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Sleepytime Gorilla wakes up Tucson

photo courtesy of fanatic promotion
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is one of the scariest bands playing today. With deep vocals and creepy instrumentation, they're a must see on Halloween.
By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 28, 2004
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The fusion of performance art and music can oftentimes be a tricky combination. But Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is nothing if not tricky.

"We're trying to destroy certain aspects of rock music," said Nils Frykdahl, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist of SGM. "Its rigidity and conformity and a tendency to sort of limit itself by fashion or genre definitions."

With one violinist, a bassist who sports three mohawks, and a frontman who wears a pair of hydraulic wings, SGM is not your typical avant-garde performance art band. Then again, what is a typical avant-garde performance art band anyway?

Well, SGM is a living museum. With their elaborate kabuki-like makeup, rubber barnyard animal masks and butoh dancers, every performance is an exhibit in itself.

After the demise of Idiot Flesh, another art rock band founded by Frykdahl and bassist/instrument builder Dan Ratburn, SGB officially opened in 2000.

If you go...

Solar Culture Gallery
31 E. Toole Ave.
Phone: 884-0874

The two then enlisted a few new members, including the incredible violinist and vocalist Carla Kihlstedt of Tin Hat Trio, industrial waste percussionist Moe! Staiano and drummer Frank Grau, who is also the band's manager.

However, since Moe! and Frank took a break from performing with the band - on official academic business - drummer Matthias Bossi and percussionist Michael Mellender are filling in for them.

Mellender's skills extend beyond banging sticks. He also plays brass and one of several homemade instruments called an electric pancreas.

"The electric pancreas is a strange conglomeration of crinkly metal and soft wood and, of course, the interaction with pulsating flesh," Frykdahl explained. "He rubs it and crinkles it and caresses it with his body."

The band got their name from a series of publications from the Sleepytime Gorilla Press, which printed the profoundly inane publications of philosopher/mathematician John Kane in the early 20th century.

"They weren't really very well known in their day, and that in itself has a certain appeal," Frykdahl said. "The appeal of the treasure hunt, the aspect of trying to dig up information of a group that never made the headlines or the journals in their day."

Frykdahl and Ratburn first got interested in Kane's works during their run with Idiot Flesh because there was so little information about his group. But it was Frykdahl's brother who came up with the band's name.

"The words are more of a little awkward little poem all by themselves," Frykdahl said.

Inspired by Futurism, Dada and even Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, each song is prepared with loving care and, in some cases, terror.

"We sort of arranged (the songs) so we'd have point-counterpoint," Frykdahl said. "They tend to be in pairs, the ecclesiastical opening followed by the Satanic rebuttal monkey or vice versa. You can actually switch the two. It works either way because they both have elements of each."

SGM's biggest "musical" influences are Art Bears, a 1970s group from Europe, and its counterpart Henry Cow, both fronted by Fred Fritz. Strong undertones of Eastern European and Nordic folk music are also very prevalent in SGM's sound.

However, since they practically live in their new green 1962 GMC bus, Frykdahl said the band doesn't listen to much popular music, not even on the radio.

"What most of us tend to let fall by the wayside is some of the Top 40 music or the popular music because it sort of exists in a different world. But if you're not looking for it, it doesn't just appear," Frykdahl said. "Radio, like a record store, you have to use it very judiciously, I think, and it could take a lot of work to get something good out of radio that's garbage. And I haven't learned how to use it."

As for rehearsing, much of SGM's performances are choreographed when the band has time to rehearse before hitting the road. However, Frykdahl said the music is thoroughly composed from beginning to end with windows for improvisation.

At least Frykdahl manages to keep his sense of humor even when things go wrong on stage.

"I've been knocked unconscious on stage by the bass player," he said laughing.

Of course, since he was wearing white and red makeup, the audience probably didn't notice the blood streaming down the side of his head.

Though Sleepytime Gorilla Museum has yet to tour the world, Frykdahl said the Solar Culture Gallery is still one of their favorite venues in the country.

"We like Tucson a lot. Ever since we've gone there, our look at Tucson has been through (Solar Culture). So, there's many Tucsons to discover, but the one we hit upon is really tremendous," he said.

Since spookiness is their game, the band, of course, have special plans for Halloween when they're performing in Los Angeles.

"We hope to get some of our Los Angeles cohorts involved and cook up some extra ghoulishness," Frykdahl said. "Actually, we tend to be fairly ghoulish on a regular basis, so for us to push it over the top for Halloween and the worship of the dead is not really such a stretch for us."

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum will perform at Solar Culture Gallery at 9 p.m. Admission is $6.

The show is open to all ages and the Los Angeles- based electronica band Hop Frog will open up for them.

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