Florida's Gulf Coast music scene has been inundated with new bands of every sort over the past several years, but none of them have carved a niche quite as unique as Space Junkie. With their highly energetic shows, a jawdropping selection of music, and a sound that can't possibly be coming from a live band, Space Junkie is unlike any other group out there today. Or ever, for that matter. Let's be frank, how many versions of 'Margeritaville', 'Mustang Sally', or 'Play That Funky Music, White Boy' can a person actually sit through before he starts screaming for mercy? Space Junkie breathes refreshingly new life into the local routine. Fortunately for the band, audiences have demonstrated an eagerness to accept their long overdue overhaul of the Gulf Coast music scene, but the changes didn't come overnight.
"It took several years, and it was a lot of work to get it just to sound right," says Junkie bassman Rob Hasker. "We dragged (the audiences) kicking and screaming into this, and I think that, ultimately, they like it."
Space Junkie was officially formed in 1997, but the genesis of the band lies earlier. Drummer John Mlynarczyk and his friend guitarist Ken Simmons were scouting to complete their new rock group 90 Proof. They had already found a frontman, but they needed a bass, and found Rob, who at that time was heading up Bomb Squad. 90 Proof was moderately successful, but it was shortlived and the band began retooling in less than 6 months. They added some nonrock music to the setlist, some keyboard programming, and began playing under the name Section 8.
Ironically, the music scene in the rest of the world was retooling as well, and Section 8 would soon be faced with an inevitable dilemma. As the year 2000 approached, rock's popularity was waning and people were ready to start dancing again. Dance, hip-hop and rap were burning up the charts of the pop scene, leaving behind the tired ashes of the alternative culture and its despondant, guitar heavy music. The band decided to not to fight this trend, but the decision cost them their frontman. Out of what seemed like desperation, the name changed yet again, this time to Space Monkey. Strangely, among the one hit wonders of the late nineties was a band called, as if by fate, 'Space Monkeys', with the hit single,"Sugarcane". Soon afterwards, John, Ken and Rob changed the name of their band to Space Junkie, and they decided to infuse elements of the pop culture scene into the sets, playing less rock and more dance, hip-hop, rap and even techno.
"We didn't know what was going to happen," John remembers. "Nobody around here was even coming close to doing stuff like this and making it sound right, and I mean nobody. Bands weren't supposed to be able to pull off all these kinds of music. People would look at our setlist and think we were insane. I thought we were, too."
"Rock music isn't going to go away and that's one of the reasons we still play it," explains Rob, who now sings lead vocals. "But, honestly, I was sick and tired of losing audiences to deejays. As soon as the band got on stage, the dance floor would be empty. People weren't listening to the band, they were waiting for the band to stop playing so they could start dancing again. They wanted to hear what the deejay was playing. So we said, 'ok, let's play what he's playing.' "
This outing was more successful than the first one, but not by much. While audiences were receptive to the band, many people seemed taken aback and even confused by the format changes. The band had to work closely with the club deejays to ensure that they didn't play songs from the setlist, even encouraging them to mix and scratch to the live performances. Word of mouth proved to be a huge benefit for the band, and it became apparent to the members of Space Junkie that they had planted the seeds of something special, so they stuck with the eclectic format.
By the time the new millenium dropped, rock music was all but dead in the public eye, and the band's success was suddenly dependent on their ability to get the audience dancing. Ken had left the band, and filling his spot was Mike Cibula, who had just left the immensely popular alterna-group Buzzcut. By now the trio had enlisted Bobby Lowery to help engineer the huge sound Space Junkie needed to pull off the bottom heavy rap and dance numbers. Since nobody had ever tried to use the kind of sounds Rob's programs contained in a live venue, the experience was new to both the audiences and the band, and audiences showed their appreciation by demanding more variety from the local scene. It wasn't long before other bands were following in the footsteps of Space Junkie's unintentional, if not inevitable, trendsetting sound.
Space Junkie was finally gaining the recognition and respect of their peers that they deserved and, indeed, had earned. Eventually Mike left the band to pursue other avenues, landing a gig with Mike Jencks' Heebie Jeebies. That's when Rob's old high school buddy/guitar maestro Jody Shaver, fresh from studio work in Nashville, stepped in to complete Space Junkie's current lineup.
"I really liked what John and Rob were doing with this group, it was different from anything else out there," observes Jody, who also sings for the band. "Outside this area it's easier to see, but people listen to all kinds of music these days. It's not about being in a rock band or a dance band. It's about giving the audience what they want."
Space Junkie continued to wow audiences by doing just that. Their song list constantly grew and changed to avoid the possibilty of becoming routine, paving the road for the slogan that they were "...not your average band". They formed symbiotic relationships with club deejays to create an inimitable hybrid of live music and a nonstop open house party atmosphere. They used drum loops, djs, samples, computers, and whatever it took to make the music sound right, and they had talent to boot. Jody offered a frighteningly incredible range of styles on the fretboard. John's ability to play the heaviest of songs to the funkiest of joints was virtually unheard of along the Gulf Coast. And frontman Rob gave it everything else, from keyboard to trumpet to vocals, and his "flying thumb" bass grooves kept it entertaining as well. In short, long before any local band dared to break away from the status quo and explore something that "bands weren't suppoosed to do", Space Junkie had already done it.