Times Staff Writer

To get an idea of what Blue Trapeze sounds like, try to imagine a melange of the new and the old combining the musical and lyrical ambiguity of R.E.M., the late-night ethereality of X, the brooding harmonies of the old Jefferson Airplane and the guitar-dominated thrust of the Ventures.

It’s an unlikely combination, but this Anaheim quartet--lead singer Dan Koenig, lead guitarist Michael Kirstein, bassist Glenn Suneson and drummer Lisa Kline --isn’t your average rock band.

Take the group’s name, which Koenig said came to him in a dream, the words appearing on a circus marquee.

Sitting on a couch in the rented Anaheim house he shares with Kline (his wife) and Kirstein, Koenig explained, “Blue is a moody color, and a trapeze is a daring, frightening symbol. That’s what we want to do with our music--try to be somewhat daring and emotional.”


Blue Trapeze, which plays Spangler’s Cafe in Anaheim tonight, was born in 1979 when Koenig and Kline moved to Orange County from Philadelphia, where they had played in various bands without much success. Four years ago, Kirstein joined the band and last year the three cemented the lineup with the addition of Suneson.

Rather than waiting--as most local bands do--to be signed by a major record company, or simply recording a rough demo tape, Blue Trapeze recently put out a full-fledged self-produced album (“Who Were You Then?” on Fullspeak Records).

“We played a show last year with Violent Femmes, and we asked them what’s the best way to make it,” Koenig said. “They told us to make our own record and send it out to record companies and radio stations. They said if it sounds good and looks good, it will show the industry that you have the impetus to do things yourself and that you’re willing to work hard. We took that advice to heart and did it.”

The album is an impressive debut, notable for Kirstein’s inventive guitar leads and the band’s distinctive style and general cohesiveness. Recorded basically live on a minimal budget, the LP employs virtually no overdubbing or multi-tracking, the type of studio gimmickry that can make a band sound better than it really does.


“The limitations were exciting,” Kline said, “but they were also frustrating. The studio was next to a Mexican restaurant, so we had to wait for the mariachi bands to take a break so we could record.”

While the musicians have also had their share of disappointments in attempting a do-it-yourself success--"CBS just stamped ‘Return to Sender’ on it and sent it back without even opening it,” Kline said--their record caught the attention of several college radio stations around the country and one major record company, which is sending an executive from England next month to see the group perform. (The band will next play Feb. 22 at the Anticlub in Los Angeles.)

Koenig and Kline describe themselves as Christians, and although religion is a central element in both their lives and music, their faith, like groups such as U2, is expressed subtly.

“I’m not trying to merchandise God, pound it into people’s brains or sell it as a gimmick,” Koenig said. “I try to make it more poetic. I believe you attract more flies with honey. (Christianity) is the basis of my being, so I don’t want to soft-sell it either. I just present it the way I feel it. I don’t write a lot of songs about drugs and sex.”

“I wish we could,” Suneson joked.

Added Kirstein, “That’s why we’ll probably never sell a whole lot of records.”

Turning more serious, Kirstein continued, “We don’t write down to our lowest expectations about the audience. Our attitude is more of a general spiritual outlook on the conflicts people get into and how they resolve them. We try to be optimistic about life, but also realistic in realizing that things do get tough. We try to keep an honest approach and belief that the goodness of man ultimately pays off.”

LIVE ACTION: Carla Olson & the Textones will be at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach Jan. 26. . . . Helen Reddy is scheduled to play the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana Feb. 4. . . . Flipper (from San Francisco) will perform Jan. 30 at Flashdance in Anaheim.