Strange Changes: A Mix of Frank Zappa & Fine Food

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Strange Changes - Photo By Anne Cook
Strange Changes – Photo By Anne Cook

“I can’t promise that you’ll like it but I can promise you won’t be bored, because it jumps around a lot, it’s gourmet cooking. It’s going to alienate large portions of the mainstream audience.”

“Oh, oh Lord, let me die a slow, slow death,” coos Tom Dowd, lead singer of Strange Changes, an eccentric eight-piece band who cites Frank Zappa, Charles Mingus, and Mr. Bungle as its foremost influences. It’s the Saturday night before Easter, where Strange Changes are the first of a long lineup of local bands to play at The Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge. The lights are dimmed, with red and blue ornamental lights adorning the edge of the walls. A lone disco ball spins. The crowd, although small, cheers loudly after the band plays a Frank Zappa song.

The brainchild behind Strange Changes is Tom Dowd, former Berklee College of Music graduate. Strange Changes formed around the onset of 2008, where Dowd was inspired to showcase various music styles in the vein of Frank Zappa and Charles Mingus. Describing himself as a “compulsive, really creative” child, Dowd prefers music as the best method to release his impulses, listening to all genres, including jazz, metal, and classical. Their song, “Evil Genius,” is a prime example of the band’s musical amalgamations: “It really had more of a humorous tone; a kind-of spazzed-out funk/metal sort-of approach…It balances being catchy with a short, tense, weird middle section.” The band uses elements such as narrative and context to enhance its signature writing style.

Dowd discusses the overall reception to their music, likening their sound to gourmet cooking: “I can’t promise that you’ll like it but I can promise you won’t be bored, because it jumps around a lot, it’s gourmet cooking. It’s going to alienate large portions of the mainstream audience.” Although the music industry forces most audiences into a niche, Strange Changes fans are unique: they want to hear ten different styles in 20 minutes, not just a specific sound. Their fan-base is substantial yet growing, and consists primarily of musicians. However, each of the eight band-members are a support system to one another, not to mention all of the Zappa and Bungle fans that enjoy the band both nationally and internationally, including a forty-something professor from Scotland: “Unlike a lot of bands, our niche is very specific and underserved. It’s a hard, hard style of music to play…Particularly if you’re a Zappa fan wanting some new original charismatic music, I feel very strongly that we’re the best out there.” Dowd also believes that social-media works best when it mimics actual human interaction, such as sending his fans messages and free downloads.

Strange Changes has played a small but impressive repertoire of Northeast venues, including Sullivan Hall and The Bitter End. They played The Middle East three times thus far. This upcoming spring and winter will be their first regional push. The band has a residency at Precinct for the Month of May, where they will be playing four Thursdays and presenting new material every week. Tom Dowd foresees a positive future ahead for Strange Changes: “It’s going to be a long, uphill battle to make this thing self-sustained, but I think we’ll achieve that with enough time and effort.” To hear Strange Changes’ debut album, I Want You, visit www.strangechangesmusic.com. Visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/strangechanges.