Traipsing through a Technicolor conception of our generation's Old Weird America, some trashed would-be troubadour crops up with a pair of suspenders helping keep his pants at about waist level. The pants may at one time have belonged to someone's grandfather. On occasion, the guy wears a gas mask, too.
M. Kevin Incroyable isn't a transient. But he does take it on the road, working to spread his stumbling take on Americana—one that's tempered by punky intentions and subservient to a netherworldly cabaret show.
"There's usually some burlesque. There's some magic. And there's always music," the bandleader says over the phone from his Seattle home, going on to describe the time-warped scene he and his band, L'Orchestre d'Incroyable, inhabit. "There's something very vital about it, even though it could be more stodgy than a punk party, because people are all dressed up."
Last time the band hit Dante's, it saw fit to bring along a few dancers. Though women aren't slated to be in various stages of undress this time around, Incroyable might substitute a licentious verse for that missing visual experience. Or his band might just delve into a selection of gospel tunes.
Because of that wide berth, Incroyable, whether fronting the orchestra or performing as half of the Peculiar Pretzelmen, finds himself playing alongside some dissimilar groups.
"I think people don't know what to do with us yet," he says. "We have an upright bassist, a cello and a guy playing banjo. So, I guess, there's an inevitable association [with folk music]. But there's a theremin player, and our drummer's a stoner-rock drummer."
Adding to the general confusion is the band's appearance. Donning those gas masks makes for a difficult fit on some folksy bills. But Incroyable says it's not just for show.
"There's an ongoing performance experiment I'm perpetuating that follows the bomb-shelter band, traveling from city to city, carrying messages of dying societies in folk tale and song form," he says. "Orchestre d'Incroyable was formed to embody this concept. And we have, on occasion, gone to great aesthetic and conceptual lengths to manifest the metaphor."
The purposeful pastiche of culture started for Incroyable during his teens, when he gigged in Philly punk acts. The form proved too limiting, and the bandleader eventually found himself hooking up with some other folks.
"I started working with a couple of hip-hop groups in Philly around the time I started to get really enthusiastic about there not being rules about what sounds go together," he says. "For this track, the drums'll be tap dancing. For this track, there'll be piano."
Incroyable's prismatic view of complimentary sounds colors his choice of instruments as well. He makes many of them himself: It's relatively low-rent—in part what attracted him—but building cigar-box guitars enables the multi-instrumentalist to fully realize the music he hears in his head.
"I've come across a lot of them," Incroyable says of encountering various homemade stringed instruments. "I had an idea…from having played some that other people owned. The first one I made, I used a Leatherman [multitool]. That was my only tool." That first attempt at working up a handmade guitar didn't go too well, but with the orchestra, Incroyable plays a pair of instruments he made, each "tuned esoterically."
The ensemble's 2014 release schedule is a bit more tangible than its leader's theories on music, though. A forthcoming series of six EPs, which will be released bimonthly, comes with a few subscription options. And since it's Incroyable, there's some novel scheme pushing through the project.
"We're doing a home delivery service within a certain range. If you pay a little extra, we'll come deliver [the records] to you. For a little bit extra, we'll sing for you," he says. "We're trying to see if people want to pay a lot extra. Weâll show up and make you a sandwich or wash your car.â
SEE IT: L'Orchestre d'Incroyable plays Dante's, 350 W Burnside St., with SDM and Strangled Darlings, on Thursday, Dec. 19. 9 pm. $5. 21+.