Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra
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Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra

Boulder, Colorado, United States | SELF

Boulder, Colorado, United States | SELF
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"Free Ukulele Loki Album, for a Time"

Every instrument, no matter how lowly, shall have its day. And the ukulele's day has arrived, at least locally. From Danielle Ate the Sandwich using the tiny instrument to accompany her big voice, to the Inactivists' distorting it and putting it front and center in their humor-riddled, weirdo rock, Denver digs the uke. And at the forefront of the ukulele movement is a guy so into it he incorporated it into his name -- Ukulele Loki.

Loki's been pimping the guitar's wee cousin for some time and his love for it shows on Ukulele's Gadabout Orchestra, his group's self-titled album which sounds like a bizarre art-rock circus time traveling through the first third of the 20th century, then stopping to jam with the early days of Elephant 6 before heading to the future in a banana-peel fueled Delorean. Full of clever, funny songs about acrobats, balloon animals and inflation, it's a weird ride, but one totally worth taking. But you don't have to take my word for it -- Have a listen via the player embedded after the jump, or just head over to Ukulele Loki's site and grab the record for free. The site says it's free for only a limited time, so don't dawdle. - Westword


"Ukulele Loki's Vaudeville Troupe and Facial Hair Fight"

VIVA LA REVOLUTION!
By KARA LUGER

Ukulele Loki’s vaudeville troupe and facial hair fight

Folderol Follies
There’s a Slavic saying that goes, “A kiss without the mustache is like a soup without noodles.”

In that case, dashing musician, vaudevillian and raconteur Ukulele Loki must be swimming in a fair amount of soupy goodness.


The Boulder-based Loki, nee Aaron Johnson, is ringleader of the Folderol Follies, a show that is equal parts burlesque, vaudeville and circus. As his moniker suggests, with trusty ukulele in hand, Loki guides audiences through performances by rock ’em, sock ’em, classic burlesque artist Orchid Mei; comedy, tap dance and vaudeville routines by Miss Petunia; daredevilry by 3-foot-3-inch Little Miss Firefly, the world’s smallest fire-breathing midget; and breathtaking numbers by renowned aerialists of the Oracle Dance Troupe.

Folderol Follies employs a modern twist on old forms of entertainment, an idea borne from a love of all things “olde tyme.” Loki credits his grandmother for his fascination with 1920s and ’30s-era entertainment and style.

But don’t mistake this for some sort of attempt at retro coolness. Loki, donning clothes that could have been raided from Grandpa’s closet, seems entirely sincere.

“A lot of people assume that because I’m into vaudeville and because I play the ukulele, that what I’m doing is a recreation of corny, ’20s string-band music; but I grew up on New Wave, early death-rock, gothic music. I think what I do is equally informed by Joy Division as much as it is Gus Kahn and the Gershwins,” he says.

After being asked to M.C. a few burlesque shows in Denver — including one for contemporary pin-up queen, Dita Von Teese — Loki created his own show of shows. With girlfriend Yuka Takeda (melodica, glockenspiel), Ben Fauch (tuba), Phil Norman (cello) and Davis Wimberly (drums), Loki has formed The Gadabout Orchestra. The group, fusing acoustic, central European, indie-rock and hot jazz in a manner most peculiar, is currently recording an album.

Loki points to an acoustic-instrument renaissance as his springboard.
“Back in 2000, if I had said that I wanted to write moody, dark, sentimental love songs that are informed by The Cure, no one would’ve gotten it. Now they do, it seems,” he says.

Directing burlesque and vaudeville shows is all well and good, but the core of Loki’s intrigue lies smack dab in the center of his face: an expertly groomed and waxed mustache, curling just so at the tips.
The mustache trend has hit some of the bigger cities, although when I mention it to Loki, he plays coy: “I thought it hadn’t hit anywhere, other than the 1890s.”

He started growing the facial hair in 2000, with a pencil-thin mustache. Alas, being fair-haired, his dreams for a “crushingly handsome, dark and swarthy, thin, 1930s mustache” just weren’t going to come true. Instead, he curled his up at the sides.

“Around the same time [he started growing his], mustaches started to be worn ironically by the hipsters,” he says, “so I thought maybe it was time for a mustache revolution.”

Naturally, Loki did what any socially conscious, mustachioed man would do: He started a club, the Hirsute Moustache and Beard Grower Society (HuMBuGS), which plans to host the second annual Beard and Moustache Bash in March, an event for all, including females and fakers.
But there is a downside to being so follically debonair.

“Well, food gets stuck in it,” he says. “And not everyone loves to kiss it. Luckily, I have a very understanding girlfriend.”


-- Kara Luger, for THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN CHRONICLE - The Rocky Mountain Chronicle


"Ukulele Loki's Folderol Follies Returns to The Oriental"

Tubas, cellos, puppets, belly dancers, ventriloquists, trapeze artists, and a healthy dose of vaudeville and burlesque--these are the things that make Ukulele Loki jitterbug. The host of Radio 1190's stalwart country and roots show, Route 78 West, Loki is returning his Folderol Follies variety act to the simpatico stage of the Oriental Theatre, where all manner of jazz-age shenanigans will be performed. Loki's own Gadabout Orchestra will provide the music, and the ensemble will no doubt add to the sideshow air and retrofitted elan.
—Jason Heller, for THE ONION
- The Onion


"Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra (CD Review)"

For someone as explosively prolific as Aaron "Ukulele Loki" Johnson, it's surprising it's taken so long to release a proper full-length CD. What's even more surprising is how retro the CD isn't. Johnson's Orchestra--as well as its attendant stage troupe, Folderol Follies--has long been known as Colorado's most passionate purveyor of vaudevillian antics and aesthetics. But Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra reaches backward, forward, and into deep pockets of timeless pop weirdness. After an opening instrumental that quotes Carl Stalling's madcap Looney Tunes work, Johnson leads tubas, whistles, trombones, glockenspiel, melodica, and--if the disc's liner notes are to be believed--balloon animals on a motley march through lush and bright-eyed melancholy. Threads of Tin Pan Alley whimsy and Kurt Weil-esque menace run through the album, and Johnson himself is firmly rooted--from his twirled mustache on down--in the minstrel tradition. But songs like "Efficiency" aren't afraid to marry Johnson's titular ukulele with digital beats and lyrics about the dubious futurism of "shampoo and conditioner in one bottle." Not all the experiments succeed, and the album as a whole would have benefited greatly from dirtier, more textured production. But by sneaking gleeful anachronism and a hint of the avant-garde into his ostensibly retro craft, Ukulele Loki mostly lives up to his arch-trickster namesake. -- Jason Heller Grade: B+ - THE ONION Monday, June 16, 2008 AV CLUB


"EDGE of the CITY: Pushing the Boundaries of the local music scene"

Ukulele Loki does a little of everything. Scratch that, a lot of everything: fronting the talented and eclectic Gadabout Orchestra, putting on burlesque and neo-circus performances aka The Folderol Follies, growing an amazing moustache, hosting a radio show on the station he helped found (Boulder's Radio 1190 AM) and still, somehow, finding a spare moment or three to write sad songs on the ukulele.

His work is a constant churn of the unexpected--just ask the sound men and engineers who gaze askance at the Gadabout Orchestra's miniature drum kit, tuba and glockesnpiel--that comes together with force and is far from being, say, a revisitation of The Squirrel Nut Zippers. More like Tom Waits in an indie-pop mood writing songs for a Coen-brothers film. What it definitely isn't is something you've ever heard, or seen, before.

The Influences
"I'd say my mother and my grandmother. I was raised in a matriarchy that supported individualism as the highest ideal and treated the arts with the reverence most people save for religion. Growing up, my mother would tell us about the importance of Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, The Beatles and on and on.

"Beyond that, radio played an important part in my development. I grew up in Salt Lake City in the '80s. At the time, we had KJQ--one of the most forward-thinking radio stations any-where.

"After I moved to Boulder, a handful of DJs got together to make plans for forming Radio 1190. It has helped sustain me as it's helped sustain so many people who could come close to starving in the radio landscape."

But... Why?

"The flip answer is: It keeps me from biting my fingernails. I've been a lifelong nail-biter. The ukulele cured me of the habit--at least on my right hand (the ukulele requires fingernails for strumming). The more accurate answer to why I do it is: because I have to. I can't imagine my life without constantly reinventing new creative projects."

What does the future hold?

"One of the things bringing me loads of excitement has been working with Yuka Takeda (Gadabout Orchestra member/girlfriend). Her experimental animated films are a total joy and inspiration. I hope to work more on projects with her. I'm also excited to get my new album out and about. Now that those songs are behind me, who knows, maybe I'll write some really catchy, happy music."

4/11/08
-- by Alex Neth - The ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS: Weekend Spotlight


"Voice of the City: Ukulele Loki & the Gadabout Orchestra have a new take on Vaudeville for the New Depression Era (CD Review)"

Circuses, if anything, are places of human pleasure and turmoil, of physical bodies contorting in bright light, where the heart is blown open wide with fear and awe, and the grand catharsis that propelled our race to create art, theater and religion is relived in a raw soup of sweat, face paint and raucous applauds.

The Big Top goes up on a patch of uninhabited land and turns it, for a while, into a tightly packed, highly charged place of excess, where people crowd together in exhibition and anticipation, until the whole thing picks up and leaves, like the wind, without a trace other than a few odds and ends to show it was ever there at all.

Oh, the loneliness of the gadabout, the traveling minstrel, the sad clown.

"Gadabout," says Aaron Johnson, otherwise known as Ukulele Loki, founder of the vaudeville/sideshow-inspired Gadabout Orchestra, "is your grandfather's expression for someone who recklessly seeks out excitement and music — the guy placing his calling card on the silver tray."

But it's not all fun and excitement and wishful wandering. "There's sort of a loneliness in being the person always looking for companionship," Loki adds.

Companionship in the midst of the bizarre and eccentric, curing a loneliness that exists like a thread through all manner of humanity, that is what drew people of the past to the side-shows and the burlesque, the vaudeville circuits and the medicine shows. This idea of a collection of outcasts entertaining each other and performing on stage for the man-in-the-street is hardly new. What may be surprising is that it isn't antiquated, either.

Ukulele Loki and the Gadabout Orchestra have been roving about for half a decade, spreading the bizarre and celebrating the obscene and insane with their unique blend of 1920s-music hall meets 1980s-shoegazer, all with a dash of indie recklessness and a tweak of rustic folk.

A man prone to a bit of excess, Loki and his band of distinguished misfits will toast the release of their new self-titled CD at the Fox Theatre with a menagerie of performers and an eye toward the titillating and the strange, including aerial dancing and live art.
But don't expect the same-old sideshow that Loki is slightly notorious for. Those used to the wicked atmosphere of the Gadabouts' performances may find themselves a little out of their comfort zone.

"I've spent a lot of time building up a particular type of show, and I think this show is going to be a little bit different than that. We're looking forward to the surprise," Loki says, hoping that the audience is, too.

And really, with war endlessly on the horizon, houses foreclosing faster than families can heave their belongings out the windows, and jobs becoming fewer and farther between, who couldn't use a little hedonistic madness for a modest price? Loki promises the show will be a reflection of this type of gloom-turned-toward-the-sun. Sad and sexy, nostalgic and nouveau, Loki's performance art might be actually more reminiscent of "The Little Tramp" than "The Greatest Show On Earth."

As strange as it sounds, it all started with the ukulele.

"We're not a guitar-based band at all. That raises eyebrows," Loki admits. "I have a long history of doing vaudeville and variety burlesque. I was scooped up by a burlesque dancer because I was playing the ukulele."

Ukulele rock, he says. Electric ukulele. These are the things that float through Loki's mind and lead him to try and make his ukulele cry.

"The burlesque crowd pulled me in. I was looking more for circus stuff. I've always been on the lookout for people with unique talent. Things that are horrible or dangerous or beautiful."

Theater with the energy of a rock concert, he says.

"I'm a fan of burlesque and I've been involved in that community since 2000. But I don't know if that's the emphasis of this album and this show."

While he promises visuals, Loki hopes fans will find themselves lost in the texture and originality of the music. The new album has the maniacal craftsmanship of Queen's "Killer Queen"and the off-the-wall lyrical punchiness of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Listening to it is like sneaking into the state fair after hours and taking a free ride on the carousel all by yourself. Fun, exciting, but with a distinct need to connect that goes unmet to the point of coming full circle — until it actually creates connections.

Take the song Lullaby. "It's a very simple, melancholy waltz tune that started out as a ukulele song. We added to it. It gets more and more dissonant," Loki promises.

The album's highlight is the tune "Prague: 1998," a catchy, yet honest song (in the vain of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs To Me,") about the mystery of attraction. "She loves with a vengeance like serving a sentence and settling a score…" And there he is again, the sad clown, lusting for companionship, finding joy in the sorrow of the search, forgoing tomorrow like it might not ever be there. These are hard times for the passionate soul.

Loki remains true to the origins of vaudeville, which is from the French "voix de ville" or "voice of the city." For while he stands out in the crowd as an eccentric, there is a little bit of this seeker in all of us — and much like the Depression-era of the 1930s that his music takes inspiration from, today our society seems on the brink of collapse. That is often where the good stuff comes from. The bottom. The outskirts. The freak show. The place you go when you have nothing to lose. It's where the heart lies.

"There's an erotic charge to it," says Loki with a twinkle. "It's death defying."

On the Bill
Ukulele Loki and the Gadabout Orchestra will perform with Paper Bird at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, at the Fox Theatre.

by Christina Eisert
- The BOULDER WEEKLY


"Ukulele Loki's Variety Show is Big-top Worthy"

Ukulele Loki knows variety acts. A burlesque emcee, musician, circus sideshow performer and co-founder/former member of the Crispy Family Carnival, he just might be the most qualified person in the state to put together a vaudeville show.

And Ukulele Loki's Vaudeville Variety Show and Folderol Follies is a variety heavyweight: As emcee, Loki will introduce burlesque performers (including the lovely Orchid Mei), the Oracle dance troupe, the University of Colorado swing-dance team, belly dancers, puppets crafted by Corey Gilstrap (of Pee-Wee's Playhouse and MTV's Liquid Television fame), comedy, mind-reading and music including a band composed of tuba, clarinet, marimbas, cello, percussion and, of course, the ukulele. "I finally have a really solid band together," enthuses Loki about his Gadabout Orchestra. "We'll be doing hot-jazz and new wave covers covers plus my own happy/sad love songs."

The real question is: What's not in this show? "We're not going to have a flea circus," he reveals. "I have a friend who's building one. It just takes a long time to train all those little fleas.

"Over the years, I've managed to befriend lots of talented people in this community," he adds, "and getting them all together under one roof is really exciting for me."

-- Amber Taufen, for WESTWORD - The Westword


Discography

Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra (self-titled full-length)

Has received regular airplay on Radio 1190 KVCU, Boulder; KCSP, Santa Barbara; WCBN Ann Arbor, Myspace.com, Live FM, and others.

The Gadabout EP: currently being mixed.

Photos

Bio

Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra is a six-piece chamber-pop band that features ukulele, tuba, trombone, clarinet, glockenspiel, drums, and synth. Adjectives used to describe the band include: sepia-chord, steam-punk, indie-pan alley, and melancholy Brechtian carnival rock. Their self-released album was mastered by Park Peters of The Audio Park, engineer behind Neutral Milk Hotel's revered albums. Featured guests on the album include Elephant Six alumni Rick Benjamin (of Neutral Milk Hotel and PW3) and Eric Allen (of the Apples in Stereo and PW3).

AT THE ROOT OF THE UKULELE REVIVAL
Ukulele Loki is at the root of the ukulele revival, not a recent branch. Or, as Aaron Keim of B.A.S. puts it: "Ukulele Loki is the original alt.rock, indie ukulele player." As one the instrument's ardent devotees, Loki started proselytizing the ukulele--Johnny Appleseeding it across the US, on the radio, and online--nine years ago, as well as traveling annually to Tokyo's fashion central (Harajuku) three times since 2004. He began lovingly covering 80s new wave hits years before it became the hipster de rigueur modus of Youtube irony. His original songs are noted for their melancholic sincerity and the uncanny blend of nostalgia with contemporary innovation. Scratch a ukulele player and you'll find Loki as an influence--in most cases by only a degree or two of separation. Having introduced the ukulele to some of the biggest names on the current indie uke scene, Loki's place in the pantheon of ukulele is well established among players, even if this far-reaching influence has managed to fly under the national popular radar. But such is the curse and blessing of the "Denver phenomenon."

THE DENVER THING
To this day, Denver remains a perplexing city. It is known as a hot bed for extravagant musical innovators who are both marred and nurtured by the isolating Rocky Mountains. There have been a few exceptions in Denver's relegation to the annals of national obscurity; these include Devotchka, The Apples in Stereo, 16 Horsepower, and The Fray). Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra is the next exception. And, for the past twelve years, Loki has been something of a figure in the "Denver Sound" underground. In part this is for his work as a musician (his former band, The Nogoodniks, was noted for pairing ukulele with gypsy guitar, accordion, and saw). Also, his award winning work as a burlesque revivalist, sideshow producer, and modern vaudevillian has endeared him to Denverites, among whom his name is synonymous with spectacle. But most of all, Loki is known in Denver as a founding DJ and manager of the linchpin for Colorado's underground music community: Radio 1190 KVCU, Boulder.

A RESPECTED DJ/PRODUCER/MUSICOLOGIST
In 1998, Aaron Johnson helped found The University of Colorado's ferociously independent Radio 1190, winner of Westword's "Best of Denver's"11 years running. During these years, he has continued to produce countless radio programs and interviews spanning every genre of non-mainstream music imaginable. His longest running program, Route 78 West, features an expansive collection of 78rpm records, classic Honky-Tonk, Americana, and Alt. Country.

THE BIOGRAPHY OF A VAUDEVILLIAN/BURLESQUETEER/AWARED WINNING SIDESHOW MAN
Ukulele Loki is a modern troubadour. Many have penned songs based around circus or burlesque imagery or Central European exoticism, but Aaron "Ukulele Loki" Johnson has lived it, having spent more time working with circus people than Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen combined. While in school, he spent 4 months in late 1998 juggling on the streets of Prague for Absynth money. As a ukulele-strumming burlesque MC during the earliest days of the modern burlesque revival, Loki worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including modern pin-up super star Dita Von Tease. From 2001 to 2004 he directed and ring-mastered The Crispy Family Carnival, an honest to god circus sideshow (which he also co-founded) complete with a sword-swallower, a fat lady, and a fire-breathing Midget. In 2004, he took the highest honor for sideshow performers, winning The Circus Historical Society's "Candlelight Award." Following this achievement, he resigned from The Crispy Family Carnival to produce his acclaimed, monthly vaudeville, variety, cirque, and burlesque show: "The Folderol Follies." Also In 2004, he formed his Gadabout Orchestra.

In 2008, Loki disbanded The Folderol Follies to focus exclusively on the band. In 2009, he directed two music videos for The Gadabout Orchestra, currently in editing.

Ukulele Loki has performed with The Dresden Dolls, Devotchka, Chairlift, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Ditty Bops, The Asylum Street Spankers, The Bindlestiff Family Circus, The Lizard Man, Quintron, Dita Von Tease, The Billy Nayer Show, The Yard Dogs' Road Show, Lucent Dossier, Tokyo's Ukulele Afternoon, and many more.

Today, Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra