FORMATION AND NAME
Josh Robins here! I started recording spooky, weird, instrumental music on 4-track tapes in the late 90s and eventually started a band to play it all in 2002. Trumpeter Rick Redman was the first to join me and my drum machine. We had an all-human line-up by August with Tom Kimzey, Manda Clair Jost and Andre Belomir. Tom suggested we name ourselves The _______ Czars. As our first gig drew near, I suggested “Invincible” and we went with it. That first show happened at the very end of DEC 2002 at Ruta Maya World HQ (now a strip club) in Austin.
This line-up was full of conflict. We had a sub-drummer at the very first show. It was back to just me and Rick within a few months.
2003 – Tom Kimzey, Manda Clair Jost, Josh Robins, Rick Redman.
THE CLASSIC LINE-UP
We had a lot of line up changes in those first two years but this group stuck and laid the foundation for everything the band has done since:
- Self recorded our first album Gods of Convenience (at a property management office of all places)
- Arranged, performed and recorded The Nutcracker Suite
- First silent film accompaniment (Aelita: Queen of Mars in 2006 with Sarah Norris on vibraphone)
- Opened for touring bands like Estradasphere, NoMeansNo, Sleeptime Gorilla Museum, Melt Banana
The Austin American-Statesman jokingly named us “the official opening act for anything weird at Emo’s.”
2007 – Rick Redman (trumpet), Adam Kahan (bass), Phil Davidson (violin), Josh Robins (guitar), Bill Petersen (keys), Tommy Holton (drums) in Arizona while touring with Estradasphere.
THE NUTCRACKER ERA
We played a lot of Czar-ified classical music and added a new silent film score every year – but The Nutcracker Suite was so popular that it came to define this era. We played clubs a lot less.
We had eight drummers, most notably Louis Landry (who masterminded our 1812 Overture album), Dave Irish and Gonzalo Ramos. Winds player Leila Henley replaced Rick and we released our second album Fortissimo.
We slowly built a silent film touring circuit from 2011-2013 with bass player Henry Vines contributing heavily to our compositions. Leila and I got married in 2012. Shaquille O’Neal admired our beards and introduced himself to us at the Four Seasons in Houston.
A massive heart attack limited Bill’s activity in 2009 and he died October 2014. We were horribly sad.
That same year, our San Antonio rhythm section came into place with drummer Chuck Fischer and The Jaguar on bass.
2009 – Adam, Bill, Louie, Phil, Josh, Matt Ondrey, Leila at Jovita’s in Austin (the palce turned out to be a front for heroin dealers!)
2012 – Josh, Leila, Phil, Bill, Gonzalo, Henry at The Scottish Rite Theatre in Austin
NOSFERATU AND MORE SILENT FILM
People at our silent film shows had asked us for years to do a score for Nosferatu. I was reluctant because it’s so “done” but I acquiesced and started formulating ideas with Phil in the summer of 2015. I often swam at the YMCA for hours getting ideas in my head and then transcribed them when I got home. We recorded the Nosferatu EP (2015) before we finished the full soundtrack. Some of the stuff on the EP was cut before we ever performed the show live!
Leah Lovise drew an amazing poster
Nosferatu eclipsed everything we’d done previously and by 2016, we were playing all over the US and Canada as a four piece – just me, Phil, Leila and The Jaguar on bass. The Alamo Drafthouse called us one of the best silent film accompaniment groups in the nation. We turned our focus solely to silent film in 2017 and, as of Jan 2023, have not played a club show since
The Jaguar left in late 2016 but we started a weekly residence at The Alamo Ritz in downtown Austin that was cut short after a tumultuous spring 2017 tour that started with Phil breaking his back and ended with a very dramatic split between me and Leila.
Minnesota-based winds player Zelda Younger and long-time friend and guitarist/bass player Aaryn Russell quickly came on board for the fall leg of the tour.
In 2018, we fully embraced the revolvoing door of personnel and began referring to ourselves a s collective.
Henry Vines returned as a primarily composing member and wrote much of our score for the 1925 Phantom of the Opera. Sarah Jane Hargis filled in for Zelda that fall and posed on the piano at my house for my favorite photo of the band to date.
Keyboardist/singer Skunk Manhattan joined summer 2019 and we wrote/performed our score for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. We were all set to embark on our Dr. Caligari Centennial Tour when Covid shut down the world.
2018 – Phil, Josh, Sarah Jane Hargis, Aaryn Russell
2016 – Jaguar, Josh, Leila, Phil
Our entire 2020 calendar was suddenly empty so we launched a Patreon page and turned all activity online. We remotely recorded our score for Caligari and released a full-movie video with our soundtrack on The Flash Drive of Dr. Caligari. Chuck re-activated and we recorded several rock tracks remotely. Star Material singer/flutist Katie O’Neil and I had been dating and the shutdown gave us ample time to collaborate. She joined us for a latin-influenced version of “Christmastime is Here.”
In 2021 we recorded a four-song/video tribute to Eddie Van Halen called Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love and began making improvements to our Nosferatu soundtrack – even adding drums.
We raised money through Kickstarter to update and finally record our Nosferatu Soundtrack and performed the updated version in Austin, Houston and Dallas on Halloween weekend 2021 with drummer Eoghan McCloskey and Katie on flute.
Over the 2021 holidays, I took stock of how much material we’ve had sitting on the back burner ever since we really started touring with silent films back in 2012. We challenged ourselves to release music every month in 2022 and we did!
2021 – Phil, Henry, skunk, Josh, Katie, Chuck. (Yes, that’s tape on Katie’s dress)
We spent most of 2022 recording Nosferatu remotely with Eoghan on drums. Katie played flute, Zelda recorded clarinets. Henry recorded most of the bass – the first time he’d recorded with us since 2013. Skunk created new piano parts for the whole score.
That fall, Louis Landry and Zelda joined Skunk, Phil and me for Nosferatu Centennial Tour – an amazing and exhausting two-month 50+ show endeavor. No one got sick!
Vancouver, BC – Phil, Zelda, Josh, Skunk, Louis at The Rio Theatre.