The 14-year-old trio turned quintet — complete with a violin, accordion, percussion, mallet and double bass — has spread its name all over the radar, from scoring independent films to claiming the No. 12 place on Amazon’s Top 100 Album list. With the release of its third instrumental album “Animals and Cannibals” earlier this year, 3 Leg Torso is beginning a sweep over the West Coast with the start of its tour.
Without the real intention of starting a nationally touring chamber music band, accordion player Courtney Von Drehle said he knew he wanted to find innovative ways to incorporate the accordion into modern chamber music.
“I was a composition major in college and was starting to write some strange music,” Von Drehle said.
After a suggestion from a friend to get in contact with violin player Béla Balogh, Von Drehle went to the violin shop where Balogh worked, and asked if he wanted to team up.
“I went down there and met him and said, ‘Hey should we start playing some music?’ And he said ‘Yeah let’s do it,’” Von Drehle said. “I think he thought that I was pretty strange; I don’t think he knew what he was getting into.”
Soon after, Von Drehle and Balogh started playing on the streets of Portland — violin and accordion in hand — with pseudo Hungarian personas.
“We’d play in front of movie theater lines, outside restaurants,” Balogh said. “You know, quick guerilla tunes — three minutes.”
The two would joke with passersby in Hungarian accents, Balogh said.
“People would ask us, ‘Where are you from?’ And we’d say, ‘Well, do you know Bosnia? Well we are not from there’ and ‘Do you know Serbia? We are not from there,’” he said.
After the alter-egos wore off and the two started to get real recognition for their music, Von Drehle received a phone call from a friend who was learning the cello.
“He didn’t say anything, he just played cello for about 10 minutes,” Von Drehle said. “We all three came together and started 3 Leg Torso then.”
Soon enough, the band saw a way to expand its gamut even further by adding percussion.
“The musical horizon got a lot broader with those musicians that joined us,” Balogh said. “They have a lot of different experience in jazz and Latin and tango, so we started combining more influences into what we’re doing. And that’s been our modus operandi pretty much ever since.”
Balogh and Von Drehle both agree that despite their accomplishments over the years, they’re most excited about the group’s newest album which was released earlier this year.
“Animals and Cannibals” is the fifth album the group has produced, and the third which is all-instrumental.
“It’s got so many different influences,” Balogh said. “It carries you from one part of the world to the next part of the world.”
The two said the album sounds more like pop than their music has in the past, perhaps because of the studio “magic.”
“We recorded more like you’d record a pop album — isolating all the instruments, reexamining some stuff, doing some studio trickery,” Von Drehle said.
Yet the band is happy the album turned out the way it did. With song titles such as “The Life and Times and Good Deeds of St. Penguin” and “Bus Stop to Oblivion,” the album addresses both factual and fictional autobiographical scenarios.
Balogh recalled the story for the song “Driving Along with my Cow in my Volga.”
“Years ago, I was traveling in Eastern Europe and I’d witnessed a man driving a car and there was a large black and white cow sitting in the back of the car,” Balogh said. “I decided to follow these guys and see where they were going. And it was very interesting because they were going very, very fast. At one point they failed on a turn and drove off into this field of sunflowers. So that’s where the title comes from.”
Because the songs have no words, Von Drehle said, their purpose is to tell a story.
“When we think of how to convey that to the audience, we like to entertain the audience and be goofy,” Von Drehle said. “So sometimes we think that telling the story rooted in facts of fiction will explain and entertain.”
Von Drehle said they’re excited to bring some of those silly stories to Steynberg Gallery.
“We’re looking forward to seeing a lot of people, we heard that it’s an interesting space and some interesting folks have played there, and we look forward to joining that group,” Von Drehle said. “We look forward to sharing this music and the joy we find in it.”
Interestingly, owner of the Steynberg Gallery Peter Steynberg said he invited them to play simply because they fit the quota — being a good band.
“My job is trying to get the best music we can for San Luis Obispo,” Steynberg said. “The one criteria is they’ve got to be good.”
Steynberg said they also fulfilled his goal of bringing a wider variety to the gallery.
“That’s what I’m aiming towards — having more world music here,” Steynberg said.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and is $12 admission at the door. It is for all ages.