introducing

Introducing Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: A Masked Unmasking

Emily at the Larimer Lounge in Denver, CO- for the Grateful Web
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum in Denver- for the Grateful Web
Photos by Aaron & John Souders- for the Grateful Web

On June 10th, 2005, San Francisco Bay-area band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum deconstructed the eclectically cozy Larimer Lounge and reconstructed the crowd into its own festival of mayhem. Experiencing Sleepytime in concert reminded me of taking off all my clothes in church and letting the Lord loose the congregation on my naked corpse. Praise the Lord! This certainly was no church revival, but by the time the show ended, I felt like I had been saved.

 

 

Their one-night only stop in Denver, camping out of a "crashed-green" tour-bus from 1954, introduced me and my friends to their brand of Heavy Gypsy Folk 'n' Roll for the first time. I cringe with understatement to say that I enjoyed Sleepytime. The entire show was like a fast train crashing into a loud symphony.

 

 

After two opening acts of radio-station style rock, Sleepytime came on stage with a burst of lighting and visual aggression that one never expects in a claustrophobic Denver rock lounge. My eyes ate their appearance with a hunger that hadn't been satiated since the first time I saw Marilyn Manson in concert. Stop. This in no way meant to compare Sleepytime with Manson.

 

 

Each member of the band wore long, white, comfy overalls-style dresses with red, flowery "inferiority dots" sewn over their chests. Their faces were painted to match their overalls and their hair even said, "Please come touch me." Eventually these costumes were overshadowed by the intuitive ingenuity of their lyricism and vocalizations that could out-sing a thousand pop-songs.

 

 

The most moving Sleepytime songs of the night started out by lulling and swaying the crowd and slowly crescendoed into convulsions of groaning and chanting supported by wild violins and unique percussions. These songs encouraged bizarre thoughts and random associations. I thought to myself: the phrase "sleepytime gorilla museum" can almost serve as an intentionally daft description of America. Can't it? Sleepytime's art destroyed every conventional idea I'd ever thought or read.

 

 

Then they lead us into chants about dumplings and goats and wild cheers for the expanses of Wyoming and Oklahoma, the words to which I fail to recall in totality due to my drunken stupor. Every member of the band obliterated the audience with abject creativity and courtly confidence. And not the court of white people; but a court of jesters and merrymakers. Afterward, they unleashed us in a stupendous clamor to spread their gospel in a holy fervor of religious objectivity.

 

 

The band works with a freedom that some could call reckless abandon, which would be wrong. It's not reckless abandon. They work with a well-tuned, unashamed purpose that's meant for me to experience and for Sleepytime to create. The most impressive instrument the group masterfully played, and without taking for granted, was the audience. We were Sleepytime's collective instrument, and it was orgasmic to feel them play us like a well-oiled machine.

 

 

So, now, just what the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, you ask? I know no designed associations or past experiences to which to relate this band. And that's a good thing. The only way to describe this band would be to create wild word-disparities and wholly new experiences that would annoy the hell out of spontaneity. But I would have to realize that I'd have to do that before I ever realized that that is just what needed to be done. So I did just that, and it was like pre-empting serendipity.

 

 

But just how did my brother and I kick-off this night of musical indulgences and bizarre haircuts? And how would Sleepytime come to prove to me that manipulation is the ultimate form of creation, thus, in turn, slathering a positive connotation on the word 'manipulation?'

 

 

In our eternal habit of devising plans, we realized we needed a direction, a path to follow. John suggested we take copious notes, which sounded wise and reasonable. Something else was needed, though. And while leaning against the tilt-fearing pinball machines of the Larimer Lounge, the idea struck me, and with our caustic cheer of superhero conviction, we started the night:

 

AARON and JOHN: We're drunk!

AARON: If we do this, John, you have to promise me one thing.

JOHN: What's that?

AARON: We have to do something wrong.

JOHN: We will. I promise. When Ross shows up.

AARON: When Ross shows up.

JOHN: Slow down on the smokes?

AARON: Slow down on the smokes.

JOHN: So how do you wanna do this review?

AARON:  Like you said: whip out your pad and write down everything you see.

JOHN: What the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, anyway?

AARON: There's only one way to find out.

JOHN: Wait for the damn show to start?

AARON: No! Let's go get on the tour bus!

JOHN: But I thought we were gonna play some Pinbot and drink PBR?

AARON: No! Let's just go bang on the door of Sleepytime's tour bus and let ourselves in.

JOHN: Okay. Are you even sure that's their tour bus outside?

AARON: It's crashed-green and rather obscene. It's gotta be them!

JOHN: Alrighty then, let's go.

On June 10th, 2005, San Francisco Bay-area band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum deconstructed the eclectically cozy Larimer Lounge and reconstructed the crowd into its own festival of mayhem. Experiencing Sleepytime in concert reminded me of taking off all my clothes in church and letting the Lord loose the congregation on my naked corpse. Praise the Lord! This certainly was no church revival, but by the time the show ended, I felt like I had been saved.

 

Their one-night only stop in Denver, camping out of a "crashed-green" tour-bus from 1954, introduced me and my friends to their brand of Heavy Gypsy Folk 'n' Roll for the first time. I cringe with understatement to say that I enjoyed Sleepytime. The entire show was like a fast train crashing into a loud symphony.

 

 

After two opening acts of radio-station style rock, Sleepytime came on stage with a burst of lighting and visual aggression that one never expects in a claustrophobic Denver rock lounge. My eyes ate their appearance with a hunger that hadn't been satiated since the first time I saw Marilyn Manson in concert. Stop. This in no way meant to compare Sleepytime with Manson.

 

 

Each member of the band wore long, white, comfy overalls-style dresses with red, flowery "inferiority dots" sewn over their chests. Their faces were painted to match their overalls and their hair even said, "Please come touch me." Eventually these costumes were overshadowed by the intuitive ingenuity of their lyricism and vocalizations that could out-sing a thousand pop-songs.

 

 

The most moving Sleepytime songs of the night started out by lulling and swaying the crowd and slowly crescendoed into convulsions of groaning and chanting supported by wild violins and unique percussion. These songs encouraged bizarre thoughts and random associations. I thought to myself: the phrase "sleepytime gorilla museum" can almost serve as an intentionally daft description of America. Can't it? Sleepytime's art destroyed every conventional idea I'd ever thought or read.

 

 

Then they lead us into chants about dumplings and goats and wild cheers for the expanses of Wyoming and Oklahoma, the words to which I fail to recall in totality due to my drunken stupor. Every member of the band obliterated the audience with abject creativity and courtly confidence. And not the court of white people; but a court of jesters and merrymakers. Afterward, they unleashed us in a stupendous clamor to spread their gospel in a holy fervor of religious objectivity.

 

 

The band works with a freedom that some could call reckless abandon, which would be wrong. It's not reckless abandon. They work with a well-tuned, unashamed purpose that's meant for me to experience and for Sleepytime to create. The most impressive instrument the group masterfully played, and without taking for granted, was the audience. We were Sleepytime's collective instrument, and it was orgasmic to feel them play us like a well-oiled machine.

 

 

So, now, just what the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, you ask? I know no designed associations or past experiences to which to relate this band. And that's a good thing. The only way to describe this band would be to create wild word-disparities and wholly new experiences that would annoy the hell out of spontaneity. But I would have to realize that I'd have to do that before I ever realized that that is just what needed to be done. So I did just that, and it was like pre-empting serendipity.

 

 

But just how did my brother and I kick-off this night of musical indulgences and bizarre haircuts? And how would Sleepytime come to prove to me that manipulation is the ultimate form of creation, thus, in turn, slathering a positive connotation on the word 'manipulation?'

 

 

In our eternal habit of devising plans, we realized we needed a direction, a path to follow. John suggested we take copious notes, which sounded wise and reasonable. Something else was needed, though. And while leaning against the tilt-fearing pinball machines of the Larimer Lounge, the idea struck me, and with our caustic cheer of superhero conviction, we started the night:

 

 

AARON and JOHN: We're drunk!

AARON: If we do this, John, you have to promise me one thing.

JOHN: What's that?

AARON: We have to do something wrong.

JOHN: We will. I promise. When Ross shows up.

AARON: When Ross shows up.

JOHN: Slow down on the smokes?

AARON: Slow down on the smokes.

JOHN: So how do you wanna do this review?

AARON:  Like you said: whip out your pad and write down everything you see.

JOHN: What the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, anyway?

AARON: There's only one way to find out.

JOHN: Wait for the damn show to start?

AARON: No! Let's go get on the tour bus!

JOHN: But I thought we were gonna play some Pinbot and drink PBR?

AARON: No! Let's just go bang on the door of Sleepytime's tour bus and let ourselves in.

JOHN: Okay. Are you even sure that's their tour bus outside?

AARON: It's crashed-green and rather obscene. It's gotta be them!

JOHN: Alrighty then, let's go.

***BANG BANG BANG!!!***


(someone fumbles with the clumsy bus door and it creaks open)

SOMEONE: Yeah?

AARON: Hi! We write for a website called Gratefulweb.net. We're writing a review of the show tonight. Can we come in and talk to the band?

SOMEONE: Sure, come on inside.

JOHN: Well, that was easy. Hi! My name is JOHN and this is my twin brother AARON. What's your name?

SOMEONE: My name is NEIL. The GUYS are back here.

 

 

My buddy Ross first introduced me to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum with an exploration of their overwhelming website. But I still didn't understand what it all meant. So I asked Ross to write an exploration of these music-auteurs for me. And he did:

 

 

"The members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum share a varied history together and a history with other projects, the intricate confluences of which baffle even the most advanced bar graphs, yet fit together quite amicably on a lowly abacus. Three of SGM's founding members, Nils Frykdahl, Dan Rathbun, and Carla Kihlstedt, have worked together for years in various Bay Area musical and theatrical endeavors: InkBoat dance theater company, the loopy prog-rock band Idiot Flesh ("When you want to die, try Cheesus, the snack food that dies FOR you!"), and Charming Hostess, a band inequally enthralled with the vocal and instrumental styles of Jewish klezmer music, Bulgarian choral singing, American gospel choirs, and practically anything else they can toss into their striking musical brew. Although Idiot Flesh has gone the way of the Carolina Parakeet, Charming Hostess continues as a vocal trio under the direction of Jewlia Eisenberg.

 

            "And now, the current players of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, presented in alphabetical order:

"Matthias Bossi – drum-kit, percussion, oration, puppetry, barbering. Bossi joined SGM in 2004 following the departure of Frank Grau from the band. His impressive chops, godly chest hair, and deadpan delivery lay the foundation for all that is SGM.

            "Nils Frykadhl - guitar, vocals, flutes, percussion guitar, etc. Frykdahl, along with Carla Kihlstedt and Dan Rathbun, was an integral part of several Bay area bands prior to the inception of SGM. In addition to helming SGM, Frykdahl also heads the experimental acoustic and theatrical duo (for lack of a better description) Faun Fables with Dawn "The Faun" McCarthy.

 

"Carla Kihlstedt - violin, trumpet violin, seamstress, vocals, nyckelharpa, autoharp, etc. In addition to her duties in SGM, Kihlstedt is an accomplished classical player and a member of the acclaimed Tin Hat Trio, an ensemble that draws on numerous musical threads both old and new, connecting the most disparate musical traditions in order to forge an authentically new style.  Kihlstedt's "solo" project, 2 Foot Yard, brings us a collection of character pieces with roots both in art song and pop music. Kihlstedt's extensive discography also includes work with Fred Frith, Masada, Tom Waits, and Don Byron.

 

"Michael Mellander - percussion, alto-euphonium, Electric Pancreas, sinks, you name it - he's got it. SGM's newest member, following the departure of founding percussionist Moe! (Moe!kestra!) Staiano, Mellander comes to the Museum from the Immersion Composition Society and brings with him an impressive arsenal of handmade and found instruments and a penchant for mayhem. He is otherwise known as "The Man in the Hat."

 

"Dan Rathbun - bass, slide-piano log, pedal-action wiggler, vocals. Rathbun is the mastermind behind SGM's homemade musical creations and produces not only their albums, but also those of countless others. You have not truly lived until you've pumped your fist and stomped your feet in time with the pulsations of the Wiggler in 'Pax Romana.'"

 

 

Now armed with Ross's knowledge, it was time to interview the members of the band after invading their sacred bus and introducing ourselves:

            NEIL YAMAGATA (sound, photography, field recording): Make yourself at home.

AARON (drunk #1): Thanks. So, to get started, what the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? That's the one question I wanna ask all of you.

NILS FRYKDAHL (guitar): Sleepytime is a group of people set out to destroy literature in the early 20th century.

JOHN (drunk #2): (repeating for clarity) Set out to destroy lit? . . . 20th century? I don't understand.

NILS: (laughing at JOHN) Nevermind. Sleepytime was fed up. Essentially we are a rock band from Oakland that likes to play music for our friends. And they come for the ham.

MATTHIAS (puppet master): Sleepytime is a problem unwilling to be solved by the band. What do we do? Well, they bill us as Sleepytime and we have to live up to that. We go and break things. We break things every night. Last night we broke things in Salt Lake City. As a matter of fact, Dan is behind you fixing something we broke there.

AARON: I just wanna say, you have beautiful chest hair MATTHIAS.

MATTHIAS: Thank you.

CARLA KIHLSTEDT (violin): (sewing inferiority dots) We meditate every morning around this table and focus on inferiority. Tomorrow we are having a meeting to discuss moving the morning into the afternoon.

JOHN: When did the band first get together?

CARLA: It was on a Wednesday.

JOHN: I never really got the hang of those. And what do you do Michael?

MICHAEL MELLENDER (pancreas): I keep the band from exploding at the drop of a hat. Look at them now; they are totally intact.

      DAN RATHBUN (bass, the technical guy, the improver, an apologist) *grunts*

MATTHIAS: (singing) "Wyoming is an interminable plateau." (sings a gutturally haunting song encapsulating the most memorable attributes of Wyoming).

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM (as in the whole band agrees): What the hell is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? You scrape it and it makes a salty groaning. That is the band.

MICHAEL: (while Dan is pulling out dental instruments behind him) *snort*

JOHN: I wanted to ask all of you what your favorite book is.

CARLA: I don't have a favorite book, but I have a favorite bug. My favorite bug is the little beetle that plays all the bit parts in the early animations of Ladislaw Starewicz.

JOHN: Who is Ladislaw Starewicz?

CARLA: He was a Polish entomologist who was credited as being one of the creators of stop-motion animation, famous for doing Aesop's Fables.

NILS: My favorite book is Worstward Ho! by Sammy B.

MICHAEL: The dictionary.

DAN: (still fixing things) Uh.

ALAN (lighting technician): Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo.

 

 

Alan Willner controls the lightning for the show, and just as the band embraces a freedom with their music, they allow Alan to embrace a freedom with his lightning style. Alan lets there be light on the band not from above but from below and the effect he accomplishes with this slight change up is astonishing. "I use very powerful, 1000 watt par lights and most bands would hate this kind of light shining into their faces because it makes them relatively blind; but SGM likes it," Alan says. He spends most of his time in New York City doing theatre lighting but loves going on tour with his friends. "Being in the city keeps you on your toes. Going out on tour gives me a chance to experience something different. We find old lights at garage sales or collect them from closed theatres and once I learn the band's songs, I get as creative as I want and play along with them."

Sleepiest sleep. Sleepier still till stillest sleep. So sleepest still. As the pedantic din of the bus lightened to a free-spirited roar, I knelt down to observe Carla's sewing. Her manner was that of a banner and its careful blue letters and red stitching announced the sale of music by "SGM and Freinds (sic)." Carla had sewn a misspelling into the banner.

NILS: Carla, I believe the word 'friends' ends in 'ends,' as it goes.

EVERYONE: (laughter, laughter, laughter)

AARON: MATTHIAS, since you seem to have a knack for beautiful chest hair, will you shave a landing-strip down the middle of my head?

MATTHIAS: Yes. Just lean your head over this trashcan and I'll start from the nape of your neck. Stand still.

BUZZER (buzzer): Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

AARON: What do you think, guys?

GUYS: It looks good!

AARON: I'm calling ROSS!

(ROSS enters the bus, introduces himself to the band, and then sees the landing-strip shaved in AARON'S head)

ROSS (Spawn of the Matriarch): How did this happen?

AARON: He did it! (AARON points to MATTHIAS) Hey, Ross! Doesn't your friend MEGAN love Sleepytime? Give me your phone so NILS can leave a message for her. (AARON calls MEGAN and hands the phone to NILS)

NILS: (leaving a message for MEGAN) Well, hello MEGAN, I hope everything is going right with you, and that you've found the Lord this morning waiting for you over your breakfast. I am NILS FRYKDAHL and I am with the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and we are here to bring you a fiercely religious message of...wait a minute...one of the members of the society is channeling something fiercely religious and I would like to share this sound with you now...(weird monster sound).

(A large truck trundles quickly down Larimer Street past the tour bus)

ROSS: Well, I need to get these drunken twins out of here so you guys can get ready for the show and so I can watch it. That's what I came for.

JOHN AARON ROSS: It was nice to meet all of you! Have a great show!

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM: It was nice to meet you! Enjoy the show!

(ROSS pulls the lēver on the bus door and helps AARON and JOHN off the bus while singing "Fifty Ways to Love Your Leaver" to his-self)

 

 

We all finally mixed into the crowd with anticipation and began doing what is so easy to do at the Larimer Lounge, make new friends. There was the girl in the hat, Jahnavi and her friend Kathleen who came down from Boulder, Emily the Bartender, Aaron's new bud Carla who left for Chicago after Sleepytime's encore, the Peruvian tour guide Jose and his friend Amanda who brings her dog to the Larimer on Sunday afternoons, and James the retired mechanic who never left the bar and looked right at home.

(walking out of the Larimer Lounge after the show)

JOHN: So what did we do wrong?

AARON: Everything!

ROSS: It doesn't matter, because in the end, we're all Sleepyheads.

JOHN AARON ROSS: That's damn right.

 

END

 

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