Bertolt Brecht, the 20th-century Marxist playwright and poet, made him do it. That's how Josh Windmiller, the voice behind Gypsy-punk-Americana act the Crux, explains the origin of his band's acclaimed collaboration with experimental theater troupe the Imaginists that resulted in the 2012 stage production The Ratcatcher.
"I'd seen their production of The Wizard of Oz and I thought, this could work really well with what the Crux is doing," says Windmiller. "Their style is not hokey. You can feel the experimentation. They are trying to do new stuff, and they show you the gears working."
Part social satire, part poignant commentary on what happens to the children in a community when the creative arts are shoved into a dusty corner in favor of bourgeois branding and profit margins, The Ratcatcher took Sonoma County (and critics in the greater Bay Area) by storm during its month-long run.
Subsequently, a successful Indiegogo campaign raised $5,000, allowing the band to release the songs as a new full-length Crux album, also titled The Ratcatcher. Don't expect a cast recording of the original play, however; as Windmiller puts it, the album should be taken as another entry in the Crux discography, which also includes last year's Be Merry and their debut, Now, Ferment.
"I consider this album an important step in the band's development," says Windmiller, about the decision to sing songs himself that were voiced by different actors in the original production. "My voice being constant throughout the band is one of the few things I can have to keep that consistency going."
The strongest tracks include the haunting "The Gate (What the Children Saw)," written and sung by Annie Cilley, the Crux's saxophone and fiddle player. Another standout song is the epic "Dogs Made of Rust (The Mayor's Ballad)," originally voiced by Imaginists cofounder Brent Lindsay as the town's mayor but given a wearier, heavier weight in Windmiller's album interpretation, sounding like a lost track from Tom Waits' Rain Dogs.
"The play is fantastic, it's really great, but it just played for a month or so in this town," adds Windmiller, who plans to take the songs on the road nationally for people who might never have seen the original play. "If we're going to put all this time and energy into this album, it needs to be able to stand on its own."
The Crux perform 'The Ratcatcher' in its entirety (with help from the Imaginists) as part of the All Hallow's Eve Multicultural Variety Showcase on Thursday, Oct. 31, at the Arlene Francis Center. 99 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 7pm. $10–$15. 707.528.3009.