We Came From Space Are Our Progressive Rock Overlords
The Pennsylvania-based prog rockers infuse wry humor, a little science fiction, and lots of catchy pop sensibility into what they do.
Hello again, and thanks for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. One of my favorite things to discover is a band I didn’t know about that includes a musician I already respect from either a different band or their own solo work. Such was the case when I got a listen to the new album Overlords by a band called We Came From Space. That album came out Feb. 3.
It turned out that one of the band members in We Came From Space was Bill Hubauer, a multi-instrumentalist who has been with The Neal Morse Band since that group was hired to back up Morse. The group then began recording as a proper band, releasing debut album The Grand Experiment back in 2015. Without my prior admiration for Morse’s music, I might never have heard of Hubauer, and without my respect for Hubauer, I might never have caught wind of We Came From Space, a Pennsylvania-based quartet.
I caught up with Hubauer and his We Came From Space co-founding bandmate Dave Buzard recently to discuss the new album.
Let’s get to that story.
Childhood friends Bill Hubauer and Dave Buzard went to the same school together, discovered music through each other, and jammed as musicians together, but they didn’t form We Came From Space until many years after they graduated from high school. The two musicians and current bassist/vocalist Dave Hawk all attended the same high school, but Buzard (guitar, lead and backing vocals) and Hubauer (keyboards, guitar, lead and backing vocals) recorded the first We Came From Space album with a completely different rhythm section than the one that has appeared on the group’s two most recent albums.
The band released debut album How to Be Human in 2013, but bassist Mike Kurtz and drummer Bret Talbert departed before recording the second album, While You Were Away, in 2018. Hawk became the band’s bassist and an additional vocalist, while Tim Malone took over on drums and percussion.
We Came From Space had a limited number of self-released CD copies of the debut album and released While You Were Away only digitally. But the band is back with a new release in 2023, dropping Overlords on Feb. 3. So, the band maintained its slow-but-steady pace of a new album every five years, and this time out there are physical copies available on CD through Neal Morse’s Radiant Records shop.
Hubauer is probably best known for his work with Morse in The Neal Morse Band, with which he has released four albums since 2015. Although I have been aware of Hubauer through his work with The Neal Morse Band for nearly a decade, I had no idea We Came From Space even existed until the release of Overlords in February. Now that I know about them and have heard their music, I need to own everything they have released so far. The band mixes interesting progressive rock musicality with infectious, poppy hooks. They wrap the whole thing in a wry sense of humor, although there is more meaning below the surface.
The band cultivates a bit of mystery and fun with creative, Douglas Adams-esque science fiction throughout the We Came From Space website.
“I think that I kind of spew it out there long-form, and between Bill and Dave Hawk, they kind of edit, because I’m a good idea guy, but I’m terrible editing my own stuff,” Buzard said of the creative backstory on the We Came From Space website.
Each member of We Came From Space came up with their own humorous biography on the site as well, and they created their own fictitious musical instruments in their album liner notes — paying homage to the liner notes of Kansas’ iconic Point of Know Return album. On new album Overlords, Buzard’s is the Flatulating Reticulated Flume, while Hubauer’s is the Baritone Hyperbolic Funkometer.
Hubauer, Hawk, and Buzard all sing lead vocals at various times and that doesn’t always depend on who wrote the lyrics. Sometimes it is as simple as whose idea a song — or a section of a song — sprang from, but it also sometimes just comes down to feel.
“Whoever came up with like the nugget (of the song)…for at least a while, that person is kind of like the primary custodian of of the song,” Buzard said. “But then it’s like, nobody in the band is territorial about their stuff or thinks that anything that they have is more overly precious than anybody else’s.”
The full band gets credit for writing the music for the eight tracks that make up Overlords — six previously unreleased tracks and two (“Facade” and “Seize the Day”) from the band’s 2020 Reasons in the Rhyme EP. The band didn’t include all three songs from the EP — omitting “Take You for the Ride” — solely to keep the album length manageable, as both Hubauer and Buzard are staunch advocates of avoiding bloated album lengths.
“You should have enough time in your day to listen to the album start to finish,” Hubauer said. “And when it’s over, you should feel like you want to put it right back on again from the beginning. I don’t like these 80-minute albums. I can't listen to an 80-minute album in one sitting. I just can’t. And to me, I’m not going to enjoy that as much as I would enjoy a 50-minute album, a 55-minute album.”
Lyrically, Buzard wrote four tracks and half of album closer “Seize the Day,” while Hawk wrote the lyrics to two songs and co-wrote the final two, with Hubauer credited with co-writing the lyrics to “Seize the Day.”
“To me, it’s the whole band that makes it sound the way it sounds,” Hubauer said about the music writing credits. However, he added that if there were any money in it, with human nature being what it is, things might be different.
Most of Malone’s drum tracks were recorded pre-COVID, which helped with putting an album together during the pandemic. Hubauer said he prefers not to record in the isolation of a home studio whenever possible so that someone is always around to provide feedback.
“We really tried to have at least two us in the room together when anybody was doing anything,” Hubauer said. “I think you get some more interesting performances when when you have somebody in the room with you. They can help. You don’t have like a paralysis of indecision, like should I do this or that?”
As a live band, We Came From Space is still trying to figure things out. Hubauer said they’re not big enough to be a touring band yet, but the quartet also isn’t interested in playing clubs. With festivals booking so far in advance, it makes things difficult for the band to fit in the kinds of gigs they need to play, although they recently opened a couple of shows for The Winery Dogs. Hubauer and Winery Dogs drummer Mike Portnoy are bandmates in The Neal Morse Band, so there was a natural fit there, and the shows were near We Came From Space’s home base in Pennsylvania.
Overlords is a fun and melodic album with enough chops and interesting twists to satisfy prog rock fans but with sufficient excellent earworm hooks to make longer songs seem somehow shorter.
The title track starts things off with an ominous sound, as if the titular robot overlords are literally arriving from space. Then it breaks into a bit of a Neal Morse overture-type instrumental opening that segues into a Yes-ish bit. That fades out to make way for a simple piano chord progression and the vocals kick in. Buzard, Hawk, and Hubauer all get their moment up front vocally on the song and the lyrics are fun and light on the surface, although there is a deeper underlying meaning.
There are a lot of influences throughout the opening epic. There are moments that sound like Electric Light Orchestra, some soaring “aaahhh-aaahhh” vocals that are Beatles-y, and perhaps a little touch of Crack the Sky thrown into the song as well. It all blends together nicely, and by the time you recognize an influence, it’s gone and something else has taken its place. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of originality. There’s a nice instrumental jam in the middle that allows the quartet to show off some chops and the tempo changes keeps things interesting.
“Overlords” takes the listener on a journey and, in the end, if you have to capture what the band is about — and what the album is about — the title track does it nicely in a nearly 11-minute package. It’s no wonder Hubauer singled it out as one of his favorite tracks from the record.
Hubauer’s unique voice seems to get used when We Came From Space needs a grand, swelling, epic ending to a song. On the title track, he sings over the harmony “aaaahh-aaahh” backing vocals to give it a big finish.
The opener melts away and seamlessly morphs into “On the Radio,” which is the track Buzard singled out as a favorite from the album — “a current favorite,” he specified. There’s a spoken bit that sounds like an old-timey radio news report (and maybe it is one, I forgot to ask!) that ushers in a crunchy guitar riff and interesting keyboard soloing. That fades into a cool little guitar riff, an opening verse, and a sweet group harmony on the chorus. Whether it’s the style, the melody, or the inclusion of Hubauer’s voice I’m not sure, but the harmonious chorus reminds me of The Neal Morse Band.
“It has a lot of 1979 FM radio,” Buzard said, noting what he loves about the song. “It has a little Drama by Yes in there and there’s a little bit of Ronnie Montrose in here. It gets real moody during the verses.”
Hubauer shows off some Keith Emerson-esque keyboard soloing as well. Despite having a two-minute instrumental ending, “On the Radio” is a fun ride that feels shorter than its run time of just over seven-and-a-half minutes.
“Empty Space” is one of my favorite songs on the album, lyrically. Hawk wrote the lyrics for the song and I just love the way he wrote the chorus.
Now you’re just an empty space to me
A vision that haunts my memory
Unable to care
You sit and you stare unaware of me
The other 10-plus-minute piece on the album, “She’s the Bomb/Atomic Blues,” follows “Empty Space.” The “She’s the Bomb” part is a catchy-yet-simple pop/rock song with great harmonies in the chorus. It fades out just past the four-minute mark, and then there’s a slow bass groove that introduces what blossoms into “Atomic Blues.” More instruments join in, the tempo builds, and it turns into a fun and interesting instrumental piece.
The band made a video for the epic. While not exactly a “single,” the band chose that song for a video release because it encapsulates their style of music. This is another one of the songs Hubauer called out as a favorite from Overlords.
“When somebody hears it, I want them to feel like they have a real understanding of what we’re doing,” Hubauer said. “And that song really captures it, because it has the poppy, hooky part at the beginning. And then it has this weird, progressive, instrumental jam section at the end. To me, that was a good representation of what we’re all about.”
There are songs I like better on the album, but I’d have to agree with Hubauer’s assessment. If you want to know what We Came From Space is all about, this one piece shows what they can do. Although “She’s the Bomb” and “Atomic Blues” are two distinct songs of their own, they were left as one continuous track, because the latter was created organically at the end of recording “She’s the Bomb.”
“When we recorded ‘She’s the Bomb, we just kept playing and we just jammed, and so a lot of improvisation in what became ‘Atomic Blues’ was built on that improvisation,” Hubauer explained. “And to me, that was part of the origin of both songs. So, it seemed to me like they should be together even though they sound like two separate songs.”
“Reputation” is a more simple rock song that features a guest appearance by Michele McElhinny. The added voice gives the song a bit of a different feel to it. The song has a lyrical reference to “Big Sister” and the band also thanks “Big Sister” in the Overlords liner notes.
Big Brother tried to save you soul
Big sister had you hooked on rock and roll
Felt like something we stole
Big Brother tried to save your soul
But big sister got you hooked on rock and roll
Now it's taken its toll
Because Buzard wrote the lyrics to that song, I asked him what the connection was.
“Thank you for noticing that! That’s my big sister, Ann — or seester in my lingo,” Buzard said. “Bill and Dave Hawk know her well, also. She had a great music collection. She had a ton of 45s! She got me hooked on rock and roll. When I was 11 years old, I asked her to take me record shopping. She picked out the first Boston album, On the Border by the Eagles, and Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits. A life changing afternoon!”
“Silent Letters” is a slower, more introspective piece with lyrics by Buzard, but Hubauer sings it. The song has a guitar tone and Billy Preston-esque organ sounds that seem to have walked right out of a time machine that just returned from a visit to the early 1970s. For a while, the song was a favorite to be the album’s title track, according to Hubauer. The band punctuates it in Beatles fashion, with typewriter sound effects, but layers on some Beach Boys-type vocals. It’s a beautiful song about struggling to put feelings down on a page, and Hubauer sings it so well. As a writer, there’s a line from Buzard’s lyrics that resonates with me:
All these words, still in my pen, in the post, or on the floor.
“There was some deeper meaning to that song that I think that we thought was going to turn into a theme — a lyrical theme,” Hubauer said. “But it actually didn’t go that direction, so we kind of moved away from that being the title.”
The shortest song on the album is “Facade,” at 4:56 — the only track on the album that runs its course in less than five minutes. It was the first track from the band’s Reasons in the Rhyme EP.
I didn’t count it out to see if the time signature is the same, but there’s a drum beat and bass line that is reminiscent of “Turn it On Again” by Genesis, although the song takes a much different direction. Hubauer again takes the vocal lead and the chorus is gorgeous.
Hubauer had a big hand in writing “Facade” and parts of “Seize the Day,” which flow together nicely at the end of the album. Those songs had been originally intended for the writing sessions for The Neal Morse Band’s 2019 album, The Great Adventure.
“When we get together in The Neal Morse Band, we all have a bunch of ideas, and we start kicking them around and working together as a group. And sometimes we just have too much material and you just don’t get to them all,” Hubauer said. “So, I had big chunks of ‘Seize the Day.’ We just never got to it. I don’t think anybody in The Neal Morse Band even heard that one. ‘Facade’ actually was pretty complete. And Neal heard it and he really liked it. I don’t think anybody else heard it. But again, we just had too much other material.”
It’s good that both of those songs had another avenue to be heard, because they are strong tracks, especially album closer “Seize the Day.” While it would have been interesting to see where The Neal Morse Band would have taken them, especially within the confines of that particular concept album, they turned out as great We Came From Space songs.
The two closing songs, in my opinion, illustrate the kind of feel that Hubauer contributes to the overall flavor of The Neal Morse Band’s music. While it’s easier to hear what Portnoy brings to that band with his drumming, or what Eric Gillette provides with his guitar, Hubauer’s contributions to that band’s writing sessions can be overshadowed by Morse, who — like Hubauer — plays both guitar and keyboards. On “Facade” and “Seize the Day,” one can hear the unadulterated Hubauer influence that might go unnoticed in his other band’s songs.
In the end, Overlords is the most pleasant surprise I’ve discovered in 2023 (so far). We Came From Space is more than sardonic wit and drive-in B-movie references. The band has talent, writes good songs, and can record and produce in a way that expertly packages their brand of catchy progressive rock. Their influences are felt more than heard (though you often can hear them), and they manage to avoid descending into outright mimicry.
This is a band that deserves to be seen live and a collection of songs that deserves to be heard. Give it a try first on Spotify, if you must, but then, after you realize you like it, get yourself a physical copy. This is music meant to be experienced actively.
To find out more about We Came From Space, visit their official website at www.wecamefromspace.net or check out their Facebook page. If you purchase a physical copy of the album at the Radiant Records web shop, you’ll get the download as well. To solely get it digitally, the best place to buy is from the We Came From Space Bandcamp page.
On the Radio (7:33)
Empty Space (5:06)
She’s the Bomb/Atomic Blues (10:39)
Silent Letters (5:12)
Seize the Day (9:19)
For my full interview with Bill Hubauer and Dave Buzard, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 101 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. In addition to Overlords, the guys talked about their musical backgrounds and influences, why Dave hated Bill for a few years in grade school, how Bill got involved with The Neal Morse Band, and much more.
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