The Carnivàle Comes to Town

Jason Cowsill was never pressured into music, despite his family’s storied musical history. A descendent of America’s family band, The Cowsills, he spent a lot of time bouncing around recording studios. But the moment he picked up his first guitar, there was no turning back.

With his most recent project, Troupe Carnivàle, Cowsill joins his wife, Jackie, for an exploration of the Vaudeville aesthetic drawing influence from Old West medicine shows when traveling teams of entertainers and medical salesmen would hustle “medical cures” between circus acts and concerts.

Troupe Carnivàle is more than just a collective of musicians — they’re entertainers. “We like the idea of kind of a neo-Vaudeville, where it’s not just a band playing at an audience. It’s an experience that the audience takes part in,” Jason Cowsill says.

“It’s dark, most people call it dark,” he says. “People have described it as great music to drink by.”

This focus on immersion transcends both their live performances and their studio recordings. “In my mind I was trying to create this sort of timeless piece of entertainment,” Jackie Cowsill adds.

The two also have a duo act where they perform nostalgic covers of 1950s and ’60s classics, but they feel they have exhausted many of the venues they could play. From a musical wanderlust sprang Troupe Carnivàle; the band recently recorded their first album, Skaal Krush, with the help of Eugene producer Billy Barnett of Gung Ho Studios.

This niche sound shimmers in their instrumentation: Drummer Don Elkington prides himself on developing new percussion pieces to accompany the live performances, Stephen Andresen riffs on electric and resonator guitar, Whitney Moulton is a master of the upright bass and Torrey Newhart mans the keys and toy piano. Jackie and Jason Cowsill top it off with moody vocals and guitar. To fully grasp their aesthetic a live show is a must. Think of it as the soundtrack to a mellow, post-apocalyptic carnival, complete with haunting tones and lyrics that dig deep into your soul.

Troupe Carnivàle host their CD release party with openers Mood Area 52 at 9 pm Saturday, May 18, at Sam Bond’s; free.