If that is the case, Drew “Professor Gall” Norman has particular fortitude in the causality, individuality, firmness and constructiveness faculties of his brain.
“I was this kind of absurdist social scientist trying to convince people of things that were absurd,” Norman said by phone Wednesday about the historical origins of his musical stage character, “and get them to say ‘Wow, he has gall.’ ”
Since its inception more than 200 years ago by Austrian physicist Franz Joseph Gall, phrenology has been disproven and categorized as a pseudoscience. Does that make Professor Gall a pseudomusician?
Whatever you call his art, Norman, a 42-year-old lifelong musician from Oregon, will bring his act to Studio on 4th on Tuesday. Norman’s lyrics are an amalgamation of his sarcastic, pessimistic observations on life set to a jazzy beat. He began this solo project about five years ago after playing in a variety of rock bands and other musical capacities over the course of nearly 30 years.
The name and character of Professor Gall came from the first album by one of Norman’s earlier bands, The Cow Trippers. While a member of the band, Norman started donning a top hat and using the name. When The Cow Trippers fizzled out, Norman began the Professor Gall band with himself at the front and myriad musicians behind him. The current Professor Gall lineup consists of Chad Youngman on bass and ukulele; Scott Johnston on saxophone; Monte Skillings on trombone; Andrew Clarinet on clarinet; Russell Gores on drums and saw; Todd Burba on accordion; and George Turner on cello.
The latest Professor Gall album, “The Psychology Of Booze & Guilt,” gives listeners a taste of how the world looks through the faculties of Norman’s brain. The album’s nine tracks provide both an observational and therapeutic outlet for Norman on issues ranging from death to booze … mostly booze. From the opening track, “Skin Bottle,” to “Whiskey was the Medicine (to get me through another Christmas Eve night)” and “I’m a Drunk,” alcohol is a recurring theme that helps the people in Norman’s realm deal with their problems. “What They Wear” is a commentary on how politicians influence the masses; “Putting the Fun Back in Funeral” is about coping with the death of a bandmate’s mother; and “The Unknown Artist” is the story of a bipolar artist’s struggles with guilt, a theme that also runs throughout the album and “holds hands” with booze, Norman said.
“I think the drinking ones are more literal and easy to pick up on,” Norman said.
The music of Professor Gall is reminiscent of something that might be heard on the Dr. Demento radio show, with lyrics built on unfiltered analysis and subtle humor backed by a sound reminiscent of rough but quirky New Orleans jazz.
“Some of the stuff is serious for me but it might not be serious for somebody else,” Norman said. “I am trying to get across something that for me is artistic but also is sometimes … things that need to be said. Sometimes I will try to make it humorous but a lot of times it’s pretty serious subject for me. It can go both ways really.”
Professor Gall’s promotional material talks about the band’s niche with local audiences in the Oregon area. Venturing outside the safe confines of familiar, accepting coffeehouses has worked well for the band, Norman said, because he is able to find other pockets of like-minded listeners.
“A lot of the places that I’ve gone I didn’t think they would latch on to it but they really are,” Norman said. “I think I’m kind of a pessimist as far as people that are into mainstream culture being interested in what I do, but I’m finding small pockets of people all over the country that do. If they latch onto it they do pretty strongly.”
Professor Gall will play at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Studio on 4th, 432 E. Fourth St. in Reno. Tickets cost $5 at the door. For more information, visit www.studio4th.com or call 786-6460.
For more about Professor Gall, visit www.professorgall.com. To learn about phrenology, visit www.phrenology.org.