Band of Pirates ~ A Pirate Band

The ship’s bell rings at eight in the evening, signaling a house guest has arrived at the front door. Armed with alcohol, acoustic guitars, and folders full of sheet-music, it is the start of an invasion as one by one a band of brigands file inside. There are two Pirate Lords, an undead Ship’s Doctor, a man simply known as Blackbeard, and also a Pirate Queen. Not long after, the quiet living room becomes their den. Bottles and cans of beer take over the free space on the coffee table. The floor is awash in a sea of sheet music as every seat in the parlor becomes occupied by pirates. The chatter of conversation competes with the cacophonous din of the “tuning song” as the musicians settle in. The Band of Pirates begin their weekly practice session with a rendition of Hoist the Colors, a call to arms for fellow brethren. As the music starts, the room grows hot in the early summer evening. Three acoustic guitars sound like twenty. Five to seven or eight vocalists, depending who else is paying a visit, becomes a resounding chorus. We throw open the transoms and crack the doors to let some air in. A wave of smoke and sound billows out into the neighborhood.

Pirate 7

Through the course of the evening the set consists of favorites from the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, dirgy and dirty shanties and other traditional seafaring songs mixed with a medley of music spanning the centuries to the contemporary~ all with their own piratical twist. Of the two Pirate Lords there is of course professional pirate impersonator Larry Combs as Captain Jack Sparrow. Classically trained on guitar he strums away sometimes drifting off making up his own lyrics in typical Captain Jack fashion. Rob Dorsey portrays Captain Hector Barbossa the other Pirate Lord, as a well -toured and seasoned musician he steers a tight ship and doles out new and revised “piratzed” lyrics of songs on their set list. Loren Muzzy plays the part of the undead ship’s Doctor, Dr. Graves who is often found lurking in the darkness of the dining room, shying away from the cigarette smoke with his skull shaker. His intensely operatic voice ruminates from the shadows. Dave Francy is Blackbeard who likens his gruff singing style to a combination of Mike Ness, Tom Waits, and a rabid gorilla. He throws himself headlong into the music looking up only to interject with the occasional off-color remark. Julie Langenderfer, a strong female vocalist, the only female vocalist in the band, effortlessly takes on her role of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley armed with a 12-pack of Hudy Delight, “quick Irish wit, and take no shit attitude.”

As the night progresses the atmosphere grows louder and bawdier especially if a bottle of Kraken is passed around. Friends and fellow pirate enthusiasts paying a visit outnumber the members of the band and all conversations meld together. The ribaldry and rivalry between the certain Captains grows more pronounced and somehow we have sailed into the stranger channels of YouTube. The ship is set adrift in uncharted waters signaling it is time to call it a night. By then it is just past midnight on a Wednesday morning, and even pirates need sleep. Since the beginning of 2014 this has been a typical Tuesday night here at Mayham Manor. On rare occasions has a practice session been skipped. It grows increasingly apparent with each passing play-through that the music cinches up tighter and tighter as each pirate finds their voice. When it is time to take the stage, the Band of Pirates is dressed in the full regalia of boots, breeches, shirts, waistcoats, and coats and are adorned with the accompanying armaments and accoutrements. Plugged in to all the equipment and ran through the venue’s sound system three guitars really do sound like twenty. The songs with the aid of audience participation are a resounding chorus. Though the Band of Pirates is still in its infancy and have only had the occasion to play out three times so far, two of which were Cincinnati Steampunk events, and other being the closing ceremonies of the Kentucky Black and Bluegrass Roller Derby Team. The future holds a lot of promise and many more adventures on the horizon.

Jessica Hopsicker: What is your musical background?

Pirate 5Rob Dorsey: I started teaching myself on the old upright piano in the house when I was 5. Then I did theory and piano lessons for ten years. I played brass and double reed instruments in band, and sang solo and ensemble in choir. I noodled at guitar for about ten years before starting to learn to play well enough to self-accompany and play rhythm guitar while singing in several bands. I performed, recorded, and did a little touring with several bands in Cincinnati in the ’90s. During that time I also began to seriously study Tuvan throat-singing and Tibetan chanting, which led to a lot of adventures. Eventually, I joined the Cincinnati-based world music/tribal jazz improvisation group Mayan Ruins, who I still actively perform and record with. Band of Pirates has been fantastic for letting me bust back out all my old guitars and pick back up playing regularly.

Pirate 3Larry Sparrow: When I was very young I would sit in my mother’s lap as she played the piano and put my hands over top of hers. It was a great feeling. So I’ve played music for most of my life. One day she was out in the yard and picked up a stick, she said “see you can play music with anything” and started beating on a log. It’s really left me open to the feeling of being a musician rather than a guitar player. I started playing trombone in 4th grade and went to Allstate band for 4 years. For my senior year of high school Miami University Oxford asked me to come and play with the Red Hawk band which is quite an honor. However, at the time I didn’t really have that direction in mind. I’ve been trained in classical, flamenco, and jazz leaving the other types of music to be my own projects to master. I’ve been caught up in a lot of quality non-musical projects over the last 16 years and this band represents a long sought-after rebirth of my musical side. I can play almost any musical instrument to greater and lesser degrees. Music knowledge is something that can be applied with diversity as it is felt in the heart.

Pirate 2Dave Francy: My father taught me guitar when I was very young. I used to sleep with my first guitar because I’d literally practice in bed until I fell asleep. Eventually, I started playing in punk and Oi bands in high school. Simultaneously, I was also playing in the church choir every Sunday in a catholic church. I actually learned most of what I know from the choir director there. I was doing that up to about seven years ago as professional welding took up too much time. Now, with this multiple sclerosis, I’m no longer welding and have refocused on doing music full-time. I couldn’t be happier.

Pirate 8BJulie Langenderfer: I was a theatre major in college and was a band and play nerd in high school. I’ve played piano for 20 years and dabbled in the guitar for the past 8. I was a choral and solo vocalist since freshman year of high school. Music is my first love. Classic rock above all else. I was a first soprano for years but most people don’t know womens’ voices change as well as boys. But it’s later in life. I’m a mezzo-soprano now. My lower register is much more comfortable than my high operatic voice that I hid behind for years.

 

Pirate 4BLoren Muzzy: I’ve enjoyed singing since before I could read or write and occasionally composing songs in my head since shortly thereafter. Early training included the Phoenix Boys Choir. Preforming had been strictly personal since high school until a somewhat recent cruel twist of fate saved a bit of my soul by tangling me into Zahara’s Web. After four years of finding peace, joy, and light in her sparkling shadow, the mad universe has risen my spirit further via the bottom of the sea and friendships fathoms deep. Long Live Dr. Graves.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: Why form a pirate band? Was it something you were drawn to, or did you approach the genre with trepidation?

Dave Francy: For me it was about rebooting my life after not being able to professionally weld anymore. I started playing guitar again to regain strength in my hands. It was purely to keep myself from going cabin fever crazy and try to retrain my fingers. Larry and Rob invited me to jam with them and I had a eureka moment. They both helped me develop a persona (still a work in progress) and as of 10 min ago I have a guitar being shipped because of the awesome fundraiser that was set up. With the addition of Loren and Julie, yourself and Mary Anne, I think the possibilities are endless.

Larry Sparrow: “Pirates for Parties” (my Jack agent) wanted me to expand the services we could offer. Being surrounded by such good talent and opportunities to make money with good friends, a pirate band was a natural progression.

Rob Dorsey: So I was asked to consider picking a POTC pirate to perform in compliment to Larry’s Jack early last year, and the only one that made sense for me was Capt. Hector Barbossa. It was a good fit and we were really able to develop the two rivaling Captains dynamic into a lot of good impersonation patter, story-telling, and working the crowd schtick.

Julie Langenderfer: I’ve been involved in little renfaires since early 2003. My first faire I was thrown in to play a pirate captain. I did some research and discovered that Grace O’Malley was a real person who lived in the Elizabethan era. She was from Ireland and quickly became known as the pirate queen after years sailing with her brothers and father. She sounded interesting so I took on her persona.   Loren Muzzy: I was fortunate enough to be friends w Captain’s Larry & Robossa some time before their original collaboration began. As the group began meeting & growing I was invited to attend “Pirate Practice”…new songs each time billowed our sails further & in no time our meta-eponymous moniker was born.

Pirate 1

Jessica Hopsicker: What type of work, mental and physical, went into constructing your pirate persona?

Dave Francy: I of course love Blackbeard. I’m kind of picking from the Assassins Creed version for costuming ideas. I need to get 26 guns. 13 pirate guns for his 13 Apostles and another 13 more steampunk style for the Airship Pirate version. I also love that Chinese female pirate however the name escapes me at the moment.

Larry Sparrow: Dressing as the character that I do takes a lot of work and I’ve been slowly perfecting it and modifying it to the ever-changing standards for about 10 years.

Julie Langenderfer: The costume has changed over the years but her quick Irish wit and no shit attitude has stayed the same in my performance of her over the past decade. Since she was a real person I have some facts to go on, but being involved in a group of such fun characters I tweak the truth a bit. I’ve always been a musician all my life and I’m so glad that I have this opportunity to expand my horizons of playing music I’ve loved my entire life. I’ve been in a band where we had only original music so it’s refreshing to be able to sing songs I already know and love.

Loren Muzzy: I’ll try to answer without repeating much of what my comrades have stated by focusing on the Grave matter at hand: It appears that, unbeknownst to me at the time, the Late Dr. Arlington Graves’ origin dates back a couple of years- I was asked to model for USS Nightmare cohort & makeup artist Jason Ervin for a shoot by published horror/fashion photographer Laura Dark of Columbus. The subject was a “pirate ghost” so I, having nearly no pirate gear, begged borrow from new friend Larry (‘there’s a Captain in there somewhere) Sparrow. The finished images show me gruesome & grizzly… Some months later Darkotica @ the Dock held “Pirate Night” and I was graced with said borrowed gear once more. Rather than get oat-meal faced, I went with simple theatrical makeup. Near a year passes, and my Captains call for a Doctor in the house. Not having a beard, unable to wear most hats, I devised a persona linked to the Disney franchise via MY Captain, Davey Jones, and the Flying Dutchman- an undead ship’s doctor who’s nearly had his humanity restored by “Captain” Will Turner (Boo. Hiss.) Graves, now late of the Dutchman, jumped ship in search of a “real” captain…Perhaps one of these rogues? It’s been a joy to add new songs (of piratical nature and non) as our group progresses and gels as a merry band, especially writing new lyrics/verses for them at times to represent us.

Rob Dorsey: To create a complete Barbossa costume was actually quite a bit a work, for myself and a couple of dedicated collaborators. Some of the pieces were findable as stock costume, collector reproductions or artisan pieces, but a lot of it had to be created by hand. I spent a lot of time building as accurate a copy of his pistol as possible, and Heather Lee Hitson spent innumerable hours sewing the elaborate vest and dress coat that I wear.

Jessica Hopsicker: How fine is the line between being a band primarily composed of Disney pirates and delving into the deeper more debaucherous waters of the piracy world?

Dave Francy: As much as I know that Disney created a pirate mythos that’s much more kid and family friendly I think they nailed the look and the costuming. Very dirty, very grungy. I think we push the envelope a bit. We’re definitely more adult in nature, especially doing the Derelict full verses and not censoring the classics. The nice thing about us is that we can look at a show, analyze the audience, and then make changes to the set list and costumes accordingly. Gives us much more flexibility in choosing performances.

Rob Dorsey: One of the gigs we were offered included providing music, and as Larry and I both played guitar we slowly began to explore the treacherous waters of pirate-themed songs. We initially put together about 8 to 10 songs specifically for Julie to perform along with us for this format, but then after that contractual gig we wanted to continue to explore the musical possibilities. This led to having Dave start to sit in on guitar, and Loren to join in as a male “featured vocalist.” The more we all worked on songs together, the more it was clear that we could craft a sound and personae “as a band” that somewhat transcended but included the individual “characters” that we portrayed. As a band, you want to have your own distinct approach and presentation that you find enjoyable and that sets you apart somewhat from others doing similar material… for us that involves emphasizing facets that we enjoy in traditional songs and piratizing lyrics and song elements from pieces that a lot of others wouldn’t consider at all. I’ve always performed original music or very original covers of music, so it was a great fit and a lot of fun for me.

Larry Sparrow: Pirates have been popular since the very beginning of their existence. Being in this band and moving towards our own darker sounds reflects who we are and that type of feeling that we like while performing our music. Working as an impersonator, it’s the personalized act of the actor that you are enjoying, not just the look. This band is a personal performance reflecting our group personality so it flows naturally with our custom costume selections.

Loren Muzzy: I find myself at terrifying moments the voice of calm/reason in an awesome storm of creative drive…Similarly, I seem to be the one with the most delicate sensibilities lyrically- eventually bowing to the context & texture of double-entendre “seaman’s talk” that exists in so much of the genre. I’m also the one rolling his eyes like an old man at the more raucous, even punk selections up for future shows…Always keeping in mind (and sometimes warning verbally) “Now, how would The Mouse feel about that?”

Julie Langenderfer: I think that the line is fine, but both sides are easily differentiated. There is the family friendly with the not so. The “POTC” movies were pg-13. There was a lot of jokes, lines, and things that certainly went over childrens’ heads, but were there to keep the historical aspect of the movies alive. The older crowds certainly picked up on them. Otherwise they most likely wouldn’t have been as popular as they are, and we wouldn’t be here today. Piracy in and of itself wasn’t family friendly. For gods sake, it was all about people taking things that really weren’t rightly theirs! What astounds me is that something so blatantly “sinful” has become a theme for 5 year olds birthday parties. But maybe that’s the recovering Catholic in me coming out.

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Jessica Hopsicker: How many of you in Band of Pirates call yourselves Captain?

Dave Francy: I haven’t officially claimed the Captain title yet. Still working on perfecting my Blackbeard. Once I get the right gear and have the persona complete.

Larry Sparrow: ME! I’m the Captain! There can be only one!

Rob Dorsey: Uh huh… I thought we named you the monkey

Larry Sparrow: Afraid of decapitation, Rob?

Rob Dorsey: More-so than deCaptaination? Not as long as I’ve recently palmed some cursed treasure… which comes up oftener than one might think.

Julie Langenderfer: I’ve been a Captain since I’ve been in pirate boots, my dear. Unlike the BOYS in this group, it may be clear to some who is the true captain here. I usually let them scuttle about congratulating themselves at being masters of the universe while I smile and nod.

Loren Muzzy: Captain? Madame it may be unclear as to whether I am a pirate ghost or a ghost pirate… but dammit Jess, I’m a doctor- not a captain.

Band of Pirates

Jessica Hopsicker: Hey, I’m just the ship’s publicist. Describe the band’s repertoire. What exactly goes into “piratizing” a song? And are you planning on penning some original music?

Julie Langenderfer: Our songs cover the gambit of pirate music and popular music of the last… What, 300 years? I think the audience loves it when we end a traditional sea shanty and go straight into a well-known song that has been played on the radio recently. Keeps things interesting! Piratizing songs is easier than it seems…. We try to take songs that have somewhat common themes and a lot are in the same minor key… And as the guys play them they all run together into a wonderful symphony of sea worthy tunes. The way we play them it’s almost obvious that Captain Blackbeard would have played Johnny Cash!

Rob Dorsey: I like to say that the band enjoys playing the hits of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s– the 1770’s, the 1880’s, and the 1990’s. Whenever a song was written, some part of its theme, lyrics, characterization, or tonal structure might suggest itself as something we’ll either incorporate or completely alter to “make it our own”– which I think is the heart of our piratical musical approach. It’s a similar approach to what Richard Thompson did with “1000 Years of Popular Music.” So whether it’s a somewhat spot on presentation of a song people wouldn’t necessarily associate with pirates, or our own rendition of a classic song of the sea, or a radical alteration something obscure that fits the jib of that show, we’re going to be doing it. And there may be some setting of prose to original music or some completely new songs that come into that mix as well.

Larry Sparrow: In picking song selections, we try to have some “up” songs in between our more harmony driven darker songs. Band of Pirates has a lot of interesting voices, so the music tries to reflect their nuances and highlights multiple harmonies. In regards to writing original music we have a lot of solid musical writers and I would like to see it happen although we have already done much to piratize cover songs into our own unique lyrics.

Dave Francy: I would say as far as piratizing cover songs, its a pretty simple process. First, see if you can change to major chords to minor chords like we did with Effervescing Elephant. If that doesn’t work well then move on to voicing. Singing with that pirate growl with a few words changed here and there. Adding rum is key. Pour it directly on the music sheets and let it do it’s magic. I definitely will be penning some original stuff. It’ll be a team effort for lyrics. I do have a few great chord progressions I’ve been messing around with.

Loren Muzzy: Perhaps you don’t understand the meaning of the word “pirate”, intoned Jack w equal parts serious & sloshy, once we elected to excise some extraneous verses from Voltaire’s “Beast of Pirates’ Bay” and I penned a self-referential one. The stringers know the science enough to transpose major keys in to minor (my fave of course) but changes of wording, tones, and pace are how we make each piece our own.

2014.06.07 Band of Pirates

Jessica Hopsicker: What do you foresee in the future of Band of Pirates and what kind of new and exciting prospects are on the horizon?

Rob Dorsey: We’ll keep doing regular local/regional shows somewhat regularly while we explore the possibility of playing fan conventions, festival and event work that involve more travel and higher compensation. There’s only so much plunder to be had in the immediate area. We have some exciting collaborations for shows in the works. We’ll be traveling to Louisville to perform with Drunken Sailor for Talk Like a Pirate Day. We’re also considering a longer term project performing an original cross-over steam pirate/space opera with some members of Automaton and others.

Dave Francy: I would love to do some YouTube stuff. Music video/skits that go viral would be epic. Original music is coming. I’m toying around with a few chord progressions and a possible Band of Pirates origin story. Today, I’m working on a song about Tommy Ramone.

Larry Sparrow: I have an expectation that the Band of Pirates will be very rewarding musically and very successful obtaining venues and shows. As the band becomes tighter it will become available to a wider area of bookings and at that point we will be able to do some traveling and go places we would unlikely be able to by ourselves.

Julie Langenderfer: We also have some songs in the works where we really change the lyrics to fit our pirate theme… Look for the Wreck of the Nikolai Tesla set to a possibly recognizable tune! I would hope that we continue to entertain our fellow weirdos in the Cincinnati community and also start traveling to nearby cities to spread the good word of Band of Pirates to like-minded groups. I’m no booking agent, but we all have our feelers out in the group for future gigs and places to play.

Loren Muzzy: A wholly original piece would be a fantastic undertaking as a group of poets, writers, and musicians…somewhere on the infinite horizon of possibilities. We are most assuredly looking forward to our show with Drunk & Sailor on Talk Like a Pirate Day amongst upcoming plans (Dr. Graves will be out of the office some this fall aboard the USS Nightmare but hopes you come visit!).

Band of Pirates 2

Jessica Hopsicker: Lastly, what would YOU do with a drunken pirate?

Julie Langenderfer: Oh and I would tie him up and force feed him spam.

Dave Francy: Drunken pirate you say? One word. Sodomy.

Rob Dorsey: Same as I always do… take another drink myself, stomp on the 1, and bellow out the next verse.

Loren Muzzy: What WOULD I do… Barter his soul to the highest bidder.

Larry Sparrow: Put him in a dress and then go dancing.

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