Murphy Art Center
Monday, Aug. 8
A Monday show at Fountain Square’s Murphy Art Center will feature a healthy sampling of Indianapolis roots music and a touring headliner that is, um, something completely different.
At its core, the Texas band Attic Ted seems to have a taste for the darker recesses of country and folk music, but that’s as close as this lo-fi, high-concept quintet gets to any conventional reference point.
A spin of the band’s latest album, Hemogoblin, is a like a visit to a demented county fair where the carnies have been drinking and shooting meth all day and the Tilt-A-Whirl is spinning apart in a burst of sci-fi sound effects. The experience is often abrasive, not the choice for your next dinner party, but full of humor and spooky appeal.
The sound reflects the personalities involved, bandleader Grady Roper says.
“We’re all pretty off the wall, and I’m sick and tired of boring rock bands,” says Roper, whose whimsical organ and brooding baritone vocals anchor the group’s schizophrenic vibe.
The music at Big Car Gallery, 1043 Virginia Avenue, will begin just after 7 p.m. Monday with half-hour sets from local faves the Tecumseh Flyers, the Punkin Holler Boys and the Freightliners. The event also will offer a preview of Big Car’s group collage show, Latencies, which officially opens Aug. 12. Admission is $5, and Attic Ted is scheduled around 9 p.m.
Much of Attic Ted’s weirdness, aside from the incongruous presence of trumpeter Bill Jeffery, is supplied by Lance McMahan, who uses an old Akai sampler and various electronic effects to unleash cascades of unidentifiable sound.
“He plays his sampler like an instrument,” Roper says of McMahan. “He’s really made such an art out of it. He’s not just screwing off trying to annoy people.”
Attic Ted’s visual presentation is highlighted by oversized cardboard masks that Roper, a painter and former art student, makes for his colleagues and the occasional audience member. His own mask, a vaguely Frankenstein-looking head with a microphone planted in its exaggerated jaw, has come to represent the namesake stage persona that battles the flesh-and-blood Roper for creative input.
“I started referring to him just as Attic Ted,” Roper says. “Some of these songs are like his songs. The lyrics are coming out based on this weird old man. It’s me, but it’s really not anymore.”
One can only hope the alter ego, rather than the actual guy, penned the lyrics to the new song “Sure to Lose”:
I’m swimming in a lake of fire
I didn’t wear the right attire
Flesh melting in my shoes
This time I’m sure to lose
The band first began to take shape with Roper and McMahan playing experimental noise shows in and around their home city of San Marcos, Texas, near Austin. The output grew slightly more musical as Roper settled on the organ and the lineup expanded to include Wade Driver on guitar and Coby Cardosa on drums. (At the Indy gig, an ancient Hammond rhythm box will fill in for the absent Cardosa.)
The Attic Ted concept didn’t fully come together, however, until after the band recorded its first album. At one Halloween show, Roper casually decided to wear a giant Beethoven bust he had assembled for the holiday. He planted a microphone inside and was delighted by the creepy, distorted vocal effect that resulted.
“The band didn’t even know I was going to do it,” he says. “At that point, it just kind of shifted the whole thing, and I made masks for everybody.”
Roper's masks usually begin with empty boxes from 12-packs of San Antonio-based Pearl Lager Beer, to which he adds paint and other materials.
“The boxes are just the perfect size for your head,” he says. “We’re hoping maybe Pearl will sponsor us at some point.”
Hemogoblin, released on the indie Pecan Crazy Records label, is a wide-ranging venture recorded partly in a studio and partly on home four-track recorders. Some tunes are solidly structured, with intricate, ethnic-sounding melodies reminiscent of Camper Van Beethoven’s stoner folk dances. Others begin loud and crazy and spiral off into even greater chaos, dispelling any notion that Attic Ted might showcase its kinder, gentler side when recording.
“We figured, we might as well let people know what they’re getting themselves into,” Roper says. Scott Hall writes about music and stuff at www.onthebeat.org.