From the waxed and elaborately curled mustache to the artfully crafted, brow-furrowingly cryptic lyrics to the untethered stage presence, it’s not difficult to draw a line from Foxy Shazam’s Eric Nally to Vaudeville Freud’s Paul O’Moore. The similarities are more apparent when O’Moore reveals his longstanding devotion to Nally and Foxy.
“I grew up watching Foxy Shazam,” says O’Moore from his Clifton apartment’s rehearsal room. “I was that guy that every band wants, that guy that tells everyone and their mother about this band and forces people to listen. I went to every show they’ve played in Cincinnati, and I’ve developed a really good friendship with those guys. They help us out whenever they can.”
It shouldn’t be assumed that Vaudeville Freud is simply a Foxy knock-off. The band’s debut full-length, the about-to-drop Tapdance! The Musical, reveals a group steeped in darker, more off kilter influences — Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Modest Mouse — that become even more distilled and intensified when filtered through O’Moore’s twisted musical vision and the breathtaking translation from his band of musical gypsies: guitarists Gabe Wimberley and Sean Poe, bassist Jeremy Click and drummer Michael J. Hamilton.
“We wanted something that was weird and couldn’t be identified with anything,” O’Moore says. “Another big thing for me is Ween; I like them because they do different genres. We play a standard bluesy Soul song, then a Motown song, then into some weird Pop/Grunge song, then we get really heavy from there.”
“Me and Poe are Blues boys, for sure,” Wimberley says. “Vaudeville gives us the opportunity to shred out some two-guitar combinations and bounce off each other. A lot of it for me is musical shenanigans and throwing around notes.”
“I’ve always been a big Primus fan,” Click says. “I like doing anything that’s out of the norm.”
“We’ve got the strange funkiness of Primus with the Indie Pop sensibility of Portugal. The Man,” Poe says. “Personally, I’m coming from the Jimmy school of Rock; Page and Hendrix are probably my two biggest influences.”
Vaudeville Freud’s musical madness becomes all the more potent in the live context, where the band churns up a maelstrom of Funk/Prog/Rock controlled chaos while O’Moore flings himself around the stage like a hyperactive 10-year-old choir boy with St. Vitus Dance. Leave it to him to describe the indescribable.
“I started to develop this awkward stage character,” he says, quietly smiling. “It’s like an Apostolic Pentecostal preacher who’s done too many drugs and gone crazy.”
Freud’s seeds were planted two years ago, when O’Moore and Wimberley were roommates and O’Moore decided to act on his long-simmering guitar interest. (“I’d always dicked around on guitar but never got serious...” he says.) O’Moore began playing East End Cafe’s weekly open mics and within six months he’d written a dozen songs. After teaching the guitar lines to Wimberley, the idea of building a band cropped up.
“I wanted to show a friend how easy it would be to start a band,” O’Moore says. “We started playing shows, and it became an addiction.”
Vaudeville Freud has had several different incarnations — the current line-up solidified about a year ago — with O’Moore the lone constant. Click has the second longest tenure; he’s the band’s original bassist but his involvement has been sporadic.
“I’ve been around since the beginning and I’ve periodically taken steps out,” Click says. “But I always jump back in.”
Wimberley and Poe filled in for absent personnel and wound up becoming permanent members; they continue to play with Free Sophia while Hamilton keeps time for Sassy Molasses, Revenge Pinata and Vaudeville Freud.
After a year of presenting their disciplined mayhem in opening slots for Electric Six, Foxy Shazam, the Skeetones, Chick Pimp Coke Dealer at a Bar and I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business, among others, Vaudeville Freud is ready to raise their profile with Tapdance! The Musical. The album is the realization of songs that have evolved from stripped-back acoustic odes to full-blown Rock epics.
“To me, the studio is like a canvas,” Poe says. “You can play it and hear and see what you’re doing. I find it really beneficial to honing creative ideas.”
Poe’s analogy is a great description of Tapdance!, which plays like an avant art gallery where every song is a wildly different and yet completely connected sonic painting. Tapdance! will be released in conjunction with Vaudeville Freud’s set at the Adjust Your Eyes festival — this year benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure — and the band couldn’t be more anxious for the fruits of their labor to be experienced.
“The concept we went for was, ‘Let’s throw a bunch of songs that sound as different as possible but somehow fit together on an album,’ ” O’Moore says. “I was careful to arrange the songs in a way that would flow nicely. I’ve always been a fan of the Mars Volta-style album, where it starts one place and before you know it, you’re listening to the sixth track and you’re like, ‘Where were the cuts? How did I get here?’ I wanted it to be operatic and all over the place.”
VAUDEVILLE FREUD celebrates the release of Tapdance! The Musical as part of the AYE Music and Arts Festival Friday at the Southgate House.