The Radioactive Chicken Heads
|The Radioactive Chicken Heads|
The Radioactive Chicken Heads performing in Santa Ana, California in 2016.
From left to right: Greasy Chicken, Carrot Top, Puke Boy, Bird Brain, El Pollo Diablo, Pastafarian and Rockin' Robin
|Origin||Orange County, California, U.S.|
|Genres||Punk rock, comedy rock, ska punk|
|Associated acts||Green Jellÿ, Rosemary's Billygoat, Count Smokula|
Originally formed under the name Joe and the Chicken Heads in early 1994, the Chicken Heads are easily recognized by their freakish mutant chicken and vegetable masks as well as their theatrical stage shows, all of which tie into an elaborate backstory and mythology the band has developed over the course of their career and serves as the subject for much of their music, videos, a role-playing computer game and a future television pilot which is currently in post-production.
- 1 History
- 2 Musical style and influences
- 3 Band mythology
- 4 Badd Bunny Breakout
- 5 Members
- 6 Discography
- 7 Videography
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Joe and the Chicken Heads (1994-2004)
In a rare out-of-character interview, lead singer Carrot Topp explained that the genesis of The Radioactive Chicken Heads began with two comic books he had written as a teenager, one about a gang of mutant vegetables called The Vegamatics and another called "Joe and the Chicken Heads" about a kid named Joe who sings with a rock band made up of headless chickens. After discovering the comedy metal band Green Jellÿ, a group renowned for their use of puppets and foam rubber costumes, Carrot Topp ultimately decided to apply these concepts and visuals to a rock band combining elements of both comic books, creating the band's distinctive masks and props himself.
Joe and the Chicken Heads formed in early 1994, playing their first show at a Bar Mitzvah in Orange, California on February 26, 1994. Despite recording several demo tapes and appearing on numerous local compilations during the mid-1990s, the Chicken Heads performed few live shows until the arrival of the late 1990s ska revival helped the band attract a wider following within the Orange County's booming ska and punk scene, sharing the stage with such notable ska acts as Link 80, Slow Gherkin and Bim Skala Bim and receiving regular airplay on KUCI's influential Ska Parade radio show, which hosted many up and coming local ska and punk bands. The band's outrageous costumes and live shows soon began attracting publicity both positive and negative from local papers and zines including OC Weekly, LA Weekly, The Daily Trojan, X-TRA and Maximumrocknroll, with Thrasher magazine inexplicably describing them as "more fun than a shopping spree in a Mexican supermarket".
In 1998, the Chicken Heads made their national television debut playing the song "Pest Control" on a Halloween-themed episode of Extreme Gong, a short-lived revival of the classic Gong Show game show. Although the band were "gonged" mid-performance, signifying that the call-in voters disapproved of their act and wanted them to stop, the Chicken Heads finished their song anyway, claiming that they were playing so loud that they couldn't hear the gong.
Joe and the Chicken Heads independently released their first and only album Keep on Cluckin' in May 2000, featuring 26 songs which had been recorded over the span of three years. In wake of the album's release, the Chicken Heads began playing shows with much more frequency, forming a touring relationship with their original inspirations Green Jellÿ while also sharing bills with bands including the Angry Samoans, D.I., Litmus Green and The Briefs. In May 2002, the band released their final work under the Joe and the Chicken Heads title, a five-track mini CD single entitled Family Album.
The Radioactive Chicken Heads (2004-present)
- Growing Mold and early activity (2004-2008)
After a period of time performing as "The Rock N' Roll Chicken Heads" and "The Chicken Heads", Joe and the Chicken Heads permanently changed their name to "The Radioactive Chicken Heads" in mid-2004. According to their website, the "official" tongue-in-cheek reason behind the name change was due to "new government regulations which require all radioactive farm products to be labeled clearly".
The Radioactive Chicken Heads self-released their first album under their new name, Growing Mold, in March 2005. Mixed, engineered and featuring instrumental contributions by avant-garde composer Ego Plum, Growing Mold eschewed the skacore influence of the band's early work in favor of exploring more eclectic and experimental musical territory, resulting in a combination of sounds (un)Leash magazine described as "like early Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo meets Dead Kennedys meets gothabilly monster mash". While Growing Mold never reached the radar of any major music publications, the album was praised by local university papers and alternative weeklies, with UC Riverside's Highlander dubbing the Chicken Heads "one of the best bands you've probably never heard of" and OC Weekly calling the album "funny" and "amusingly campy", while the single "I Eat Kids", a cover of a Barry Louis Polisar song, was selected for airplay on the nationally syndicated Dr. Demento Show.
In November 2006, the Chicken Heads made another brief appearance on national television when they were invited to perform on an episode of The Tyra Banks Show as part of an America's Got Talent spoof called "Tyra's Got Talent", which featured weird and unusual talent acts. According to Carrot Topp, the Chicken Heads were actually a last minute replacement for another act, an Elvis impersonator in a chicken suit called "Elvis Poultry", who couldn't make the shoot. The band performed the song "Our Last Song" before a mostly confused studio audience, ultimately losing out to John the Running Painter, a painter on a treadmill, by an audience vote of 73% to 27%.
- Music for Mutants and national touring (2008–2013)
Following further local touring within Southern California's club circuit, the Chicken Heads self-released their third album Music for Mutants in the summer of 2008, finding the band returning to a more aggressive punk rock sound. In promotion of the album, the Chicken Heads embarked on their first national tour supporting Green Jellÿ and hard rock band Rosemary's Billygoat on what was called the "Hollywood Freak Show", a tour spanning nearly sixty shows in thirty states. During this tour, all three bands toured as the same amalgamated line-up of musicians, virtually changing only the costumes and lead singers between sets.
Around this time, the Chicken Heads began focusing on producing music videos showcasing the band's prop work and theatricality. Between 2007 and 2010, four music videos were independently filmed for the songs "I Looked Into the Mirror", "Pest Control", "Badd Bunny" and "I Eat Kids", each one heavily featuring elaborate puppetry, costuming and cartoonish set design. This period also found the Chicken Heads receiving new exposure in low-budget horror films, recording on Count Smokula's song "Poultrygeist" for the soundtrack to the 2008 Troma Entertainment production Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and writing the theme song to the horror comedy Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer, which featured stop-motion animated cameos from the band members during the film's opening credits sequence.
In 2009, the Chicken Heads released Poultry Uprising, a 14-song collection of rarities and unreleased tracks dating as far back to the band's earliest years as Joe and the Chicken Heads. The same year, lead singer Carrot Topp produced a compilation album on the Chicken Heads' own label Snail Sounds Records entitled We're Not Kidding!, a tribute to children's musician Barry Louis Polisar, featuring sixty artists including The Vespers, DeLeon, Rebecca Loebe, Tor Hyams, In the Audience and a duet between Polisar and the Chicken Heads. We're Not Kidding! received high praise from children's publications, winning the 2010 Parents' Choice Award.
The Chicken Heads launched an Indiegogo campaign in November 2011 to help fund production on both a 15-minute prospective television pilot based on the band's fictional exploits and the release of a DVD including music videos and a live concert performance filmed in 2008. Although the campaign ultimately failed to meet its funding goal, the band continued work on numerous projects over the next two years, filming seven more music videos for both the band's original songs, including "Deviled Egg", directed by Hollywood special effects artist Jim Ojala, which was highlighted on horror channel Fearnet as their "Music Video of the Week", and humorous punk rock covers of popular songs, most notably the Imagine Dragons Grammy Award-winning song "Radioactive", which was released as a single. In July 2013, the Chicken Heads self-released Badd Bunny Breakout, a comedic RPG computer game based on the band's characters and mythology and featuring a soundtrack of 16-bit remixes of the group's songs.
The Chicken Heads appeared once again on national television in 2012 when they were featured on a segment of the TLC reality show My Crazy Obsession which focused on Zizi Howell, a woman obsessed with carrots. Howell was filmed going to a Chicken Heads concert at a Freak Show Wrestling event in Las Vegas, where she joined the band onstage and conducted a brief interview with Carrot Topp.
- Current activity (2014–present)
In December 2014, between intermittent work on a new studio album, the Chicken Heads released a parody cover of Elvis Presley's "Burning Love", re-written as the Hanukkah-themed "Burning Latke". Heeb, a satirical Jewish magazine, singled it out as one of the "Worst Hanukkah Videos Of 2014", criticizing the "too obvious" parody lyrics but nevertheless praising the rest of the Chicken Heads' work as "genuinely fun". The Chicken Heads spent most of 2015 touring sporadically, including a three-show engagement in Lima, Peru in May. The band received further international attention when Polish radio network Antyradio ranked the Chicken Heads #18 on their list of the "Top 20 Rock and Metal Freaks", a list of costumed and theatrical rock bands, and in 2014 OC Weekly ranked them ninth on their list of the top ten horror punk bands. In 2014 and 2015, the band appeared on KNBC's 1st Look and KABC-TV's Eye on LA, respectively, on local interest shows highlighting the California Institute of Abnormalarts, both of which featured the Chicken Heads performing on the venue's stage in specially-recorded segments.
On March 28, 2015, The Steve Allen Theater hosted The Radioactive Chicken Heads Tanksgiving Special, a surrealist three-act comedy play featuring the music of and live accompaniment by the Chicken Heads, written and directed by composer and frequent Chicken Heads collaborator Ego Plum. Set in a dystopian alternate history where Colonel Sanders is depicted as an imperialist dictator presiding over a land where rock music is outlawed, the play follows a quartet of Chicken Head puppets who discover and subsequently learn to play rock and roll music in an attempt to overthrow Sanders' regime. In addition to the Chicken Heads, the play's cast included GWAR's Hunter Jackson (as his Techno Destructo persona), Haunted Garage's Dukey Flyswatter and Mike Odd of Rosemary's Billygoat and Mac Sabbath in speaking roles.
As of fall 2015, the Chicken Heads are in the process of recording their fourth studio album Tales from the Coop, and are in post-production on a thirty-minute television pilot.
Musical style and influences
Over the last twenty years, the Chicken Heads have featured an erratic and frequently rotating line-up of musicians and instrumentalists, and have performed with as many as four to twelve musicians at a time over the course of their career. The band has sometimes included upwards of three guitarists on stage and often utilize a keyboardist and/or an accordionist, while their horn section, when present, has ranged from a three-piece ensemble of trumpet, trombone and saxophone to a single trumpet. At one point in 1998, the band even included a violinist as part of their stage show. As of 2015, the band maintains a steadier line-up of between six and eight musicians, typically featuring a trumpeter and keyboardist, along with an additional one or two members on costume accompaniment.
Originally inspired by comedy metal bands Green Jellÿ and GWAR, the Chicken Heads' first incarnation as Joe and the Chicken Heads produced their most abrasive material, boasting a sound predominantly grounded in heavy metal and hardcore and mixed with elements of ska punk and funk rock. Contemporary reviews of the band's shows drew comparisons such as "Fishbone meets GWAR" or "GWAR meets The Aquabats", while some reviewers coined unique terms like "doom ska" and "chicken-doom-ska-rock" to describe their mix of styles.
Following their name change to The Radioactive Chicken Heads, the band began transitioning into a less thrashy and more melodic style of punk rock, emphasizing an offbeat eclectic edge inspired by the likes of The Residents and Oingo Boingo, while also expanding their sound into occasional one-off genre experiments in styles ranging from reggae to rockabilly. The Chicken Heads' 2005 album Growing Mold featured a mix of punk, rock and blues songs interspersed with accordion and marimba-driven instrumentals, while their 2008 follow-up Music for Mutants returned to an entirely punk, rock and metal-oriented sound although with an increased use of keyboards and brass instruments. The OC Weekly has described the band's current style as a cross "between GWAR and The B-52s...a sound that might work well scoring a John Waters, Ed Wood or Russ Meyer film", while Loudwire summarized them as "the Dead Kennedys on acid".
Lyrically, the Chicken Heads have cited song parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic and children's musician Barry Louis Polisar as primary influences, and incorporate a similar style of puns and absurdist humor into their songwriting. Many of the band's songs center around their fictional backstory as mutant chickens, sometimes focusing on specific band members and stage villains, or references to bird-related popular culture such as "Headless Mike", an ode to the 1940s carnival attraction Mike the Headless Chicken. During their "Joe" era, the band performed many parody versions of popular punk rock songs, including "Put the Cheese Away (Keep It Refrigerated)", a spoof of The Offspring's "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)", and "Just for the Taste of It", which repurposed Rancid's "Salvation" into a commercial jingle for Diet Coke.
Since their formation, The Radioactive Chicken Heads have maintained a consistent fictional backstory regarding the origins of their characters, detailed and expanded through their official press biographies, in-character interviews, song lyrics, music videos, video game and prospective television pilots.
The story of the Chicken Heads begins on Uncle Max's farm, an otherwise normal farmland which just happened to be located under a series of high-tension electromagnetic power lines and regularly subject to government-led experiments in genetic engineering to produce massive-sized produce and livestock. One day, Uncle Max sent his nephew Joe out to pick some carrots from the crop, only for Joe to discover that one of them had mutated into a seven foot tall sentient vegetable man, the newly born Carrot Topp. Finding himself bored with farm life, Carrot Topp eventually started a punk rock band with several other recently harvested mutant vegetables, calling themselves The Vegamatics. During a rehearsal late one evening, The Vegamatics' saga abruptly ended in tragedy when Badd Bunny, a rabbit mutated into an evil ten-ton beast by the same radiation, broke into their rehearsal space and devoured most of the band, leaving only Carrot Topp and his guitarist Cheri Tomato as the lone survivors.
The following Easter, Badd Bunny, now inexplicably working as an undercover agent for the government, sabotaged Uncle Max's annual Easter egg hunt by beating up the Easter Bunny and planting dozens of "genetically modified super-sized-mega-jumbo eggs" around the farm, hatching an army of gigantic mutant chickens. Joe, an aspiring singer/songwriter, seized the opportunity to finally start his own band, painstakingly teaching each of the chicken beasts to play instruments and eventually debuting on the county fair circuit as the nation's premiere man/chicken musical combo. Things were going smoothly for Joe and the Chicken Heads until rising tensions from "artistic differences" ultimately drove Joe to make a lucrative deal with a certain Colonel in exchange for a shipment of chicken meat. While Joe took an axe to his former bandmates and made off with their decapitated carcasses, Carrot Topp swooped in and scooped up the heads of his poultry pals, saving their lives by sewing them onto an assortment of human bodies he collected from the dumpster behind the local cryogenics lab.
Following their slapdash surgeries, the Chicken Heads soon adopted the personalities of their human replacement bodies: among them, the over-indulgent punk rocker Puke Boy; the one-eyed militiachicken Sgt. Psyclopps; the zombified Bird Brain; the tie-dyed hippie Pastafarian; the kung fu master Kung Pow Chicken; the retro hip Greasy Chicken; and El Pollo Diablo, spawned from a deviled egg. Joining forces with Carrot Topp and Cheri Tomato, the chickens escaped the farm and became The Radioactive Chicken Heads, a genetically modified rock and roll supergroup dedicated to boogieing their way towards fame and fortune.
In 2011, during the development of the Chicken Heads' potential television pilot, the band's lengthy backstory was condensed and simplified so that Uncle Max and Joe were replaced by Dr. Baron Von Kluckinstein, an eccentric mad scientist who inadvertently created the band members in his secret laboratory as part of a failed experiment to make "super-sized frankenfoods". Although this version of the mythology is what the band currently perpetuates on their website and in interviews, the 2013 game Bad Bunny Breakout featured the original Uncle Max origin story, making it unclear which version of the mythology is officially canon.
In a similar vein to other bands with fictionalized personas like GWAR and The Aquabats, the Chicken Heads are known for staging wild, theatrical live shows utilizing various props and costumed characters tying loosely into their thematic aesthetic. Due to the band members' attempt to retain anonymity, the Chicken Heads are rarely seen without their trademark masks and costumes and never grant interviews outside of their character personas, and thus always perform in full costume; although Carrot Topp sings while holding a dynamic microphone, a wireless headset microphone is used on the inside of his mask to provide voice clarity.
Every Chicken Heads show regularly features a host of extraneous characters outside of the main musicians, including both non-musician members - presently, Frankenchicken, Wikkan Chicken and/or El Pollo Diablo - who dance and interact with the audience during the band's set and "villains" who appear onstage to engage Carrot Topp in staged combat. These villains are mostly specific to the songs being played by the band, such as Badd Bunny and Liquid Fat appearing during their respective eponymous songs or "Chucky Cheeze" for "Pest Control", or thematically match the subject of the song, such as "Evil Carrot", a skeletal version of Carrot Topp, who appears during the song "I Looked Into the Mirror".
Rather than traditional music venues, the Chicken Heads are known to primarily play unconventional locations and events not generally recognized for hosting live music. While the band has often frequented such establishments as comic book stores and bowling alleys, among the Chicken Heads' more unusual recent performances included spots at several Long Beach Zombie Walks, Sinn Bodhi's Freak Show Wrestling events in California and Las Vegas and opening for screenings of the Oingo Boingo musical film Forbidden Zone and the Los Angeles production of Re-Animator: The Musical. The Chicken Heads are also a common fixture at the California Institute of Abnormalarts, a North Hollywood nightclub famous for its extensive sideshow and carnival memorabilia which exclusively hosts offbeat musical groups and freak shows, having first played there in 2000.
Badd Bunny Breakout
On July 13, 2013, the Chicken Heads, in collaboration with independent game company Patient Corgi, released Badd Bunny Breakout, a role-playing computer game modeled and styled after classic Super Nintendo-era RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. First announced on the band's website on September 6, 2012, Badd Bunny Breakout spent roughly a year in development, designed by Ian Luckey and Colleen Luckey with creative input by the Chicken Heads. The game was released as a free digital download on Patient Corgi's website, with a limited pressing of "Collector's Edition" CD-ROMs being made available through the Chicken Heads' website and live shows.
The soundtrack for Badd Bunny Breakout consists primarily of SNES-inspired 16-bit remixes of the Chicken Heads' songs, composed by co-developer Ian Luckey, a member of the San Diego video game music cover band Kirby's Dream Band. A 49-track soundtrack album was packaged with the CD-ROM release and also made available for free download through both Patient Corgi's website and the Chicken Heads' Bandcamp account.
In promotion of the game, the Chicken Heads hosted and performed at a game release party at the Nerdist Theater inside Los Angeles' Meltdown Comics on the day of Badd Bunny Breakout's release, where the game was displayed for public play. The following week, the band performed a set at the 2013 Gam3rcon, an independent gaming convention which coincides with the San Diego Comic-Con International, playing to an audience of roughly 3000 attendees. The Chicken Heads subsequently performed at the 2014 and 2015 Gam3rcons, and has since shared bills with several video game-themed bands, most notably having performed several times each with The Protomen, The Megas and Mega Ran.
Over the course of the last twenty years as a band, the Chicken Heads have experienced countless fluctuations in their typically five to ten-member line-up, and thus different characters occasionally play or used to play different instruments than the ones attributed below. The following list reflects the Chicken Heads' "official" line-up, as listed on the band's social media accounts and most recent video projects:
- Current members
- Carrot Topp - vocals
- Sgt. Psyclopps - guitar
- Greasy Chicken - guitar
- El Pollo Diablo - guitar
- Pastafarian (aka Jerk Chicken) - guitar, bongos
- Punky Rooster - keyboards, accordion
- Bird Brain - bass, backing vocals
- Nuke Boy - drums
- Wikkan Chicken - keyboards
- Frankenchicken - backing vocals
- Rockin' Robin - dancing
- Past/Retired members
- Puke Boy - drums
- Bone Head - trumpet
- Cheri Tomato - guitar
- Kung Pow Chicken - guitar, drums
- Poultry Geist - drums
- Rosco - trumpet
- Wedgey Emmentaler - keyboards
Joe and the Chicken Heads
The Radioactive Chicken Heads
- As Joe and the Chicken Heads
- Hey Brother, Can You Spare Some Ska? Vol. 2 (1997, Vegas Records)
- Ska Punk and Disorderly (1997, Bankshot! Records)
- The Best Of The All-U-Can-Eat Buffet Of Musical Madness, Vol. 1: So You Gonna Got Some Songs To Perform? (1998, Sacrilicious Records)
- Hey Brother, Can You Spare Some Ska? Vol. 4 (1998, Vegas Records)
- Sign Where? Records Sampler (1998, Sign Where? Records)
- You Call This Music?? (1998, Cluckin' Records)
- Blue Prints (1999, Downfall Records)
- 'Til Someone Loses an Eye: The Safety Tips CD (1999, Superpickle Music Arts)
- Music That Won't Swallow (2000, Super Toad Records)
- Vomiting Cow Records (2000, Vomiting Cow Records)
- Flogging a Dead Cow: A Tribute to the Dead Milkmen (2001, Superpickle Music Arts)
- Going Postal: A Tribute to Mailbox (2003)
- As The Radioactive Chicken Heads
- Mr. Snail's Halloween Party (2005, Snail Sounds)
- We're Not Kidding! A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar (2009, Snail Sounds)
- My America: Quincy Punx Tribute to Benefit The West Memphis Three (2010, Crustacean Records)
- A Very Friendly Holiday 2011 (2011, Space Kidz a GoGo)
- Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2012, Bizjack Flemco Productions)
- Now That's What I Call Mabson 2012 (2013, Mabson Enterprises)
- California Creeps (2013, Roosterhead Music)
- Now That's What I Call Mabson 2013 (2014, Mabson Enterprises)
- It's Called A Separation: 10 Years of Fathers Day (2014, Related Records)
- Homemade Holidays (2014, Swoody Records)
|2007||"I Looked Into The Mirror"||Roy Knyrim||A cover of a song by Barry Louis Polisar|
|"Pest Control"||Roy Knyrim||Features cameo appearances from Ron Jeremy and Bill Manspeaker of Green Jelly|
|2008||"Badd Bunny"||Chrix Lanier|
|2010||"I Eat Kids"||Kyle Caraher||A cover of a song by Barry Louis Polisar|
|2012||"Headless Mike"||The Radioactive Chicken Heads||Starring Mike Odd of Rosemary's Billygoat and featuring a cameo by Nick Cvjetkovich|
|"Call Me Maybe"||The Radioactive Chicken Heads||Punk cover of the Carly Rae Jepsen song set to in-studio footage|
|"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"||The Radioactive Chicken Heads||Punk cover of the Taylor Swift song set to in-studio footage|
|2013||"Deviled Egg"||Jim Ojala||Features a cameo by Lloyd Kaufman|
|"Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer"||Richard Taylor and Zack Beins||Theme song from the 2012 film Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer. Features a cameo by Dukey Flyswatter.|
|"Cluck You!"||Ryan Hailey||Features animations by Gwar co-founder Hunter Jackson|
|"Radioactive"||Aaron Cohen||Punk cover of the Imagine Dragons song set to live footage|
- Live performance of "Bag O' Bones" on cable television series hosted by Jack E. Jett.
- Live performance of "Our Last Song" with brief interview as part of an interactive talent show-themed episode.
- Carrot Topp plays keyboards for a live performance by Green Jellÿ while the band cameos as dancers.
- Cheri Tomato, Puke Boy and Bird Brain served as Count Smokula's backing band for a live performance of his song "Zombie" on a syndicated version of Tom Green's web show.
- Al Extremo (January 2012, Azteca)
- Live performance with interview during a segment about the California Institute of Abnormal Arts for the Al Extremo news program on Spanish-language channel Azteca América.
- Live footage of the band's set at Freakshow Wrestling with a brief interview during a segment about Zizi Howell, a woman obsessed with carrots.
- The Chicken Heads appear alongside Nick Cannon in a promo commercial for season eight of the NBC reality competition.
- The California Institute of Abnormalarts was highlighted on a segment of the lifestyles show hosted by Audrina Patridge, which featured the Chicken Heads performing part of "The Curse of Frankenchicken" on the venue's stage.
- Eye on LA (October 2015, ABC)
- The California Institute of Abnormalarts was again highlighted in a Halloween-themed episode of the KABC-TV local public interest program Eye on LA, featuring the Chicken Heads performing on the venue's stage, as well as showing several members dancing to a performance by Los Angeles horror rock band The Rhythm Coffin.
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- "'My Crazy Obsession' Features Zizi Howell And Her Extreme Love For Carrots". The Huffington Post. March 22, 2012.
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