Kool Kat of the Week: Dancin’ to His Own Boylesque Beat: Russell Bruner Takes Off His Top Hat and More at Southern Fried

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2013 By:

Russell Bruner, Reigning King of Burlesque. Photo credit: Insomniac Studios

Stars both of the Burlesque Revival and of classic tease arrive in Atlanta this week for the third annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Thurs. March 21-24 at  the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Read our full festival preview here.

Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise as the first two, if not even better. But we have to admit that we’re especially excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, at the Free Range Burlesque show on Fri. March 22, after seeing him perform at our own Kool Kat Kitty Love‘s first Sultry Sunday of the year back in January. Male exotic dancers may be notoriously boring, but dressed in a pin-stripe seersucker suit, top hat and debonair curled moustache, let’s just say Russell wasn’t just sexy but sassy–really capturing the spirit of the tease in ways that most male dancers simply don’t. Of course, that underlines the essential difference between burlesque, or in this case “boylesque,” and striptease/exotic dance. Burlesque comes from vaudeville and variety and is all about having fun–which, well, they say gals love a guy with a sense of humor.

A little online research revealed that Bruner is a Vancouver, Washington native and Mormon-raised boy who eschewed football for the cheer squad and comes to burlesque via swing dance (He won a trophy at the Balboa Tempo Marathon in 2006) and a stint as the acrobatic Villain of Portland’s Wanderlust Circus. Needless to say, we had to make him Kool Kat of the Week just to find out more about what drew him from a tech career with a dancing hobby to a professional performer, how he developed his unique style, his influences and his act at SFBF!

So you were working for Intel, your job ended and you ran away to join the circus? Is that basically how your career in burlesque/variety got started? 

Well, the electrical engineering field wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the work, but kept thinking about how if I was ever going to do performance art, I should do it before I get any older.

Russell Bruner, Master of the Hat and Cane Routine. Photo credit: Adam Scherer.

Just about every lady I know thinks there’s nothing duller than watching a Chippendale. You have a completely different look and approach to dancing off your clothes. To what extent do you think that playing against the expected is the key to your success? 

You’re right, I’m no Chippendale. I cater to the audience as I understand them with what I have to offer. I’m not playing against the idea of the Chippendale; I’m just more turned on by men like Gene Kelly, Tom Waits and Ray Bolger.

Your routines remind me of a cross between Fred Astaire – who also danced with a hat rack in a famous number and you’ve said is an inspiration -to ‘20s comedy cinema actors like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Did you grow up on classic movies with dance and comedy numbers or when/how did you discover them? How influential are they on your routines? 

I didn’t see very many movies or see much television growing up, but there was this great movie place that I discovered when I first moved to Portland that’s called Movie Madness. They have nearly everything with Fred Astaire, WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc. I’ve since taken advantage of the inspiration found there, and in other sources that have old vaudeville acts film.

Were you at all nervous when you first stripped down? Any advice to men who want to do burlesque but are a little shy about it? 

I was nervous about it. Any time I do something in front of an audience for the first time I’m always concerned about things going well. If someone is shy about performing, I think it’s normal and shows they too have concern for doing well.

Who are your inspirations, either male or female, classic or revival, in burlesque?

Aside from the mentioned persons of yesteryear, for males, I am inspired by Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, Armitage Shanks, the Stage Door Johnnies, Burlesquire, Tod Alan, Evil Hate Monkey, Mr. Gorgeous, Waxie Moon, Captain Kidd, Curtis Carlyle, Dahktur Sick, Jonathan Burns, Scott Maxwell, Luther Bangert, Nanda, Neil E Dee, Funny Eddie Dot Com, Bobbie Burlesque, Bellini Twins, Charlie Brown the Juggler, Donny Vomit, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Ben Delacreme, Jasper St. James, the cast of Meatfest in LA, the Boxers are Brief Boylesk, William Batty in Wanderlust Circus, and many others. All those are variety performers and not necessarily burlesque. The women that inspire me is a much longer list, so let me get back to you on that when I have more time to list everyone.

Russell Bruner. Photo credit: PEZ Photo.

Where/when was your favorite performance and what made it so special?

My last performance with the Carnivalesque Tour at State Theater in Falls Church, VA, was a recent favorite of mine. It was special because it was the last show of a great run. I had a lot of fun working with Gilded Lily Burlesque & Co., and I really enjoyed the spacious stage with a nice wood floor. I really enjoy performing on stages with nice wood floors.

Without ruining any surprises, what can you tease us about your performance at SFBF? 

I think we’ve already given away that it involves working a hat rack like Fred Astaire. So other than hanging my hat up, you’ll also see some nice cane work.

What’s the secret of coiffing the perfect moustache? 

I use beeswax. I’m constantly running out of it or losing it as I’m on the road a lot, so I’m constantly using different products that have beeswax in it, and I use a woman’s personal trimmer that looks like a vibrator to trim it. And I just futz with it a lot. I stopped making circles at the ends because I can never get them to match so now I do more of a Salvador Dali type of styling.

Finally, what question do you wish someone would ask you to do but they never do? And of course, what’s the answer? 

I do wish I’d be asked to perform my partner acts more often. It’s harder to fit it in the budget for promoters and sometimes the stages are too small, but I enjoy doing partner acts the most. I would love to perform partner dance acts more often on the road.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Playing with Scissors, Dreaming of Unspiralled Stairs and Hiding Plastic Spiders with Jeffrey Butzer

Posted on: Mar 28th, 2012 By:

Jeffrey Butzer with accordion. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

Cinematic. Haunting. Minimalist. Unique. Perfect.  All of these words could describe Jeffrey Butzer‘s eclectic sound rendered with such unusual instrument choices as accordion, toy piano and glockenspiel. The motto of his live shows might be “expect the unexpected” in the best possible way, and his previous recordings and videos, solo and with bands The Bicycle Eaters and The Compartmentalists, have attracted praise from Canadian film director Guy Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) and film critic Roger Ebert. In other words, if all you know about Jeffrey is his Charlie Brown Christmas tribute show (read our article about it here), you’re in for a real treat at the release party for Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters’ new 7-inch HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS (The Great Big) this Saturday night March 31 at The Earl.

ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey recently to find out more about HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS, the influence of Spaghetti Western scores and scissors on his unique sound, and what it was like to wake up Roger Ebert in the middle of the night.

Just the title HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS suggests a story behind the music. What’s on it, how did you come to write the songs and is it true it will be on red vinyl?

This might not be as mysterious as a back story as one might want to hear, [but] the title refers to something my wife and I did when we first met. We worked together, and at our job we had a bunch of magnetic spiders that were a promotional item for a film and we would hide them from each other. It is a fond memory of us getting to know each other (13 years ago, now). It is on red vinyl; it looks like a Jolly Rancher.

This is the first release as Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters, these are all songs that I came in with the basic structure and melodies, and they “fixed them up.” Kristin [Jarvis] and Chad [Shivers] are amazing with melodies and counter-melodies. Eric [Balint] is like a secret weapon; he knows just what to and not to do and the right times. And William [J. Brisby] has played bass in almost every project and has never missed one single note. That is not a joke.

What was it like recording with a band and a producer?

It was wonderful. I’ve known Luci, the producer, for a very long time, and he is patient and a perfectionist. He slows me down in a good way. He really excels at everything he tries. He’s an amazing photographer, musician and a great dresser. And recording with a band in the past has been impractical. Normally I multi-track the parts, then bring in other musicians after the fact. On this, it was really nice being able to record with most of us in the room; it added a nice mood to the record.

How did you hook up with Gea who directed the video of Case of Unspiralled Stairs ?

I’ve known her for several years; we are both big film enthusiasts. I liked her artwork and asked her if she wanted to do a video for the record, and thankfully she did and it turned out really great.

So Roger Ebert posts the video for “Case of Unspiralled Stairs” on Facebook and says “I woke up in the middle of the night. Jeffrey Butzer had sent me this. That was the perfect time to view it. My mind was still halfway in dreams.” How cool was that and was that the response you had hoped for from it?

It was very cool! I didn’t really know what to expect. He had never really commented when I sent him videos before. I “know” him through a secret society that he and I are both members of. Along with Ken Keeler (FUTURAMA), Neil Gaiman and Guy Maddin.

Speaking of Guy Maddin, how did you meet him and get him to do alternate cover artwork for HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS?

I scored a film called BIRDCATCHER that Guy saw, and we sort of became friends. I am going to hang out with him in New York in a couple weeks! I saw the collages that he made, and he agreed to let us use [one of] them as cover art!

When your music is paired with video, it reminds me of a lost 1950s/60s existentialist French film. Can you talk a bit about how film has influenced your sound and visuals?

Film has always been the band’s biggest influence. All the greats: Buster Keaton, Fellini, Bunuel and Penny Marshall… well, maybe not her so much. I think when I first started making music I wanted to sound like certain artists. But as I got older, other mediums began to influence my music more, especially film. The instrumental music that we make is mostly about mood, much like the film style you mentioned. So I think the approach and what we are trying to achieve isn’t that far apart.

Some have heard the influence of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western scores. Are you a Spaghetti Western fan? What are your favorite films/scores from that genre?

I’m way more into Spaghetti Western music than into the films. There are several I really enjoy. They’re so style-driven that you can really just watch scenes from them isolated from the movie. If I were to name some I like: THE GRAND DUEL and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The other band I’m in The Compartmentalizationalists touches more on the genre than the Bicycle Eaters.

Scissors play a key role in your video for “Lucy 5’s Egg” and I understand you dangle them on stage as well in some of your gigs. Why scissors, and will scissors be part of this week’s show?

I wrote lyrics to a song a really long time ago that had the lines “on a pillar in the sky, a sleeping woman lies, dreaming of the garden of scissors.” I really liked the image. I wrote a screenplay and an album based on that line, and it has sort of stuck as a motif over the years.

An image from the haunting video for "Case of Unspiralled Stairs."

The toy piano, accordion and glockenspiel are unusual instruments for a contemporary musician. What drew you to them?

I like how whimsical they sound together. I never wanted to make music that is old-fashioned or heavily referenced by something from the past. But on the other hand, nostalgia interests me a lot. I first heard toy pianos used a lot by Rob Burger and Margaret Leng Tan.

Why the “Bicycle-Eaters”?

That is a bit of an inside joke. The short version is just that my friend Matt Benard, who plays bass with us, sometimes knows a guy who, in fact…ate a bicycle.

Your gigs are known to include the unexpected, but without giving any big surprises, do you have any special plans for this week’s show at The Earl?

We have a couple OF guest singers and an unusual cover song we are doing. If I tell you anymore, it won’t be unexpected. ZING!

When will your new CD “COLLAPSIBLE” be released and what can you share about it?

I’m not sure. I am hoping for a May release at the Goat Farm. It is a collection of songs played mostly with small arrangements. So far it is just a solo album. I have had a few songs floating around for a while and I record at night after my son goes to sleep. Some are new interpretations of songs I have releases before – only a few though.

I have an odd process. I always set out to make an album with a list of songs in hand. Then when I’m done, as with this one, I cut half of the songs I originally wanted on and record a bunch of new things. For this album, which has between 12-15 songs, I recorded around 35… so far.

What else is up with Jeffrey Butzer? We’ve heard you’ve done some interesting collaborations lately and even dipped into film and theatrical scoring. Any more team-ups planned with Molly Harvey (The Residents)? And aren’t you going to Poland?

Molly and I are planning some shows. Some as a duo and some with a band. Other than that, I’ve got the score for PETER PAN at the Center for Puppetry Arts that starts playing April 5. I am recording a Compartmentalizationalists album with Claire Lodge and Nico from the band Places. Then I am taking a break in June when my second son will be born!  The Poland trip has been put on hold. Hopefully later on we will still go.

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Is What It’s All About: Jeffrey Butzer and TT Mahony’s Jazzy Musical Tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s PEANUTS Score Comes to The Earl & The Earl Smith Strand

Posted on: Dec 16th, 2011 By:

Jeffrey Butzer channels Schroeder & Vince Guaraldi in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, his annual holiday show with TT Mahony.

Not just nostalgic adults, but kids, too, will get to enjoy Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahony’s jazzy musical tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS this year with the duo presenting it at two Earls – first at The Earl Fri. Dec. 16 and Sat. Dec. 17 (both 9 p.m.) and then at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta Tues. Dec. 20 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.). All shows will feature an opening instrumental set by Jeffrey’s band, The Bicycle Eaters, and surf favorites from THE VENTURES CHRISTMAS ALBUM  rendered by Chad Shivers and Friends.

The seasonal sell-out shows of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS are clearly a labor of love for Jeffrey, a musician/composer whose solo works tend towards the minimalism of the simple Christmas tree in the iconic Charles Schultz special. Inspired by melodic French musette, pieces on two albums SHE TRADED HER LEG (2006) and THE GARDEN OF SCISSORS (2009), both released by Lona Records, incorporate such eclectic instruments as accordions, bass drum, piano, glockenspiel and—perhaps inspired by a childhood admiration for Schroeder—toy piano. His band, the Bicycle Eaters, takes a different bend, inspired by Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores, klezmer and gypsy, the former suggesting that their opening set will be more than appropriate for a vintage art deco movie theatre like the Strand. He’s also down a film soundtracks (Raymond Carr’s WILD IS THE WIND), collaborated live with Molly Harvey of The Residents and has ventured lately into the world of live scoring to Buster Keaton’s THE BALLOONATIC. And frankly that’s just a small taste of the musical adventures of this diverse Atlanta performer and affirmed cineaste.

Today though, ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey to chat about A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, what to expect at The Earl and The Strand, and what’s next for him with The Bicycle Eaters and as a solo composer/musician.

How old were you when you first saw A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS on TV and what did the show and its music mean to you when growing up?

I don’t remember a time NOT knowing who Charlie Brown was. It is like Bruce Lee, Elvis or Grandma, something that seemed to always exist to me. Growing up, it was always my favorite special. I liked how blue it was. Both literally and figuratively. Cartoon music in general affects you strangely. Like Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott with the Looney Toons, I wasn’t aware of them until I was older and started playing music. But again, it is hard to remember a time when I didn’t listen to that record every year.

How did you and TT Mahony get the idea of developing A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS holiday show, and for how many years have you been doing it?

This is year four. I approached TT after he played a Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits/Nick Cave tribute show I worked on. He is an amazing piano player, very witty , too. I had kicked around the idea of doing a holiday show in the past but never really knew a pianist that could handle Guaraldi. Robby Handley is the best upright bass player I know. Great hair, too. And here is an odd fact about TT. He can jump really, really high. I’ve told him he should find some way to compete. I once saw him jump from the ground onto the top of a Toyota.

I understand last year’s shows were packed. Were you surprised that so many adults were so enthusiastic about music from a 1960s kids TV show/Christmas LP? What kind of comments did you get after your performance?

Yes, we were hoping for the best, that our fans and friends would enjoy the show and hopefully some new faces would come out. But the response has been overwhelming. Last year we had to start doing two nights. As far as comments, the one we get the most is “Can you do an all-ages one too…for the babies?” The reason we haven’t is because. the mood we set in The Earl seems to really suit Snoopy and the gang. It is cozy, dark, and has energy almost like a rock show. We are really looking forward to adjusting it for a sitting crowd at The Strand. We love the room. It is like a miniature Fox Theatre. And playing for children will be a blast. My 2-year-old son Francis dances every time he hears “Linus and Lucy.”

What audiences can expect at The Earl this weekend?

Cookies, dancing… It is basically a big Holiday Party with 300 of your closest, newest friends.

What are you doing at The Strand to make it even more kid-friendly?

The show will not change much. We do have a kid’s choir with us at the Strand!

Why pair Peanuts with The Ventures?

Well, the albums were released around the same time for one thing. They are both classic ‘60s albums. They are both easy to dance to.

Jeffrey Butzer. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

And what about that opening set from Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters?

My band (The Bicycle Eaters) play Frenchy-Jazzy-Spaghetti Western-inspired instrumentals. We are releasing a limited EP at the show

What else are you and the Bicycle Eaters up to? Any 2012 gigs or recordings you’d like to tell readers about?

We almost all have children, so we’ve been laying low, only doing select shows. But we will have an official release for our new 7” at The Earl in March. I’m also working on a score for PETER PAN at The Center for Puppetry Arts. Then I have a solo record coming out named COLLAPSIBLE. Then off to play some dates inPoland.

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Really Retro: Lisa Stock’s THE JULES VERNE PROJECT Mashes Up Steampunk, a Sea Monster, LORD OF THE FLIES and Old-School Cinematic Slapstick

Posted on: Oct 16th, 2011 By:

In epic tales of man vs. nature, we find champions in MOBY DICK, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: fierce battles to overcome insurmountable challenges from the deep. If these heroes can confront such odds, then surely we can take on whatever troubles we are facing in real life. We use these stories as illustrations of bravery, loyalty (to ourselves and others) and endurance. Literary symbols of courage when things get to be too rough.

Now, take that concept, add some slapstick, put it on the silver screen – and you have Lisa Stock’s next venture: THE JULES VERNE PROJECT. This short film aims to combine all the physical humor of Buster Keaton, the cut-throat survival tactics from LORD OF THE FLIES and the unblinking focus of a voyeur come across a scene of outrageous monster mayhem. ATLRetro readers will remember Lisa as the director who staged Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES in East Atlanta this past August (read our Really Retro piece on Lisa here). We recently sat down with Lisa to discuss THE JULES VERNE PROJECT and her crow-funding efforts to make it happen.

Ed. Note: If you’d like to be a part in bringing this film to life – an Indie Go-Go campaign to raise its modest production financing runs only until Friday Oct. 21! (details below)

ATLRetro: What is THE JULES VERNE PROJECT?

Lisa Stock: THE JULES VERNE PROJECT is a short live-action sea monster movie. I refer to it as: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets Laurel and Hardy meets Jules Verne. It’s a story of shipwreck, bravery and the dire consequences of alienating your allies. Basically – we take a Strongman, a Deck Hand, and a Lady with a Parasol and strand them on a desert island with a big giant tentacle on the loose! Oh – and there’s a hot-air balloon shot out of the sky too.

How would you classify it? Comedy, adventure, silent film, steampunk, retro?

Yes.

Your creative projects, such as SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and TITANIA, have often been staged/filmed unconventionally. How is THE JULES VERNE PROJECT different in that respect?

Well, first of all we’re going to do the entire film in one take, one shot. No editing of multiple angles. The camera will even be stationary. So most of our tricks will have to be done “in the camera” – which is why I’m opting for a fabricated sea monster tentacle as opposed to a CGI one. I really want to push my boundaries as a storyteller and filmmaker and do something I’ve never done before.

There will be some effects done in post-production, such as the hot air balloon, but 90% will be done on a beach, one shot, all in one tableau – my actors and puppeteer are going to love me. Haha! But that’s the fun of it – we’ll all be pushed passed our normal limits, and who knows what we’ll discover.

So, if it’s all done “in the camera,” what won’t we see? 

Hopefully, our tentacle puppeteer! We’ll have to do this several times, I’m sure, to get a take that is mistake-free. But it’s short. And we’re going to have to do a lot of wiping footprints and tentacle marks from the sand in between each run-through.

In addition, I’m planning to do something really cool with the actual image in post – in terms of frame rate, that might be a nice surprise for our epic battle sequence.

What are you going to do with the film once it’s complete?

As much as I think film festivals are valuable to the indie realm, I want as many people to see this as possible. So we’re going to put it up online in April. There’s little to do in post, and that will give us a very short turnaround time. I want people to see it and enjoy it. The movie will also be a good example of what we (me, my cast/crew) can achieve as filmmakers, and it will give us the opportunity to tell a story that is hilarious and poignant.

Tell us about the Indie-Go-Go campaign.

We’re currently doing an Indie Go-Go campaign to raise funds for the film. But only until this Friday – Oct. 21! I did a Kickstarter campaign last year for my film THE TITANIA PREQUEL and was successful. I like getting my projects funded this way – because it comes directly from an audience I can give back to directly. No middleman to take away all their money, and take away all of my inspiration. So many independent artists are getting funded this way now. People who like your work or are interested in what you’re doing can donate. And what you see is what you get. I’ve supported a lot of projects like this myself. It’s important to let artists be artists – I think the results are much stronger.

We’re raising funds now mostly for the massive tentacle puppet. We need to get started on that for it to be ready for our April shoot date. And give ourselves ample time to rehearse with it. Donations for THE JULES VERNE PROJECT start at $1, $10 and go up from there. And this time we’re getting really creative and fun with our donor rewards! Everything from messages in a bottle to downloads and personalized notes and treasures from the set. To donate visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Jules-Verne-Project

You’re also giving 10% to a charity?

Yes, when I do a large project, I like to give back. A couple of months ago I lost a friend I’d grown up with. He was only 37. There was an animal rescue he was fond of and we’ve decided to give 10% of what we raise with this campaign to that animal rescue in his name.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

It seems you like the sea. Recently, you started an Internet radio show called SRN: THE SIGNAL.

That’s right! Sirens, sea monsters – the ocean inspires me! SRN stands for the mythic siren. The show discusses all things mythic, fantasy, fairy tale, sci-fi, etc. I’d like to say we have a traditional format with a twist – but as it’s looking each show will be really different. Our next broadcast is Oct. 30 and we’re discussing graveyards and ghost stories with some Atlanta-based cemetery caretakers. In future broadcasts, we’ll be talking to the folks at High Rez Studios about their forthcoming game, SMITE, based on Greek mythology, and we will also have some well-known writers and actors coming by. Hope you’ll tune in!

Anything else our readers can see of yours currently?

I have a poem being published in Burial Day BooksGOTHIC BLUE BOOK out on October 28. It’s all about the legend of the Wild Hunt and Furious Host. And, not currently, but in the spring, I hope to do a dark and scary stage version of HANSEL AND GRETEL.

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