“We are all alien,” the motto of St. Louis band Mobile Alien Research Unit (M.A.R.U.), invites listeners on a spiritual journey filled with existentialism, space rock jams and frogs.
Michael Quintero, Steve Lewis and Ryan Koster began the band in 2021 to offer audiences an otherworldly music experience. “We want to create this environment that the listener can feel absorbed in,” Quintero says.
A music professor at St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley, Quintero is the lead guitarist and songwriter. Lewis, the drummer, is a St. Louis public defender and Koster, the do-it-all musician, is a graphic designer. Outside of their day jobs is where they truly unleash their creative minds. They just rock out.
Quintero was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Mexican American father and as a young boy moved to Texas where he spent most of his early life. He studied music at an in-state community college before attending the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, where he completed an MFA in sculpture. Soon after, Quintero moved to St. Louis to teach.
M.A.R.U. centers this immigrant experience in their music. The band’s mascot, a glowing neon frog, represents Quintero’s plentitude of identities and experiences. “The idea of ‘amphibious’ is a metaphor for being of two cultures,” Quintero explains. The frogs have a prominent spot on stage for every performance.
Quintero says Lewis’ music caught his attention because it shares this culturally diverse perspective. Lewis is a percussion specialist who includes African and Middle Eastern rhythms in his work and brings these “world beats” into the M.A.R.U. experience. The two played together for almost a year before Koster — who plays bass, synth, Theremin and Vox — made the band official. “[Ryan] brought some real musical focus to the band,” Quintero affirms.
Although the alien concept speaks to a highly politicized portrayal of the immigrant experience, Quintero hopes their alien inspiration reaches beyond that into something we can all relate to: the sci-fi nature of a COVID-shattered world. M.A.R.U. began as an art installation at the height of the pandemic as a response to how weird the world was.
“It all felt very alien,” Quintero says, “I liked the idea of ‘alien’as a metaphor for human existence. We arrive on this planet, then we spend our lives trying to research what it means to exist on it.”This thought sparked the name Mobile Alien Research Unit.
Quintero sees M.A.R.U. songs fitting into three categories, Buddhist existentialism, autobiography,and protest, that meld together to form a unique iteration of space rock. The genre is inspired by 1960s psychedelic rock musicians, like Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, but takes on an improvisatory twist that doesn’t rush to a catchy chorus but rather “gives space for the listener to get into the groove.” M.A.R.U. then fuses its space rock with those world beats and Quintero’s longtime love of metal funk to create a unique sound, one they hope to later capture on CDs for purchase.
M.A.R.U. is much more than music, though. Quintero describes it as “one part art project and one part musical venture,” which includes blacklight trees and turtle swamps to neon green toads and video art projections. Unsurprisingly, they fit right in at Artica.
Moving forward, Quintero hopes to lean even further into unique experiences. His plan is to create a “laser swamp type of environment” that includes “crazy projections, flowers and prayer flags.” Lewis has also already designed T-shirts that glow in the black light.
M.A.R.U. has three upcoming performances: on November 25 at El Lenador (3124 Cherokee Street), November 28 at City Museum (750 North 16th Street) for the Annual SoNo Problems Indoor Disc Golf Extravaganza and December 2 at Heavy Anchor (5226 Gravois Avenue). All will feature the band’s signature visuals — and, naturally, those frogs.
“We hope to provide plenty of eye candy,” Quintero says.