|Django Stewart of Nightmare and the Cat at Cirque School in Hollywood|
5640-1/2 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) 424-226-2477
A beautiful woman wears a colorful, sparkling costume as she gracefully dangles from a hoop suspended in midair. A muscly male acrobat deftly tumbles across the floor. Once a child has experienced the wonders of the circus, it's easy for them to become captivated by the images for life. This is definitely something that happened to Django Stewart, lead singer of L.A. band Nightmare and the Cat.
"I've always loved the circus. Since I was young, I have been wild and acrobatic, doing as many flips as I could everywhere," he confesses with a laugh. "I have to do a lot of running to keep up my cardio for singing purposes. I was trying to find different ways of staying fit that I wouldn't be bored by, something outside of my comfort zone. So I came here and immediately fell in love with it."
Cirque School. Founded 10 years ago by former Cirque du Soleil aerialist and Pilates coach Aloysia Gavre, Cirque School began with four classes a week at a Pilates studio in West Hollywood. As demand for the classes increased, the school relocated to its current space in Hollywood in 2009.
"I love it here," Django gushes. "When you're sick of hanging out at bars and clubs, this is such a nice place to hang out. It's a good community."
When you step into Cirque School, you immediately feel welcome and at ease because of the friendly instructors and relaxed atmosphere that uphold the training center's vision of being "for anybody with any body." This is not to say their focus is anything but intense. Gavre has blended techniques from her Cirque du Soleil and Pilates training to create safe and fun programs that build physical strength as well as mental wellness. It's no wonder the studio is crowded even though it's the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. It's also why actors like Water for Elephants' Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz have trained at Cirque School.
Beginner's (101) classes are just $25 and focus on introducing you to floor exercises and working on your flexibility, stretching, aerial fitness and conditioning. As you progress, you can start learning tricks on different equipment, such as the aerial hoop, straps and fabric, acrobatic pole or Django's preferred apparatus, the trapeze.
"I had only taken a couple gymnastics classes in school and thought it was really fun. I think everybody finds it fun – bouncing around, doing flips and jumping on the trampoline. I just loved that; flying through the sky is one of my favorite things," he grins. "I was naturally inclined to the trapeze. I've been coming to Cirque School for almost four years now, working on the single-point trapeze. It's a dance trapeze where you can swing, spin really fast and and go around in a circle doing tricks. It's a lot more rhythmic and free so you can get into the music and do a lot more stuff than on a static trapeze."
"She's been in gymnastics since she was really young. I'm so lanky and English that it was really hard to build a strong core from scratch," he adds with a laugh. "I'm trying, but I think it's impossible."
While he has yet to incorporate any acrobatics into a Nightmare and the Cat show, Django has influenced one of his fellow band mates, bassist Scott Henson, to study at Cirque School too.
"Scott is amazing. In fact, he's really good at ground stuff, so he does a lot of acrobatics and Chinese pole," tells Django. "I'm trying to get more into that because, on the road, I'm only going to have the ground to work with."
Django, Scott and the rest of the group – vocalist Claire Acey, drummer Spike Phillips and guitarist Samuel Stewart (who is Django's older brother and his co-songwriter for the band's material) – just opened for Fitz and the Tantrums at a sold-out Palladium show and are preparing to hit the road on a North American tour with Neon Trees in May. Their debut album is also going to be released this summer (sometime in July), so there is a lot for them to be excited about.
As the sons of Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama, Shakespears Sister), music was always a part of the brothers' home life, but it wasn't until high school that it became anything more than a hobby for Django.
"I always sang and listened to a lot of soul music.The gospel singers in my dad's band were always these big black mamas who would babysit me backstage. I would listen to them sing and just fall in love. I always felt at home singing with them," he remembers. "Then one day in high school, I thought, 'all those kids are going to be lawyers and actors,' and I realized, 'Shit, I am a musician.' The only things I do really well are singing and playing piano. It was a realization more than a decision to be a singer."
Aside from his father's backup singers, Django was enthralled by the voice and energy of James Brown. It was Brown's music that influenced Django to start playing the saxophone, and it was a young Django who contributed saxophone to the No Doubt song "Underneath It All."
"Everybody thought I was some wild, bad kid in high school, so I wasn't really invited to people's houses because their parents didn't approve of me. I sat down at the piano one day and played up that character in a song called 'Do You Like the Taste of Trouble.' That was my first time writing lyrics. Then I got into Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Velvet Underground and David Bowie, and it became more poetry."
From then on, Django kept writing songs. He and Sam both fronted bands in London and Los Angeles (Django James and the Midnight Squires and Blondelle, respectively) before coming together to form Nightmare and the Cat, which was named for a song by Anthony Harwood, in 2010.
"Sam is just so good at playing guitar and recording. I had always been great at singing melodies, writing lyrics, playing piano and singing them. Recording them is a whole other beast that I'm OK at, but Sam is just amazing at. As soon as he called me to write some songs together, I was like, 'Hell yeah,'" Django admits. "Also, I wish I could play guitar like he can, so having that in my band? Yep, I'll take that."
Although Sam had produced an album for Django's first band, Nightmare and the Cat marks the first time the brothers worked on songs together. Well, aside from some joke songs they created to test GarageBand when it first came out. They released their first music, a self-titled EP, in 2011 and just put out a second EP, Simple, last September. One of Simple's tracks, "Alvarado," immediately resonated with me since it's an ode to a neighborhood where the brothers have lived and where I currently reside. Django is thrilled when I recognize a landmark from a lyric in the song. And gets even more excited when I ask him to share some of favorite places to shop in the city.
Wasteland is great. Jet Rag is a good one. My secret weapon is a place called Catwalk on Fairfax," he divulges. "These two amazing women have been hanging out with rock stars since the 1960s, and they've collected all these clothes since then. They'll pull out these velvet suits that Jimmy Page bought the brother of and throw them on me. They're such amazing stylists and immediately make me look like a rock star. They're teaching me some tricks. Other than that, I'm a magpie when I go shopping. Anything sparkly, that's what I'm drawn to, and I also wear a lot of black."
Aside from spending many hours at Cirque School and on the treadmill at the gym, you can also find Django grabbing a sandwich at the Oaks or his favorite snack (rice cakes with peanut butter and banana) at the grocery store. He is also a big fan of tattoo artist Mark Mahoney of Shamrock Social Club on the Sunset Strip.
"He is just the coolest dude ever. He's so old-school and looks like a proper greaser with an amazing coif all the time," he says. "Everybody in his shop is an amazing artist."
Django is also a huge fan of the producer of Nightmare and the Cat's Simple EP, Eric Valentine, whom they re-teamed with for their forthcoming debut full-length.
"We have a mutual friend who kept telling me to check out Eric's studio. One day Sam went down there, called me up and said, 'It's completely insane. It's amazing.' We looked Eric up, and it just so happens that he produced one of our favorite albums, Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age, so we were in awe. This was before we were signed to Capitol, and he said he would like to work with us so we recorded a song of ours. Off the back of Eric producing that song and getting the EP out there, I think that's what got us signed. After we got signed, we knew we had to make an album with him. He's like a rocket scientist with music."
Nightmare and the Cat just released a new lyric video for one of the album's tracks, "Undercover," and it features characters from another avid supporter of the group and their music, L.A. artist Gary Baseman. The contemporary artist designed both EP covers for the band and often contributes images for their videos, photos and performances.
"Gary's a huge fan of good music. We were at a party one night, and we just started to jam. Gary is such an outgoing person. He put on one of his character's costumes and started dancing in the middle of the circle. He grabbed Claire and started slow dancing with her. He came up afterwards, introduced himself and said, 'I think you guys are really great.' That was before we even had our first show, so when we had our first show we asked him to come down. He sat there sketching all of the songs out and showed them to us afterwards, and we were amazed," Django recalls. "Since then, he's been a saint, really helpful and has always believed in us."
As Django and the rest of Nightmare and the Cat get ready to wow the rest of the continent with their live shows, I ask him to share some of the concerts that have left an impression on him.
"It's hard when you live in a city that has so many amazing acts all the time. I feel like the public gets a bit numb to them. When you play in Middle America, people freak out. Here, people are pretty zombie-esque watching their favorite bands, but I've seen so many incredible acts. Arcade Fire have always been so inspirational to me. I remember being 15, and my only friend in high school wasn't allowed to go out most of the time so I was always at gigs by myself. I saw this band called the Noisettes, and it really shook something up inside of me. The lead singer is this beautiful and crazy performer who wears really interesting outfits. She just lost her shit on stage, and I was like, 'Yes,'" he exclaims. "The band that first woke something up inside of me, though, was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My brother took me to a gig of theirs in London when I was 14 and then just ditched me in the mosh pit. I was just so excited and amazed. I felt like, 'I want to do that. I just want to do that so bad.'"
Nightmare and the Cat perform June 14 at the Wiltern. For more information, visit nightmareandthecat.com.