Marchfourth Marching Band is probably the least cliché band in history, but their show can be described by one trite phrase—you have to see it to believe it.
Stilt walkers, firey baton twirlers and creepy-cool costumes combine for a trippy and whimsical show that’s beyond words.
“I’m still waiting for an accurate description of us that doesn’t take a paragraph,” jokes band leaders and ringmaster John Averill.
Known by fans as M4, the band of 30 ragtag circus performers and musicians from Portland is actually serious business when they’re not on stage, as Averill explains to College Times.
College Times Last time I saw you guy in Phoenix, your bus broke down and people from the crowd threw cash on the stage for repairs. Were you able to get back on the road with that cash?
Averill: [Laughs] Yes and no! That was our first bus, “Razzle Dazzle.” After that show we drove to Scottsdale, where we were staying. The next morning the bus left for the shop in Phoenix, as we had the day off. As soon as it got on the freeway, it spilled out just about every imaginable fluid in one belch. And that was it, the end of an era, [which was a]pretty amazing journey, considering we bought Razzle for $10,000 on eBay and drove it approx 350,000 miles before all over the country. The money the fans gave us went into towing fees, I suppose!
I spent that day finding us a charter bus to L.A. (we had a 3 p.m. gig in Pasadena the following day) while Dan dealt with the driver and the dead bus. Some very nice people carpooled us to get our stuff off the bus and let us stay at their house in Phoenix. The charter stretch-van picked us up at 7 a.m. and we got to Pasadena in time, played another show that night, got dropped off, then rented vans to complete the last week of tour. Didn’t miss a gig!
You literally ran away with the circus. What were you doing before M4 came to be?
I did graphic design in L.A. for several years, then started working on film and commercials as a model builder, which led me to work in Portland at Will Vinton Studios (now Laika). My last job there was as a stop-motion animator on a show called “The PJ’s,” which ran on FOX for three seasons before being cancelled. The work dried up and most of my co-workers followed the next job. I took unemployment and started over with the goal of becoming a working musician. I never imagined the main vehicle for this would be a circus. It’s like I helped build a machine and it chased me out of town.
Do you ever have plans to get a “normal” job again?
I can’t go back to working for someone else. As much as it would appear M4 is all fun and games, this band is a business. When you start something that becomes your business, then you have to tend to that business 24/7. With M4, there is never a moment where something cannot be worked on, whether its the mundane stuff, tour planning and logistics, staffing the roster, scheduling, or the fun stuff like writing and playing music. Most of my time spent on M4 is in my head. I wish I could get everything done that I see in my head. Fortunately we have a team, but we really need help with stuff, such as marketing. It’s never ending.
I’ve seen you twice now—once at Tucson’s Hotel Congress and once here in Phoenix at Crescent Ballroom. Both were very different experiences, just based on the venues’ respective sizes. What’s your ideal venue?
I loved those Congress shows, even though the band barely fit on the stage. I just like that rowdy small club bar energy. In general, my ideal indoor venues are theaters with big stages where the stage isn’t too high and there are no seats and everyone’s dancing on the floor, and the only seats are in the balcony. Outdoor shows festival shows are great too.
How do you translate your fun live image into an album?
That’s still a work in progress. We’ve tried to capture that energy in the studio, but it’s still never going to be like the live experience. We’re like the Grateful Dead in that respect. As far as future recordings, I’d love to experiment more in the studio and make records that stand alone as something you would listen to. We’re overdue for an album. [We’re] probably going to start recording in March.
Marchfourth Marching Band, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, Phoenix, 602.716.2222, crescentphx.com, Friday, January 23, 8:30 p.m., $16-$20