Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to speak with Michi, bassist of the Berlin-based folk-punk outfit Circus Rhapsody. We discussed a wide-ranging group of topics that included the band's third full-length album, Just Kidding, the band's evolution over the years, the band's achievement of performing over four hundred shows, and much more! The entire interview between myself and Michi can be read in full below!
You just released your third full-length album, Just Kidding, on June 4th via Mannequin Vanity Records. What was your most remarkable memory writing and/or recording the record? Michi: I think one of the most remarkable things in the writing process was that we wrote a lot of the songs on the road. We maybe wrote around thirty songs since the last album. There was an idea of making three EPs with straight genres on them. Like one EP with rockabilly, one with punk rock, and one with those folk/humppa songs we do. During the recordings of the demos and the main recording at Tausendsassa Studios, it more and more felt like these thirteen songs belong together as one, and so we get back to the one album that sounds like a compilation thing.
Since the last album, our violin player KT joined the band as a full member. Since 2013, she just featured us sometimes on stage and recordings. With another voice and more songwriters in the band, the whole thing got some extra spice I really enjoy.
The recordings were crazy. The plan was to do all these genres authentic but also in our style. So we had a bunch of guest musicians like Thomas and Benny of Les Calcatoggios for the brass section, Masataka Kodukaon on the stand-up bass, Björn of Ye Banished Privateers on some accordion parts, and many more. We did a little studio diary on Youtube for everybody who is interested in the making.
We started in November 2019 to release it in the spring of last year. We postponed for obvious reasons, but I'm happy we did so. We had the time to find Mannequin Vanity Records, and with them, a great label and wonderful people to work with. Has your musical journey so far had a deliberate direction, or did it simply gradually evolve in the direction it has found? M: It really came over time. We started as a punk band, but Mahaze, our guitar player, always was into rockabilly and our drummer Erik was in a metalcore band before, and we all like to play what is fun for us. We three love to play, tour and discover new music together, so it came naturally to try ourselves on new genres.
Are there any bands or artists that you have long listened to that have helped influence the spectrum of various genres that are heard on the tracks of Just Kidding? M: There are numerous musicians that influenced us on this one. With our last album, Telling Horror Stories, we toured a lot through Europe and the UK, and we always have a soundtrack where everybody put new music into that he/she found. So for every song, you can find an album that we heard on tour. For example: during the writing of our first single, "Revolution," Mahaze brought Voi-La Intruder and Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike by Gogol Bordello into the game, and it blew us away. We covered "Wearing Purple" a couple of times drunk and unprepared on some fun gigs after the regular set.
We are all fans of the Stray Cats, so "Rock'n'Roll Black Cat" was written during one of our phases. I think it was when we discovered Brian Setzers' The Dirty Boogie. And like this, you can find albums for every song. If it's Teenage Bottlerocket, Motörhead, The Beatles, or musicals that we like to listen to at the moment.
Do you have a preferred genre you lean on more than others? If so, why that genre?
M: I just can speak for myself, but I am a huge fan of punk music. Bands like NOFX, Bad Religion, or The Misfits make my taste of music. Our first album, Pacific Playland, from 2013, is a straight punk album. We just have this one accordion featuring on it because I was in love with NOFX's Pump Up The Valuum at the time. I can't say why punk is the common thread in our music. Maybe it's because we started as a three-piece punk band or because punk always suggests that you are free in what you're doing. In the end, it's a strong genre with a feeling for melodies.
Let's say you were given the opportunity, or plural, musicians, would you like to collaborate with on a song or an entire album? Past or present? M: Uhhh, that's interesting. I bet Mahaze would love to solo battle with Chuck Berry on stage. That would be a neverending performance, I guess. I know Erik is a huge fan of Chuck Reagan (or another Chuck). So maybe I go with Don Mancini -the screenwriter of Child's Play- for a music video shoot. But seriously, I would love to sing a song with Kody [Templeman] of Teenage Bottlerocket and The Lillingtons.
Are there any songs off the new record that you're looking forward to performing live in front of a crowd when you get the chance to do so? M: I really love playing "Revolution" live. It turns out as a great opener for the set to show the audience that there is no option but giving 100%. I personally like the punk stuff like "Circus" or "All Hell Breaks Loose" for their tempo and melody. But the danceable songs or those with the parts for crowd participation are cool too.
So in 2019, the band reached a remarkable milestone playing your four hundredth show. What is the total number now? M: I am really proud and happy about this. But to be honest, we are still around that number. We played our four hundredth show in Munich with Less Than Jake, went into the studio, and shortly after, the pandemic started. So we may be around four hundred thirty. In 2020, we played a show here in Berlin at the Festsaal Kreuzberg. With the festival season and the planned release tour, we lost around fifty gigs. But the plan is to catch up on everything! This year we will do the gigs in and around Germany in two ten-days tours. Next spring, we will do the UK, and hopefully, next summer/fall, we will do the US for the first time. By playing so many shows, this last year must have been really hard? How has everyone in the band been keeping busy with all the downtime? M: Actually, yes! We started a project I had in mind for quite some time. Over the years, we became friends with a lot of bands, and at one point, we started to cover songs of them when we play together. We always had the plan to record those, and when it was clear that we had to take a break, we started to do the "# SingMySongMyDearFriend" sessions. We did little music videos or acoustic performances to the songs and encourage our friends to do the same. When we joined the new label Mannequin Vanity Records, we took this project and started to cover our new labelmates Quel Bordel! For example:
Since we had the chance to meet up again, we started working on our music videos. The first is already released, and there are three more to come over the year.
Are there any particular songs off the album that you'd like listeners to hear before all, say in theory they, unfortunately, don't listen to the entire album? M: From our debut album, Pacific Playland, I would highly recommend "Thing From Another World" or "CarnEvil." Those were the very first songs we started with, and I think it is exciting to see what happened since then. If you don't have the time to listen to the new album Just Kidding in its entirety (and that would be a pity), it really depends on your taste of music, I guess. But "Revolution" and "Circus" are good for the beginning. What does a Circus Rhapsody dream tour look like? Who's on that line-up? M: Our dream tour will be next year, hopefully. We will tour the states for the first time, and I hope that we can finally meet a lot of label mates like The Late Great Charlie Borksi, Brick Top Blaggers, and Steve & Ginie Jackson.
Is there anything you wished people asked you during an interview but never do, and what would the answer to the said question be? M: That's a nice thing to ask. Actually, yes. We always have a camera with us on tour, and you often see people who are not on the official band photos. I would like to introduce some of the members of the Circus family.
We have Lukas with us on tour since the beginning. He is our roadie, the good soul, the buddy you call when you are on tour in a town you don't know and need someone to pick you up because you are too drunk to find the way home. And the most important thing, he is the man with the tambourine.
Alla is the madame behind the cotton candy machine. She always smiles, loves dancing on stage and is a great artist. She does paintings and is pretty successful lately.
Andreas is our merch guy. I would call him Mr. Easy Going, just talking to him in a stressful situation can calm you down.
Two people who are highly underrated but also a part of the family are Kid (aka Alodda Colada) and is the one who draws our artworks. His style between Happy Tree Friends and Day Of The Tentacle is so cool. The other person is Sonja (Elisabeth Martens), who scripted and filmed most of our music videos. Her way to pimp and work with those no-budget projects is insanely brilliant.
Flo is our current tour drummer. Erik just had twins and is on his parental leave at the moment. He is a longtime friend, a killer behind the drums, and fits perfectly in this weird humour we all have.
Daniel is a kinda substitute for Mahaze when he has to skip a gig. Sometimes on shows, we just play with two guitars to have him with us. Daniel and Flo have a band together called Dinosound.
Every once in a while, we have other guest musicians on different instruments. We like to do that and surprise the audience and work out new arrangements for the songs.
Finally, I'm sure it has been stressful trying to release the album during these unprecedented times, did it impact the process of releasing Just Kidding in any way? M: In fact, I would call it fate. With the gigless time and the full stop in the music industry, I don't think I would get the chance to talk to so many bigger musicians, agencies, and labels about the album and the business. They all had the time last year and so I got so much feedback on the music and the release plan. And without that, Mannequin Vanity Records, and we would never found each other and I am thankful for this. Another benefit was, that we had the chance to get Dr. Chud (ex-Misfits) for his appearance on "All Hell Breaks Loose." That was pretty cool!
Thanks for the time, Michi! I hope you and the rest of the band are staying safe! Is there anything else you want to add before you go? M: Thank you so much for having me! Maybe just this: There is nothing that could stop creativity. Doesn't matter how times change or how the music industry treats you. It is on you to express yourself, and there is nobody who should have the power over you to avoid this.