Their dark humor has been compared to that of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. They’ve been called macabre, “folk noir” with a curiously unthreatening lilt. How do their lyrics inform those of us blithely living in what may well be the beginning of societal deconstruction, the aftermath of all we hold near and dear? And how do their outfits – all those feathers and contrasts in black, white and the occasional yellow or purple – uplift us from our plight?
These questions and more can be answered in the persons of Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris when Charming Disaster returns to Rough Draft this week. The Brooklyn-based duo, primed to present the odd and offbeat in storytelling and music, will be at Rough Draft Bar & Books on Wednesday, August 8 at 7 p.m.
Bisker and Morris were each performing in larger bands when they met and decided to join creative forces. Morris says that they made a list of subjects they wanted to write songs about, and it immediately went to the dark side. Bisker says, “We were interested in storytelling. The first thing we thought of was a living woman in love with a ghost; it connected with our sensibilities. And that first night we were already on a trend: dead cat stories.” Sounds creepy, but she laughs. “I have too much of a sense of humor to be a good Goth.”
“We met in a bar where my band – strings and horns and backup singers and drums – was playing,” says Morris. “I was excited to learn about another band like mine, and about possibly sharing a bill together. But Ellia, thinking of the logistics, suggested that we just start out writing songs together.”
“With just two of us,” she says, “we could rehearse as much as we want. When you’re a prolific songwriter, it’s frustrating to not be able to get with your band very much to develop new material. The two of us have written over 50 songs together; we’ve released two albums and have another in the works. And it turns out we write well together. We read a lot, and our music is as influenced by books as it is by other music. We’re working on a song cycle around Marie Curie and her work, and songs about Houdini and his spiritualism.”
Fascinated with the early 20th century when the occult crossed paths with scientific developments, the pair turns anachronistic historical details into lyrics. “We play bookstores from time to time because we are a literary-oriented band,” she says. “When we played Rough Draft last April, after many songs I was recommending books, like, ‘You should check out The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum.’ Amanda [Stromoski, co-owner of Rough Draft] was sitting in the back of the room looking up the titles I mentioned and said she didn’t have any in stock. So this time we’ve compiled a booklist ahead of time: folklore, fantasy, graphic novels.”
As a part of Charming Disaster’s Summerland Tour (“Summerland” is what the spiritualists called the afterlife, by the way), Bisker and Morris’s return to Rough Draft will “explore the different kinds of trouble two people can get into with a ukulele and a guitar.” Check them out at www.charmingdisaster.com and in person at Rough Draft.
Charming Disaster, Wednesday, August 8, 7 p.m., $5 donation, Rough Draft, 82 John Street, Kingston; (845) 802-0027, www.roughdraftny.com.