'Sometimes you have to judge your accomplishments by the people who don't like you.'
That's Chris Charles, explaining a recent email interaction from a "friend of a friend" who had chosen to delve into the music of Bizarre Noir. Expecting a band that was weird for weirdness' sake, she came out the other side realizing that in this case 'you're just plain weird, and I can't dig that.'
"My first reaction was just 'fuck you!'" he laughs. "But I do get it. That first year we were up for Best of NUVO it was mortifying because we didn't expect to win. We thought there were so many better bands on the list, let alone in the city. And when we got that award we felt like we should say 'Oh my God, we were joking. We were just having fun with it, like, wouldn't it be cool?' Then we won and the hate mail started rolling in."
For Charles, who started Bizarre Noir with longtime friend Craig Smoot, who plays guitar and keyboards with the band, the draw was a shared obsession with old movies. They hoped to find a way to build stories as the centerpiece that music could gel around. From an intial EP that focused on a single concept to their album Bedtime Stories which delved more thoroughly on the idea of fear, the focus has always been words first, music second.
So it isn't surprising they've centered most intently on developing their stage performance into a rotating commune of arts, music and circus performance, something they'll highlight this week as they put on their Third Annual Magical Sexy Circus and Arts Extravaganza at the 5th Quarter Lounge.
"My wife and I are both artistic people; I've made music my whole life, while she's painted her whole life," says Charles. "This is just something we're passionate about. And when you start meeting these people who struggle like we do as musicians, it becomes an obvious choice to help each other out. Because these circus people come to town all the time and play in front of nobody. If you think it's bad for bands, you can't imagine how bad it is for a touring circus act. And it was like pulling teeth initially to get them to come here."
That first year Charles actually paid the traveling circus performers up front out of his own pocket, committing wholly to his theory that a live performance could be a feast for all senses. That in turn has helped them attract top-notch performers from our arts community and beyond.
"I love Bizarre Noir's willingness to embrace the theatrical side of music," says Katie Angel, founder and CEO at Angel Burlesque. "The atmosphere of a Bizarre Noir show feels like a carnival. The audiences is involved, you're never quite sure what is next and you're excited to find out. The audience knows the band will feed their eyes as well as their ears."
Charles says the band is intent on ensuring that all performers who work with them maintain their ability to create independently from the band.
"It becomes so organic because I don't want to control them and what they do in their act," he explains of his work with Angel Burlesque in the past. "I want them to have the songs, picture in their head what they want to do, and then we communicate about a rough idea. Because the music tells a story, we're all able to share the mentality of 'we know where this is going.' And we trust each other. There's a complete trust that runs both ways."
Through it all they've built a loyal base of listeners who come to see their shows, ready to embrace the band's unique artistic vision from all sides.
"It comes down to the visual aspect — when you hear it on the internet or a CD it doesn't translate the actual circus that is our show. We are telling stories and they're meant to be played out in front of people."