PREMIERE: Roman Candles Video Touches on Religion, Celebrity and MTV

'Jesus Was an Astronaut' had as long a journey as its subject

Members of Roman Candles stand in front of a wall outside
Roman Candles (Photo by Beth Wallin)

“It’s the catchiest chorus about jerking off,” the members of Roman Candles proudly proclaim in a press release announcing the variegated video for the alt-rock band’s new single “Jesus Was an Astronaut,” the premiere of both track and video for which can be found below. 

The video, directed by the band’s drummer/singer/songwriter Daniel Jackson, displays the four-piece at various local venues, including The Milestone, The Rooster, and Starlight on 22nd, kicking off the tune’s mid-tempo sassy strut with Jackson’s swaggering drums and Rodney Wallin’s rumbling bass. 

As Grey Revell’s and Justin Kent’s guitars entwine in an almighty irresistible riff, evoking the glammy, gritty, trashy legacy of The Ramones, Suzi Quatro, Slade, and Norman Greenbaum’s grunge-encrusted “Spirit in the Sky,” Revell launches into a swaggering rock recitative; equal parts Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ punk-rock howl and Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory” gutter poetry.

“Heavenly hosts will sing hosannas on Europa/ Ave Mariah, Carmen Electra/ You see them dancing at the Club La Vela/ A robot pulling your slot machine lever…” 

Intercut with the onstage performances is a dizzying array of animated collages where David Bowie, a pro-wrestling Madonna, and bedraggled Muppet Gonzo jumble, jostle and duck for cover as the fiery Hale–Bopp comet streaks overhead. 

Meanwhile, Revell’s vocal depicts the Christian savior as a hopped-up space jockey, a hot sky rider with the right stuff and a rocket in his pocket.

“Jesus flies into outer space/ on applesauce and goofballs…”

Meanwhile, Jackson’s crazy quilt collages bombard the viewer with images from Easy Rider, Tron, E.T., and The Wizard of Oz while Donald Sutherland unleashes an alien screech in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The sashaying groove successfully turns America’s cult of celebrity worship, pop culture heroes, and commoditized expression into a warped and wonderful jaunt through a funhouse hall of mirrors. 

The song’s primary lyricist, Jackson, says his songwriting was prompted by a documentary on American religious cult Heaven’s Gate. It’s a tale of religious fanaticism, mass suicide and masturbation.

In 1997, 39 members of the group committed suicide at a suburban San Diego home because they thought the coming of the Hale–Bopp comet would close their desired gate to heaven. One member, however, avoided this grisly fate.

“Sawyer Odee left the Heaven’s Gate Cult for failing to practice ‘sexual continence’ and regrets it to this day,” Jackson says. It seems Sawyer couldn’t stop masturbating to the attractive women artists he saw performing on MTV

Jackson says he can relate to Sawyer’s dilemma.

“I ultimately identified with Sawyer … because my coming of age happened to those same sexy videos that ‘corrupted’ him, if you will,” Jackson says. “Heaven’s Gate was a cult denying its humanity, the appetites of the body, the ego … and MTV was the cult of ego, of shallow sexuality.”

A collage of Roman Candles members performing in a comic book design
Roman Candles (Photo/design by Jenn Mott Redd)

Instead of a severe religious sect, Jackson says he joined the cult of rock ‘n’ roll, which ironically suffered a similar fate to the suicidal cult.

“Many … rock stars ended up like the folks in Heaven’s Gate, thanks to the same dope Heaven’s Gate members took,” Jackson says. “Meanwhile Motley Crue is still touring.”

The band is quick to point out that “Jesus Was an Astronaut” isn’t just about sexual purity or cults any more than “Mr. Tambourine Man” is about hand percussion, hence the tune’s trawl through disposable culture both trashy and trendy.

“[‘Jesus Was an Astronaut’] is definitely my first go at being part of the genesis of a song,” Jackson says. He credits band founder Revell with shaping the song’s musical structure while helping Jackson’s creative vision blossom. 

Revell has also helped create a culture in Roman Candles that is conducive to collaboration. After launching the band in 2013, Revell was the principal songwriter for some time.

“[Usually] I had some chords or a song idea already,” Revell says. “Then we would work something out and I would come up with words.” 

He wanted that to change. In late 2019, when Roman Candles regrouped after a four-year hiatus, Revell made it clear that everyone could contribute, and he made sure his bandmates had incentives to do so.

 “We set up the publishing … in such a way that everyone is equally credited no matter whose idea [a song] initially is,” Revell says. “Everyone is getting equally credited and everyone is getting an equal share of the song.”

This highly collaborative atmosphere proved vital in shaping “Jesus Was an Astronaut” through a tangled gestation process. At first, a completely different tune boasted the slightly blasphemous space-age title.

“In December 2020, I came up with an idea, a quick chord progression, and I threw it into the [band’s] demo pool and I called it ‘Jesus Was an Astronaut,’” Revell says. 

The nascent tune had no lyrics. Then Revell traveled to California where he wrote words to the demo. With the new words, the song became Roman Candles’ gritty and confidently rocking “Red California,” which debuted on the band’s 2022 album The City is Closed.

In the meantime, however, Jackson had written lyrics based on the song’s former title, “Jesus Was an Astronaut.” He shared them with Revell.

“I fell in love with the words,” Revel says. 

What commenced next was a long search for the proper music to serve as a setting for Jackson’s kaleidoscopic scrutiny of the cult of MTV, celebrity and success. While Jackson had always heard the song in his head sung by a voice much like David Bowie’s, Roman Candles tackled a ballsy, cocksure arrangement suggested by Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” 

Roman Candles at River Room Recording Studio. (Photo by Holland Kent)
Roman Candles at River Room Recording Studio. (Photo by Holland Kent)

When that approach hadn’t cracked the songs’ code, the band turned to a moody electro-funk arrangement, akin the oeuvre of A Certain Ratio. Nor did that fit the tune, however.

Finally, Revell was playing a Les Paul on a trip to Sam Ash Music store. He was toying with Bowie’s crackling “Jean Genie” and remembered a demo he had recorded for Zoe Vette and the Revolvers, a rambunctious rock band he and Jackson had played in a decade ago. 

Read more: Roman Candles Light a Fuse with Latest Track Releases

The demo, which bore the improbable title “Heavens to Blood Sam,” was a rollicking glam-rock stomp. “The perfect musical fit for ‘Jesus Was an Astronaut’ had been found,” says Revell, who calls Jackson’s debut chief lyricist credit “the last song of the rock ‘n’ roll era.”

“It’s the kind [of tune] you never hear any more,” Revell says. Then he adds a quick revision. “It’s the last rock song before the comet.”

Check out more of Roman Candles’ music here.

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