Enormous Richard

By K. P. Gamage

At first encounter, Enormous Richard seems to be just another great party band: rhythmic, danceable music with lots of antics on stage, lots of interaction with the audience and lots of humor. They're the kind of band that easily spends ten to fifteen minutes of their show accompanying the audience in an impromptu version of the Jaegermeister song, as they did recently at Uncle Pleasant's. They're fun to listen to and fun to watch.

But a closer listen reveals some interesting and serious facets of the group. This is NOT just another goofy party band.

At their August 24 show at Uncle Pleasant's, the band passed out condoms while making jokes about sex, then launched into a polka song — about AIDS.

Clockwise from top left: Richard Skubish, Karl Mueller, Chris Bess, Matt Fuller, Jay Lavalesser, Chris King. Photo By Rob Gamage

In an interview before their October 5 performance at Uncle P's, singer Chris King explained that the songs come from "things we need to get off our chest." And the topics range from not wanting to take a chemistry exam to wanting to kill your boss to AIDS to the "naive patriotism" of the response to Desert Storm. Many of the songs seem to have a little story attached to them, which makes them more personal and accessible. "The more detail, the more interesting," says King. "It doesn't always have to be cast in universal terms."

Enormous Richard is made up of singer Chris King, 24; Richard Skubish, 25, acoustic guitar; Karl Mueller, 23, electric guitar; Matt Fuller, 23, drums; Chris Bess, 22, accordion (yes, folks, ACCORDION); and Jay Lavalesser, 19, bass. The band has been through several incarnations and the present group has been together about a year. They are based in St. Louis but spend a good deal of time on the road, playing clubs from New York to the Midwest.

In spite of their "goofy" antics on stage (a description which has started to make the band cringe), all of these oddly attractive young men are thoughtful and articulate and are committed to the band and making their own kind of music. At one point the band was on the verge of breaking up and decided to make a tape of all the songs they had written so far. "We're real archivists," says King. "No one's as interested in us as we are." When they heard the tape, they liked the songs a lot more than they thought and decided to keep playing.

There is no particular sound that the group is aiming for, although the accordion makes; for a unique flavor and there are no influences that can be picked out from the music. The band members all listen to different kinds of music and their tastes are eclectic. After some discussion it was decided that the songs are generally a collaborative effort. Everyone writes and though a few songs have been written entirely by one member they are always credited to the group.

So where did the name come from? Which one is Enormous Richard? There is a Richard in the band and the accordion player is somewhat large, if not exactly enormous. But neither of them is responsible for the name. Apparently, a former band member was at a fair in St Louis and had to use the Portapotty. His date asked him, "Oh, is the Little Elvis in trouble?" He replied, "That's Enormous Richard to you!" Chris King says he didn't get the joke at first. "I thought, oh yeah, let's be bigger than Little Richard! Let's be Enormous Richard," missing completely the reference to a certain portion of the male anatomy. By the time he got the joke, he says, it was too late. That was the name of the band.

Friends and fans can keep up with what's happening with Enormous Richard (and have some good laughs and thoughtful moments along the way) by getting on the mailing list of the Popular DickheadThe Enormous Richard Reader, a newsletter (sort of) put together by the band. It includes a list of Enormous Richard paraphernalia for sale, upcoming gigs, quotes and anecdotes and sometimes lyrics to songs. There are two tapes available of the band. One is Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac, covering 90 minutes of early material; the other is Too Drunk For Digital, 60 minutes of their Derby Eve set at Uncle Pleasant's here in Louisville. The tapes and newsletter can be had by writing to Chris King, 2115 Marconi, St. Louis, Mo. 63110, or at one of their shows.

After the band left here October 5, they were headed to Columbus, Ohio, then on to New York and Massachusetts. As for the future, there seems to be no definite game plan other than to keep writing and playing.

"It would be nice to make a record or two," says King and contacts are being sought along those lines. But for now, we'1l just have to enjoy Enormous Richard whenever and wherever we can.