Thomas Truax

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders
This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

We’re back! Did you miss us? We promise to resume regularly posting Weird Bands of the Week and occasionally updating our Weird 100 chart, but other site updates will probably be more infrequent because we’ve both got demanding day jobs now. For our ever-popular Weird of the Day picks, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And now, back to the weirdness…

This week’s “band” is a solo artist from New York named Thomas Truax (pronounced “True-Ax”) who plays guitar and a variety of homemade instruments, mostly of the beat-making variety. He started out as the bassist/vocalist for a ’90s trio called Like Wow that was part of downtown Manhattan’s “antifolk” scene (did anyone actually like the term “antifolk”? didn’t think so), then turned solo around 2000 or so. His signature instrument, seen above, is called the Hornicator. It’s a modified gramophone horn that he can both sing into and use as a twangy percussion instrument by plucking a string wrapped around its neck. It apparently also has a kazoo inside it, because really, any halfway decent homemade instrument may as well include a kazoo.

Musically, Truax tends to play his own spin on mutant, lo-fi blues, evoking shades of everything from Nick Cave to Jon Spencer to another weird artist famous for cleverly constructed analog drum machines, Mr. Quintron. He’s done an entire album of songs from David Lynch films and another of original songs to accompany a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. More recently, he’s teamed up with ex-Dresden Doll drummer Brian Viglione. But it’s his solo live shows, where he unleashes his Hornicator and a variety of steampunky percussion instruments with evocative names like the Sister Spinster and the Mother Superior, that really showcase Truax’s weirdness.

Truax has also made more than his fair share of memorable music videos over the years. Here’s our favorite, suggested by reader Chas (thanks, Chas!), for a typically offbeat Truax original called “Prove It to My Daughter” that doubles as both a song and a hypnosis session:

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Here’s Miss Von Trapp’s new album, “Grave Folk”

Miss Von Trapp, "Grave Folk"

Here’s something worth tearing yourself away from The Simpsons marathon for: a new album from the mistress of morbid cello ditties, Miss Von Trapp. Grave Folk features songs about vampires, death, drowning babies, taxidermied rabbits, and kitty cats—because everyone loves kitty cats!

You can hear Grave Folk in all its 10-track glory on Bandcamp—and if you like what you hear, the whole thing can be yours for the low, low price of five quid. Here’s our favorite song, “A Mother’s Lament,” a public service reminder to always take the skinniest children out of the bath tub before pulling the plug, lest they be sucked to a watery grave.

Enjoy! Now we’re back to The Simpsons marathon…”Treehouse of Horror VIII” should be on any minute.

And now, an Easter song from Miss Von Trapp

Photo by Crestfall Photography
Photo by Crestfall Photography

If you’re not godless heathens like Jake and me, you’re probably celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord & Savior this weekend by painting some hard-boiled eggs and biting the heads off chocolate rabbits. But even if you don’t celebrate Easter, you’re sure to enjoy Miss Von Trapp‘s new ode to the season, “Taxidermy Chocolate Bunny (Oh dear what can the matter be).” In fact, the less you give a shit about Easter, the more likely you are to enjoy it. Unless you hate ukuleles. Then you’re screwed.

Miss Von T. also has quite a few shows coming up this summer. If you live in England and anything steampunk-related is happening near you, chances are she’ll be there. Do check her out, won’t you?

23-26 May – Plymouth – Volksfest Cabaret Tent 2014
14 June – Devon – The Carnivale of the Peculiar
20-22 June – Bristol – Brass Brunel Steampunk Convention
25 June – Plymouth – Pennycomequick Arts present ‘Black Books’
5 July – St. Austell – Steampunk Ball, The Market House
14-18 Aug. – Kettering – Alt-Fest: The Steampunk Experience (hosted by our friends BB Blackdog)
27 Sept. – Exeter – Steampunk Cabaret with Professor Elemental, The Tobacco House
11 Oct. – Exeter – Rogues Gallery: A Neo-Vaudeville Night of Delights

For more info and tickets, visit Miss Von Trapp’s official site.

BB BlackDog

Photo by Laurine Clifford
Photo by Laurine Clifford

We had our own little British Invasion here at Weird Band HQ last week. Not only did steampunk Brits BB BlackDog win our latest Weird Band Poll, another English act named Ben & Amy finished a strong 3rd. The lone American act in the poll, Fartbarf, finished dead last. What is wrong with you people? Do you hate farting, barfing and America? Sometimes I don’t recognize this country anymore.

But anyway, yes, BB BlackDog crushed the competition fair and square, so they earn Weird Band of the Week honors. And they are indeed a pretty fucking weird band, though not for the obvious reasons. I mean, if they were just another WWI-fighter-pilot-goggles-wearing steampunk act, we would pass them by with a resounding “meh.” There’s entire fucking conventions of bands like that now. But here’s what’s awesome about BB BlackDog: The visuals don’t match the music. At all. It’s like if Slipknot came out onstage and starting singing One Direction songs. Except way less sucky than that.

So yeah, when you first look at BB BlackDog, you probably assume they’re going to break into a John Philip Sousa march, or maybe a little ragtime, or they might get really crazy and bust out the chap-hop. Wrong! BB BlackDog play good old-fashioned bluesy psychedelic/stoner rock. And they do it in full steampunk regalia, with belly dancers and shit.

Here are some other interesting factoids about BB Black Dog. They’ve been doing this since 2007. They’ve written 76 original songs. They don’t have a guitar player…lead singer Dale Rowles plays “lead bass,” John Ferguson Mike Bower plays rhythm bass, and Axel Boldt plays the drums as hard as anyone can without the pink boa flying off his black leather cowboy hat. They list Black Sabbath, Prince, Pink Floyd and death metal among their influences. They have an album called No One that you can buy from (duh) Steampunk Records…or from Amazon.com if you prefer to pay in U.S. scrilla. One of their members is German. Oh and they seem to occasionally feature a fourth member who dresses up like their namesake “Black Dog”…although honestly, he looks more like some kind of steampunk gimp who just escaped from an H.P. Lovecraft-themed sex dungeon. Which actually makes sense, because they have a song called “Gimp.”

If you clicked that last link, you saw that as recently as 2009, BB BlackDog was pretty much just another scruffy stoner-rock bar band…albeit one with a vaguely old-timey burlesque dancer. Apparently, they’re recent converts to the whole steampunk thing. I guess you could argue that this makes them steampunk carpet-baggers or something, except I’m pretty sure there needs to be a carpet worth bagging for that to make any sense. It’s not like everyone’s riding the steampunk gravy train to major label deals and Bud Light endorsements. The likelier explanation is just that they stumbled across the steampunk scene and went, “Hey, this is fucking cool! Let’s join in!” Just because they didn’t swap out the basses for banjoleles doesn’t mean they’re not totally into it.

BB BlackDog have a ton of live videos on YouTube, and many of them are definitely worth checking out. But it was this video for the track “What You Need” that I’m pretty sure scored them a win in our Weird Band Poll. What’s more steampunk than a motorized shopping cart? Lots, but who cares? Motorized shopping carts are awesome.

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Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer is about to gentrify America

Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer

America, your long chap-hop drought is finally about to end. Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer will soon grace our savage shores with his refined, banjolele-fueled ditties about big pimpin’ Victorian style. Huzzah!

Sadly, the esteemed Mr. B’s Stateside social calendar currently boasts but two invitations: The CONvergence sci-fi and fantasy convention (whose 2013 theme, fittingly, is “British Invasion”) in Minneapolis on July 4th, and the Antiquarian Music Festival at Steamstock, a steampunk festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, on July 28th. Between those two dates, we can only assume he will be making the arduous trek across our great American wildernesses via horseless carriage, or possibly one of these things. Will he call upon various saloons and public houses along the way and delight them with impromptu chap-hop recitals? The gap-toothed hoi polloi between the Twin Cities and the Golden Gate can but fervently hope.

Mr. B hasn’t released any new tunes of late, so we’ll leave you instead with this adorable Steamstock promotional video, featuring the many highlights and elaborate hats of Steamstock 2012. Please to enjoy.

Professor Elemental vs. Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer

MrBProfE

It’s yet another first here at Weird Band HQ: This week, two artists will share the title of Weird Band of the Week. It seems only fitting, since Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer and Professor Elemental were finally able to quash their long-running feud and agree to share the top of the chap-hop heap.

Let’s back up a bit. “Chap-hop” is a term that, as far as we can tell, was originally coined by Mr. B (real name: Jim Burke), a London rapper who adopted the trappings of the British “Chappist” movement, a subculture devoted to the more genteel ways of Downton Abbey-era England, complete with lots of tweed, liberal use of the word “jolly” and well-manicured facial hair. By combining dandyish style (and an adorably retro instrument called the banjolele) with the rhymes, beats and cocksure attitude of hip-hop, Mr. B created a whole new subgenre of music. Or did he?

This is where it gets interesting. Because you see, before Mr. B ever dropped a rhyme about his watch fob, another chap in nearby Brighton by the name of Professor Elemental (real name: Paul Alborough) was mixing rap with Edwardian swag on songs like “Cup of Brown Joy,” an ode to tea drinking whose loopy, low-budget video has racked up 1.5 million views on YouTube, making it a chap-hop anthem on par with, say, “Gin & Juice.”

Although Professor Elemental initially identified himself as a “steampunk mad scientist” (you can tell he’s steampunk because he sometimes wears goggles on his pith helmet) rather than a practitioner of chap-hop, it wasn’t long before he discovered the existence of Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer and began drawing battle lines. “I can’t walk down the street these days without being mistaken for Mr. B, or without folk asking if I am going to battle the cad,” he said in an interview with The Chap, the scene’s magazine of record. In 2010, two years after both chap rappers first rose to prominence, he released a song and video called “Fighting Trousers” that called out Mr. B in no uncertain terms.

Mr. B eventually responded with his own shot across the bow, a capital little brag track called “Just Like a Chap.” But by this point, the battle was all in good fun, as you’ll see towards the end when Professor E himself makes a good-natured cameo.

Anyone wishing to further weigh the relative merits of chap-hop’s two leading lights should peruse footage from this 2011 “chap-off.”

Although we do find Professor Elemental’s Jules Verne-inspired zaniness entertaining, and although he certainly meets the criteria for weirdness set out by our esteemed blog  (the fellow has a gorilla butler named Geoffrey for a sidekick, by Jove), we tend to find Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer a more satisfyingly polished performer. Maybe it’s the banjolele that gives him his edge. Or this video. Or the fact that, unlike Professor E, he seems to know how to use a straight razor.

It’s worth noting that Mr. B and Prof E have inspired a whole chap-hop movement, and there’s now a host of other artists busting rhymes like it’s 1899: Poplock Holmes, Class Rhymes and Reginald Pikedevant, Esquire, to name only a few. At this rate, chap-hop seems poised to outlast the post-Downtown Abbey acting career of that fool who played Matthew Crawley. Seriously, why would anyone quit the best show ever on British television? What a cad.

P.S. We almost forgot to thank readers Wallicoth and Charm Man for introducing us to the joys of chap-hop. Good show, gents!

You might also like: Mo Wolpert, MC Frontalot, DeScribe

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Rasputina

Let’s be clear here: We’re not including Rasputina on TWBITW just because they’re a cello band. Lots of rock bands actually feature cellos (Avett Brothers, Belle & Sebastian, Ra Ra Riot, etc.) and another band, Apocalyptica, even uses the same format as Rasputina (multiple cellos + drum kit) to play something they call “symphonic metal,” which is arguably weirder that what Rasputina has traditionally stood for, i.e. chicks in quasi-Victorian garb doing sort of gothy chamber music.

No, the reason Rasputina rates a spot on The Weird List boils down to one thing: Melora Creager. Over Rasputina’s 15+ year history, she has proven herself time and again to be one of the most fabulously weird, eccentric characters in all of music. Without her unique songwriting style, her quirky obsessions with historical emphera, and her ingenuity for coaxing new sounds out of the cello, Rasputina would be a one-trick pony that wore out its welcome ages ago. Instead, they’ve managed to still sound fresh over five studio albums and various EPs and live discs. (The fact the band’s lineup has evolved even faster than Creager’s increasingly fanciful costumes probably hasn’t hurt, either.)

Rasputina is probably best-known for doing cellified (is that a word? is now!) versions of classic rock songs like “Barracuda” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and they’ve also been known to breathe new life into creepy old folk songs (“Wicked Dickie,” a little dirge about “an old man who had but one cow,” is my personal favorite). Creager even released a limited-edition recording called Ancient Cross-Dressing Songs that features three…well, ancient cross-dressing songs. Like we said, this woman knows her ephemera.

But it’s Creager’s original songs that really make Rasputina stand out. Many of them delve into very specific historical material, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire or the Year Without a Summer; some are based on 19th century pulp fiction (the truly excellent “My Captivity by Savages“) and other esoteric source material; some employ historical figures but are apparently just the product of Creager’s lurid imagination (“Incident in a Medical Clinic,” which casts Mary Todd Lincoln as a fevered madwoman leading an army of blimps…no, really). Other song titles speak for themselves: “Momma Was an Opium Smoker,” “Transylvanian Concubine,” “The Donner Party.” Then there’s “Choose Me for a Champion,” which is based on an Osama Bin Laden speech. Yep, for Creager, pretty much nothing is off-limits.

The best part? Much of Rasputina’s music is actually downright catchy, despite its frequently bizarre subject matter and the fact that most of what you’re hearing is cellos. Okay, the song about Josef Mengele is a bit of a downer, but much of the Rasputina catalog is actually quite beautiful, or rockin’, or often both.

Rasputina’s sixth studio album, Sister Kinderhook, comes out this summer on Creager’s own Filthy Bonnet label. We’re stockpiling absinthe in preparation for a marathon listening session the day it comes out.

Apart from a rather ridiculous clip dating back to their brief stint on Columbia Records in the late ’90s, Rasputina haven’t done much in the way of music videos–which is too bad, because Creager’s doll-like features and steam-punky fashion sense are pretty photogenic. Still, this live clip of a track from the group’s best (IMHO) album, Frustration Plantation, gives you a pretty good idea of what their all about. We assume she’s running her cello through some kind of guitar pedal to get that effect, but however she’s doing it, it totally makes us want to rock out–in a top-hatted, Victorian sort of way. Maybe snort a line of snuff off a chorus girl’s bloomers?

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