By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
The three guys performing at the Mason Jar on a spring Friday night have a crowd bunched close to the stage, including a clique of teenage girls who occasionally yell "I love you" and "You're sexy" at the band of siblings -- yet another boy brother band, in the tradition of the Osmonds and the Bee Gees.
But this isn't your typical teenybopper scene, and these bros are even spookier than the Jacksons.
The Calabrese brothers -- Jim, Bobby and Dave -- are shrouded in fog, clad in black, accessorized with iron crosses, baubles with black-and-white photos of Dracula and the Bride of Frankenstein, and chrome accents, singing about shrunken heads and funerals.
It sounds too good to be true, that the Valley could be home to what is essentially the Anti-Hanson, but Calabrese is indeed exactly that, even if its brand of fun horror rock isn't nearly as scary as "MMMBop." And though you may not have heard of Calabrese, hundreds of horror-rock fans across the globe have, scoring the brothers a record deal with horror-rock label Antidote Records and soundtrack spots on two B-movies.
The horror-rock genre draws a tight-knit, inclusive group of fans who gather on the Internet, sharing affections for splatter horror films like The Evil Dead and nurse unhealthy obsessions with the Misfits, as well as bands like Electric Frankenstein and Tiger Army. The brothers Calabrese are no exception.
Whatever dark force conjured this trio of like-minded evil music lovers -- whose ages span 12 years -- it certainly wasn't mom and dad.
"Our parents are totally unmusical," Bobby, the 19-year-old vocalist/guitarist and middle sibling, says, laughing. "Our dad said once that the only time he'd bought a record was for someone else, which totally blew our minds. Where'd we get the musical talent from?"
Yet besides 28-year-old vocalist and bass player Jim and 16-year-old drummer Dave, you'll also find Dad (Jim Sr.) Calabrese roaming around at the band's shows, helping load in equipment or selling the band's merchandise. "Theoretically, it'd be better if we could get some hot chicks to sell our merchandise," Bobby says. "But our dad looks like some crazy . . ."
"Narc!" Dave interjects.
"Some crazy scientist or something," Bobby concludes.
"I make 'em look good," Dad says, laughing, standing around the band's equipment outside the Mason Jar's stage door. Dressed in a polo shirt and jean shorts, with a Eugene Levy-style haircut and eyeglasses, he's a far cry from Bobby, nearby with his black hair teased Robert Smith-style, wearing leather lifts that make him a couple of inches taller than his already considerable height.
When Jim, a Columbia College film school grad, was looking for a new musical project in late 2002, his younger brother Bobby was a natural choice for a collaborator. Nine years older than Bobby, he'd left a deep impression on Bobby's tastes, which also filtered down to Dave, three years younger than Bobby.
"I remember my dad warning me, when I'd come home from college, he's like, 'Everything you show Bob he picks up on, better be careful.' So of course I showed him all the wrong stuff, so the legacy started with me and just goes around," Jim says.
Jim and Bobby recruited Dave to learn to play drums, and Calabrese was born in 2003. That year the band self-released its Midnight Spookshow EP, a collection of horror-punk rockers with excessive "whooah-oh"s, with song titles like "Children of the Night" and "Shrunken Head Kids." Currently, Calabrese is working on its Antidote debut, playing new songs like "Phantasmagoria" and "Every Day's a Funeral" at live shows.
Somewhat quiet in person, onstage Jim is a commanding presence, singing like a young Glenn Danzig. Bobby is more aloof, a shyer front man than his brother -- like Liam to Noel Gallagher. Dave twirls his sticks and mugs in the background. From the audience's perspective, you would never guess which brother was oldest.
Before the Mason Jar performance -- a school's-out celebration featuring rockers Blanche Davidian -- Dave and Bobby are in the parking lot selling tickets for the show. They're surrounded by girls who look to be barely teenagers, being introduced to the girls and introducing themselves. Dave demonstrates his savoir-faire by remembering their names on demand. A couple of ghouls lurk nearby, obviously friends of the brothers Calabrese in their Halloween makeup and sheets.
"We want people to dress up, we want it to become a big production like a Halloween party or something," Bobby told me at a Coffee Plantation a few days prior to the show.
"We don't have an evil vibe to us," Jim says. "It's kind of like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Beetlejuice, where it's dark but fun. I think that's what people are attracted to."
Their B-movie aesthetic has translated to soundtrack appearances on two upcoming schlock-fests, Prison A Go Go, where Calabrese's song "Midnight Spookshow" is featured in the main title, and Chainsaw Sally, where their song "Blood in My Eyes" plays during the ending credits.
"We wanna direct our own videos and star in our own movies and stuff," Jim tells me. It sounds pretty ambitious, but Calabrese is keeping its goals modest despite the band's early achievements.