Music News & Reviews

Music and (no) lyrics with 3 Leg Torso

Not having lyrics can be liberating if you’re 3 Leg Torso.

After all, that gives founding members Courtney Von Drehle and Bela Balogh flexibility in coming up with zany stories that supposedly inspired their songs, which feature titles such as ‘The Toothless Cannibal’ and ‘Frog ... Secret Agent.’

“Every time they change a little,” Von Drehle said. “And sometimes they just change a lot. There are times when entire histories of stories are disregarded and spontaneous new ones are made.”

The chamber music quintet — whose instrumental music would be a perfect match for a movie soundtrack — performs at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo on Sunday. Prior to the show, the group will perform live on KCPR (6 p.m., 91.3 FM).

Influenced by European, folk and cartoon music, 3 Leg Torso is currently promoting its latest album, “Animals and Cannibals.” We spoke, by phone, with Von Drehle and Balogh, about storytelling and music.

Q: Is it a collaborative effort, or is it you, Courtney, that does all the storytelling?

Courtney Von Drehle: Bela and I are the main storytellers. And I’ve witnessed Bela taking quite a few left turns while telling a story. It’s always good to hear the difference in nuance. But it’s also pretty exciting when you really have no idea. When you do that, Bela, what inspires that?

Bela Balogh: It’s just wanting to kind of shake it up a little bit. One of the things is I just wanted to kind of wake the rest of the band up. Some of these stories, these guys have heard many times. And I just want to see if they’re paying attention.

Q: Do you ever do a little work ahead of time, write down some notes?

BB:,/b> Never. I don’t even do that with music.

CV: I’ll have to take that with a grain of salt. Bela has told me he has a new story coming, occasionally. Sometimes I know they’re totally spontaneous. And sometimes I’ve done the same, where you get a kernel of an idea and maybe you don’t know it entirely, but you trust the moment of performance to help give birth to it and discover itself. Although our music is highly arranged, there’s also some improvising and musical dialogue that happens between the players.

Q: Have you guys ever considered a book/record combo?

CV: We talked a little bit. In that new CD, ”Animals and Cannibals,” the woman who designed the cover does a lot of illustrations for kids’ books. And we were sitting around our dining room table kind of brainstorming over this idea. And we all got excited about it — “Let’s make a book!” And I continue to be inspired by that idea. But many things come up in the meantime and take our time and attention. So that one hasn’t become the main focus yet.

Q: I know you guys have grown as a band (there are currently five members). Is it hard to make ends meet because of that or do you just pay the other guys way less?

CV: I wish that were the case. It’s a challenge to make it all work. I guess we’re still waiting to buy Mazeratis.

Q: Your music has been described as movie music. When you guys watch movies yourselves, do you get distracted listening to the music?

BB: I always get completely distracted from anything going on in the movie other than the sound. The music. I can’t watch movies any more. Because I simply start listening to the music, and I go off into my studio and go, “I want to do something similar to that.”

Q: If 3 Leg Torso were on a major feature soundtrack, what kind of scene would work best for your music?

BB: A love scene, absolutely. Courtney’s would be more like the chase scene.

CV: Deeply meaningful. Bela’s got a love scene — I’m not so sure how that happens. I think I have: The sun is shining, good food is being served and secret notes are being passed under the table.

BB: And that leads to the love scene.

CV: I think we’ve got a new story coming.

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.