Post Rock/Prog trio Pharaoh Loosey had already decided on the Mad Frog as the venue to celebrate the release of its debut CD, (h)wak formal, but when they ventured into the Corryville club’s catacombs, they found an ideal gig location.
“The basement has hieroglyphics and other Egyptian paintings on the walls, and we went down there and said, ‘This is interesting,’ ” Pharaoh Loosey drummer Wayne Kilgard recalls over a round of Pabst Blue Ribbons at the Stockyard Cafe, the site of the band’s 2009 live debut. “Given the name of our band, we decided to do the show down there.”
“They have DJ nights (in The Mad Frog basement) and we talked the owner into ripping out a half wall and making it into a full stage,” bassist Eric Osmanoglu says. “So we ended up being one of the first live bands to ever play down there. His wife had done all the paintings and she was like, ‘Don’t touch my paintings.’ We were like, ‘We’re Pharaoh Loosey … we want to showcase your paintings.’ It went over really well.”
Pharaoh Loosey is no stranger to going over well. Since assembling the keyboards/bass/drums improv instrumental outfit in 2009, Osmanoglu, Wayne Kilgard and his older brother/keyboardist Grant Kilgard have amassed a loyal audience through consistent gigging and maintaining fan contact via social networking.
“It’s been a huge learning experience to do all the stuff that it takes to be in a professional band,” Osmanoglu says. “To see the progress we’ve made and play the shows that we’ve played, we’ve just become better at putting together a show that piques people’s interest.”
When Pharaoh Loosey launched in 2009, the trio had some musical background but little practical experience. Osmanoglu and Wayne Kilgard met at Lakota East High School when their families moved to the area; the trio had played together with a friend in a post-high school basement band before Osmanoglu moved back to New Jersey. Osmanoglu was playing in a pick-up Blues band when a random conversation with Wayne Kilgard in late 2008 sparked them to restart the band.
“These guys were jamming together and the cards went the way they did,” Osmanoglu says.
“They came to New Jersey a couple of times and we had impromptu jam sessions. We always had a musical bond.”
The three members lived in a Camp Washington loft apartment and practiced at the nearby Goodstuff facilities. Their daily commute took them past the Stockyard, amidst the industrial wasteland of warehouses and companies along Spring Grove Ave., so when they decided to start playing out, they approached owner Cheryl Albert about playing there. Albert, who also owns a T-shirt company, made the band’s first shirt from their flyer art.
“I’m from New Jersey and these guys are from like Illinois and Georgia,” Osmanoglu says. “We kind of started from nowhere. We didn’t grow up playing here and we didn’t know a lot of people, so that’s why we chose (the Stockyard). From here, we just slowly expanded. Cheryl gave us our start.”
The keyboard/bass/drum set-up isn’t necessarily unique, but Pharaoh Loosey has put their own stamp on the idea with an instrumental gene splice of Prog complexity, Post Rock vibrancy and Jazz Fusion improvisational methodology. Grant Kilgard is a textural keyboardist, playing foundation and melody simultaneously, Osmanoglu brings a guitarist’s perspective to the bass and Wayne Kilgard is an amazingly musical drummer. Together the trio makes sounds that would be impressive for a quintet.
“That’s probably the number one thing I hear when we play out of town for the first time: ‘I can’t believe how much sound is coming from you guys,’ ” Wayne Kilgard says. “I think that’s part of the appeal.”
All of this is exhibited in full on (h)wak formal, the title of which comes from Wayne Kilgard’s somewhat glib explanation of Pharaoh Loosey’s malleable sound, more fully explained on the band’s website (pharaohloosey.com).
“It’s kind of making fun of genres in general, both the categorization of music and the ridiculous genres you hear, especially the combinations,” Kilgard says with a laugh. “So ‘Whack Formal’ was one of those things I threw out there and it kind of stuck. You always get that question when someone hears you’re in a band — ‘What kind of music do you play?’ So we just started telling people, ‘Whack Formal.’ And people were interested and we embraced it.”
Pharaoh Loosey has evolved considerably since the Jersey jams that inspired the members to take the next logical step. While improvisation is still a major component of the band’s creative arsenal, the strengthening of the musicians’ chemistry and their improvement as players has led to more structured writing and performing habits.
Although the trio often fleshes out their live shows with guest musicians — mostly drawn from whoever’s on the bill with them — the members seem fairly adamant in maintaining the core band and sonic approach, which translates plainly into “no guitars.” Grant Kilgard, whose keyboards represent a major portion of the sonic formula, likes that framework.
“I like it because I can lay back a little and play minimalistic, chords and such,” he says. “Usually, I really overplay a lot.”
“He’s the lead player,” his brother points out. “He fills a shit-ton of sound, especially live. He’s making a lot of noise.”
Pharaoh Loosey begins a month-long residency at Stanley’s Pub Wednesday to promote (h)wak formal (which is also available in glow-in-the-dark vinyl) and show off some new sonic directions.
“We’re writing the next thing and seeing what direction we can go in now,” Wayne Kilgard says. “We still love to just go into outer space. We’ll jam for an hour at a time and see where it goes.”
“That’s one of the most liberating things,” Osmanoglu says of the jam sessions. “It’s having a vision of the sound we want to go for next. I feel like we’re more capable now of creating control.” ©
PHARAOH LOOSEY performs each Wednesday in April at Stanley’s Pub. The band plays The Heights Music Festival this Friday (9 p.m. at Mac’s Pizza Pub)