In 1987 a diminutive Mississippi child was given a gift for his kindergarten graduation — A small grey cartridge with a rather misrepresentative cover art. At that moment, six other children, of varied statures and geographical locales, were also given these cartridges, and thus their grooming began. Sixteen years later, in the middle of the state of volunteers and under the tutelage of Doug Mitchell, their paths converged, their fates were made known, and their assembly was made complete. They then set out their mission: to purge the world of the evil that had been brought on by the new wave of music with naught to say (Billy Idol’s ‘Cyberpunk’ in particular), and to revive the rock opera. - from an early press release kit
History and development
"We're here to tell you a story."
The band hails from Nashville, Tennessee. Referring to themselves as storytellers, creating a "rock and roll fable", the group acts out their story while performing. The parts are played by The Gambler, Raul Panther, TURBO LOVER and K.I.L.R.O.Y.
The Protomen is composed mostly of MTSU recording program graduates. In 2003, the performer that would become known as Commander needed to record a project for grades and class deadlines. After gathering up several other individuals from school, including guitarists Heath Ledger/Heath Who Hath No Name and Doug Fetterman, and bass/keyboardist Murphy Weller, Commander then recruited Raul Panther to sing vocals on an as-yet-half-formed track that would eventually become "Due Vendetta". Following Due Vendetta's completion and finding themselves with an unexpected "hit" on their hands, the nascent Protomen began to compose the remainder of Act 1 over the course of the following semester, starting with "Hope Rides Alone". (see The History of Due Vendetta).
Their first live show was April 22, 2004. Most of the band had graduated MTSU and moved to Nashville and surrounding areas by 2005, and they began regular live performances at Nashville venues like The End and The Basement.
Act 1 (The Protomen) was released in 2005. Recording took place in several small studios throughout Murfreesboro and Nashville with band members creating all of the artwork, packaging, mixing and production, building on what had been started at MTSU. (However, Commander has stated that Act 1 was never really "finished", due to producer Heath Who's move out of the area.)
In 2007, the band was invited to several conventions, and played at San Diego Comic-Con by CAPCOM's invitation. They have maintained a friendly association with the game maker ever since.
Over the next two years, the band toured ferociously and worked hard to build their name. Early Youtube videos show a fledgling act testing themselves to find their voice and win their audience. As the word spread among the fanbase, more and more shows began to end up in parts or in whole on Youtube.
September 2009 brought the release of Act II, which showcased the group's musical development and attracted critical attention. Act II's production brought some important allies into The Protomen's camp, including Meatloaf producer Alan Shacklock. Act II also brought new players to the band - Turbo Lover, Sir Dr. Robert Bakker, The Gunslinger, The Nightwalker, The Reanimator, and The Gambler. Under this revised cast, the band began to experience an upward wave of popularity. The internet was now beginning to take notice. The Youtube bootlegging of performances, which had already been steadily rising for the last two years exploded into a full scale digital riot.
In 2009, the band competed for and won a chance to play at the prestigious Bonnaroo festival. They would later play SXSW, CMJ, and several other industry-fests over the course of the next three years. They would also become regular guests at PAX East, Nerdapalooza, and MAGfest, but it it would not be until 2010 that they returned to the West Coast.
Ringo Segundo replaced The Gunslinger in late 2010 as second lead guitarist. Songs that had fallen off the regular tour roster, such as Act IIs "The Fall", returned in force, and the band was able to explore new, more difficult musical ground. A triumphant and grueling 16-song Queen tribute set was a high watermark that ended 2010.
In 2011, the band has re-mastered and re-released Act I in limited-edition vinyl and has several more albums on the backburner in various states of completion. A documentary film is in process, with initial shooting completed as of September. The group fulfilled a long-time ambition by crafting a score for the Nashville play Terminator the Second and also performing cameo roles in it. They got big enough to sign on a booking agency. Despite the departure of second female vocalist The Nightwalker, the band continues its relentless touring and work schedule and shows no signs of stopping for the conceivable future.
All indications point to 2012 being the band's breakthrough year. They recently completed shooting an official music video for the first time in 6 years. They have been invited to open for Tenacious D in May and the Queen tribute album will be released in June. All of these projects should draw a lot of new attention to the group from different and expanded audiences.
In a 2009 interview, lead vocalist Panther stated, "We basically gathered up all of our good friends from the local rock bands of Murfreesboro, tied ourselves together, and tried to walk. And somehow it worked. At the time, we noticed a void in rock and roll. A hole that could only really be filled with grown men and women painting up like robots and playing some fierce and furious rock music based on a 1980's video game. We were fairly certain no one else was going to fill that hole. But, by god, it's filled now. You can thank us later."
Current members and functions
photo credit to Ben Trivett - band members, from left to right:
The Reanimator - drums, more drums, getting down from there
TURBO LOVER - featured vocalist, guitar, bass drum, being pretty, wearer of one hat. Performs Albert Wily in Act II.
Ringo Segundo- second guitar, awesome Bowie soundalike, new kid
Raul Panther - lead vocalist, keyboards/keytar, acoustic guitar, wearer of many hats. Megaman, Joe, and Thomas Light are his primary roles, and he also doubles as Protoman. Voice changes, removal of props such as glasses and gloves and helmet swaps indicate role shifts.
Commander B. Hawkins, Jr. - synthesizers, electronic drums, composer, beards, unexpected falsetto
K.I.L.R.O.Y. - rabble-rouser, harmonic jarana, sledgehammer. Performs as The Sniper and as Protoman in some shows
Sir. Dr. Robert Bakker - first guitar, paleontology, also being a knight
The Gambler - featured vocalist, keyboards, human choir, vocoder. Performs Emily Stanton in Act II.
Murphy Weller - bass guitar, bass synth, composer & team wrangler
Commander, Panther, and Murphy are the conceptual core members of the Protomen, but songs and compositions are traditionally group affairs with each member contributing some element.
See The Departed.
"We are here to butcher the shit out of a story."
Not to be confused with the authentic group, The Protomans are a (one-off?) tribute band composed of the regular staff of MAGFest and members of bands like Rare Candy and Descendants of Erdrick who performed a "secret show" at the Jamspace during Pax East 2012. Legitimate members of The Protomen were in attendance and really amused by the tribute, which was terrible, affectionate and spot-on. You can hear The Protomans performance and some reaction from The Protomen at The Nerdy Show. There's also The Protomans official Facebook page.
Stage names and personas: why the secrecy?
Following in the tradition of both rock and roll showmanship (David Bowie's adoption of personas like "Ziggy Stardust", KISS, etc) and early video game credits (producer Inafune is known as "Inafking" in Mega Man credits) the band members have adopted stage names which they use at all times while in public settings and during performances and interviews.
These names are largely in-jokes or references to pop culture films, song titles, and fictional characters. These code named personas are not presented as characters within the stories of The Protomen and feature no part in the story that the band tells.
Early interviewers and reviewers unfamiliar with the group sometimes get the difference between code names and characterizations confused, so a legend arose that The Protomen never 'break character'. That's not really true- they simply never use their real names in insecure areas.
There was a time at the beginning when they presented their initial concept - that of a band of robots built by Dr. Light to tell his tragic story - much more seriously, but in the last few years they've consciously backed away from that position, asserting a bunch of grim-faced dudes in black can be too "creepy". However, older band members still jokingly assert themselves to be robots, especially on Facebook and in interviews.
Complicating their not-very-serious efforts at secrecy, many band members have strong ties to the Murfreesboro and Nashville independent music scene and some are current performers in non code-named bands. Most of the running members have either active side projects, solo recording careers or previous band histories. For their protection, these alternative projects will not be named or discussed on this wiki.
Unscrupulous people have tried to profit from The Protomen's fandom by abusing pre-and-non-Protomen material. In a particularly heinous example, one individual came close to releasing an entire album of material from one of Panther's earlier bands without his consent. The need of secrecy in protecting their true identities and past works is not entirely imaginary or playacting for this group for this reason.
Youtube, Internet fandom, and Guerrilla Marketing
It's safe to say that without the existence of Youtube, The Protomen would not have reached their current heights. As of 2012, almost every performance is ritually and routinely made available by fans in whole or in part after a Protomen show - sometimes uploaded with delays of a few hours or less. These videos have proven to be the single most powerful force driving the band's penetration into otherwise inaccessible areas. They keep the fandom active and interested during downtimes, and also showcase the "ritual" aspects of a Protomen performance for newcomers, ensuring a feedback loop between performers, regular attendees and new fans.
The Protomen are a pure Internet word-of-mouth phenomenon. With the band receiving little mainstream recognition or financial support, the fanbase has become responsible for driving and fueling the band's upward progression. In addition to creating videos, the fandom has also generated original artwork for flyers, financed the upcoming documentary film (overfunded by 400% from its Kickstarter goal!), created photo sets, and evangelized endlessly on message boards, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites and from person-to-person.
Recognizing this, the band routinely allows taping and redistribution of show videos online, but does take aggressive action if they discover their CDs or IP to be bootlegged. It is generally understood that sharing video is fine, sharing the recorded music - especially digital versions, with or without the lyric sheets and librettos - is not.