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Gavin's Underground

Circus Brown

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-09-23 -

Going back just a decade ago, it was almost impossible to find anything from a local artist getting played on any radio station. Flash forward to today and you can find locals more than half of the stations in the state, and a good majority of that trend can be traced back to one man.

Circus Brown has been playing local music during his Not A Side Show shift on KRCL since 2002, influencing both the music scene and the trends of commercial stations, and giving us listeners an opportunity to hear the best of what our state has to offer from the radio dial. Now celebrating the show’s sixth year on the air today and a new Snackbox compilation album in the works, it doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping anytime soon. I got a chance to chat with the man himself about his show and career, his thoughts on the local scene, music in general, and some other things that came to mind. Sadly, I forgot to ask him about being Seth Rogen’s stunt double.

Circus Brown

http://circusbrown.com/

Gavin:
Hey Circus. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

CB:
I was born Cinnamon Brown right here in SLC in the back of a 1973 Ford Ranchero. Grew up in beautiful Midvale, Utah for a while then the family moved on out to the lovely hills of Sandy. I've had many a job, owned my own pet store in high school, drove diesels, and now I'm currently in the rapid prototyping business, so to make it simple I sell and repair robots.

Gavin:
How did you first take an interest the local music scene? And had you done anything in the scene either in bands or covering it?

CB: In '94 my friends started a band called Elbo Finn. I really thought they were great and kept bugging them to play shows, but they never would. After tons of pestering they finally said that if I could book them a show they'd make me the band manager. A couple days later they played a Pioneer Day concert in Orem, the crowd liked them so much they were invited back to play again later in the evening. After a few shows and with the support of a ton of friends they played everywhere around town almost constantly for the next 5 or 6 years Put out a couple albums and for a while got some good play on X96. I did the light shows for them, roadied and also wrote and published their newsletter the Finn Out Daily. A few of the articles I wrote for the Finn really pissed off some folks and I got letters mailed back canceling the free subscription and telling me how disgusting I was. I was proud of that, it took a lot back then to get people fired up enough to write a letter, nowadays you can just type up a quick email and not even raise your blood pressure.

Gavin: What got you interested in doing radio?

CB: Every morning of my first grade year my brothers alarm clock would go off and the Police, Rick Springfield, Van Halen, Queen, or Yes would be playing on KRSP. I really loved what I heard, so I started using a single speaker ghetto blaster to record the songs I liked on the radio. It was pretty tough, you'd have to be on top of shit back then, hit record before the first note played, then if it was a song I didn't like I'd have to rewind and get set for the next song. Then I'd go back and listen to the songs and imagine what I'd say to introduce the songs, I always liked Evan Lake "The Water Man", he was pretty damn chipper and I always wanted to do what he was doing. In high school I started listening to Kicking Judy on KRCL which amazingly enough is the time slot I have now on KRCL. For me that was the only good radio show I could find. X96, KJQ, and KBER were the staple of the adolescent music diet back then but they played the same songs over and over and over, not much has changed. I knew every Saturday night I could tune in on the way to a party and hear music I'd never heard before. In '99 I moved to Denver and found a station I really loved AM 1190 the college station for Colorado University. The mornings were really cool, very Indie and each week they'd choose a band to feature all week long then on Fridays they'd take an hour and talk about that band and play a bunch of their songs. One morning while stuck in traffic the host on 1190 asked people to call in and make suggestions as to who should be featured. So I called in and suggested The Flaming Lips, the girl thought I had a pretty good voice and asked me to come do the show with her the next Friday. After that first hour I was in love with radio, she even invited me back the next week and we did a feature on Built To Spill. The listeners called in wanting to talk to me and liked the funny stuff I had to say. The host wasn't too happy about the kudos I received, I asked her what band we'd be doing next week and she said I wouldn't be doing a band next week, or ever again. It was too late, I had the fever for radio and I just wanted to play cool music somewhere, anywhere! I was offered a job to be the morning host on a Country station in Lincoln, Nebraska... I turned it down, when I said anywhere I meant, anywhere but Nebraska.

Gavin: What brought you around to putting on your own show on KRCL?

CB: While I was in Denver NAPSTER was all the rage, I started downloading everything I heard on AM 1190 and I was always making CD's for my friends of these crazy band I'd never heard before. I think my CD collection of just maybe a hundred CD's doubled while I was in Denver, then in 2001 I moved back to Utah. I couldn't find a station as good as 1190 and a girl at my office one day heard me talking about how terrible I thought radio was in Utah and she suggested I go apply at KRCL. I did, and I spend the next 10 months bugging Troy Mumm to get me into the training class which he finally did.

Gavin: What did the station think of it after its debut, and what was the reaction from the public and musicians to find an all locals show?

CB: I don't think the station thought much of it, other then they were happy someone would take the early shift. Not A Side Show started out at 3 to 5:30 a.m. Monday mornings. Back then I didn't play much local music, I would invite artists to come play their music on the radio back then and they'd tell me "call us when you get a better time slot". My second show ever I had Ingrid the Provo Beer girl on my show, I got my first fan mail stating that I was an inspiration to nerds everywhere by playing good music and having a local icon like her on my show.

Gavin: Over the years you've invited countless people to come in and perform live. Did you feel is was a natural progression for the show, or was it more that you felt they deserved to be interviewed?

CB: I was really blown away by local artists, everyone has the technology to record their bands, it was a huge change from the 90's when bands had to work hard and save up to record. So when Not A Side Show was moved to Saturday Nights in '05 I started inviting everyone down to play their CD's. One night Matt Mateus who worked for Spyhop at the time and ran the Loud & Clear show before me suggested that I have the bands play live and he'd be my sound engineer. I really took advantage of him I guess because he ended up training a couple of his students to be my sound crew and that's how I met Connery Johnson who does the sound for me now. Since we're not getting paid to do this every week I really have to give Connery some props, there's a ton of things a 19yr old could be doing on Saturday nights, I know when I was his age volunteering was the last thing on my mind. I do try and give him some compensation, his only request has been for Twix, so that's what fuels him for the show.

Gavin: Who would you say are some of your favorite live performances from the show?

CB: Last fall for Radiothon I decided to have a live act play while Troy Williams and I were bringing in donations. I invited Rope Or Bullets to play, and they really entertained the hell out of us their song Extra Credit is one of my favorite songs. After The Party has done my show 3 or 4 times, sometimes they're just in the studio with me playing background music on the Moog and Theremin while I'm talking its made for some really cool Halloween time shows. Vile Blue Shades somehow fit all their band members into the studio for a live performance that was incredible and they have agreed to play my funeral, unless I outlive them. So many bands have left a mark on Saturday nights Calico, Eagle Twin, The Happies, Let's Become Actors, The Rubes, Future Of The Ghost, Mindstate, Red Bennies, Purr Bats, The Wolfs, Nolens Volens, VCR5... man I could just name every band that's played on the show? Do we have enough room for that?

Gavin: This year marks your sixth year with KRCL. How does it feel, and what are your thoughts on the time that's passed?

CB: I didn't think I'd make it. I spent 2 years sleeping all day Sunday so I could wake a 2 a.m. to get to the station. Mondays were hell. I hope I've given something back to the community, I hope someone out there was touched by what I've played. I'd like to think that these last 6 years of music were for everyone not just my own entertainment. Recently KRCL received a letter from the Utah State Prison praising all the shows. I was touched to learn that inmates were waiting till Saturday night to ingest their contraband and homemade brews while listening to my music. I know if I ever end up in prison I'll have some friends and ketchup wine.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from to do the Snackbox compilation album?

CB: I was stranded in the Detroit Airport a week before my first Saturday night show, I ended up meeting some other folks at the bar that were also stranded and we got to drinking and laughing and a short 6 hours later I had to rush to get to my flight. I ended up having a first class ticket and after I sat down and asked the flight attendant for a beer she obliged and also handed me a box. "What's this?" I asked her and she said "that's your Snackbox". I don't know why it made me laugh but it did, and at first I filed the word in the part of my brain that just hold all the cool names I think of for bands. After bands started playing on my show one of them mentioned that they were on an X96 comp-album. Portia from X96 is a friend of mine and I heard one of her compilations and thought I should be doing that, but I was going to go one step beyond, I was just going to use nothing but the live performances from NASS.

Gavin: What was the initial reaction from people to the first release?

CB: Good I think. I only could afford to make 500 copies and I gave them all away at Slowtrain, Red Light Books, and to my listeners. Once in a while people tell me they still listen to it, or recently listened to it, so at least it wasn't only used as a coaster.

Gavin: You got a new one coming out soon. Tell us a little bit about what will be on it and when it will be due out.

CB: Right now the release is unknown, Connery and I had planned for September 23rd the 6 year anniversary of the show but since that’s tomorrow I don't see it happening. Some of the bands didn't want the track I'd picked on the album, other bands have broken up, and some bands just didn't like their performance, so I'm booking them to come back on the show to get better recordings or just scratching them off the list. I know this album will be better then the last, Connery has become a really great sound technician we've spent days listening to all the performances over the last year we're really excited. As for the bands that will be featured, some of the previously mentioned bands and a many more, we're shooting for over 20 tracks. Its going to be more then a single CD can hold so right now I'm thinking this might be a digital download only album, we're asking the bands to kick in a small contribution to help with the mastering fees and download hosting, I don't think I can afford to put this one out, it's costing more then my first.

Gavin: Spreading a little state-wise, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

CB: I think the local scene is really strong; every week artists from Utah are heading out on small and large tours. Its got to be tough, people right now don't get excited when they hear a band from Salt Lake is coming to town, hopefully that will change. Artists in other cities that have played with our locals contact me looking for airplay in Utah and places to perform so the word is getting around. I don't think there's much bad to be said about the music scene, there's good and bad bands here, just like any other city. The really crappy mainstream rip-off bands will always get the best shows, or get signed to a major record label leaving the true artists wondering how the fuck these injustices can happen. I think the worst part of the local music scene is the lack of good venues and cover bands. It pains me to think that Thursday thru Saturday at Liquid Joe’s people are sanding off the last few musical taste buds left in their bodies listening to cover bands. I've had to kick a band off my show before they even played because their set was half cover songs.

Gavin: Do you think having local labels helps or hinders the scene, and why or why not?

CB: I think it helps, but it’s a double edged sword. If you're on a local label you get access to a pool of resources, help with gigging, tours, record distribution and recording are something that even in the internet age isn't that easy to just look up. On the other hand sometimes the local label is a tight knit group of friends and like minded artists that only play together and tour together, never expanding or letting new bands in, giving the cold shoulder. Plus if there's a sucky band on that label people like me might just group all bands on that label as crappy, just like how Bright Eyes ruined every artist on Saddle Creek.

Gavin: What do you think about some commercial stations now putting local music on their air?

CB: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'm touched.

Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make things bigger or better?

CB: I think there's a few things Utah needs, first of all In The Venue needs a new owner and a complete overhaul, its painful to go to shows there, so many problems I can't begin to list them here. I think if the whole private club for members law goes away we'll see more people willing to see bands play, plus there are some bands that would love to play for free just to get some exposure. Imagine in the near future being able to just walk into a club and watch a band without having to pay a dime and not having to fill out a form at the door or sign your name on a list. How many people out there actually sign their real name? And where do those lists go anyways? Is there a state worker pulling 4 10's cross referencing the member lists with the driver’s license signatures? Will he discover that me and Anita Hardcock have the same handwriting?

Gavin: Where do you see our music scene in say, the next five years?

CB: I could see that maybe some local’s dreams will be made, some bands will be signed to a major record label, and the label will ruin their sound according to all the local fans. The bands will be called sellouts, everyone in coffee shops will talk of how they used to know them, or reminisce how they once opened for their band. The blame will be put on Perry Ferrell and we'll all like him a little less. Hopefully The Urban Lounge will be doing so well a second story will be added and some will say it’s the renaissance of the old Zephyr club. Hey it could happen.

Gavin: A little industry wise, what are your thoughts on the state it's in? Or do you even listen to mainstream music anymore?

CB: I don't know how to answer this. I think some bands I've loved over the years have turned into mainstream bands. The Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse are prime examples of that, and I still enjoy them. The crap you see on the Billboard lists are pretty much just that, but it’s always been that way. If major record labels start folding like Fanny and Freddie did the government wouldn't bail them out and I think it would create a new era of music. The corporations wouldn't keep churning out bands the way they have been and A&R people would actually do their jobs and grow and develop artists. I really can't complain about the music industry, I buy great new albums every week, albums that you can listen the whole way through without skipping any tracks. There's good music out there for everyone, you just have to look. I've had co-workers tell me that it’s just too hard to find new music that they like so they are still listening to Pearl Jam, and that’s just sad, working with walking corpses.

Gavin: Do you think Indi music will be the next movement in music, or do you think it's just the next trend to come along?

CB: It already is. Just watch a couple commercials.

Gavin: What about your thoughts on both commercial radio and satellite radio, and where they're both headed?

CB: Unlistenable, if they don't change the current stations will die off. It’s the same stuff every hour of every day. I thought satellite was going to be great but some of these shows are the same songs every day, but with less or no commercials, it’s the same songs and you could set your watch by it. Maybe they'll go under and I'll be able to own my own satellite station, just me, 24/7 pitching for Radiothon.

Gavin: Shifting to recent projects, you recently wrote some articles for City Weekly and even did a review with Portia. How did those opportunities come about, and will you be doing more?

CB: I've been wanting to write for a while, more than blog you know, maybe make a couple bucks doing it. I applied at a weekly magazine, not because I liked it, but because I wanted to find out if the Sexy In SLC people were as dead behind the eyes as they seem. Then I saw that a real legitimate weekly was looking for concert reviewers so I applied at CW. They asked me to review some local music and got Portia and I do some mock dating and write about it, tons of fun. I've got several articles I'm working on right now for CW, hopefully with Portia, and I'm also writing some CD reviews for SLUG.

Gavin: How did you get involved with the Farmer's Market Chef Challenges?

CB: I have several friends that work at Downtown Alliance, this year was the third year they've had me do the MCing. I get a kick out of it, gives me a chance to legally hang out at Pioneer Park and tell bad jokes, plus I get some gourmet food out of it.

Gavin: Offhand, I understand you're a big fisherman. How did this year treat you in the various lakes and rivers?

CB: My first fish of the season was a 5 lb. Brown Trout. I should have quit for the year after that instead I've been skunked or out fished by everyone I've gone with. I'll try harder next year I promise.

Gavin: What do you think of the idea that you're revered as a major influence on the scene itself?

CB: Honestly I don't know if that’s true, at least nobody’s ever said that to me. I hope I'm sticking stuff in people’s ears that they enjoy, but I don't know if that makes me influential or just a button pusher.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and the show the rest of the year and leading into next?

CB: A new Snackbox I promise! Ton's of awesome local bands, one of my favorites is Laserfang, they keep saying they'll come do the show, so I'm calling them out here, and Vile Blue Shades will be playing again the first week of November. It’s going to be business as usual, every week I find sweet new local and national music to play, if you like what you hear jot down the names of the bands and go out and replace that dusty old music!

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

CB: Of course!!! Its Radiothon on KRCL 90.9 FM I need all the listeners’ support I can get! You can tune into my show this Saturday night at 10pm and pledge a small donation to help support local music and your community radio station which is a gem. Or you can call in and pledge like $50 Billion and then ask the government to bail you out.

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