The gypsy ensemble Molehill Orkestrah and the ethereal improvisation quartet Audiogusto are each embarking on separate tours of West Coast cities to perform and promote their music. Both bands have devoted local followers, attracting new crowds to their unique performances.
Molehill's roots include the Día de los Muertos parade soundtrack for three years, and Audiogusto, under its more familiar former name, Wasabi, has performed together for two years. It's just the right time to cut the apron strings and explore the new psychological territory of the Summer Tour.
The first practical concern of this fantastic endeavor is transportation, a challenge especially for the eight members of Molehill. Their stylish transportation has been secured--a "big blue blob" of metal, a 1966 Dodge motor home with 12,000 original miles; it had once been converted into a book mobile. Construction-oriented band members are in the process of gutting and upholstering the insides, which will be their temporary home base. A plastic elephant head already graces the hood of the Mole Mobile, suggesting the Hindu god Ganesh, appropriately the god of luck and the remover of obstacles.
For four weeks in July and August, Molehill is entertaining the culturally starved masses with the "Anima Mundi Tour." Six confirmed performances (with a couple more in the works) include two major festivals, the Seattle Hemp Festival and a Portland event hosted by String Cheese Incident, one of the nation's foremost touring jam bands.
Molehill's debut studio album, To Anima Mundi, will be released next month in time for the tour. T-shirts, stickers and handmade items (even lunch boxes) will be available for sale on the tour to sustain the unreliable flow of finances. The schedule may also be supplemented by some spontaneous street performances, described as an endangered art form by Michael Dalzell, the band's mandolin master.
"One thing about playing on the street is that it's very free; you don't feel the pressure of putting on a show," he says. "It's a nice give and take between the performer and the audience."
The words "very free" also resonate nicely in the ears of the uninitiated passersby who may not be familiar with the band's urgent melodies. The tips in the open guitar case are always appreciated, especially in the form of one-hundred dollar bills, a true anecdote of Tucson generosity related by Dalzell.
On a side note, Molehill's most recent attempt to play music on Fourth Avenue was thwarted by police who threatened to ticket everyone at the gathering for violating a sidewalk ordinance. Dalzell has since armed himself with the exact language of the law, which allows him to play music on the street as a form of protest against the "oppressive forces who are unfriendly to the elements that make [Fourth Avenue] interesting."
UPON ITS DEPARTURE two weeks ago, Audiogusto had secured approximately six gigs for its tour this month, and hoped to book at least four more on the road. The players have used modern technology, such as the cell phone, to intercept any developing opportunities on the road--the barbecue and party venues, the friendly local band looking for an opening act.
As a virgin touring band, Audiogusto expressed some concern about the nature of the interview and its emphasis on expectations: "This isn't going to be a 'How-to' article, is it?" The game plan for promoting the music and sustaining the musicians seems to be related to the pesky economics of selling stuff, including souvenir T-shirts, a single enormous pair of hospital pants screen-printed with the band's logo, and, of course, copies of its album. Its brand of self-described "evening music," which explores a variety of eclectic genres from experimental noise art to catchy pop, has been captured on the debut self-titled, self-released and self-produced album from last summer.
Miranda Musiker, Audiogusto's cellist and vocalist, eagerly anticipated interacting with new audiences who encounter the music without expectations or pretensions. Touring is also an opportunity to develop the band's live performance through repetition, since there's no fear of overexposure when you're on the road. The characteristic improvisation of Audiogusto will also be tested as the band members encounter the potentially cynical urbanites. Chance and accident are necessary elements of the performance--"You've got to be willing to make a fool of yourself," said Jon Mueller, guitarist, trumpeter and vocalist.
The theme of chance is also essential to the touring philosophy of Molehill, whose European-inspired cabaret music is intricately performed by cello, mandolin, violin and saxophone beautifully supported by guitar, upright bass and percussion.
Dalzell is looking forward to the freedom to experiment "when you get away from everyone who knows you and no one has any expectations." The constant performances, like constant rehearsal, allow for greater mobility of improvisation and fine-tuning the arrangement.
In addition to booking shows for a tour in the late fall, members of Audiogusto also expressed interest in contacting representatives from major labels while on the road. Musiker of Audiogusto hoped that the tour would "create a buzz, and they would watch us grow," and she also speculated on the possibility of starting a new independent label specifically for bands that don't fit into traditional categories. However, since Musiker is relocating to the Portland area at the end of the tour, it's difficult to imagine the sprouting seeds of an offhand idea taking root in Tucson.
As for the future of Audiogusto, the band seems confident that with the help of technology (did I mention that they were examining their cell phone bill during the interview?), the long-distance creation of new music is completely possible.
Molehill seems more interested in gaining exposure in Muziker's fashion, by word of mouth. Dalzell mentioned that the band wants to play a variety of venues, including Garrison Keillor's radio program Prairie Home Companion.
As Dalzell explained about expectations, "Regardless of what you imagined, there's always something better that you can't anticipate, and shouldn't even try to anticipate, because once you get beyond the level of expectation, you get into faith."