About The Invincible Czars

2023 Touring Line-up: Hampton Rattan, Phi Davidson, Louis Lamplighter Landry, Josh Robins, Skunk Manhattan

2002: Tom Kimzey, Manda Clair Jost, Josh Robins, Rick Redman

2002 – 2003


Josh Robins here. I started The Invincible Czars in 2002. It was only semi-intentional. I'd been recording spooky, weird, complicated instrumental music on my four-track recorder for years but hadn't found a group that was interested to play it. Eventually I ran an ad in The Austin Chronicle and found trumpeter Rick Redman. Rick and I learned a bunch of the four-track recordings, playing guitar and trumpet along with a drum machine. Bass player Tom Kimzey eventually found us and brought some much needed low-end into the mix. We had an all-human line-up by August with Manda Clair Jost playing pump-organ and drummer Andre Belomir.

Tom wanted to call the band The _______ Czars because of the Eastern-Euro influence that had somehow showed up in our music. As our first show drew near, I suggested “Invincible” to fill the space and we went with it.

That first show happened at the very end of DEC 2002 at Ruta Maya World HQ in Austin and foreshadowed the near-constant line-up changes the band has had since. Andre disappeared in the weeks before the gig so we had a fill-in drummer for our very first show. We recorded a demo that spring with drummer Corbin Flint but the the line-up was back to just me and Rick by April 2003.

Not much happened for a while. Drummer Tom Bowman had been the fill-in at our first show and eventually joined the group along with accordionist Shirley Johnson and Adam Kahan on bass. This line-up played our first shows in proper venues in Austin like Flamingo Cantina and Emo's. We even opened for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

2004 – 2007


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:

We performed and recorded our Austin-tacious re-imagining of Tchaickovsky's

Nutcracker Suite in 2004 with much approval from KUT FM host John Aeilli who was our biggest champion in Austin. In the arrangement process, it became clear that we really needed a violin. We turned to Phil Davidson - the only electric violinist we knew! Phil played on and off with us and eventually became a full-fledged member in 2006.

.We self recorded our first album Gods of Convenience in 2005 and performed our

first silent film live score for Aelita: Queen of Mars in 2006 with guest Sarah Norris on vibraphone at the original Alamo Drafthouse.

All the while, we kept playing clubs and opening for touring bands like Estradasphere, NoMeansNo , Chrome, Stinking Lizaveta, Melt Banana, etc. The Austin American-Statesman named us “the official opening act for anything weird at Emo’s.

2006 On the road with Estradasphere. Rick Redman, Adam Kahan, Phil Davidson, Josh Robins, Bill Petersen (aka Willie Poland), Tommy Holton

2012 Scottish Rite Theatre, Austin - Phil Davidson, Josh Robins

2008 - 2015


We played a lot of Czar-ified classical music including 1812 Overture and Night On Bald Mountain and even managed to add several new silent film scores like Destiny, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Wind – but The Nutcracker Suite was so popular that it came to define this era.

We began working more with organizations like Ballet Austin, Downtown Dallas Alliance, Whole Foods, Bullock History Museum, Texas A&M's School of Fine Arts, etc. etc. We played nearly every holiday event of note in the San Antonio - DFW - Houston triangle. We've had to follow some difficult acts including Secret Chiefs 3 and Asleep at The Wheel, but the three-toed sloth from the Dallas Zoo was possibly the toughest. (Also, no one should ever have to follow Opposite Day - the best band in the galaxy.)

We played clubs a lot less and mostly as regional support in Austin, Houston and DFW for touring weird rock groups.

Line-up changes were constant. Winds player Leila Henley replaced Rick. We recorded our 2nd album Fortissmo just before drummer Tommy Holton left in 2009. A string of 8 drummers came and went after that, most notably Louis Landry (who masterminded our 1812 Overture album), Dave Irish and Gonzalo Ramos. In 2011, Henry Vines replaced Adam.

After a huge silent film performance at Discovery Green in Houston sponsored by KUHF FM, Shaquille O'Neal introduced himself to us in the parking lot of the Four Seasons Hotel to tell us he loved our beards.

The next day, Bill had a massive heart attack and was never the same.

I loved the silent film shows and slowly built a touring circuit of independent cinemas and other adventurous venues willing to try something different. Then, The Alamo Drafthouse began expanding outside of Austin and Texas, giving me some (mostly) friendly destinations farther from home to reach. (That is a very condensed version of a difficult and complicated process! If you're a self-booking musician reading this - I see you. I am you.)

Leila and I got married in 2012. In early 2014, our San Antonio rhythm section came into place with drummer Chuck Fischer and The Jaguar on bass.

In October 2014, the day that Bill was approved for the heart transplant surgery, he had a 2nd heart attack and died two weeks shy of his 49th birthday. Bill and I had been very close over the 10 years we'd known each other - we even lived together at one point. I was horribly sad for a long time and I still miss him.

Our last big hurrah (at the time of this writing) with The Nutcracker was DEC 2015 when we returned to Austin's Holiday Stroll - an event that had previously been a quickly organized, small affair. In 2005, we were the only act to perform on a sleepy Congress Avenue, bringing and operating our own tiny sound system and playing for maybe 200 passersby on the sidewalk in front of Ballet Austin's offices.

We played The Stroll a many more times and saw it grow. By 2015, it was a full fledged event with road closures and big tree lighting. We played in front of the Capitol right after the tree lighting to an audience of thousands.

2015 - 2019


From 2013 - 2015, people at our silent film shows kept asking, "When are you going to do 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 transcribing 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. It was a tough month! 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 revolving door of personnel and began referring to ourselves as a collective. 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 Davidson, Josh Robins, Sarah Jane Hargis, Aaryn Russell

2015 - The Jaguar, Josh Robins, Leila Henley, Phil Davidson

2021 Phil Davidson, Henry Vines, Skunk Manhattan, Josh Robins, Katie O'Neil, Chuck Fischer

2020 - 2021


Aaryn moved to Colorado and it seemed silly to replace him with our entire 2020 calendar suddenly empty. So we launched a Patreon page and turned all activity online, releasing new music and completing projects that that had been on the back burner for years.

We remotely recorded our existing score for Caligari and released a full-movie video with our soundtrack on custom flash drives. 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 I was terribly sad at the news of the death of Eddie Van Halen with whom I shared a birthday and a love of guitar squeals. We recorded a four-song/video tribute called Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love that featured an original track called "126" as my goodbye to EVH.

As life began returning to normal in 2021, I realized that the centennial of Nosferatu was approaching. We raised money through Kickstarter to update and finally record our Nosferatu soundtrack. We performed the updated version in Austin, Houston and Dallas on Halloween weekend 2021 with drummer Eoghan McCloskey and Katie on flute. With no dedicated bass player in town, Skunk and I rotated bass guitar duties for the live shows.



We spent most of 2022 recording Nosferatu remotely with Eoghan on drums. Katie played flute, Zelda recorded clarinets remotely. 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 a Nosferatu Centennial Tour – an amazing and exhausting two-month 50+ show endeavor. No one got sick!

2022 Rio Theater, Vancouver BC: Phil Davidson, Zelda Younger, Josh Robins, Skunk Manhattan, Louis Landry

2023 Final Show of the Tour in Lareado, TX: Josh Robins, Skunk Manhattan, Hampton Rattan, Louis Landry, Phil Davidson



After we raised the bar so high for ourselves with Nosferatu's centennial in 2022 and with Covid mostly behind us, we brought The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari back for a proper release and tour. Central Texas-based winds/piano player Hampton Rattan came on board and lowered the average age in the band considerably.

We spent the first 8 months revising, rehearsing, recording and preparing the score . We released a DVD of Caligari and embarked on a gargantuan 10-week 86-show tour of the US and Canada. It was amazing but stressful. The tour was long and fraught with troubles: our van broke down between Seattle and Vancouver, Phil broke his foot out there and had to return to Austin near the end. We did the last two weeks without violin!

Nonetheless, the shows and audiences were incredible. Our show at The Music Box Theatre in Chicago sold out. Every night was super. We're incredibly grateful.