I'll admit it right off the top: I'm a massive fan of the accordion. And Daniel Bierner — performing as Captain Ambivalent at this year's Fringe — is in possession of just an absolutely beautiful one, luxuriously gold and ivory-colored, with just the right amount of sparkle.
Luckily, for one in possession of such an instrument, he's also damn good at making the thing sing. He'll appear at Fringe all week with his accordion and a new biographic show detailing (with tongue firmly in cheek) how Captain Ambivalent came to be the accordion-playing, comedy song-singing, writer-performer he is.
Below, our brief chat with Bierner.
NUVO: How was Gen Con?
Daniel Bierner: Fantastic. I can play songs there that other audiences just don't "get" and people love them. "The Miskatonic University Fight Song," for example, is all references to 1930s pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's work.
NUVO: Describe the first time you played the accordion — I know you inherited it from a relative. What draws you to that instrument?
Bierner: I don't know that I remember the first time — it was middle school or high school. I took piano lessons for 9 years as a kid. I found the accordion is a lot more portable and a lot less fuss. But I put it aside for a long time to pursue electronic keyboards, until I finally realized the accordion is a lot more portable and a lot less fuss. (Face palm.)
NUVO: What are some of your favorite rock operas that you pull inspiration from?
Bierner: The tongue is a little in the cheek there with that term. My songs are most often compared to They Might Be Giants, or Weird Al Yankovic, or more locally, Heywood Banks. I realized after the fact they fell naturally into a pseudo-autobiographical origin story, and called it a "rock opera" because that sounded funnier than "musical" or "revue."
NUVO: You're doing a sort-of tour de Fringe fests — what's unique about Indianapolis? How do Fringes vary from place to place?
Bierner: I developed the show at small theaters in Waukegan and Chicago, but this summer is actually my first Fringe Festival tour. My parents grew up in Indianapolis and I have family connections there, plus Gen Con is there, plus it's awesome. I'll get back to you next year on how festivals vary.
NUVO: Tell me more about that dinosaur you tease in the descriptor.
Bierner: Ah, Bernie the Dinosaur (not to be confused with any other purple dinosaur) joined me during a previous act I called "Special Guest and the Technical Difficulties" which involved playing cover songs on electronic toy instruments. That format became too limiting and I moved on to accordion, but once you own a 10-foot inflatable dinosaur you can't just leave him at home.
NUVO: What draws you to nerd rock?
Bierner: It's just kind of the way my life comes out. Plus, the accordion kind of makes everything nerd rock.
NUVO: Why is it important to keep your writing clean?
Bierner: I really don't fit into the usual tightly demographically-targeted music genres, and perhaps because of that find folks of all ages and backgrounds enjoy the material — and I'd like to keep it that way. I've had multiple reports of my CDs being the "family road trip" music preteens, teens, parents, and grandparents can agree on. It's not "children's music" at all, but safe to play with children present.