Three clowns walk into a coffee shop. That's not the beginning of a joke, that's just what happened.
The coffee shop was Otherlands, and the Luv Clowns — who look an awful lot like Memphis musicians Tim Prudhomme (clown name: Timot), Harlan T. Bobo (clown name: Bobo), and Doug Easley (clown name: The Professor) — had come to talk about "Clown Week" and the official release of Love Clowns! (Goner Jr.), a fun collection of off-kilter children's songs about drawing, jumping, time, and, of course, stumbling, bumbling clowns.
Where exactly did the idea for Luv Clowns come from? Nobody seems to know for sure, but Bobo thinks it all started in 2006. "I don't do time," Prudhomme says. Easley grins into his coffee cup and says nothing.
Bobo, who has been known to perform in a clown nose, says he thinks the idea to create a kids' band for grownups was originally Prudhomme's. Prudhomme scratches at his Winnie the Pooh hat, gives Bobo a skeptical look, and counters with some appropriately ironic lyrics from the old Maurice Chevalier song: "Ah, yes, I remember it well." Easley grins into his coffee cup and says nothing.
"Hey, you've got Pooh on your hat," Bobo says approvingly, and Prudhomme nods. "That's a big Pooh hat too. I didn't know they made Pooh hats so big."
"They are very rare," Prudhomme answers. "What I remember is that there was a benefit show at the Buckman, and you didn't want to play it."
"Wait," Bobo interrupts. "Don't print that. That's not true. I didn't not want to play it."
"You didn't want to play it as yourself. You didn't want to do your usual show," Prudhomme elaborates. "And, I remember being at your house and seeing all of your clown stuff."
"All I know is, I was drug into all of this," Easley interjects.
"You're the only one who already had a clown suit in your closet," Bobo says, and Easley returns to his coffee. "I never even liked clowns as a kid," he grumbles.
Bobo wasn't a dad when he and his fellow clowns — including Alex Greene, who wasn't able to make it out for coffee — recorded their CD in 2007. Now Bobo is, and as he recalls an awkward moment during the group's performance, his son crawls up in his lap and begins to pull on his nose. The scruffy songwriter describes a time during the early days of the Luv Clowns when there was some confusion as to whether they were more of an adult band with a childlike aesthetic or if they were really making music for kids.
He says he knew the band had to go one way or the other when they played one song that was a little too grownup for a room full of youngsters. "I'll never forget the silence from the parents," Bobo says as his son reaches out and starts pulling on his lips.
When asked if becoming a parent changed the way he writes, the answer is swift and definitive: "Nobe id had nah changed a bid."
The Love Clowns! disc is aimed at younger children, although it retains an edge that adults will appreciate.
"Good music ought to work for everyone," Alex Greene (clown name: Cow Cow) commented later in an e-mail.
"In our family, it tends to. Our kids listen to a lot of Beatles and their favorite is Creedence Clearwater Revival. I think children's music has become, like most genres, over-defined by marketing needs, which tend to bland kids' music down to a lowest common denominator. But real kids get bored with the sameness of it all. When we cut the record, we didn't have any explicit design in mind, just our own intuitive sense of making music vivid."
And Luv Clowns, with its carnival sounds and vaudeville sensibilities, is nothing if not vivid.
"I remember when I got my first tattoo," Prudhomme says, returning to the initial questions about the Luv Clowns' origin. "My father had a tattoo of a sea dragon," he says, pulling his jacket down enough to see the colorful clown face on his shoulder. "So, when I got my first tattoo, I thought I would get something that would be fun for kids to look at."
"Did I mention it's Clown Week?" Bobo asks, listing all of the events planned to launch the band's CD.
The Luv Clowns will release Love Clowns! at a pre-Christmas parade installment of Rock-n-Romp on Saturday, December 4th, at 409 S. Main. They'll be joined by Cody Dickinson and Gasoline Grace.
On Thursday, December 9th, the Luv Clowns will premiere their first video when they play the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The show starts at 6 p.m. Admission is $8 for museum members; $10 for nonmembers.