Take a slab of garage rock psychosis, add a bootful of vintage country and western, a dash of inspiration from the old Donnie & Marie variety show, some roller derby moxie, the eerie sounds of a theremin, and you’ve got “A Little Bit Psycho … A Little Bit Western,” the debut album from central Arkansas’ The Frontier Circus.
“I started this band so I could play the theremin,” says Ringleader Dan, the, well, ringleader of The Frontier Circus.
He’s joking, if only a bit. Dan and his pal Red Neckerson (stage names only, please) started the embryonic stages of the Circus in Dan’s garage way back in 1999. About a year and a half ago, the group began working toward recording the wild and inspired cover songs they were playing — songs that ran the gamut from Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line” to bizarre and awesome mashups of wildly divergent classics (think “A Horse With No Name” married to “Cool Water,” which the Circus calls “A Horse With No Water” and is track 11 on the new album).
And then there is the theremin, that strange box with antennas that makes all those spooky, horror-flick sounds and adds to the gleefully cracked and wickedly fun feel of “A Little Bit Psycho … A Little Bit Western.”
Joining singer-guitarist-thereminist Dan in the Circus are Lightnin’ Lou (Fender Mustang bass and aerialist), Daredevil Dave (drums and wheels of death) and Victor el Valiente (guitar). Founding member Neckerson, who has left the group, is credited in the album’s liner notes.
The Circus will celebrate its debut album on Little Rock’s Max Recordings and its own Ironic imprint with a record release party Saturday night at Maxine’s in Hot Springs. The band is opening for old buddy Jim Mize, the Conway singer-songwriter and Fat Possum recording artist. Fans can grab copies of the orange vinyl record at the show (a download of the recording is included for those lacking a turntable) and copies will be available at Arkansas CD and Record Exchange in North Little Rock, Been Around Records in Little Rock, on iTunes or at maxrecordings.com.
“A Little Bit Psycho … A Little Bit Western,” which contains one Circus original — “Rockin’ Renegades Roll,” written for the central Arkansas roller derby team the Rock-n-Renegades — was recorded at Poynter’s Palace in Maumelle by Barry Poynter and produced by Dan and Oleo Magneto.
“I really have to give all of the credit to Barry,” says Dan, praising Poynter’s work on the recording, especially his handling of the theremin, which can be a bit unwieldy to record. “He really made it fit in with the sound of the band.”
And the sound of the Circus is one of a raucous good time. Kicking off with the classic 13th Floor Elevators song “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” the album is a modern take on vintage garage rock (the band did, after all, start in a garage). It’s all raw energy and fun, and when run through the Circus blender, tracks as disparate as Porter Wagoner’s “The Rubber Room” and the obscure Byrds’ song “Psychodrama Mama” sound cut from the same cloth.
“There’s not really a theme” running through the album, Dan says, chuckling. “It’s nothing more than this psycho-western idea that I think we invented.”
Check out their live performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_no2OCPpE3M