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Velvet Crayon: Always Weird (and Sometimes Naked).

March 26, 2015

VelvetCrayonOnline08Text by Brianna Spause. Images by Charles Shan Cerrone.

Erik Paluszak had seen the world’s tallest woman. That was about his only interaction with the world of sideshow before he thrust himself right in the middle of it. In 2011, Paluszak hit the road under the stage name Velvet Crayon, performing with the Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow as a one-man band. It was there he began to introduce audiences across the U.S. to his own blend of koala-based, psychedelic punk rock.

VelvetCrayonOnline07Crayon opens each show with an ode to his spirit animal. Deep creases and flaking paint smeared about the nose tell the story of the heavily traveled koala mask he dons.

“This thing is disgusting,” Crayon jokes. “It’s covered in clown makeup, kisses and urine.”

His fuzzy melodies are made up of electric guitar and synth, with a little bit of ukulele squeezed between, crafted in the vein of the Australian marsupial. Calm and collected – that is, until it rips your face off.

“Some of his songs are just hilarious and get stuck in my head,” says Scarlet Checkers, a fan of the Squidling show and an aspiring contortionist. “As for his character performance, you never know what exactly to expect but you know it’ll always be weird. And probably naked.”

Crayon never expected to be a part of the traveling freakshow. He gave the Philly music scene a shot through small bar shows and a discography of two EPs and two full-length albums with Stoned Monkey Records. While studying multimedia at University of the Arts, Crayon became a frequenter of Carnivolution, the Squidling Brothers’ performance series in Philadelphia that was co-founded by Jellyboy the Clown and Matterz Squidling. A few drinks and a newfound friendship later, Jellyboy brought Crayon on as the opening act to perform amongst sword swallowers, burlesque dancers and an array of wonderfully-grotesque artists.

“I wrote songs never intending anyone to hear them. I know I’m in the show because they like my music – but it helps that I’m a natural-born freak,” Crayon says, referring to his diagnosis of osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.

Though his bones are extremely fragile, he is not limited to his wheelchair. Rather, he says he’s empowered by it.

“There’s a stigma that sideshow is about exploitation and that’s not true at all,” Crayon says. “For the most part, natural-born freaks are the highest paid people in sideshow. There was a time when, if you were disabled, you couldn’t do anything in this world. You’d be completely broke, homeless and dying. Sideshow was a way for these people to make money, to flourish and be kings!”

Frankie Bones, a booking agent and man not afraid to pound nails into his nose, has worked closely with Crayon.

“Velvet is a true human oddity,” Bones says with an admiring tone. “It doesn’t matter how shitty your life is. You look at Velvet and see that he ain’t crying the blues. He can’t play guitar like you and me but he found a way to do his dream by learning to play like a slide guitarist. Velvet is an inspiration for everybody.”

After spending the summer at Coney Island’s Sideshow by the Seashore, doing eight to 10 consecutive performances per day, and the month of February shocking audiences across Europe, Crayon is taking a break. He is dedicating the spring to recording and sleep – something Crayon hasn’t done since the release of his third full-length album, Koala vs. Squid, in 2013.

For Crayon, joining the troupe was a way to justify a career as a musician and to electrocute pickles every now and again for the sake of a laugh. Now he’s sitting on three full-length albums worth of content and touring the world with a band of brothers and sultry sisters.

“[Sideshow] is more fun because it’s like a family,” Crayon explains. “It’s not just by yourself. I think as a one-man-band, it can get kind of weird and lonely. We get to travel and make people laugh and cry and vomit. It feels great how we affect people.”

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