Interview with Curtis Eller
It’s lunch time and we’re munching a sandwich and trying to find a quiet place to chat to Curtis Eller who’s without his American Circus today. On the other end of the line, he’s doing the same. Technology drops the ball, and the call, on the first attempt. In the end we go old school with talk of Hollywood’s silent era, Elvis hip thrusts, circuses, gruelling tours and I scribble notes with a real life pen like someone out of Mad Men. Take it away Curtis.
Thanks for taking some time out from the tour to chat to us. Where are you right now?
I’m in the middle of a two month tour, which is my longest ever. We based it around thirteen festivals and fitted some club dates in between. It’s mostly in the UK with a few dates in Ireland and then we fly over to Hungary.
Two months sounds pretty intense. Do you enjoy your time out on the road?
I love it… Meeting a new crowd every night and getting to know them. My act really relies on the audience. It’s pretty energetic, I guess with lots of interaction from the audience. So yeah, I love touring. I get pretty cranky without it.
We’re looking forward to the Open House Festival show in the Civil Defence Services Club. It’s a new venue for us but you’re accustomed to playing odd venues. What’s been your weirdest to date?
There’ve been a lot of them. I guess one of the strangest was a gig I did in New York for a friend of mine. She was a milliner, you know, made hats in Brooklyn. She ran a store in an old 19th century bordello and had a “crabby hour”. That’s like a happy hour but not. She would serve up cocktails and have acoustic performers in the store and people would come in and buy hats, listen to music and drink cocktails. That makes my fans hat-buying drunks?
What can the Northern Irish, or any other crowd on tour expect from a Curtis Eller’s American Circus performance?
It’s energetic. Yeah, it can be pretty physically aggressive. You know, I’m influenced by all those old rock and roll stars like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly and Elvis. I’ve a great affinity with Elvis. Those guys all had their moves and to me if you just stand there singing songs then you’re not a true rock and roll performer.
Did your actual circus upbringing influence the more acrobatic, physical side of the show?
The circus was certainly an influence. My dad ran a circus back home in Detroit and that really gave me an early understanding of the physically demanding side of performing. As well as having the circus, my dad was also a huge fan of the silent movie stars, you know, like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Those guys had a very physical aspect to their performances and it was probably from them I learned the tricks of the trade. My dad also played banjo and all that old time music.
Was it your dad that influenced your move in a more musical rather than circus performing direction?
I juggled a bit when I was younger but I was never any good at it. But when I saw the banjo it just spoke to me. You get such a primitive sound from the banjo, I just loved it instantaneously and now here I am an old man, and I’m stuck with it.
There are worse things to be stuck with in old age.
Yeah [laughs] I could have a real job.
A lot of your material is based on tales of old America, which is an endless source I’d imagine. Can we expect any new singles or albums?
I still write in the middle of things. We brought out the last album “How To Make It In Hollywood” about a year ago and since then we’ve really been on a pretty gruelling tour. We did bring out a live album last year that we recorded in Bristol. We also wrote an EP for an original theatrical production based on the work of Charles Baudelaire, a nineteenth century French poet. We’re going to be releasing that. It’s pretty dark, mainly sex and drugs. Dark. I’m writing again now at last. When we get back to the States after this tour we can get something new going.
In the short term, what’s next for Curtis Eller’s American Circus?
Well, we’ve got a few more UK gigs coming up, some in Scotland. We’ve got a festival up there. In fact we’ve got a couple more festivals and then over to Ireland for five or six more shows, starting in Cork. We’re doing one in Londonderry and then Open House Festival in Bangor. After that we’re flying over to Hungary. I’ve never been there before but when they say we’ll fly you to Hungary and you can spend your first day there off relaxing in Budapest in some Hungarian spa, that’s pretty nice.
We should go and let this tour back on the road. Have you any final words for people coming to see the shows?
Just that I take real pride in getting to know an audience. I love the crowds in Ireland. They’re pretty similar to Americans. They love to sing along. I’ve only been to Northern Ireland once at Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (Belfast) but that was a solo show so this will be the first tour here with the full band. I remember the first time I came to Ireland I got heckled and I heckled them right back. I think they liked that. Here’s this guy who can hold his own against the wild heckling Irish.
If you’d like to come and heckle, sing along, have a beer and watch this phenomenal rock and roll songwriter and performer throw some shapes, check out the tour dates on curtiseller.com. We’ll be at the Civil Defence Services Club in Bangor for Open House Festival on Saturday 8th August. See you there?