Listen Up: Big City Circus takes on corporate America

Big City Circus: Frank Fournier, Greg Herron and Jamie Russell.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Big City Circus: Frank Fournier, Greg Herron and Jamie Russell.

Greg Herron isn’t an acrobat, but he was 30 feet in the air when he first heard Big City Circus.

“I’m a lineman for AT&T, so I’m climbing poles all day,” Herron said. “I was working in their neighborhood. I hear bands in every neighborhood. You have somebody playing drums or guitar. I was up there doing my thing, and I heard them playing. I went like, ‘Wow, this sound different.’”

Big City Circus: drummer Jamie Russell (from left), guitarist/vocalist Frank Fournier and bassist Greg Herron.

Photo by Michael Donahue

Big City Circus: drummer Jamie Russell (from left), guitarist/vocalist Frank Fournier and bassist Greg Herron.

“So I thought at lunch I’ll go over there and see if I can find the house. ... I’ve heard bands before, but I’ve never heard anything interesting enough to get down off the pole.”

Still wearing his hard hat, orange vest, tool vest and work boots, Herron walked up the driveway of the house where the music came from and met Frank Fournier, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, and Jamie Russell, the drummer and backing vocalist. “I said, ‘How you guys doing? You need any help?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we need a bass player.’”

They invited him in, and Herron played bass on some of their songs. “I played like three or four songs and had to go back to work.”

“When he left, Frank and I were just kind of sitting around: ‘Did that really just happen'? And he’s good,” Russell said. “It clicked. It just seemed to work. He came back again, and we played some more songs, and it just fell into place. It’s just insane.”

“It was rock and roll like I’d never heard it played,” said Herron, who has been in several bands. “I’ve lived in Memphis all my life, so I’ve heard all the rock and roll and blues stuff. It kind of had an edge to it that I didn’t hear anywhere else.”

Fournier described their music as straight-up rock and roll. “We just kind of grab onto the underlying three chords that never change in rock and roll, and we speed it up, sing a little bit faster or whip off on a tangent occasionally. A quick little nod to reggae, a little a cappella nod — a lot of nods.”

“Operator” was the song Herron heard when he was on the pole. “It’s kind of about when times are tough and a lot of people, especially in a recession, around you might just seem a little more uncertain than usual,” said Fournier, who writes the band’s music and lyrics. “You can kind of give up, or if you don’t know how to fight for yourself or how to make the best of things, you latch onto somebody who’s really good at that. ‘Operator’ is a military term. It’s the guy who sweeps in and saves the day.”

Fournier also came up with the band’s name. “I was originally gonna say ‘Bluff City Circus,’ but it was too easy, I think. ‘Big City’, to me, left us open to a lot more things to poke fun at. So, it kind of gives us national leverage instead of just the local news.”

Big business is one of their favorite targets. Fournier is an information technology account manager, and Russell is a marketing manager for a local regional bank.

Corporations are what get to Fournier. “Something about it just scares me crazy. There are corporations out there that do the best in retail anywhere and they don’t pay their employees enough money to buy products made anywhere but overseas or give them health care or treat them with any amount of respect. ... It just seems like when the big companies do it, it makes it OK for the little guys.”

Stage attire for Big City Circus is business suits with cut-off sleeves and pants. The ridiculousness of “big city business” is “kind of what we’ve picked on with the clothes,” Fournier said. “It used to be this really big deal to get a professional job and you were this pillar of society. It really has unraveled, so to speak. Some of the luster has been torn away like sleeves.”

They will be selling T-shirts at their show. One of them features their “corporate clown design.” One eye is a coffee cup, another is a calculator. The nose is a paperclip, and the mouth is a keyboard.

They will debut their first demo at Friday’s show. “We’re going to do free digital downloads if you bring your MP3 player or iPod and connection cables,” Fournier said. They also will give out CDs.

The album is titled Demorandum. “Again playing off the office politics,” Fournier said.

All the band members love “office lingo,” he said. “Our favorite at the moment is ‘human capital.’ That means people that work for you. You call them ‘human capital.’ It’s so demeaning.”

Big City Circus with Covergeist

10 p.m. Friday at Neil's Bar & Grill, 1835 Madison. Cover: $5; 278-6345.

Listen Up spotlights area performers. Michael Donahue can be reached at 529-2797.

© 2011 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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