Band Adds Twist to Tradition-Based Genres
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By Leslie Hansen
For Reporting Texas
To the untrained ear, it may be difficult to classify the sounds of BlueSqueezeBox. Members of the Austin-based band consider themselves cabaret, but lately they’ve been playing more swing. Tom Waits is their patron saint but they’ve also tried their own version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
“The trick is getting people excited,” said guitar player Adam Brisbin.
While SqueezeBox includes drums, bass, trumpet, guitar and a banjo, the belle of this eclectic ball is the accordion. The group is in fact centered around the vision of Clif Tipton and his blue, eBay-purchased accordion.
Tipton grew up in a preacher’s family in Liberty, Texas, where his sisters and parents performed together as a gospel quartet before he was born. Though he was too young to join the family’s quartet, Tipton played saxophone in his high school band and later learned to play the guitar and piano. It wasn’t until the age of 40, 10 years ago, that he taught himself the accordion when his mother grew tired of hers and passed along the instrument.
“I connected to it more than other instruments,” Tipton says. “It’s expressive. The harder you push the louder it gets.”
The accordion, usually associated with folk music, is somewhat of an elusive character among instruments. It’s appeared in multiple genres, but not usually prominently.
“I think the accordion is having a renaissance,” Tipton says.
Tipton is also responsible for most of the vocals. His voice is striking – clear yet raspy and thick. It’s a voice that doesn’t just sing lyrics, it growls with every squeeze of the accordion.
Another oddity of BlueSqueezeBox lies in the age range of its members. Adam Brisbin (guitar), Colin (bass) and Anders Zelinski (drums) are all in their early 20s. Banjo player Zachary Herigodt is in his 30s, as is Brandon Brown on trumpet. The age gap is so vast, Tipton notes that often when he suggests covers for the band, the five younger members haven’t always heard of the song.
While Tipton writes some music for the band, most songs, like “Moonlight in Vermont” and ‘September Song,’ are covers they reinvent and tweak until it’s fit for their 6-person experiment.
“There is something I hear in a song that has to resonate with me. I know it as soon as I hear it. I have to identify with all of the songs that we do,” Tipton says.
Whenever he suggests a song, any of the members have an opportunity to veto it. Tipton says the band isn’t really a democracy, but more of a benevolent autocracy with him in charge.
In October, BlueSqueezeBox recorded their first CD, “You Want More,” in San Marcos at Fire Station Studios that has hosted legends like Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Their first album boasts covers like the classic jazz ballad “After You’ve Gone” along with a few of Tipton’s own songs.
In a city like Austin where music is deeply engrained in the local culture, this band stands apart.
“There’s a lot of variety in what we do,” Tipton says. “We are different from other Austin bands because of our instrumentation and genre.”
For the final song on their recording, BlueSqueezeBox tackled Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Who knew disco and cabaret got along so well?
“It’s unusual, what we do,” Tipton says. “People are surprised they like it.”