Troupe Carnivàle offers ‘neo-vaudeville’ to Eugene
EUGENE, Ore. – For Jason Cowsill, music is three-dimensional.
And for Jackie Cowsill, each track on their debut album, “Skaal Krush,” has a story with a strong protagonist. Together, they make music that bridges the nostalgia of vaudeville with outlaw country.
Troupe Carnivàle, fronted by Jackie and Jason Cowsill, is a six-piece group that is very much concerned with immersing listeners.
“Each song has its own identity and space to it,” Jason Cowsill said.
“You almost get 12 different characters throughout the entire album,” Jackie Cowsill said. “So I think the subtleties of the recording help transport you to that place where you can visualize who this person is and the environment they’re in. I like that concept of transporting people to another place.”
But Troupe Carnivàle is more than just a collection of musicians; they’re entertainers. Their live shows are less of a concert and more of an act: part medicine show and part alternative cabaret. “It’s dark; most people call it dark,” Jason Cowsill said. “People have described it as great music to drink by.”
Both transplants to Eugene via California, Jackie and Jason connected under a mutual love for the music of the ’50s and ’60s.
“It’s rare because both of us are the same age more or less and it’s not an age that likes the music that we like,” he said.
“Jason was playing solo at what used to be Joe Fed’s,” Jackie Cowsill said. “I was looking for some new live music so I went to one of his shows and he was playing a song that I knew so I jumped up and harmonized with him and crashed his show. Someone said early on that we were greater than the sum of our parts.”
As a duo, Jackie and Jason perform acoustic sessions covering the likes of the Monkees and the Beatles. The pair also performs as part of The Blue Valentines, a five-piece Eugene band inspired by rock ‘n’ roll from the ’50s to today. From a desire to explore a new style, the pair set out on the Troupe Carnivàle project with the help of esteemed music producer Billy Barnett.
But Jackie and Jason find it difficult to categorize Troupe Carnivàle within a broader musical spectrum. “We’ve yet to come up with a good term that describes us,” Jason Cowsill said. “There is not a genre.”
“We weren’t trying to emulate anybody, which leaves you in an odd place because you can’t point and go, ‘Oh yeah, we were trying to do something like Tom Waits or we were trying to do something like Phish or something like that,’” he said.
And because he views “Skaal Krush” as simply a “snapshot in time,” it’s their live performance that characterizes the Troupe Carnivàle aesthetic.
“We like the idea of neo-vaudeville, where it’s not just a band playing at an audience. It’s an experience that the audience takes part in and we’re all part of it,” he said. “It’s not us looking at them and doing something to them or for them; it’s circular. That’s really attractive to us.”