp, who also plays in Spit Kink. Take me through the origins of this and what's the concept behind the videos? Also, what video was your favorite to make and why?
JT: Around March 2021, we didn't know if touring or regular shows would be happening anytime soon. The songs were ready but records take a fucking year to press. It felt like we had time to do something bigger. I wanted to learn how to film and edit my own videos. I basically turned to Lindz and was like "I have these ideas. What do you think?" We got to work. I'm heavily influenced by sci-fi, horror, and any weird surreal stuff. I keep mentioning the green screened dream sequences in Ken Russel movies, like Altered States or Lair of the White Worm. He never used the effect to make something pass as REAL. It's not like some Marvel movie special effect with someone flying or whatever. That shit never looks cool to me. So we just decided to follow that suit. Surreal wacky batshit style. Plus we had no money or training to do that other crap anyways. We made it a rule to not have any distinguishable time or date for these. We kept saying: dystopian future, post-apocalypse from another time. No logos or devices or period specific stuff. Add in Lindsay's masks and stop motion animation, and we built a world. We didn't want to burden ourselves with a clear cut overarching plot to follow, but each video definitely has a theme and tells a story in relation to the song lyrics. I like to think we did a good job of making it work without taking ourselves too seriously and keeping it fun to watch. I love them all, but covering Ryan [McMullen] in red paint and balloons then watching the girls punish him holds a special place in my heart in the video to "No Quarter for the Brute."
PZ: You finished touring Nines Mecca at the end of July and we were even lucky enough to host you for a warm-up show at the Rosen Krown in Rochester. Talk to me about how that tour went for you and some favorite memories that were made. Lots of pinball I heard! [laughing]
JT: Well, I didn't not just hate it… I loved it! First off, this recent July chunk of dates was with my Cleveland dudes Carter [Luckfield] and Spek [Adam Spektor] on guitar. They are usually ripping it up in their band with brother Marty Brass called Red Devil Ryders and I was blessed enough to have them with me. Lots of pinball, yeah. Fort Wayne in particular. But I think a special highlight for me was when Spek made us all go to some '50s-style, roller coaster filled death trap outside Madison, Wisconsin called Little Amerricka to appease some psychotic obsession he has with climbing aboard barely operational amusement park rides. It's like he's trying to lift some old witch's curse from his family or something. I swear to god he had us on this tetanus jalopy that overlooked an actual graveyard. Like if the ride killed you, they could chuck your remains over the fence and save everyone a trip. Insane. I took a spin on a ride called the Mind Rat or something like that. The whole thing should be melted down into "do not enter" signs. I don't know. It made that lunatic happy and it made us late enough to miss Chicago traffic.
PZ: That Duende Silo City show in Buffalo last summer was incredible especially with the seven-piece! What was it like putting that show together with all those bands (Mystery Girl, OC Rippers, etc.) and what do you love most about playing there?
JT: Honestly I was already booking us a tour kick off gig there that night when Dan [Crampton] from Mystery Girl hit me up asking for the same date for them and O.C. Rippers. So I said hop on. Then my old bud Baby Tyler needed a show while he was wrapping up his tour . So you know we had to do it. Normally you don't put three touring bands on your own tour kick off benefit but the magic of Duende is strong. Gigs there seem to always be a hit. People love hanging there. Even the rando normies who come by accident end up having a blast. I love that place and everyone who runs it. They are all artists and musicians and true heads. They get it and they want to see the bands get every single penny that comes through the door. Can't say enough about it.
PZ: Back in August, you released the second Ismatic Guru tape. I understand that project sort of formed abruptly between you and Brandon Schlia (Clump, Steak and Cake Records), which is how the first tape happened. Talk to me about how this new one came about?
JT: Honestly I think Brandon and I were both amazed how easily it came together and how much everyone seemed to dig it. So about a year later he rang me up and said "ready to get back to work?" And we did. The only thing that really changed is we played each other a bunch of songs by other bands we'd been excited about lately and said "hey, let's try to throw a little of that spice in the blender this time too." Otherwise we kinda took the same approach. Maybe we were just more confident and juiced up about it this go.
PZ: What else you got cooking up in the lab over at Swimming Faith?
JT: Just dropping styrofoam in the gasoline over here like everybody else. There's a lot, so here's what's coming:
The final Radiation Risks 7" that's been on the shelf for like four years is finally out. Best shit we ever did!
A super secret short run LP of the fastest hardcore I can write. It might just be the next Sci Man album actually.
Alpha Hopper wrote a new album. We just got to make time to record it soon.
Black & White Cat / Black & White Cake has a lot of new material. Maybe time for a debut 7" or LP.
David Kane and I are back to work on new Night Slaves stuff. I'm really loving that.
Brandon and I already wanna do another Ismatic Guru session.
Half a Hamiltones LP is recorded. Nick and I just need to lock ourselves in a room together and finish it.
Lindz and I wanna do another Spit Kink tape soon. Tapes are great cuz you don't have to wait a Fucking year like vinyl.
Probably a few other weird side project bands doing tapes since that's fun and easy. We'll see. Lots of talk.
Maybe Lindz and I will make another video series. I'm excited to find out whatever happens. I'm probably forgetting stuff. Just trying not to get bogged down with label/band WORK and get re-focused on making just the music.
Nines Mecca is out now through Swimming Faith and Feral Kid Records.