Most people go to the Texas Theatre to watch films, but this night in March, it's not what's on the screen but what's behind it that's of interest. That's where a few dozen people have congregated to watch an unearthly performance by a new quartet, Asukubus.
The band started out a year and a half ago as a solo project by avant-garde musician Wyatt Rosser. He takes the stage in a long black gown, his face covered in white lace that's tied at the back, with holes ripped out at his eyes and mouth like a balaclava, revealing generous smears of red lipstick and black eye makeup that have bled into the lace.
Rosser is a classically trained vocalist. Growing up in Waxahachie he lent his skill to musical theater. But in Asukubus he distorts his voice's conventional beauty with effect pedals.
When his singing is layered with the vocal contributions of Sarah Ruth and Aaron Gonzalez, and Stefan Gonzalez's drumming on a giant coil spring, it produces a sound that is industrial, haunting and full of tension — like the sound of a hundred souls being released from purgatory at once — but it still manages to be beautiful.
"This project is more based in avant garde vocals and experimentation with the voice than using traditional noise instruments," Rosser says. "It has noisy elements to it, but I think of it being more of a soundscape, a more atmospheric setting."
The songs are in free time, and they're reminiscent of other avant-garde artists such as Scott Walker and Diamanda Galas in their flair for drama and suspense.
Throughout Asukubus' Texas Theatre set, listeners stand transfixed, as performance artist Hannah Weir — working with the band — crawls on the floor underneath their feet. Like Asukubus, her goal is to unsettle. She identifies the concertgoers who least want to be interacted with and locks eyes with them, even rubbing her face, also thickly layered with makeup, onto the shirt of one unsuspecting woman.
Rosser frequently crouches or writhes on the stage as he sings. At the end of the Texas Theatre set, he walks out into the crowd and collapses, as if struck dead.
"The idea for the project is that it will continue to evolve and be improvised," Rosser says. "Eventually, it will have a whole new sound and concept to it."
Asukubus' aesthetic is a far cry from The Music Man, but Rosser is nevertheless drawing from his experiences on the stage in high school for these theatrical performances. That's also his only reference point for performing with a group until now.
"I wanted to put out a record of some of the work I had done, but I wanted there to be a little bit more to it than I had done solo," Rosser says. "So it made sense to ask some of my biggest inspirations to be a part of the project ... Sarah's my musical mentor right now. Aaron was a big inspiration for the project and Stefan gave me my first gig."
As a solo artist, he'd taken Asukubus to numerous house shows and RBC in Deep Ellum, which is a haven for experimental music on Monday nights, when Stefan curates Outward Bound Mixtape. But since he decided to build the project into a collective earlier this year — adding Ruth (They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy) and brothers Aaron and Stefan (Akkolyte, Yells at Eels) to the lineup — it has become increasingly ambitious.
The March 31 Texas Theatre show, which followed a screening of Donnie Darko, was their first as a quartet. Earlier this week they played Independent Bar and Kitchen, and next Thursday, April 27, they're on a lineup at Full City Rooster in the Cedars. In March Asukubus also released a four-song, self-titled debut EP, recorded at Civil Recording in Denton.
Rosser liked playing alone before, but he's now reminded of the benefits of having collaborators: "It was really good for me to learn off [of them]."
Asukubus, with Black Doll, Schmekelhead, 8 p.m. Thursday, April 27, Full City Rooster, 1810 S. Akard St., $10, see Facebook.
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