Formed in 1992, the band consists of Michael Peters (vocals, guitar, songwriting), Sandra Gardner (vocals, bass, songwriting), and Peter Gordon (drums). The wedding date of Peters and Gardner is unknown; they had a child in spring of 2003. Originally a four-piece with Dennis Bass also on guitar, Poem Rocket had a string of (often short-lived) drummers, most notably William Shin (Seam) and musician/author Ian Christe. Other drummers auditioned for the band, including author Paul Collins, who performed with the band in 1993 at CBGB. Drummer Andrew Nelson joined in late 1993, completing the early Poem Rocket sound. The band started off by releasing a few 7” singles and a 10” EP; many songs from these were compiled on the Felix Culpa compilation CD in 1995. Proper debut album Infinite Retry On Parallel Time-out was recorded in 1996-1997 at The Funhouse with William Weber, and was mixed by Wharton Tiers; it was released in early 1998 by PCP Entertainment, a daughter label of Matador Records. After heavy touring in 1995-1996, Bass departed in late 1996, leaving the band as a three-piece. Nelson stayed until 1998, after he threw his drum kit into the audience at the end of a set in Atlanta, GA. Peter Gordon of Gapeseed then replaced Nelson on drums. Poem Rocket began working with Atavistic Records, releasing the concept album Psychogeography on Atavistic Records in 2000. Sometime in the next few years (ca. 2002 or 2003), Adam Cooke of Baltimore rock band Roads to Space Travel briefly replaced Gordon on drums. In 2002, based now primarily on a mountainside in upstate New York, the band began work on a double album, titled Invasion! The album was completed in 2006 and released in 2007. A 1999 recording, made at Six Finger Satellite’s studio in Providence, RI, remains unreleased. Peters is also a member of the experimental literary collective Be Blank Consort, and has been working on a biography of French architect Fleury Colon. As of 2007, Poem Rocket’s full-length CDs remain in print, but their EPs have been out of print and scarce for years. (None of their CDs were apparently ever released on vinyl.)
Poem Rocket, while in most respects a visceral rock band, draws upon a broad palette of influences, both musical and otherwise. Being originally immersed in the New York City music/art world exposed them to myriad creative stimuli. Rock influences include Throwing Muses, Suicide, Can, Live Skull, Bauhaus, The Church, Fugazi, Talking Heads, Pixies, The Ex, Band Of Susans and Gang of Four. My Bloody Valentine, The Birthday Party, The Stooges, Slint, Unwound, and Siouxsie and the Banshees seem to have informed Poem Rocket’s sound as well. Some less rock-music-based influences include the “guitar orchestras” of Rhys Chatham/Glenn Branca, ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno, and pulse compositions of Steve Reich.
They also draw from conceptual art, situationism, and varied literary inspirations. Their 2000 album was titled after Guy Debord’s concept of Psychogeography, which is the study of how the geography and architecture of environments shape the behavior and thought processes of their inhabitants. Sample lyrics from Reurbanization of the Space read, “Here is the new trend, examine the implications in the public and the private sectors… You’re creating the mythology of the Great American City… The space around the buildings is the soul of the city.” Peters generally sings an a careening, animated, androgynous voice, while Gardner uses more of a controlled, breathy purr. Themes of existentialism, architecture, alienation, outer space, and biology crop up frequently, though the lyrics are open-ended enough to warrant multiple interpretations. Peters and Gardner can often be found harmonizing sweetly while atonal squalls of noise and throbbing basslines churn around them, leading to a disorienting, kinetic overall sound. Key examples of songs in this style include “Small White Animal,” “Appeal To The Imagination,” “Box: Tallow, Felt And Ice” and “Blue Chevy Impala.” They have had a few acoustic numbers, such as “God Damn Alien Sundial” and the sexually-suggestive love ballad “Milky White Entropy.” They have a song named after Dutch painter Karel Appel. Subdued travelogue “Budapest” features reversed cymbal and guitar loops. The twelve-minute “Levy 9 R.S.V.P.” appears to be about the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter in 1994; the line “If it hits us, say I told you so/ No regrets” is repeated several times with increasing urgency. After an extended crescendo, it concludes with a whispered line about “fragmentary guests… deep in the dense layers of hydrogen.” “Bataille” is apparently about controversial philosopher Georges Bataille.
Poem Rocket’s national (and/or international) touring history is uncertain, though they were known to play frequently around the New York City area in the 1990s at avant-garde music clubs such as The Knitting Factory and The Cooler, and probably CBGB’s. They are known to have played live with Blastula, Wharton Tiers Ensemble, Mecca Normal, labelmates SLuG (rock band, not rap group), Tono-Bungay, Bride of No-No, Pilot to Gunner, Sweep the Leg Johnny, and Hippopotamus. They are believed to have played live with their recording partners Six Finger Satellite.