The Criswell Collective is the pet project of Brad "Brtaddy" Fowler. Like many of his other projects and those of his associates, the act is virtually unknown to those outside Knoxville because widespread recognition is of little interest. Beyond that, the group is still somewhat of a mystery to locals and the man behind the project himself, even in its fifth year.
Having been through fluctuating lineups, with rotating additional players, at its core the collective is made up of the duo of Fowler and drummer Daniel McBride (also of The Blaine Band). Fowler admits that the rest is unpredictable to say the least. With a "hazy" status applied to the rest of the occasional cast, an appearance by The Criswell Collective can mean any number of things.
"As confusing as it is, having The Criswell Collective on a bill means that I will show up with some songs, be they acoustic, electronic, or the band set up," Fowler explains. "They share some of the same songs in every format but they each also have exclusive songs.
"With the band, I want to step on stage, bash out the songs and step off with as little filler as possible. The acoustic act is more laid back, and I try to be more than just a guy with a guitar, and bring the audience into it where we can joke around and not be so uptight. I don't enjoy going to acoustic shows where I have to tiptoe around with the fear of getting shushed. I believe it's the performer's duty to demand your attention, and if that doesn't happen, it's back to the drawing board. The electronic set is a continuous stream of songs and samples that ranges from 20 to 30 minutes where I try to invoke an uncomfortable feeling in people. I get a lot of nervous laughs at electronic shows. I draw inspiration from social interactions and the anxiety that I get from stepping out of my home. There is a little humor in a lot of the songs. I also draw a lot from pop culture, mostly pre-1960s horror and sci-fi culture."
As the act began as a recording outlet for Fowler's more difficult-to-place writings, Criswell Collective has an abundance of releases. In its five albums to date, little has been consistent enough to give a succinct description but has included digital beats, vocals that range from spoken samples to holla-back-girl-style rhythmic chants to Animal Collective-ish yelping, and electronic backgrounds resembling spook-house organs and other bleeps and bloops. These recorded tracks diverge significantly from the live presentation, which is translated differently depending on who's playing but is typically more organic. Fowler tells that his upcoming recordings may soon follow suit.
"I just write until it feels complete," says Fowler of his approach. "Where the older songs were punk rock songs played on keyboards, I've been trying to write on a looser formula that I'm less comfortable with. I just got a grand piano where I live, and I've been writing a lot on that, so where the older songs were layers of keyboards, this record will have songs where it's layers of piano. I pull inspiration from a lot of different styles and genres so it's never predictable what kind of song the next will be. I just sit down with an instrument and write something. Most of this goes in the trash bin in my brain. ... I'm currently working on an acoustic split with HeadFace, and I'm also working on a record called 'Let's Get Miserable!!!' that I hope will be out by early September."
As a former associate of the now-defunct Whisk-Hutzell label/collective, Criswell Collective displays the standard traits that still bind this tight-knit community of musicians: an affinity for The Pilot Light, membership in a handful of familiar acts and little ambition to make a name outside the city limits.
"I have nothing to prove to anybody but myself," Fowler points out. "I've never tried to advance the project past the local scene because that is a whole other ball game. I just want to play the kind of songs that I want to hear and play the kind of shows that I want to see ... I've always have been very excited by the local scene. I don't think it's cliquey, but I do think that some performers go about their craft in ways that don't jive with other performers and venues, but I'm down to shake anybody's hand and see what they do."
Tonight, The Criswell Collective joins overlapping acts Burning Itch and Daniel McBride for a gig at The Well. Music starts at 9 p.m., and there is a $5 cover.
Forever Yung: Following a month of touring, Yung Life returns to Knoxville to celebrate its album release. The band plays The Pilot Light Saturday night with Shy Boy and Mito Band. The show is slated for 10 p.m. and costs $5.
Clothesing time: Plainclothes Tracy plays its final show (or so they say) Tuesday night at The Well. Gamenight opens the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $5.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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