HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 


Very few people will ever experience a successful show: that blistering rush from the validating crowd, fingers still burning from the strings and ears ringing until they bleed into the night’s last dream in the form of an alarm clock. Fewer still will find themselves waking to realize that not only was last night a reality but so is that blaring buzz calling you to … homeroom?

It’s first period in public high-school prison, and only hours ago James Killgallon, a skinny 16-year-old guitar virtuoso with Steven Tyler’s mouth and Jeff Beck’s chops, was a bona fide local rock star. This morning, he’s back to watching the clock over the chalkboard.

“I hate waking up in the morning,” says Killgallon, now sunken into a lawn chair on the deck at Caffe da Vinci in his hometown, DeLand. “It’s hard going from playing a big show `with` everybody going, ‘That was awesome,’ then I go to school and I’m trying to go to the bathroom and `teachers are` going, ‘Where’s your pass?’”

“School would be completely fine if there was no homework,” says 16-year-old bassist Josh Coulombe. “If I’m at my house, don’t bother me.” “It’s not even that,” Killgallon interrupts. “I don’t mind school, but it’s just so long.” Drummer Joe Bindschadler, a shaggy-haired 17-year-old whose deep voice lends the impression that he’s the most grounded of the three, remembers a particularly harsh morning after a high-profile show. “I want`ed` to be back at the House of Blues instead of `school`,” says Bindschadler. “It’s very downing.” Killgallon can’t resist a qualifier: “Everybody wants to be there, though. That’s an obvious statement.”

While Killgallon is the diplomat of the trio, his reflections as broad and inoffensive as the music is raw, Coulombe and Bindschadler have little patience for anything but exactly what they mean. It’s just the kind of subtle tension that defined acts like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the Who in the ’70s. Luckily for No Circus, those are exactly the bands they’re reminiscent of.

The guys found each other through a shared weariness of the kind of emo band every modern high-school rocker inevitably forms. Killgallon had been an accomplished bass player for years under the tutelage of renowned instrumentalist Dan Walters. When Bindschadler, who was Killgallon’s bandmate in one of the “bad” bands the two always found themselves in, suggested a Zeppelin-style side
project, they began hunting for a leading man. During the failed search, Killgallon taught himself guitar and vocals.

Learning guitar “was different,” he says. “I tried to play with a pick, but it just felt weird to me. So I took bass’ alternate picking so I could pick with one finger and double my picking string with two fingers and effortlessly go over the notes I want to without moving at all. I’ve never seen anybody else do it. Not that I know of.”

Coulombe came to the band inversely. “I started out playing guitar and oh, I was just really crappy. I could play ‘Smoke on the Water,’” laughs Coulombe. “I came `to No Circus` as a rhythm guitar player, and I guess I sort of slipped in and taught myself bass.”

Taking their cues from the music their parents exposed them to, No Circus called forth the ghosts of arena rock past. “I think everybody back then was tuned into something,” Killgallon marvels. “I just sit there and watch tapes of old concerts, just to try to see what I haven’t seen yet.”

If political tumult was the common theme in the ’60s, carnal longing was the inescapable motif the leather-bound Brits of the ’70s brought stateside. But at least Robert Plant was into his 20s when he moaned his way though “Whole Lotta Love.” While much has been written (and wildly overblown) about the newly sexualized high-school environment, can teenage rockers, even wunderkinder, get away with the same?

“Back then, when they wrote about sex, it was about sex in an indirect way, but everybody knew what they were saying,” says Killgallon. “Even the listening of music is 30 to 40 percent sexual.”

Consciously or not, Bindschadler thinks they’ve found a way around the land mines of repression. “We kept the sexual emotion,” he says. “When you hear Robert Plant going ‘Oooooh,’ you can feel that, except he’s actually talking about `sex`. We keep the emotion, but our lyrics aren’t about sex.”

Whatever Killgallon’s falsetto wailing and stage slithering is truly about, it has connected, and not just with audiences. Recently, mainstream producer Tony Battaglia (of Shinedown and Mandy Moore credits) has taken notice, and No Circus is heading into recording sessions with him later this year.

For now, though, there’s that incessant alarm clock and the promise of another day as just another face in the hallway. “We’re not known by everyone, but I guess we’re known,” says Coulombe. “There are so many Joshes at the school that I’m ‘No Circus Josh.’ It’s nothing special.”

music@orlandoweekly.com

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