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Drowning Clowns ready to showcase its decade-making music

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By Rege Behe
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

For almost a decade, Mike Speranzo worked on snippets of songs whenever his duties running Mr. Small's Theatre in Millvale permitted. He stole away moments during construction projects . He stayed up late at night after concerts, experimenting with textures and sounds.

"Other people would come up to work on things," Speranzo says. "Frank (Spadafora) and Liz (Berlin, his wife) came in and worked on the vocals. I was doing some work in the studio and I put up a microphone, came up with background parts and sort of stacked it that way. Certain songs have been built as songs and certain songs are products of construction. ... I might have two nights a week for four hours, or eight hours. That's why it's taken 10 years."

Speranzo is ready to share his work. The Drowning Clowns, featuring Spadafora, Berlin and "most of Pittsburgh," according to the band's bio, will showcase the new music Saturday at Mr. Small's.

The sound that emerges from Speranzo's creation doesn't fall into any single genre. It's as if Peter Gabriel enlisted David Byrne and Kate Bush on a recording project, with Brian Eno working the soundboard.

Speranzo, formerly of the bands Crisis Car and Love's Gun Shop, enlisted some of Pittsburgh most accomplished players to realize his vision. Guitarist Dirk Miller, drummer Frank "Shaggy" Marcello, Mike Hammer on keyboards, bassist Nate Campesi and guitarist Evan Smith contribute, as do Berlin and Spadafora (both on vocals and guitars).

"It really gives me a chance to open up and play," Miller says. "Some projects that I'm involved in I'm more of a side guy. In this, I really let go, and I appreciate having the material to do that."

Part of the appeal is the freshness of the material. It's not purely rock, not purely anything, and Speranzo's philosophy allows every opportunity to contribute.

"There are so many layers," Hammer says. "It's more about trying to find where you fit. There are parts that are there and parts that you hear that aren't really there. They're ghost parts. There'll be two guitars playing together, the bass line playing together, and all of a sudden you'll hear something that's not really there, but is in your head."

"It's an eight-piece band so there are a lot of different sounds," Marcello says. "It's really cool how it all comes together."

While the raft of musicians might seem to imply a noisy product, the Drowning Clowns actually create musical landscapes that are serenely intricate. "Covered Over" is an atmospheric piece in which the vocals and instrumentation hypnotically ebb and flow.

Speranzo enjoys that quietude, but wants his cast to feel free to add their imprint.

"It's interesting how quiet we can get," Speranzo says. "As we've been growing in the rehearsal room, trying to figure out how to define what we are as a band, trying to interpret this music we've created in the box and laying it out, it's amazing how subtle it gets at times. I want it to be even more bombastic. On that side, we've put the reins on because we don't want to be seen as overplaying, because of the personal dynamic. ... All of us, to a fault, because of the amount of people in the band, are more cautious than I wish we would be."

Additional Information:

Drowning Clowns

With: Jenn Wertz, Backstabbing Good People, Stephen Tribou, Mike Marks

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Free

Where: Mr. Small's Theatre, Millvale

Details: 412-821-4447 or

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