The Frontier Circus has a Christmas present for all you fans of twisted, feedback-drenched garage rock: a four-song self-titled EP out Tuesday on Max Recordings. The follow-up to the band’s 2011 LP “A Little Bit Psycho … A Little Bit Western” has covers of songs by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, The Velvet Underground, Cher and Glen Campbell. The band’s lineup includes Frontier Dan (Danny Grace), Daredevil Dave (Dave Hoffpauir), Lightnin’ Lou (Louisa Rook) and Victor El Valente (Jason Weinheimer). The Times caught up with Frontier Dan to chat about the record.
You played in The Rockin’ Guys for a long time, a band that also mutilated the rock canon.
We like to think that we helped move it along.
What prompted you to start messing with country in The Frontier Circus?
I don’t know if we talked about this before, but it was just something to do. I’ve always liked all these songs, this particular sort of country music. I have no interest in most of what’s coming out there today, but all these sorts of songs, especially people like George Jones and Waylon Jennings and those guys, I’ve always listened to that music. I started a band with my friend Lindsay Moore, a.k.a. Red Neckerson; he’s the king of real country music. We call it the old sad stuff, and when he had his radio show “The Radio Roundup” on KABF, I’d call him up and say, “Red, play me some of that old sad stuff.” It’s the kind of stuff that The Frontier Circus is so fond of doing from that genre of music. Some of the country things we’re doing aren’t necessarily that old stuff. We’ve added a Gram Parsons tune to the mix.
Which Gram Parsons tune?
Tuesday night we’ll do “Sin City.” We just added that and we just added a version of “Long Black Veil” that we had been toying with. We went back and really committed to it. We also added, it’s not a country song, but heck what is Leonard Cohen anyway? We’re doing “Tower of Song,” that great Cohen tune. We try to pick great songs and songs that other people probably aren’t doing because they don’t have a cover band. We have the luxury of an incredible cornucopia of tunes that we can select. We’re not just bound by our unfortunate and inadequate songwriting skills. We can just choose great songs. And so I don’t think we have a song in our set that’s not in some way a great song.
That’s what we tried to do on the EP, is go to the studio and make sure that we got some of the songs that we’d been doing since the LP came out, so it didn’t get lost. That’s why we quickly did this project. We did it in a very short period of time.
Back in February of this year, I told you that you guys needed to cover some Lee Hazlewood. So, imagine my surprise when I saw “Some Velvet Morning” listed on your new EP. Was this already in the works or am I just a Svengali-like tastemaker?
You and I were talking, I think we were talking about loving that “Nancy & Lee” album. I’d been listening to it and I wanted to do that song. I mentioned it to the band and I thought they’d go, “Oh God, no.” Man, Louisa goes “I love that song!” Dave: “I love that song!” Jason: “I love that song, man!” That came off, Victor just hit on that lick that he does on it, and he loves it. And when your guitar player likes it, you’re in good shape. We just kind of took it from there and worked on the transition thing from the lead of Nancy.
It’s a tricky song to do.
It’s a little tricky.
To take something with that much production sheen and sort of boil it down to garage rock, that’s a pretty handy trick.
I think that’s what happened, the way Louisa, Jason and Dave worked that song, you’d think it’d be kind of terrifying to do it, but it’s not. It’s a song that I’m looking forward to in the set and I think everyone else is too, because it’s just a riot to play.
If I could humbly suggest another addition to your catalog, I’d love to hear your take on “Bertha” by the Grateful Dead.
“Bertha” by the Grateful Dead. Really? That’s interesting because I’ve never done a Grateful Dead song.
I was imagining that you hadn’t.
But we need to explore all frontiers.
You are The Frontier Circus.
That’s right, and I am looking for some new tunes, because once this thing comes out we’ll need new tunes.
Was “Rhinestone Cowboy” recorded as a way of paying tribute to Glen Campbell?
Absolutely. The reason we did that song goes all the way to a year ago in September. There was an article in the Demo-Gazette recently about him, mentioning how he played 126 shows since he made his announcement. When he made that announcement, Lindsay was still playing with us then and I said “We need to do a Glen Campbell song. He’s a great artist, he’s from Arkansas.” We listened to a bunch of Glen Campbell music and wanted to do one of the big hits and that was the one that seemed to fit my abilities, limited as they are, and it was also a song that the band could play and they do a great job on it. We’ve added a little bit of flourish to it, it’s got that cascading guitar that I threw in there and Victor has that cool guitar deal that goes on and Louisa and David are rock solid on it. And it sounds a lot like the Glen Campbell tune, except for the fact that I can’t sing as good.
I was going to say, it probably hews closer to the original than most of your other deconstructions.
I think you’re probably right there. The only thing different about it is how we deal with the guitar and the fact that it’s got that Theremin going on, and that always changes the landscape. But when we start that song up and you’re looking at the audience and they go, “hmm,” and then I go, “I’ve been walking these streets…” and then you can see them mouthing it, you can see them going “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and it’s just a hoot!
The Frontier Circus plays a record release show Tuesday at White Water Tavern, with Jab Jab Suckerpunch, 9:30 p.m., $5 at the door. You can pick up the new 12″ vinyl EP at the show for $16.