The Circus Is in Town
"In Japan, we saw Kip Winger," maintains Trelvis, bassist for the Denver punk band Pinhead Circus. "He was playing next door to us. I kicked his ass again."
Don't worry, Winger fans--if there are any of you still out there, that is. According to singer/guitarist Scooter, aka Jimmy Pinhead, this incident never took place. But there is indeed a connection between the Kipster and Circus members Trelvis, Scooter and new drummer Otis: All three attended Winger's alma mater, Golden High School. That, however, is where the comparisons end. Whereas Winger offered up lite-metal cliches, Pinhead Circus brings something fresh to the oversaturated punk genre.
The band's roots stretch back to Trelvis and Scooter's junior high years in Golden, a town Otis refers to as "like some twisted Andy Griffith episode, where everyone knows one another." The pair first started performing together back then in acts such as the Flintstone Kids and Earwax. Then, in 1992, they hooked up with the Artist Formerly Known as Forest Bartosh, a drummer who complemented their playing perfectly. With Bartosh pounding the skins like Keith Moon fresh out of jail, Trelvis packing an adrenaline-juiced bass and Scooter churning out bruising riffs, it was only a matter of time before recording opportunities presented themselves. Brian Circle, owner of Denver's Black Plastic imprint, was the first record-company type to notice the band's potential.
"We knew who Brian was, and we knew he did a label and everything," Scooter says. "But we always felt kind of cheesy asking."
"So when he asked us if we wanted to do a seven-inch," Trelvis adds, "We were like, 'Fuck, yeah.'"
The relationship between Pinhead Circus and Black Plastic culminated in a full-length album, 1995's Nothing Groundbreaking. Despite its humble title, the platter represents one of the best discs you can buy with your punk-rock dollar--an ideal blend of humor and catharsis. In addition to strong originals ("Dropping Anvils," "Prozac Girl," "So Why Do You Like Me Now") that find the band thrashing away at a breakneck pace, the recording also sports covers of the Katrina & the Waves hit "Walking on Sunshine" and the Village People's "Macho Man," the latter featuring the vocals of local punk promoter Jason Cotter. As Scooter tells it, Cotter told the players he wanted to sing the song on the album. "We just said, 'Yeah, right,' because we figured he wouldn't be up early enough to make it to the studio on time," he goes on. "But when we got there, he was there with the single in hand, ready to do it."
The Pinheads had a good time cutting this number, but they otherwise express reservations with Groundbreaking. "I don't think we were too comfortable in the studio, because I still listen to it, and it's not even close to as hard as when we play live," Scooter relates. "We were nervous, we had the clocks ticking--all the machines whizzing."
"It sounded too sterile," Trelvis insists.
This description certainly doesn't fit the Circus's live dates, riotous affairs that go a long way toward explaining why the group has a growing cult following in Colorado and beyond. The musicians' first major tour, a 1993 jaunt through Texas and other parts of the Southwest, met with some major complications: "Every show was canceled except for one--and that was the last one we played, all because our van blew up," Scooter remembers. But a subsequent journey to California went better, largely because they were accompanied by friends who'd put up money for merchandise that they then sold at gigs. Since that time, Pinhead Circus has become part of a network of touring hardcore acts; they crash with punks from other cities who crash with them when they're playing in Denver.
These connections led to the inclusion of Circus material on a variety of indie singles and compilation albums, including Victims of Hate and Violence, a double seven-inch on Austin's Big City Bastard Records, and I Can't Believe It's Not Water, a collection on South Carolina's Just Add Water Records. But such successes weren't enough to keep Bartosh in the fold; he recently left in order to join another Denver-based punk outfit, the La Donnas. Faced with this defection, Trelvis and Scooter turned to Otis, the so-called Italian Stallion who also drums for locals Random Victim. "It's all part of my master plan to take over and drum for every band," Otis jokes. "I'm like Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child. All the bands protect me."
Otis's arrival has precipitated a noticeable change in the Pinhead Circus sound. In contrast to Bartosh's frenzied approach, Otis contributes what Trelvis describes as "straightforwardness that adds a lot of power to our music."
"Forest is the coolest drummer I've ever heard in my life, and its really hard to cop his beats," Otis concedes. "But since we grew up together, we sort of have the same style. I just play it straight--sort of an AC/DC- or Ramones-type playing. All meat, no fillers." Revelers at a recent Colorado Springs party where Otis made his debut definitely approved. "It was just a riot," Scooter crows. "Everyone was getting naked--naked girls, naked guys, beer flying everywhere, broken glass all over, and no cops; everything was cool. It was so fucking awesome."
With Otis in place, the Circus is forging ahead with a number of projects. The combo has completed a split seven-inch (with the Nobodys) to be issued on Boulder's Soda Jerk imprint and will appear on a compilation from the folks who put out the fanzine Suburban Home. In addition, the trio has cut a version of Colorado's official tune, "Where the Columbines Grow," for a disc of state songs due out soon on New Jersey's Coolidge Records. The Pinheads are so pleased with their rewrite of this ditty that they're currently planning to shoot a video to accompany it. Trelvis divulges that the guys will wear their "snazziest Hawaiian shirts" during the clip--"and when the chorus kicks in, we're going to show the shittiest parts of Denver." Otis also promises John Waters-esque images of "rotund women with big hair." In the meantime, the three are also developing material for another full-length, which they hope to get into stores sometime in 1997. Trelvis vows that the opus will be tougher than Groundbreaking yet still include "our beat-around-the-bush way of saying how we live and what we believe in.
"We're just about having a good time--that's why we started the band," he continues. "I mean, if you're not enjoying yourself, then why are you still alive?
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