A reunion, music festival and Dark Carnival
by Mike Huberty
September 2019

Helliphant L-R: Tim Thompson, Eric Cobb, Joe Price, Chad Ovshak, Dawin Sampson, Jeremy Roseland - photo by James Pederson

Helliphant L-R: Tim Thompson, Eric Cobb, Joe Price, Chad Ovshak, Dawin Sampson, Jeremy Roseland
photo by James Pederson

Madison’s answer to MR. BUNGLE, the experimental and lounge-y rock of HELLIPHANT specializes in the ridiculous. Active from the late Aughts to about 2012, vocalist Joe Price (Deacon Dr. Joe), guitarists Eric Cobb and Jeremy Roseland, bassist Darwin Sampson (G Digital), drummer Chad Ovshak, and keyboardist Tim (DJ Lovecraft) Thompson created a stew of weird, funny, and wild rock that could veer from tent show religious revival to a mean metal riff in the same song. After taking some time off, the guys are coming back this September with a special event at the High Noon called Helliphest, that is much more than just a rock show. They’re performing with bands DRUNK DRIVERS, 20 WATT TOMBSTONE, SONS OF KONG, and THE EARTHLINGS but there’s gonna be burlesque, weird art vendors, and some antics with a chainsaw. We talked to Joe, Darwin, and Eric about the reunion and all the madness that is the first Helliphest.

Maximum Ink: What was the inspiration behind this show? Why now?
Eric Cobb:
We wanted to craft a weird, dark carnival, in unison with the reunion of HELLIPHANT; bring together the stranger notions of Madison, while also celebrating some of the areas most entertaining musical acts. Darwin suggested, a few years ago, having a HELLIPHANT reunion; we just needed time to put everything together. Six years was a perfect time to wait. Everyone in the band had plenty of time working on their own projects, while always keeping a reunion in the back of their minds.

MI: Sounds like this party is going to have a circus-like atmosphere with lots of bands and crazy shit. How did you put it all together?
Chad Ovshak and I worked diligently together to craft the reality of the Dark Carnival, suggested by Darwin and the boys. We brainstormed ideas related to HELLIPHANT, Dark Carnival, and the Madison scene; including performing arts and artists. We actually started with the chainsaw sculpting, then spun ideas off from there; naturally branching off into belly dancing, fire dancing, burlesque, magic, juggling, weird art, and a lot more.

MI: If people kind of want to get the idea of HELLIPHANT quickly, what song should they listen to?
Joe Price:
Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming services have the albums… I’d recommend listening to “Seas of Vinegar”, “Open Your Mouth” to get a taste of the heavier, rockin’ side of Helliphant and one of my favorites, “Powdered Tusk”, to get a taste of the more exotic, church revivalist side of the band.

Darwin Sampson: “Open Your Mouth” or “Bullshit” are great starting points.

MI: Are you guys bringing out any new music? Are there any particular older songs that you played at rehearsal and were like, “Goddamn, that was a great song, it was cool to play that again?”
No, we’re not bringing any new music, but we are taking a selection of songs from throughout our run.  Honestly, I felt that way about every song we’ve played.  After being away from them for so long, I sort of forgot how odd and powerful they really are.

DS: Nothing new yet! “Powdered Tusk” and “The 5th Horseman” are favorites of mine to play.

EC: We wanted to dip our toe in the pool to see how well the Dark Carnival is received. We’re looking forward to a rousing success, which we hope turns Helliphest: The Dark Carnival into a yearly event. “Powdered Tusk”, the title track to Helliphant’s MAMA-award winning album from 2010, is most certainly the track that struck us again. Definitely, one of our personal favorites.

MI: You guys have a unique tongue-in-cheek doom rock sound, what kind of bands inspired you to create?
Having has five and six members of the time we were creating the music, there were many many influences put into the hopper.  Lots of metal like Tool and Clutch and things like Pink Floyd and even punk rock.  For my part, I really enjoyed elements of Nick Cave and Alice Cooper, trying to bring the theatrical flair and big dark personality as a front man.

EC: I love the phrase “Lounge Metal”; it’s both tongue-in-cheek, and aptly descriptive of HELLIPHANT’s sound, otherwise -
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

DS: Clutch. Faith No More. Anything heavy and weird.

MI: If HELLIPHANT was the soundtrack to a book or a movie, what author or films would it be?
If Fellini directed “Something Wicked This Way Comes” with a script written by Nick Cave, Helliphant would fit right in.

DS: Stephen King for certain. I think the Hellraiser films would be appropriate for our tunes.

EC: David Lynch, Ari Aster, David Robert Mitchell, Jim Jarmusch

MI: Feel free to get anything else off your chest here, tell me about the other bands, etc…
The event is designed to be a phantasmagorical carnival of chaos and beauty featuring dark arts, chainsaws and fire along with Burlesque and some of our favorite bands, both new and old. One of my long time favorites, the Drunk Drivers, will be playing after us so we can enjoy the show, they’ve been ripping up stages in the area for decades.  The Earthlings have been friends and colleagues for years and are at least as bizarre as we are, while 20 Watt Tombstone are a newer group to me, we’re lucky to have them all.

EC: 20 Watt Tombstone are a rock n’ roll force to be reckoned with.  Sons of Kong are a Wisconsin favorite. The Earthlings always slay and always bring something unique to the show. Drunk Drivers need no introduction. 

DS: Drunk Drivers are the best party show ever. Don’t miss them!

You guys can check out the Dark Carnival Saturday September 21st, 6pm at the High Noon Saloon in Madison. There’s a lot of entertainment and it’s only 10 bucks in advance!

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