"Awesome"
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"Awesome"

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If anyone is going to refill the Good Ship Art with rocket fuel, it's going to be weirdoes like "Awesome." Sort of a band, sort of a comedy group, sort of an art collective, and always difficult to describe, the seven-piece band is smart, weird, and agile. They play songs about drowning sailors and Japanese ghost-robots, do beautifully gimmicky covers of The Final Countdown and the Barney Miller theme, and are absolutely hilarious. (Worth noting: I've known some of the people in the band for years—I'm writing this panegyric, but I didn't nominate them for it.) Disaffected theater nerds who play guitar, violin, mandolin, trumpet, bass, drums, accordion, saxophone, banjo, melodica, theramin, keys, and whatever else is lying around, "Awesome" can't cut loose from their theater and comedy roots. Their concerts always build into a seven-way crossfire of jokes and bizarre tableaux. They're working on a show called No Signal for On the Boards, and currently remounting Delaware, the dreamy live concept album/theatrical music video at Re-bar (another disclosure: I have a small role in the show). Delaware may lack some things (plot and character development, for example) but, like the band, it's odd, pretty, and entertaining. BRENDAN KILEY - the Stranger, Seattle


I'd never seen "Awesome" before, so I had no high expectations to be smashed or low expectations to be exceeded. My raw reaction: "Awesome" is the kind of dynamic creative enterprise you dream of having in your town. There are seven of them, which is not too many. They play clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, drums, guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, typewriters, bullhorns, and other things that either are or aren't musical instruments. They all sing and remind you how little vocal harmony there is in modern pop music. Their songs are funny, pretty, and geeky. And oh—the accordion! LINDY WEST - the Stranger, Seattle


If the seven members of “Awesome” got stuck in an elevator with a kitchen timer, a hubcap, and the lint in their pockets, they would probably be able to write a symphony in 15 minutes—20, tops. And it would be wonderful. They are savantly good at setting out catchy, sad, insane little ditties, or dirges, or arena-rock ballads—really, whatever you want (did someone say polka?)—and putting them onstage, dressed in hilarious premise, delivered with you-can-laugh-if-you-want-to straightness, narrated by displaced voices and aided, in the storytelling, by gorgeous films, or actors in costume, or disappearing geometric patterns of electric tape on the floor.

Their latest show, noSIGNAL, commissioned last spring by On the Boards, had the songs, the hilarious (if anxious-making) premise, the gorgeous film (by David Russo), the costumes (sharp suits), and the geometric pattern on the floor (beehive), but there were no actors except the band itself. This was a simplifying touch. “Awesome”’s previous theatrical experience, Delaware, had lots of distracting actors.

The version of noSIGNAL put together for Bumbershoot is a further simplification of elements: noSIGNAL’s original two acts have been condensed to one and the story’s been slightly restructured. The result is something almost assuredly shorter and better. (The original had damn funny stuff, but it dragged.) The show is about seven characters realizing that they are part of something they don’t understand, but trying to follow along, trying to find the logic in the noise, and in doing so, stumbling onto tons and tons of music, as if they can’t help it. It’s sort of a metaphor for “Awesome” itself, who in a strange way seem incapable of not continuing to produce, like clowns with hands perpetually full of flowers. Minus any scary clownness. They’re just these guys. They are John Osebold, Kirk Anderson, David Nixon, John Ackermann, Evan Mosher, Basil Harris, and Rob Witmer, and they’ll be playing together forever. Or at least until one of them dies.
- the Stranger, Seattle


"Can you hear me now? Good." Verizon's commercial capitalizes on the nation's fear of being incommunicado by promising crystal-clear telephone connections throughout the land. The latest creation from the seven-member theatrical music troupe "Awesome" pledges no such thing. noSIGNAL is about failed connections in the worlds of men, insects, and technology. In a signature style that combines cinema, theater, and music, noSIGNAL weaves a nonlinear tale involving exiled bees, lost computer files, and martyred biological cells, combining instruments such as mandolin, banjo, and drums with kitchen utensils and typewriter.

The bee theme is apt, because the buzz around "Awesome" is building. This week, the group appears at On the Boards, one of the biggest venues it has played to date. So who are these guys? They might prefer to tell you who they're not. The trumpet-wielding Evan Mosher maintains, "'Awesome' is not a rock band." Proof? They do not have casually expensive haircuts or hipster T-shirts. Since their unveiling as "Awesome" at Annex Theater's monthly cabaret Spin the Bottle in 2004, the collective (composed of Mosher, John Ackermann, Kirk Anderson, Basil Harris, David Nixon, John Osebold, and Rob Witmer) has been notoriously difficult to describe. Over the course of the past year, they have collaborated with vocalists (Sean Nelson), literary mavens (Jonathan Safran Foer and Charles D. Ambrosio), and directors (Matt Fontaine). While "Awesome" members have strong theater experience—many of them met doing sketch comedy— their prodigious talents allow them to traverse assorted artistic genres.

First embraced by the fringe theater crowd, "Awesome" now also counts music fans among its growing audience. And rightfully so. Delaware, the hit production of 2005 that questioned the reality of places never visited, is also a stunning debut album. In both, hilarious high jinks and perfect harmony collide with wistful earnestness. Irony plays no small part, as evidenced by the quotation marks that hug the band's moniker. When pressed for comparables, members boldly cite the Beatles, They Might Be Giants, and Ween. As for influences: Nintendo, fruit, and Patrick Swayze. "They're clues, buzzwords, sound bites," says über-talented longhair Osebold, "of things we might sing about or that one might see onstage."

In noSIGNAL, science, technology, and art meld when, for example, members demonstrate the infamous waggle dance—those hip moves used by honeybees to indicate the location of food, against a projected screen of television static. While the beehive is a symbol of the state of Utah, this time "Awesome" steers clear of geographic allusion and focuses instead on its humble inhabitant. The bee is used throughout the performance as an analogy for the configuration of societies large and small. Likewise, bee culture reveals itself in the group's collaborative effort that the members call the "hive-mind." The banjo-playing doctor of philosophy and self- proclaimed resident leprechaun Nixon explains it as "that moment when something sparks the same thought in all of us at once. When we all see a certain connection." Like past productions, noSIGNAL is born of individual explorations of song and script that jell to form an underlying abstract theme seemingly made up of free association. In theory, this should not work. But just as Freud originally intended, audience comprehension is based on instinct rather than intellect.

On the Boards' artistic director, Lane Czaplinski, says "Awesome" has many forerunners in Seattle, including multimedia performance groups Run/Remain, 33 Fainting Spells, and Locust. Unlike these predecessors, through, "Awesome" brings music strongly to the fore. So, are they a rock band? "If they are not rock musicians," says Czaplinski "there is rock payoff."

Musicians at heart, "Awesome" may forgo conventional plot development. Categorization may be next to impossible. But signal or no signal—they come through loud and clear.
- Seattle Weekly


Delaware, the remarkable debut album by Seattle septet "Awesome", starts and ends with a question: "Where did you go when we needed you most?" That recurring unanswered plea casts an air of wistful longing that hangs gracefully throughout this often goofy, charming record. On their twisted journey after what's missing, "Awesome" fills voids we never knew we had with waffles, untrue Delaware "facts," and an overflowing helping of odd instruments that whimsically inhabit their legitimately poignant songs. An ambitious comedic/melancholy concept soundtrack, Delaware plays like one of those old Peter and the Wolf -style kids' records done by a skilled, experimental indie-pop band. It's comfortingly folky in places, jarringly weird in others, and always distinctly dramatic.

An appropriate debut for a band that began as a thrown-together cabaret act by a bunch of actors. "Awesome" at first appeared little more than a new way for these experienced performers to get some laughs, but when their shows became a sensation in the fringe theater scene, outselling the plays whose stages they borrowed, the band took over as a primary gig. Core members John Osebold (guitar/vocals), John Ackerman (mandolin/ukulele/melodica/vocals), Evan Mosher (trumpet/vocals), David Nixon (banjo/vocals), Basil Harris (bass/vocals), Kirk Anderson (drums), and Rob Witmer (accordion/various percussion and wind instruments) spent the next year working on scattered gigs and projects that incorporated elements of comedy, spoken word, and literature into their work whilst also building up their repretoire of original songs and honing their chemistry as a band. They reached outside the theater community to collaborate with the likes of Reggie Watts, Sean Nelson, and author Jonathan Safran Foer, yet "Awesome" retains a commitment to a uniquely presentational performance aesthetic: Instruments are also props, band members always wear suits, the signature quotation marks affixed to the junior-size drum kit keep two eyebrows arched at the audience.

From this fertile creative ground grew Delaware, at first a show and now an album. The multi-media stage production augmented the band with a series of delightfully inscrutable vignettes about birds, berries, and at least one of life's big questions: "When it rains in the middle of the ocean, is it really raining at all?" (Spoiler alert! No.) While a childish smirk a la They Might Be Giants does permeate much of the album, "Awesome" is no joke. They punch up their proud theater-geekdom with undeniable chops. Not only is their singing-performed by different combinations of vocalists depending on the song-uniformly decent, with scores of layered harmonies, but the banjo is not an easy instrument to play. Neither is accordion, trumpet, or um, typewriter, all of which are featured prominently on Delaware. And that's just the beginning. The ubiquity of bizarre sonic elements (kazoos, whistles, kitchen utensils of every kind) can admittedly cause a bit of ear fatigue after awhile, but their presence is rarely overwhelming, and the songs always win out. The quality of the songs, after all, is what makes this whole thing work.

Principal songwriter Osebold specializes in dynamic compositions that juxtapose playfulness with rueful yearning, both lyrically and musically. The lovely "Del" creates a portrait of a "sad and lonely girl" whose "plans would all unfurl / into a wish / on the crescent moon curl." It's a regret-tinged elegy that explodes suddenly into a declamatory doo-wop for a few seconds, before shrinking back to where it started, finally fading out on a mournful, muted trumpet solo. Similarly, "Zeno's Rock" awakens from a dormant, wishful dream-state into an eruption of drums, ooh-aah backing vocals, and defeated ambition ("My life will not be long enough $#151; I'm always halfway there"). The aforementioned "When it Rains in the Middle of the Ocean" and the irresistible "Are You Aware" are the tracks most likely to get stuck on repeat in your head. The latter rides on a fast and funky guitar-bass-ukulele riff, then bursts into a chorus with an ascending four-part vocal harmony that conjures images of each band member removing his straw hat with a bow and a flourish as he chimes in. "Come along and sing with me hip-hip-hooray!" they all shout in unison. How could we not? It's about the most fun, irony-free three minutes of music you'll hear all year.

Given its theatrical origins, Delaware's few this-made-more-sense-on-stage moments can be forgiven (the out-of-place "American Boyfriend," for example). The star of this show is certainly the abundance of beguiling music that fills this record. Delaware may not sell you on the merits of the First State, but it certainly makes a strong case for the talents of "Awesome."

-Kirk Heynen, December 21, 2005 - ThreeImaginaryGirls.com


They are hard to define—take a look at last year's Genius issue and you'll see them filed in the arts-organization category—but the seven-member art band/performance group/comedy collective/extravaganza of masculinity that goes under the name "Awesome" has become a fixture in Seattle's clubs and theaters. A couple years ago they did a theatrical collaboration with Tim Sanders called Delaware, which was both a great play and a beautiful excuse to perform a bunch of original music. Last spring, at On the Boards, they created a beehive allegory called noSIGNAL, which seemed to be less a play and more of, well, another beautiful excuse to perform a bunch of original music. (When they're not making theatrical excuses, they just play music shows.) They make new stuff like bees make honey: copiously, happily, and for other people. They have the magic, manic aura of the genuinely inspired. As for why they are a fixture on Genius Award shortlists, and not yet a winner: We can't shake the feeling that their best work is ahead. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE - the Stranger, Seattle


"Awesome" — always in quotation marks — is a rock band that likes to sing songs about fruit, bees and Delaware.

No, no, "Awesome" is an "art collective" that was once seen engaging in slow-motion cellphone battles at the 70th birthday party of a local didgeridooist.

Or are they purveyors of echoey trance music from the depths of the cistern at Fort Worden?

Actually, they're all of these and more — and they're about to become more so.

Whatever they are, there are seven of them: John Ackermann (mandolin, ukulele, etc.), Kirk Anderson (drums), Basil Harris (bass), Evan Mosher (trumpet), David Mitsuo Nixon (banjo, crazy dancing), John Osebold (guitar, violin, theremin) and Rob Witmer (accordion, woodwinds, triangle, glockenspiel). Five of them sing — very sweetly, in harmony.

Four famous rock bands that they all "agree" on are the Beatles, They Might Be Giants, Ween and Yes. My own take is that "Awesome" is (are?) the bastard offspring of the Association (mmm, those harmonies) and the Mothers of Invention, with a smidgen of the Bonzo Dog Band thrown in. Too many 1960s references, I know — but it's been four decades since I've heard anything quite this zany or tuneful.

Friday night, Oct. 24, at ACT Theatre, they inaugurate "The 'Awesome' Cycle," a four-week series of shows, with a different program every weekend. This insanely ambitious project opens with "Seven Brides for Seven Band Members," their take on the classic musical by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul.(Never mind "Bless your beautiful hide!" — I want to see what they do with the strangest lyric ever to appear in a 1950s movie: "A man can't sleep / When he sleeps with sheep.")

"Brides" will be followed by "A Funeral for Indie Rock" ("This time we've got the corpse to prove it"); "Election Report and Analysis" ("how the unthinkable occurred and why we're so happy about it"); and, finally, "The Littlest Bang" which asks, "When the universe finally collapses into itself, only to be reborn again in a new Big Bang, does it actually make a sound?"

The whole package, suitable for all ages, is being billed as an amalgam of "indefinable theatrics and music using banjos, typewriters, trumpets, film strips, guitars, masking tape, accordions, and much, much more. (And sometimes even less.)" Special guests include Sean Nelson (formerly of Harvey Danger), choreographer Amy O'Neal as dance consultant and, supposedly, Abraham Lincoln as "propmaster."

"Awesome's" side project, The Half Brothers — a bluegrass trio featuring Ackermann, Nixon and Rick Miller, specializing in songs about food, death and traveling — will be on hand to provide "U.S. Constitution Expertise." Someone or something called "Poocle Jr." will serve in a "Stunt Coordinator/Animal Handling" capacity. The lads have also hired the services of a fashion consultant, a "Dangling Objects Wrangler" and a legal team charged with "Performance Interruptions."

What will this all amount to?

Your guess is as good as mine.
MICHAEL UPCHURCH - Seattle Times


A whale, seven explorers, and wild music are at the core of "Here's What Happened," the latest show from local indie band "Awesome." It's not quite theater, but not quite a rock concert either. It must just be "Awesome." (And yes, the quotes are part of their name.)

The show is the third such production from the group, which cites itself in the "absurdist garage art-pop with indie-progressive sensitivities."

That means "Awesome" melds a children's show with comedy, off-the wall instrumentation and a story line that adults can appreciate. Drummer/vocalist Kirk Anderson -- who also plays the typewriter -- said that "Here's What Happened" is a musical-theater fusion meant for all ages. "A kid's show with an adult brain" is how their press release describes it. The show runs Sept. 20-22 at Seattle Children's Theatre.

"Our show is a funky hybrid of a concert with a story line," he said. With seven members in the band, the group takes its comedy cues from each individual in the form of costumes, props or music. In this version, band members dress like private-school boys on an adventure, complete with accordions, violins, trumpets and typewriters. An overhead projector is a central prop. There is a subplot about a secret library and the end of the world.

" 'Here's What Happened' is a story about a group of people on a voyage," Anderson said. It sounds a little like a musical rendition of a Grimm's fairy tale: plenty of darkness mixed in with the light.

Originally formed in 2004 by guitarist John Osebold and trumpeter Evan Mosher, "Awesome" grew to include the instrumentation of mandolin, banjo and additional horns. Anderson said that nearly everyone in the band performs on more than one instrument. The group eventually gathered all seven members from various theatrical companies and began putting shows and music together.

Each show is conceived over a period of three to four months, giving the group a chance to change venues. "Awesome's" previous shows were "Delaware" and "noSignal," both of which produced CDs eventually. All the songs performed are original, and as the venue changes the show changes: props, dialogue, are all mutable.

This show is only running for three days, and then the band will turn their attention to the release of their second full-length CD, "Beehive Sessions." The music was taken from their last show, "noSignal."

"Our tendency is to build a show and then record the music from that," Anderson said. "We're usually a show behind in our CDs." Although "Awesome" are well known in the club and art scene, for "Here's What Happened" perhaps the incorporation of traditional storytelling -- a hero's quest, a secret to be uncovered -- will bring out the Harry Potter crowd. At this point, those kids are probably getting hungry for something new. - Seattle PI


You take a certain, obvious risk in naming your band "Awesome" — even when you underline the joke by putting it in quotes. But given the amount of performative genius packed into this ironic powerhouse, the name seems utterly, unquestioningly appropriate.

So what makes Seattle-based "Awesome" genuinely awesome? First and foremost, the musicians, several of whom have theatrical and sketch comedy backgrounds: John Ackerman, Kirk Anderson, Basil Harris, Evan Mosher, David Nixon, John Osebold and Rob Witmer.

These seven members make their appealingly quirky music via trumpet, accordion, guitar, mandolin, banjo, typewriter, bass, drums, cymbals, clarinets, theremin, melodica, glockenspiels, kitchen utensils, piano, violin, saxophone and bullhorn. Also, they sing.

When asked to give a Hollywood-style label for the band's sound, the performers offer They Might Be Giants meets Ween meets the Beatles. (Or, as Nixon suggests, "They Might Be Weentles.")

Spanning the theater, rock and comedy genres, "Awesome" has gained a devoted following, one they hope to expand beyond local when they tour the new show premiering at On the Boards.

The current show — called "noSIGNAL" because that's the message that kept appearing on the video camera during a promotional photo shoot — was written and composed by the members of "Awesome" and as originally conceived concerned technological breakdowns.

"But as we worked on it," says Mosher, "we were all itching for something more organic and warm to contrast with that."

That's where the bees came in. "Way before this show we'd already been talking about the 'hive mind' of 'Awesome,' " Nixon says, referring to the remarkable way each of the seven members is able to independently develop material that fits seamlessly into the group effort.

Reconvening after a session of individual composition, they discovered several of the newly created songs mentioned bees. "That made it really easy to connect things," says Osebold.

The buzz builds even as they speak. "There's the system of the hive," Mosher says, "and the system of a computer, and biological systems." Then Nixon interrupts: "And there's the office worker/worker bee connection." Then Osebold points at two insects bumping against the window and announces, "Aren't those bees right there?"

Once again, the hive mind of "Awesome" is off and humming.

The synergy of the group is palpable — ideas fly across the table as fast as the jokes, and like all smart comedy teams — and composers, for that matter — the men weave recurring themes throughout. As Osebold says of their collaborative process, "It feels like The Seven Heads of Dr. 'Awesome.' "

The "noSIGNAL" show also references the death gene (as Mosher explains it, "a cellular program in all organisms that tells cells to die when their purpose is fulfilled"), and computer kill programs and bees dying a voluntary death to protect the hive.

"The show's kind of about the band," Witmer says, not entirely joking. Osebold adds, "It's a fictional retelling of what we do and the cycle we're perpetually trapped in." Explaining that the band's previous theatrical show, "Delaware," was more of a free-form feeling, Mosher clarifies, "In this show we are seven characters taking a journey."

"There isn't anything like an Act I through Act V," adds Witmer. "It's more like a prog-rock fable." (Ho-hum, that old saw.) "The show isn't without its abstract nature," says Osebold, "but hopefully people will get a sense of having traveled from beginning to end."

Kind of like an OnStar navigation system — if it had immense musical talent, a whip-smart sense of humor and a thing for bees.

Brangien Davis: brangiendavis@yahoo.com - Seattle Times


WHAT: A seven-piece art ensemble of multi-instrumentalists, practical jokers and vaudeville-inspired entertainers who like to make fun as much as they like to make music. The music itself is strikingly melodic and playful in places, downright hilarious in others and languid when least expected. The list of instruments is expansive (banjo, Theremin, mandolin, nose flute, clarinet, sax and typewriter, to name a few); the group includes John Ackerman, Kirk Anderson, Basil Harris, Evan Mosher, David Nixon, John Osebold and Rob Witmer.

CAREER DEBUT: "We had four instruments, nothing plugged in," recalls founding member Osebold of their February 2004 show at Annex Theater's Spin the Bottle. "We came up with a joke band name and included the quotes so no one would think we were characterizing ourselves as anything special -- a shield to protect ourselves and them from any unintended ego. We had no intention of forming a band, so we were just trying to make each other laugh. Now it hath stuck."

INSPIRATION: "We're inspired by anything that we can connect to viscerally -- we go see lots of theater, dance, live music, exhibits, films. ... We're often going to On the Boards. At the risk of sounding sugary-creamy, though, I think we're most inspired by each other. Everyone in 'Awesome' brings such diverse artistry to the group. We're constantly surprising each other, whether in the creation process or on stage. Inspiration to create comes much easier when you have a mini garage art orchestra to work with."

RULES: "We may (have some), but I don't know what they are."

GOALS: "Make some rules. Then destroy them. And figure out how to play in London."

OBSTACLES: "Money. Day jobs. But perhaps the removal of those obstacles would take the edge off the challenge."

RELEASES: Two LPs: "Delaware" (2005) and "Beehive Sessions" (2007).

NEW MATERIAL: "We're always making new material, accidental or otherwise. We just finished making a slew of new material for our shows at ACT, and we're finishing up a score for David Russo's feature film 'The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle.' We're about one third done with our new album, which we hope to release in 2009. Our next big show will be 'the West' at On the Boards in the fall."

WHERE TO LISTEN: awesometheband.com; myspace.com/awesometheband - Seattle PI


Discography

2006: Delaware - LP
Airplay on KEXP Seattle (“Are You Aware?”)

2008: Beehive Sessions - LP
Produced by Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star)
Airplay on KEXP Seattle (“Shape Song”, “Telephone”)

Currently recording third LP

Productions:
Delaware: A Subtle Spectacular (2005)
ReBar, Seattle

noSIGNAL (2006)
On the Boards, Seattle
The Myrna Loy Center, Helena, MT
Bumbershoot Festival, Seattle
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR (2007)

Here’s What Happened (2007)
Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle
PICA’s TBA Festival, Portland, OR

The “Awesome” Cycle (2008)
ACT Theatre, Seattle

Currently developing a new, full-length production for Spring 2010

Photos

Bio

From the beginning, "Awesome" has had a two-path career.

As a band, we've played the best Seattle rock-club stages, both topping the bill and supporting national acts like Harvey Danger, The Presidents of the United States of America, and the Long Winters. Our two self-released albums have garnered critical acclaim (see our press page) and our recorded tracks and live performances have been broadcast locally and worldwide from Seattle’s KEXP. In 2008, we were thrilled to be part of the mainstage lineup at the Sasquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

As a performance collective with deep roots in Seattle's fertile arts community, however, we can’t help but branch out beyond the music scene.

Drawing upon our collective history as actors, writers, improvisers, comedians and designers, we have created four, large-scale theatrical productions which have been produced in Seattle at the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival, On the Boards, ACT Theatre, Seattle Children's Theatre; as well as the Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT), PICA’s TBA Festival (Portland), and University of Oregon (Eugene). Additionally, we've been commissioned to create live spectacles at art galleries and compose original music for literary events alongside writers such as Miranda July, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dan Savage and Neal Pollock.

Recently, we composed and performed the soundtrack for David Russo’s feature film, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, which premiered at Sundance in 2009. We are currently working to complete our third full-length album, and have also begun developing a new work commissioned by On the Boards for their 2009-2010 season.