Boston Herald – Chandler Travis Philharmonic rocks music’s comedic boundaries

CHANGING CLOTHES: The wildly garbed Chandler Travis Philharmonic will be dressed more sedately Thursday at Johnny D’s.

By Jim Sullivan / Music

“I’ve had to struggle my whole life making music that uses humor,” singer-guitarist Chandler Travis said by phone from his Cape Cod home. “So many musicians have done humor in a humorless way, like the Mothers of Invention and ‘Weird’ Al. They’re very businesslike to me.”

Not Travis.

He fronts the horn-driven Chandler Travis Philharmonic. The title of their latest CD, “The Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows!,” is, at the least, a double entendre. The lyrics of “Fruit Bat Fun,” a catchy squawk of a song, consists of two words, “fruit” and “bat.” And there’s “You and Me, Pushing Up Daisies,” a jaunty tune about aging and death. It’s impossible not to smile.

“Our stuff is not satirical,” Travis said. “It’s just silly and blissful. We specialize in joyful stuff. Don’t get scared because the words ‘comedy’ and ‘rock’ are in the same sentence.”

CTP plays a CD release gig Thursday at Johnny D’s in Somerville. Their genre is what Travis terms “alternative Dixieland.”

“The other handle we had at one point was gospel music for atheists,” Travis said, “but I didn’t want to tick off anybody who was religious.”

The horn emphasis was something Travis never expected. It wasn’t part of his original folk-pop duo, Travis Shook & the Club Wow. And it’s not part of the rock quartet he’s led since 1980, the Incredible Casuals.

Horns came into play in 1996 when Travis was doing a gig at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge and the show’s organizer, Dinty Child, asked if he wanted additional musicians. Travis joked about a horn section. He got it. And he loved it.

“My writing is very undisciplined,” he said. “It goes where it goes and there turned out to be a whole bunch of songs I’d written that needed horns and, I later found out, keyboards.”

A prolific songwriter, Travis, 60, also is a road hog. He played about 130 gigs last year. He’s entertained in every state except Hawaii.

Alaska?

Yes, Travis said, when he opened for the late comic George Carlin, something he did for about 15 years. The two became friends back in 1971. What did they share?

“Record collecting and smoking pot,” Travis said. “We also had a similar sense of humor and saw the world the same way. We hit it off big-time.”

Travis, however, has never hit the big time. He and his bands tend to play clubs on the Cape, in Boston and New York. But he’s nothing if not perseverant.

“I’m a bulldog,” Travis said. “If there’s something I set my sights on, I’ll keep going at it.”

One thing you’ll notice Thursday: Travis will not be performing in his trademark pajamas and robe.

“I think we’ll start in suits and ties,” he said. “We’ve decided to take a break from pjs and robes this year. However, there will be at least one additional surprise clothes-wise that I can’t reveal right now, that being the nature of the word surprise. I will only say that I haven’t seen the full band since Christmas, and I have presents for them that will alter their appearances in a special way.”

The Chandler Travis Philharmonic at Johnny D’s, Somerville, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $10; 617-776-2004. (The band also plays a Wednesday residency at the Lizard Lounge in February.)

jim@jimsullivanink.com

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