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Amoeba People Find a Niche for Nerdy Science Music

The group’s rocking new album, The Fossil Record, includes a genre-bending set of songs that helps make science foot-tapping fun.

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Their shtick is dorky. They write and sing goofy songs about science. They purposely dress like nerds.

The Amoeba People, whose members claim to be musical ambassadors from the faraway (and fictional) planet Crouton, hit the Internet stage today, 10 May, with their third full-length album.

Illustration of The Amoeba People’s album The Fossil Record
The Amoeba People’s latest album is The Fossil Record. Credit: Album cover artwork by Dustin Jordan/Courtesy The Amoeba People

It’s a rocking, swaying, hootenannying, and genre-bending set of songs. It’s original music about dinosaurs, fossils, Earth history, and scientific discovery on a record called The Fossil Record.

Get it?

“There are plenty of bands that do love songs. There are plenty of bands that do breakup songs. There is a great need for bands to be doing nerdy science music, let’s be honest,” Amoeba People band member Ray Hedgpeth confided to Eos in an interview prior to the release of The Fossil Record, which is available on digital platforms, including Bandcamp and iTunes.

Among the tunes on the new release, Hedgpeth said that “Chicxulub,” a song about the large impactor that abruptly ended the dinosaur age about 66 million years ago, probably is his favorite. While composing it, he wondered how to make a sunny and upbeat song about a catastrophic event—“almost like a lounge singer’s version of mass extinction.”

Here are some of the lyrics:

……….Chicxulub, there is a crater down in Chicxulub
……….Don’t be a hater, brother, don’t be rude
……….It’s only Chicxulub…
……….Oh, yes it slammed into the Yucatan
……….Which became a giant frying pan
……….Cooking the atmosphere

Imagine Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby crooning the love song “Brazil.” That’s what Hedgpeth said was a big influence on “Chicxulub.”

On its Facebook page, the band winked that when the new album dropped, it would be “making a huge impact just like the object that created the Chicxulub crater.”

Music That Can Appeal to Scientists and Others as Well

“People who are into science love [our music], of course. But the people who are not necessarily into science seem to find an appeal in the music itself and the humor, and then that kind of pulls them into the science,” said Hedgpeth, the band’s primary songwriter, who also plays guitar, banjo, keyboards, theremin, and other instruments.

Hedgpeth shares vocal duties with Ryan Mosley on bass and keyboards and Dustin Jordan on drums and other percussion. Jordan also created the album cover for The Fossil Record. All three hold day jobs while moonlighting as musicians. Hedgpeth teaches fifth grade, Mosley is an electrician, and Jordan works as an exterminator.

All three also play along with a loose mythology that they are aliens sent to Earth to transmit scientific information in the form of music back to their planet Crouton, which whimsically is located in the Ensalada star system 17 light years from Earth.

Why the name Amoeba People? Hedgpeth said that it’s part of the mythology that band members are blobby forms on Crouton but shape-shift to human form on Earth.

Back on this planet, the group formed in 2010. The Amoeba People serve as the official house band for the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, Calif., make cool videos to accompany some of their songs (the video above, of an earlier song, “Continental Drift,” has been viewed nearly a million times), perform at about 15–20 live gigs each year, and recently appeared with The Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye the Science Guy on stage and on the society’s podcast.

Dinosaur Songs and More

Another song on the album is “The Terrible Lizards,” which rattles off the names of extinct dinosaurs and includes this knockout chorus rhyme:

……….We are the terrible lizards
……….Wiped out by a post-asteroid blizzard

“If you are going to name our album The Fossil Record, you’ve got to have something that is just solidly just straight up dinosaurs. That was the goal with that tune,” said Hedgpeth about the song, whose chorus was written by Jordan.

The Fossil Record also includes some western, old-timey, and folk songs. “Heigh Ho Grand Canyon” has a cowboy vibe reminiscent of Gene Autry. “Aa Aa Pahoehoe Lava Rock Walk” was inspired in part by Hedgpeth’s college geology professor, who joked that “aa aa” is the sound you make when you walk on lava on bare feet.

Hedgpeth recalled that while the band was recording their “Geology Folk Song Medley,” they listened to authentic folk music by The Weavers. “We’re actually hoping that one of the trends we can start is geology-inspired singalongs around campfires on geological expeditions,” he half joked. One of those catchy campfire tunes is “The Outcrop in the Sky”:

……….When our earthly time has run
……….And we face life’s setting sun
……….We’re rollin’ to the outcrop in the sky

……….We might erode or crystallize
……….Or subduct and orogenize
……….Or just roll on to the outcrop in the sky

Among the other songs on the album are several that focus on the early role of women in geophysics while also mixing in dollops of humor, good beats, and hummability. One of the songs, “Girl Talk,” pays tribute to Marie Tharp, who played a leading role in mapping the ocean floor. The song begins, “In the early 1950s, Marie Tharp’s ideas were dismissed as girl talk.” Another song, “Farmer Hutton and Mary Anning,” celebrates fossil collector Anning.

Hedgpeth said that he has been working on some other songs about heady topics such as climate change, but they are not fully written yet.

“I do think that it’s an incredibly difficult thing to communicate the more controversial topics well, because you don’t want to come across as treating something like climate change as just another topic for a silly Amoeba People song. So we take that a little more carefully,” he told Eos.

“At the same time, a lot of the stuff that we do doesn’t tend to avoid that stuff because it’s controversial,” he added. “We just tend to skew toward the stuff that lends itself to more humor because we’re already writing in a humorous vein.”

Poking Fun at Science, Scientists, and Themselves

Hedgpeth said The Amoeba People is the most fun that he and the others have ever had playing in a band.

“It’s just like getting together with your best friends constantly and then just having fun, but having fun doing what you love the most, which is music,” he said. “It just turns out that the topic of science just continually lends itself to constant new discoveries of ways of looking at the world and thinking about the world, of poking fun at ourselves or poking fun at humanity in general, or even just lightly poking fun at the process of science.

“Scientists can take things very seriously, and we find that when we hold up a mirror to them and say, ‘Hey, this is one way of looking at what you guys do, this is a humorous way of looking at it,’ they usually think it’s hilarious,” Hedgpeth said. “Our response from scientists is often the most enthusiastic out of all the people who listen to our music.”

Getting serious for a moment, Hedgpeth said the band does feel that it has a kind of mission. “Because people are constantly expressing a thousand different points of view, it just seems like now, more than ever, that science and the method that science uses to determine things is extremely important. How else are you going to sift through, every single day, the thousands of statements that people are making? There has to be some way to stop and say, ‘Okay, let’s take a closer look at this,’” he said. “So even though what we’re doing is completely dorky and humorous, underlying all of that is a very kind of serious mission.”

But then, Hedgpeth shape-shifted the interview and let slip that as a citizen of the Planet Crouton, the band’s mission is “peaceful world domination.”

“We want to get our songs and our videos and our message out to the world, but we come in peace through science,” he disclosed. “Well, the full phrase that we often use is peaceful world domination through scientific awesomeness.”

With that, it’s time to bid farewell to Hedgpeth until we meet again listening to the music of The Amoeba People. And what more fitting way to part than by rocking out to “Goodbye Pangaea” from their new album?

……….Singing so long, it’d be so good to see ya
……….But you’re long gone, goodbye Pangaea
……….You had your fun and you played your part
……….But now the time has come for you to drift apart
……….Singing so long, goodbye Pangaea

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Amoeba People find a niche for nerdy science music, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO123621. Published on 10 May 2019.
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