Thee Hobo Gobbelins' Oddities and Entities may well be the perfect Halloween album. Every song tells a weird scary story to a folk rock, spooky-night-at-a-barn-dance, hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time that leaves one a little bit creeped out. It's as if gypsy punk and bluegrass had a baby, and the contradictions are a delicious mix of complex lyrics rife with symbolism, and an easy-to-dance-to beat. This album compels the need to sing-along as they warn of changelings, ghost pirates, ghouls, secret portals, goblin beasts, entrails, roadkill and, of course, zombies in creepy voices not heard since the likes of Vincent Price. Touring the Southeast and mid-South all month as they make their way West to the San Francisco Bay Area for a blow-out Halloween finale, Thee Hobo Gobbelins is a must-see show/Halloween party with great music in venues that inspire intimate settings.
Catching up with the band before their tour begins this week, they revealed to me the mysteries of the secret world they inhabit in the off-season.
1) This is a really tight tour schedule through the South, with one show in a different state (except Texas) and city every night as you make your way back West. How do you guys cope with such a grueling schedule so far out of your element?
Well unfortunately, the demands of the human world make it so we can only hit the road for short periods of time. Two of our band own and operate the Accordion Apocalypse Repair Shop in San Francisco, and repairing accordions is a skilled trade. So they can't run the store remotely. Getting out on tour can be a tremendous undertaking, especially when you have pots bubbling at home.
So we want to make the most of the tour, and as far as being out of our element -- the road is our element. We love nothing more than rolling into a room full of strangers in an unknown town and winning them over with goblin music. Punks, rednecks, hippies, kindergarteners, blood cultists, it makes no difference. We'll play for three hours every night if nobody stops us.
2) Have you guys toured the South before? How are the audiences compared to the West/East coasts?
This will be the first official Hobo Gobbelins tour east of the Mississippi, though Mr. Gomper and I have both toured the South in other bands (he was in Extra Action Marching Band, I'm in Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits), and most of us have deep roots in the South. Southern hospitality is a real thing -- even through the filter of various counter-culture ideologies, I've never met friendlier people anywhere.
3) Are there any rituals, superstitions or traditions you guys adhere to when touring?
Strange as it may seem, we're not particularly superstitious. There's no need. For us, the otherworldly/supernatural aspects of the Endless Road are deeply interwoven into the fabric of everyday life. There are portals to other kinds of knowledge, whole other worlds, everywhere you look. The key to the door could be a physical artifact, a strangely shaped pebble or something. Or it could be a keyword woven into a random conversation at the bar. Before you know it, unseen doors are open and you're walking through them. That's what tour is like for us. So we try to keep up with each other and stay together on tour.
4) Who is in the band, and what are their roles and ages?
Well, Thee Hobo Gobbelins have had dozens of members over the years, but the current tour lineup will be Professor Plague -- guitar, Mr. S.L. Gomper - banjo, Sky Fell -- accordion, Malady Maleficent -- washtub bass. We range in age from 30-100.
5) Is this a seasonal side project you launch annually at Halloween or just something you do for fun every five years or so?
Thee Hobo Gobbelins is a year-round project, though Halloween is definitely 'our season,' and we find our services in higher demand. We're all pretty busy with other work and other creative projects throughout the year, but having been together since 2003, we're as much a family as a band. It took us quite a while to jump back in the studio for Oddities & Entities. But the upside is that we had lots of time to play the songs and were very ready to record when the time came.
6) Tell me about your shows. Are you guys in costumes? Is there a full-on Halloween theme to it and does the audience dress in costumes as well for the shows?
Our costume level varies depending on how we're feeling, how hot it is, whether we brought the makeup, etc. We're not strictly a Halloween band -- We're like this on St. Patrick's Day and Arbor Day and Tuesday night at the bar. We love ghost stories and monsters and otherworldly terrors. We love hooting' and hollering' and stomping holes in the floorboards. Halloween is just when other folks catch the same spirit.
7) "Rapier and the Wave" is more serious than the other songs, rife with symbolism and not so much "Halloweenish." You mentioned it was one of your favorites. Why your favorite? Is there a story behind the song that makes it personal to you?
I've always enjoyed a good yarn, and Rapier and the Wave, to me, is a tale of survival and freedom. The idea behind the song is impressment, a tactic the British Navy would sometimes use to swell their ranks. They'd go through port towns with "press gangs," who would find drunk, desperate men and carry them back to the ship. Once aboard, they'd have the choice of joining the Navy or swimming back to shore. Any oaths about patriotic duty ring somewhat hollow when the other options are execution or drowning. So it's a story about a man doing the best he can to stay alive with limited options, and eventually turning to piracy as a way of controlling his destiny.
A good friend who had sailed around the world in the Merchant Marines used to tell us tales of adventure. He told us that if you were the only survivor of a shipwreck, you were allowed in most navies to wear a black pearl earring as official dress. That idea stuck with me.
Finally, it is the most collaborative of our songs. Sky Fell and I wrote the music together, and I collaborated on some of the lyrics with the band's original founder, Dylan Blackthorn (who now plays in Austin with THAT Damned Band).
8) "Your Unicorn Friend" is funny and directly insulting, and again, full of symbolism. What/who's music bugs you so much? :D
Well you have to understand that for goblinfolk, elvish music is the worst kind of saccharine drivel, perhaps the way many humans think of Yanni or Michael Bolton. It's lilting and ethereal and generally makes mortals weep tears of joy while the trees dance in unison, like those old Silly Symphony cartoons. Disgusting. Give us ork-metal or goblin-punk, please. Something with some claws to it. And of course there's the idea that if you die in a dream, you die in real life. So what if we had a magic chair that allowed us to attack our enemies by entering their dreams? Fans of the movie Dreamscape will recognize some basic plot elements there. But it's a device we're working on.
9) "A Rose A Door" is really artistic and emotional. Who wrote the lyrics and what was going through your heads when you recorded it?
'A Rose A Door' is partly inspired by Stephen King's Dark Tower series of novels, and partly by a D&D game I've been running for about 10 years. It plays with the idea of the multiverse, and the notion that there are rips in time and space, secret portals leading to infinite other worlds.
Things can be terribly difficult here on Earth, and it's tempting to want to escape somewhere new. But you can't always be sure that popping through a dimensional rift will be an improvement. Your problems may well follow you through the door. And there's always the danger of getting stuck in between worlds and never arriving anywhere.
To catch a show at a venue near you, dust off your creepiest costume and check out the tour schedule below:
Oct 9 Atlanta, GA @ Mojo's
Oct 10 Asheville, NC @ Crow & Quill
Oct 11 Chattanooga, TN @ Sluggo's North Vegetarian Cafe
Oct 12 Hattiesburg, MS @ The Tavern
Oct 13 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
Oct 14 Houston, TX @ Super happy Fun Land
Oct 15 Austin, TX @ Beerland
Oct 17 Las Cruces, NM @ TBA
Oct 18 PHOENIX, AZ @ The Lost Leaf
OCT 19 Anaheim, CA @ The Doll Hut
OCT 20 LA, CA @ TBA
OCT 21 Pomona, CA @ VLHS
OCT 22 Santa Margarita, CA @ Porch Cafe
OCT 24 Oakland, CA @ Leo's Audio