Category Archives: Artists

Shirk Circus

When it comes time to write the “artist” page for Shirk Circus, there’s so much to write that it’s tough to know where to start.

I was first introduced to Shirk’s music in 1993 by Ray Ketchem, producer and drummer for Melting Hopefuls, who recorded with Dromedary at the time. Ray was recording what would become the band’s debut CD for Bar/None records, Words To Say, and Ray wanted me to hear them.

I fell in love. Their music had the passion and anger of Husker Du, but with uncanny songwriting ability and insane musicianship. And I followed the band’s meteoric rise from a distance, picking up their second Bar/None CD, March, a year or so later.

In 1996 I met Josh Silverman, the band’s enigmatic and brilliant songwriter and guitarist, and he gave me a track to put out on a 7″ for Dromedary. We emailed a few times, but the Dromedary story had to be put on hold as we went on our long hiatus.

Through the magic of internet search engines, Josh discovered Dromedary due to our blog, where we told the long and sordid story of the label’s history over the course of a year. Josh followed the story for a while, and when we “ended” our story by re-launching the label in January of 2010, Josh reached out with some fantastic news:

There was an unreleased Shirk Circus album.

Seems the band recorded the tracks in late 1996 without vocals, and in 2007 Josh and Dan went back into the studio with Ray and “finished” it. Josh sent it to me and asked if I’d be interested in releasing it on the new Dromedary.

I was thrilled.

Throughout the winter and spring of 2010, Josh and I emailed back and forth, reviewing ideas for the record, nailing down a track sequence (Josh had very specific plans in this area), discussing the possibility of a tour. There was excitement.

In October, Josh had assembled some early members of the band and played Shirk Circus music for the first time in a decade at our CMJ showcase at Maxwell’s. Josh’s guitar work was brilliant, his soloing masterful, and his voice in peak form.

That was the last time I saw him.

Josh passed away in February of 2011. His loss was enormous. His impact seems to have actually increased since he’s left; the bands and musicians he played with seem to miss him more every day. A great artist will have that sort of impact, I guess; you don’t realize just how great he is until he’s not there. A great person has the same impact, and although I didn’t know Josh as well as I would have liked, he was, by all accounts, a great person as well.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the most tasteful way to pay tribute to Josh, to the band (rounded out by Dan Smith on bass/vocals and Frank Lieberum on drums/vocals), and to this spectacular final document of Shirk Circus’ brilliance.

Josh asked Ray Ketchem to write some liner notes for the album, where he told the story of the recording itself. Unfortunately Josh was gone by the time Ray put pen to paper, but the result was an outstanding tribute. I think we all wrestled with whether they should be a part of the record, and ultimately they were left off – maybe because the record deserves to celebrate the band’s life, and not mourn Josh’s passing.

Still, the story Ray wrote was a touching tribute, and a testament to some talented guys. So I’m going to reproduce it (with some minor edits) here.


“He was uncertain about other things in his life, but when it came to his music Josh Silverman knew EXACTLY what he wanted. No time was needed to experiment. The studio was for making a document only.

I had documented Shirk Circus two times previously, for their well-received Bar/None LPs Words To Say and March, when we found ourselves back in my basement studio in Belleville, New Jersey on an autumn Saturday in 1996.

But we weren’t there to record Shirk. We had gathered to record a 4-song demo for Inger Lorre, an LA punk singer who had most famously been in The Nymphs.

The day promised to be interesting. Inger was being managed by Keith Morris, frontman of the Circle Jerks, who was coming with her to the studio. And there was talk of Jeff Buckley stopping in to add some harmonies.

Shirk and I were ready to roll when Keith called to cancel the session.

Josh suggested seizing the moment by banging through some old Shirk songs. This was surprising because Shirk Circus had been on hiatus. Their brilliant second record, March, had failed to earn the kind of attention it deserved, which had caused a lot of tension within the band. They were, for all intents and purposes, broken up. But here we were, all set to record – why not record…something?

Josh launched into the first track and I was blown away. “Did you guys rehearse that song recently?” I asked. They all replied, “No. That’s a really old song.”

And such was the whole day.

The classic lineup of Shirk Circus blazed through a collection of Josh’s earliest songs, some written while he was still a teen, in the way that only Josh, Frank and Dan could. By evening the band had 12 songs on tape.

Later that night we tried to cut the lead vocals, but Josh had a sore throat and wasn’t singing well. We agreed to come back to these unplanned recordings when we both had time.

Eleven years went by.

By summer 2007 I had moved into a new house and built a much better studio. I had toured Europe ten times as a drummer in my own band, and produced over a dozen albums for other artists. It began to bother me somehow that Josh and I had left these recordings unfinished. We agreed to get together, finally record the vocals, and do a few guitar overdubs. Dan even agreed to come in to sing the harmonies.

Josh sang over these 11-year-old recordings as if not a day had passed. Every vocal inflection and nuance was intact. As always, his musical precision was flawless.

I finished the mixes in September 2007.

Another four years later, these recordings are finally being released. It’s perfect that Dromedary, a ’90s label from New Jersey that ran in similar circles to Shirk back in the day, is bringing this to you.

Josh isn’t with us anymore. But he left us this, the final document of his songs with Shirk Circus. I hope it means half as much to you as it does to me.

-Ray Ketchem, July 2011″

Discography

Smallpox / D. Smith

d.smith is a reclusive musician, singer/songwriter and misanthrope, best known for his work with Bar/None recording artist Shirk Circus. In addition to temporary stints with Inger Lorre and The 65’s as well as releasing several solo efforts, he owns and operates Redrum Sound, a recording studio, and is also a founding partner of Rainhouse Multimedia, a production collaborative that provides audio and visual arts for film, television and the interwebs.

Thanks in large part to musical cohort Bobby Diamond, the band’s sound often seems difficult to pigeonhole. However, that is admittedly because they draw from such a wide range of influences, rather than from just sheer talent or originality. And while you may have an easier time getting tickets to a Zeppelin reunion than catching them live, they are in a state of constantly writing and recording new material and have been for years now, with all proceeds being donated to local dog rescue organizations.

Smallpox is an open-ended modern rock collaborative formed in 2019, featuring former members of Cupid and Psyche, Shirk Circus, The 65’s and The Subway Surfers.

Current members include Bob Diamond, Daniel Smith and Sigi Surf.

Discography

Stuyvesant

JERSEY CRUNCH-POP

Our flagship band, STUYVESANT is the reincarnation of two New Jersey rock bands that were born in the early 90s. Footstone and Friends, Romans, Countrymen shared many a stage and a lust for the “have a good time, all the time” ethos.

Comprised of singer/guitarists Sean Adams and Ralph Malanga, guitarist Eric Greenberg, bassist Jeffrey Crowe and drummer Scotty Imp, the band are lovely, mild-mannered gents who bash away at their instruments like deranged dads. Over 13 years, the band has produced a bunch of records and 9 kids, along the way called “A zillion times over more smart and more sincere than the latest batch of ersatz flakes hogging the limelight” by The Big Takeover, with Spin magazine adding “even with the suburban mollification of the Vans Warped Tour, down-to-earth, old-school pop-punk is still spry and kicking.”

Discography

Sugar Fight

“Rootless cheese with zero punk cred.”

Songwriter and bassist Mark Lerner says:

“I have been concentrating for years on near-classical chamber folky stuff and not really writing songs, but some time around December 2020 pop songs just started coming out of me. I remembered how fun it is to flex those particular muscles and indulge guilt-free in catchy writing and production. I now have a decent pile of these things.”

“Snowglobe” is a wistful meditation on leaving the city, with melancholy that is belied by a joyful pop-punk melody and walls of guitar.

“Fool Myself” wraps a Big Star and Cheap Trick inspired sound around a tale of self delusion.

One odd bonus about the pandemic is that amazing musicians are pretty free to do stuff, even if much of it has to be done remotely. So the “band” is really a supergroup of local Hudson Valley talent. Mark Lerner’s son, Lukas Lerner (Brass Orchid) played drums. Guitarist and studio wizard Chris Maxwell (Skeleton Key, Gunbunnies, and his own solo career) signed on for guitar and production. And for this single, lead vocals were split between Frank McGinniss (Frankie and His Fingers) and Peter Naddeo (Archipelago).

Lerner, who has also played bass in the chameleonic New York outfit Life in a Blender, John Linnell (TMBG)’s backing band The Statesmen, and folk-punkers Flat Old World, also sings on the Bandcamp-only bonus track, a cover of the obscure 1967 single “Rhoda Mendelbaum” by the Doughboys.

Discography

Tenterhooks

Tenterhooks

Disparate elements of pop, glam, garage and punk come together in Tenterhooks’ sound.

Fronted by Lenny Zenith, Tenterhooks is one of few transgender-led bands.  Veteran bass player James Pertusi, multi-faceted guitarist Hiro Suzuki and powerhouse drummer Scott Campbell round out the band.  Tenterhooks’ 2013 debut gig at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn was SRO, and attendees were incredulous that it was the band’s first show.  Their volatile, raw sets yielded propulsive indie pop with a punch.

Zenith began playing in New Orleans in his 20s, fronting several bands including RZA and Mink Bikini, and opening for major acts.

Throughout the 90s, Zenith and Pertusi were in NYC’s critically-acclaimed noise pop band Jenifer Convertible, whose releases – including 7″ single “Car Song/Co-Dependency,” produced by James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and a CD entitled Wanna Drag?, produced by Wharton Tiers (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) were well-received.

Recently profiled on Vice.com, Zenith will also be featured in the documentary film about the early New Orleans punk scene entitled Almost Ready.

Pertusi produced and engineered Tenterhooks’ debut EP at [the end] studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Kaiser Chiefs, Dirty Projectors), and released in 2015, Meanwhile in Another Part of Town was Tenterhooks’ only release. Zenith has gone on to found Xyyx Records, a label that works to provide a platform for trans and nonbinary artists.