Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall’s forthcoming Funny Ears Fringe Festival–March 27 thru March 29–will act as a sort of local reflection of the internationally-renowned weirdness of the Big Ears Festival, sponsored by Knoxville’s ace promoter, A.C. Entertainment. And while we would be hard-pressed to preview every one of the 30-some-odd FEFF bands that will take the stage over the course of the long weekend, we can at least offer a few words on–and a few words from–some of the festival’s (predominantly local) stand-out performers.
-Wesley Wyrick, performing March 27 with visual artist Kenta Nolin, March 28 with hip-hop-jazz-fusion combo Box Set, and March 29 with math-rock duo GlassWorks:
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Wes Wyrick hails from everywhere and Nowhere at once. His hometown is “the Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee, in the backwoods of the Cumberland Plateau.” But he’s spent most of his adult life wandering, both musically and geographically.
Almost equally adept at guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, and synth programming, (“but no wood-winds,” he laughs.), Wyrick will draw on “a vast palate of influences” over the course of his various performances the weekend of FEFF.
For his project with Nolin, Wyrick says to expect “some far-out electronic music, taking a lot of inspiration from South London and Chicago Footwork. It will be a sonic ear-f@#$.”
Of GlassWorks, Wyrick’s prog project with drummer Rylan Bledsoe, he says, “Rylan and I grew up listening to a lot of the same stuff, stuff with lots of notes. We kind of feel each other.”
As for Box Set, Wyrick says the band “draws a lot from Chris Daddy Dave and the Drumheads; it’s hip-hop-influenced jazz and funk-inspired soul.”
-King Super and the Excellents, performing March 29 at Preservation Pub, closing out he weekend of shows:
What are Knoxville’s fun-est four-piece up to these days? Well, they’re crafting a follow-up to their debut record Hammertime County , for one thing. Super singer Dave Bowers says the band has four songs written for a new album, several of which could make it onto the set list of the Excellents’ FEFF show.
Having made their bones playing cover songs in a… most original way, the Excellents are continuing now in their progression toward becoming one of the city’s best original bands, as well.
“With our new music, there’s still a whole lot of tongue-in-cheek, but we’re a little more serious about things now,” Bowers says. “We’re taking a more proactive approach to songwriting.”
But much like the Excellents’ previous work, the material features an eclectic–not to say “flat-out strange”–melange of styles, including the band’s “first stab at prog,” and something else that Bowers describes as “Japanese Country.”
The question of the hour, of course, is what the Excellents will do–and even more importantly, what they will wear–on stage. The band’s strange sense of style and predictable unpredictability are a huge part of what makes a KSATE show one of the best kicks in town.
“There’s no telling,” Bowers laughs. “We’ll probably play 90 mintues or so, a very high-energy show to close everything out. And I have no idea what we’ll wear yet. Maybe it will be a Member’s Only day.”
-Sidecar Symposium, performing Saturday, March 28 at Preservation Pub:
Local cabaret-rock outfit Sidecar Symposium have been busy–almost as busy as one of their infamous quasi-regular Three Ring Circus performances at Scruffy City Hall. The band hosts Three Ring Circus every couple months at SCH, a veritable carnival’s worth of entertainment that includes fire-eaters, knife-throwers, belly dancers, burlesque, comedy, and other assorted madness. “We’ve been described as Queen meets Gogol Bordello,” says bandleader Lulu Skidoo.
For the moment, tho, Skidoo says they’re concentrating on songs–an EP’s worth, On the Lam, released in February, plus 20 more that are in the can, or very nearly so.
The colorful six-piece unit is also pushing its busy–but never boring–brand of performance-art-rock to other towns. “We desperately need a van!” says Skidoo.
Don’t look for any Three-Ring hi-jinx at the band’s FEFF performance. What you can expect, though, is to hear all five songs off On the Lam, plus a selection of five or so more from across the Sidecar catalog.
-Senryu, performing at midnight March 27 at Scruffy City Hall:
Senryu bandleader Wil Wright is perhaps best known now for LiL iFFy, the wandcore/wizard-rap project he founded a few years back, turning Harry Potter lore into hip-hop gold. “I haven’t quite mastered the balance between Senryu and iFFy the last couple of years,” says Wright. “But we’re in the beginning stages of a new Senryu album, and hopefully, we’ll debut a song or two at Funny Ears.”
It’s stunning to think just how long Senryu have been with us now, having evolved over the last decade-and-a-half-or-so into one of the most consistently original and entertaining units in town, a high-energy, off-kilter indie/pop/rock outfit that defies easy categorization. “We’ve had a release of some kind every year we’ve been around, so that would make this new one number 16 or 17,” Wright says. “Even with some line-up changes early on, we’ve been pretty steady.”
Wright describes the latest batch of Senryu songs as “kind of an overhaul.”
“We tried to be more experimental the last few recordings,” he says. “But now we’re getting back to doing more angular, aggressive rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what I feel most comfortable writing.”
-The Tom Pappas Collection, performing the night of March 27, Scruffy City Hall:
The Tom Pappas story begins with Superdrag, but it doesn’t end there.
And chronologically speaking, it doesn’t truly begin there, either. Pappas fronted the Stooges-esque Knoxville proto-punk outfit the Used back at the dawn of the 1990s, and you can look for the man with the mop-top hair to roll out a Used song at his performance Friday night at Scruffy City Hall.
But many locals recognize him best from his days in Superdrag, the long-running Knoxvile power-pop quartet that made waves in the ’90s with their Elektra Records release Regretfully Yours, and went on to release a handful of stellar independent records well into the ’00s.
And that’s okay, too. Pappas says he will be throwing in a ‘drag tune or two when he grabs a guitar and a mike somewhere around 10 p.m. “We’ll be playing a nice variety of tunes,” he chuckles. “We have a large gap to fill.”
The truth is, Pappas’ career has been so varied and prolific over the years–from the early days of the ‘drag and the Used to his on-and-off solo project Flesh Vehicle to Nashville outfit Whip! to his latest work with Nashville’s Hurts to Laugh–that the singer-guitarist made the decision a couple of years back to consolidate, creating a single outlet from which he could showcase all Pappas-related projects. Thus the Tom Pappas Collection was born.
But Pappas is perhaps even better known for the relentless energy of his stage show–at times, that infamous mop-top fairly cries out for its own microphone–than for the sheer volume of his catalog. In any case, his FEFF show shouldn’t disappoint.
“There will be songs from a lot of eras,” he promises. “And we will tear the roof off the place. Like we usually do.”
-Yak Strangler, performing at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29:
Maybe Knoxville duo Yak Strangler aren’t for every taste–they roll out an unusual (to say the least) mix of mostly-instrumental ’80-style hardcore punk rock, then drive it into some truly bizarre territory with the shred-guitar antics of axe mangler Chris Newman.
But for those of us who appreciate the band’s rough-hewn virtuosity and singularly daring musical approach, a Yak Strangler show rarely disappoints. “We like to say we do blues- and funk-inspired punk,” says drummer Rylan Bledsoe, who will also be performing over the weekend in another duo, GlassWorks, with guitarist Wesley Wyrick.
Bledsoe says he and Newman are working on a new full-length album, Fist Pump at the Pearly Gates, having just released an EP, The Duplex Dough-Sheeting Machine. As you might gather from those titles, subversive humor and conceptual eccentricity are also a big part of the Yaks’ M.O. Bledsoe describes the new EP as, “a mini-concept album about what happens to the end pieces of Fig Newtons.”
One thing that’s changing, tho–at least a little–is that Yak Strangler are embracing the power of the spoken/sung/shouted word. “We started out as a two-piece,” Bledsoe says. “But in the recent past, we’ve added more vocals. You’ll probably hear us do more of a mix of instrumental and vocal stuff.”
That’s a but a small sampling of the nearly 40 performers that will be playing over the course of the three-day event. For more information, see the Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall entertainment calendar, available at the link at the top of this page.