What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
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What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?

Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States

Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States
Band Alternative Cabaret

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""An Emotional Powerhouse""

While Brian King was growing up exposed to all sorts of rock and roll, Nate Cohen was busy learning to play the violin. After seeing Itzhak Perlman play on "Sesame Street" when he was two, Cohen went on a mission. When he turned four, his parents gave in. Now together in a curious entity called What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, King and Cohen have found a unique way to educate one another while making some compelling music en route. The duo is now in the process of trying to finish their first full-length studio disc.

King describes himself as being inspired by Kate Bush, Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau, Laura Nyro, Annie Lennox, and Joni Mitchell, to name a few. Of Cohen, he says, "Nate has an amazing lack of pop music knowledge. But in contrast, he brings a filmic quality to our work, hence the idea of calling it 'acoustic-noir.' I don't like such definitions, and I don't subscribe to them, but we're living in a culture built on sub-categories."

Cohen got off to a shaky start with his violin, but perseverance eventually landed him in the Cape Ann Symphony and the Gordon College Symphony. Then David Alpher - founder of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival - took Cohen under his wing. By his junior year of college he'd played in a smorgasbord of ethnic musical configurations, and decided to study abroad, having finally given up trying to resist a major in music.

"I had absorbed this cultural idea that one can't make a living as a musician. Hogwash!," he says. "After my second year, I was having so much fun with my music classes that I decided to go that route despite my fear of eternal poverty. It turns out that poverty isn't so bad if you've got music."

The duo's new partially-live EP is a emotional powerhouse built with six tracks that combine folk music with finely sanded elements of cabaret and pop, but it seems like all the handy descriptors just don't do it proper justice - "Songs for the Tin Man" isn't like anything you've heard before. They even throw an entirely new spin on Holiday's "Strange Fruit" which sends shivers. King, the duo's lyricist and piano man, explains a bit about the psychology of the collection, the title track from which explores the dark corners of alienation that we sometimes fold ourselves into during the wee hours of the morning - specifically while trying to reckon with one's own shortcomings in the face of a gay culture built on impossible ideals of physical beauty. There's even a borrowed refrain from Joni Mitchell's "See You Sometime" woven into the song's fabric. And boy, does it ache.

"The way the story goes, the Tin Man isn't validated as an emotional being until he gets his heart," he explains. "Interestingly, it seems like it's okay for gay women to write empowering songs that can cross over to a larger audience, but it's different for men. It's like 'woman stronger? good,' but 'man - vulnerable? ooo bad.' Then again, I have straight friends enamored of Rufus Wainwright, Magnetic Fields, and Antony & The Johnsons - so I think maybe this is finally changing. I recently read 'The Velvet Rage,' by Alan Downs - it's about the recurring issues gay men bring to therapy, which inevitably trace back to the painful process of growing up gay in a world where nothing is defined for you - as a gay man in a straight world, you have no context in which to understand yourself. And looking at it in retrospect, I see every one of those issues play out somehow in the songs on this EP."

Cohen and King make good use of their musical differences in What Time Is It Mr. Fox?, the name for which is taken from a Victorian children's game. Of Cohen, King says, "Nate's sense of a riff comes from his classical understanding; it develops as the music progresses. In pop music, riffs get endlessly repeated. But Nate's really good at helping us make the music I hear in my head actually happen, and it's why I wanted to work with him in the first place."

Cohen's take is equally complimentary, right down to the juxtaposition of the duo's differing sexualities.

"Brian is open to such a huge range of ideas. He can perform a piece as a funk song, and then rewrite it as a lullaby. Intuition is the driving force behind his performances, while I rely on theory sometimes to steer me through a new song. Yet it's Brian's sensibilities that encourage me to stop and ask, "Wait, is this really what this song needs?" Though we're both prima donnas at heart, we believe in letting a song be what it's going to be, to help it explore its own potential. There is a lot of gender ambiguity in the songs we do, but it's also important to put that perspective out there to the general public because it normalizes gay experiences in an accessible format. While many of Brian's songs come from specific experiences growing up gay, the songs transcend that. Lots of people come approach us after shows, and the songs touch them no matter what their background. Here are distinctly gay experiences that people can relate to, regardless of their orientation."
- In Newseekly, writer: Christopher Treacy


""Music for broken, ripped and bloody heart""

Brian King has one of the most gorgeous voices I have ever heard, male or female. On a good night he can mesmerize; on a bad night---well he doesn’t seem to have them. King made the right decision to do most of his new CD almost all live. His voice has a richness that doesn’t need doubling or studio help---it can go from a soulful Ella Fitzgerald/ Alison Moyet to an angry growl. And though he cites people I don’t really get like Joni Mitchell and some other ’70s female singer/ songwriters, he has taken all of these influences and created something completely his own---not unlike what Marc Almond did in the early ’80s when he combined a sleazy disco club aesthetic and electro with cabaret. King and his bandmate Nathan Cohen could fit in with a traditional cabaret show, but I don’t think they want to. When Cohen plays violin, he can switch from early 20th century proto-jazz to traditional Irish fiddle, but it always has an undertone of what can only be described as a darkness of sorts. This is not music for hotel lounges, but music for broken, ripped, and bloody hearts. (Leah Callahan) - The Noise, writer: Leah Callahan


""King holds court""

Under red spotlights, over the buzz of the crowd around the bar at Captain Carlo's, Brian King mentions, "I wrote this song in the Caribbean." Then he and his comrades on the small stage launch into his original tune "So Mean."

The 30-year-old Rockport resident plays jazzy keyboard accompanied by Mike Leggio's hot stand-up bass and Nathan Cohen's sweet, sad trumpet.

"You're so mean to me," King sings. "I can be mean, too."

The piece is an ode to the blues songs of Billie Holiday, King explains later, that was inspired by a fight he had with a friend some years back. It left him walking a gorgeous, rocky beach feeling terrible. The trio plays it as a medley, transitioning into a slowed-down rendition of The Cure's "Love Song" and then back again.

"So Mean" is representative of King's music: swooning romantic beauty, melancholy, puckish wit, a mix of folk and jazz and German cabaret.

"A lot of my stuff has a little bit of a dark undercurrent," King says.

He and his mates perform from 9 p.m. until last call each Thursday at the Harbor Loop restaurant.

"It's a huge mix, a lot of surprises. That's what we would like to do," King says.

They play half originals and half covers: Leonard Cohen, Prince, Johnny Cash, Madonna, Chaka Khan, Laura Nyro, jazz standards, 19th century murder ballads, Ike and Tina Turner. Last Thursday's mix included a sultry, sad version of "Summertime" with Cohen on trumpet and King playing a hypnotic keyboard; the prancing piano blues of "Black Coffee"; and Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything."

"That's the new national anthem, did you hear?" King jokes at the end of the Lauper song.

"That's what's great about it. It's such a long night that we can do more," King says after the show. "... At Captain Carlo's, we can delve into all different kinds of music that we like."

Depending on the night, the band which in some incarnations goes by the name What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? includes King, Cohen from Gloucester, Leigh Calabrese of Gloucester and her singing saw, Byfield cellist Kristen Miller, and singer and guitarist Joanne Schreiber. They arrive with experience playing around the Hub and the North of Boston region�together and separately.

King can also be heard with The Gloucestafarians, a reggae cover band organized by Colin Harhay and King's brother Dan, which plays from 9 p.m. to midnight tomorrow at Captain Carlo's.

With his songs, King aims to communicate what's going on in his life, what he observes. He hopes to create music in which others can find the soothing and counsel he turns to music for.
"I'm just trying to be truthful to myself when I write," King says.
- Gloucester Daily Times, writer: Greg Cook


Discography

"Songs for the Tin Man" Live EP. 2005

"And Other Stories" 2008

Photos

Bio

"an emotional powerhouse...not like anything you've ever heard"
- Christopher Treacy, IN NEWSWEEKLY

"If you have yet to check out one of Boston's best 'noir rock' bands,
What Time is it, Mr. Fox?, you're way behind." - Anthony King, BAY WINDOWS

"Brian King has one of the most gorgeous voices I have ever heard...
music for broken, ripped and bloody hearts." - Leah Callahan, THE NOISE

"swooning romantic beauty, melancholy, puckish wit, a mix of folk,
jazz and German Cabaret." - Greg Cook, GLOUCESTER DAILY TIMES

“Our favorite Boston band” - Holly Brewer, HUMANWINE

“Brian’s voice is the last thing I want to hear before I go to sleep…one of the best”
- Whoopi Goldberg

What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? is like an alchemical experiment. The band fuses and integrates
different genres, theories and ideas, creating new recipes to unlock hearts and unify a room. In one
set the ensemble can travel from an acoustic coffeehouse to New Orleans soul, from gothic blues to a
Middle Eastern desert or the woods of medieval France. Named after a Victorian children's game,
and anchored by the “haunting, chameleon-like voice” (Metronome) of singer-songwriter front-man,
Brian King, the band spins new fairy tales and steeps them in folk noir and neo-cabaret. Many
songs are bustling with memorable characters like a boy who turns into a cartoon or a woman who
rescues herself from a tower, while others, pure and vulnerable, "deftly explore themes of love,
sexuality and identity." (Bay Windows)

Born in the seaport city of Gloucester MA, Brian King grew up with a love of the mystical.
Enamored with The Wizard of Oz, King couldn't decide who we wanted to be more, Dorothy or the
Wicked Witch. Throughout his teen years Brian fell in love with the music of Siouxsie & the
Banshees, Kate Bush, and later Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell. His diary was
documented in piles of cassettes containing hours of original music recorded on a Tascam 4-track.

Throughout his early twenties, King formed several punk and acoustic rock bands. Inspired by the
works of Jean Cocteau, Maya Deren and Sandra Bernhard, he explored performance art and mixed
media, often incorporating video and confessional comedic monologues into his performances with
troupes like the Burlesque Revival Association. His gender defying voice has been compared to
Jeff Buckley, Bessie Smith and Annie Lennox. In 2008 his song "Cold Rain" was recorded by
Grammy Award-winning “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” Irma Thomas, on her Rounder Records
release "Simply Grand." Rolling Stone and The Village Voice highlighted the track in their album
reviews and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette declared the song ""a little musical masterpiece. If its gentle
passion doesn't move you, get a heart transplant.”

In 2002, King started performing regularly with violinist and trumpeter, Nathan Cohen. Cohen’s
unique talent for blending classical, Celtic, and gypsy styles perfectly matches the rich imagery of
King’s lyrics. Also a Gloucester native, Cohen took up violin at age of 4. An adventurer, explorer,
storyteller and romantic, Cohen is quick to drop sail and set course for far-flung lands. In addition to
Macalester College in Minnesota, he studied music at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary, the
University of Ghana in Accra, and independently in the Middle East, the British Isles and
Micronesia. Cohen is the director of an orchestra and chamber music program in the Rockport Public
Schools. He performs regularly with HUMANWINE, Copal, the Cape Ann Symphony, and other
ensembles around Boston.

After a year of making music together, King and Cohen decided to call their duo What Time Is It,
Mr. Fox? The nature of the question, teasing with notions of time and reality, describes the band's
flair for delving into various genres and eras, and a taste for Lewis Carroll and Brothers Grimm. In
2004 bass player, Mike Leggio (Sugar Twins, Sukey Tawdry) added his acoustic double-bass to the
mix, solidifying the core sound. With a degree in jazz and composition, Leggio can easily switch
from 1920’s style blues to deep bowed tones for a creepy waltz. Then in 2006, mad scientist
drummer, Nate Greenslit joined Fox immediately after hearing them on a bill with his other Boston
Music Award-winning band, HUMANWINE. Quickly, the ensemble grew to include cellists,
Kristen Miller and Courtenay Vandiver (A Far Cry, Jethro Tull), as well as Miss Lori Perkins
(Seks Bomba) on hammond organ. Leigh Calabrese (Beat Circus, Sob Sisters) regularly
accompanies the band with her spooky singing saw, which earned her a 2004 nomination for best
"other"instrumentalist in Boston's The Noise.

In November 2008, the What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? releases the full-length studio CD “And Other
Stories.” The album is like an anthology of dark children’s stories for a