Interview with Bryce “The Govna” Graves of Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue
Interview by: George Archibald
Photography by: Andrew Bastion
The Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Review has been touring for over 10 years now supporting many big name acts such as Marilyn Manson, Slayer, Korn and Snoop Dogg to name a few. This troupe of artists are set on leaving crowds amazed, and in awe with each performance. Kill The music sat down with ringleader Bryce "The Govna" Graves to learn more about the rock and roll sideshow.
GA: Lets start off with what do you do with the sideshow? I know that you are the ringleader but what are your other titles?
BG: I am the owner and creator of Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue, and I am also the producer, director, manager, publicist, and everything else for Hellzapoppin. My focus on the show is featuring good artists, then it is being a performer, but I do a few stunts; I am a fire eater, and fire breather unfortunately the crowd didn’t get to see that tonight due to the venue. I am the MC ringleader of the show, and I feature all the artists, then on occasion I will snort corn kernels up my nose and into my tear ducts, and pop them out of my eyes. That is more of a close-up stunt for about 15 to 20 feet, so when I do it I have the crowd suck in right around me. I also present a blade box illusion where we put a girl in the box, she is a contortionist, and we put the blades all around her. People are like there is no way this is possible, so we like to bring the entire audience up to walk around the box to check it out.
We (the performers) all generally do the same stunts if you will; so, we are all sword swallowers, and fire eaters. We all do various contortions and very crazy stunts. Then you just figure out who is doing what in the set, who has the better set. The good thing is if someone is sick or cannot perform that night, someone else can step in and cover.
GA: Can you give me a little bit of background on how Hellzapoppin began, and how you all pieced the group together?
BG: For 13 years I managed rock bands, and I got tired of managing other people’s projects. I managed artists, and its not easy dealing with artists. Artists are very passionate people. So, I thought if I am going to go through this, I am going to do this on my own. I decided I was going to manage an old time freak show, and I fell in love with it. At that moment, I realized instead of building someone else’s legacy, I am going to build my own. So, I left all my bands, and I had a TV show at the time, left it all, and started Hellzapoppin. I took our rock and roll roots from managing bands for so many years and blended it together with traditional and modern side show stunts to create this rock and roll side show.
Within six months we were on tour with Mudvayne, Static-X, and Black Label Society. Static-X is one of my all-time favorite bands. This was our first tour with them, which coincidentally was their last tour along with Mudvayne’s last tour; so, it was a huge honor to be apart of that. We have been on the road ever since, and that was May of 2009 when we first started. We are on the road full time, Hellzapoppin tours nine to ten months a year. Last year (2017) we did ten and a half months straight of touring. We had a couple weeks here and there off but not much.
GA: You have mentioned Static X, but I also seen you have toured with Marilyn Manson, Snoop Dogg, Slayer, and quite a few other huge acts; What would be your favorite act to of opened for?
BG: That’s an easy one, Bob Dylan. We did direct support with him in Sweden, at the Peace and Love Festival. It was a crazy festival, there was about 60,000 people there, that for me must be the biggest and most memorable moment. Also touring with Ozzy Osbourne on Ozzfest for a couple of years. We did 2006 and 2007 with him, and that was pretty memorable. That was crazy because we had backstage passes and could go anywhere we wanted. So, I was on side stage every night when Ozzy performed just soaking it up.
GA: Where did the idea/inspiration for Hallzapoppin come from?
BG: I would say the old time freak show that I worked with and managed for a long time, for about five years. The show was called Brothers Grimm, and it was an incredible show. At that time, it was comprised of the very best side show performers in the world. Just being around that for so long and being inspired; but I was managing that show for someone else, I wanted to do my own thing. It was hard for me to leave, it was a tough transition because a lot of people were upset. It was like a marriage, so when I left, the show disbanded. At the same time however, we had a lot of great shows spawn from this change. The artists at that point left and began starting their own things. Slymenstra Hymen of Gwar was apart of the original show, she left and began building movie props. I left and started Hellzapoppin. Another lady left, and began The Pretty Things Peepshow, which is an amazing traveling burlesque side show. There was a guy named Tyler Fire who broke off and started a family side show with his wife and kids. It was cool seeing what had emerged from this change.
GA: Hellzapoppin has been known for having famous guest performers like the Lizard Man. Who has to be your favorite guest performer to have worked with?
BG: It would have to be Short E Dangerously. In our business we have performers that are basically that performers, and then you have some that are considered human oddities that do not perform. We prefer to work with people that are performers. We have had some issues in the past, where people were saying we were exploiting people. I look at those people, and say “look at Short E, does it look like I am exploiting him? He’s a performer. He is walking on broken shards of glass with his bare hands. That is something you don’t see every day.” If he was just up on a podium, and you are there to look at him then that would be exploitation. So, we prefer to work with performers, but there are two different types of performers in this business. You have your natural born, and your self-made freaks like Lizard Man. Lizard Man is a very good friend of ours and we have been working together since 2004. He is very successful independently, he has done a lot of rock tours and working with Ripley’s. He has travelled all over the world, so it is hard to book him, but when we can, we book him.
The most memorable would have to be Short E, the next would have to be the Penguin Boy otherwise now known as the Illustrated Penguin. He is amazing, he stands three feet three inches tall, which is the same height as an emperor penguin, and he is tattooed from head to toe. His hands are coming out of his shoulders, instead of arms since he doesn’t have arms. His knees are fused so he walks like a penguin. Unfortunately, he is currently in a hospital in California awaiting a kidney transplant. It is kind of ironic because he has tattoos of nurses all over his body, and he has had nurses taking care of him all his life.
GA: If someone came up to you and said that they wanted to be apart of the side show and learn the skills of the side show; what are some places that one could learn these skills, and that you recommend they learn from?
BG: There is a school called The Coney Island Sideshow School. We highly recommend it because they teach you everything, from the basics. In our industry it is well respected, as we prefer that some body that is up and coming that they consult with a professional. There are to many people out there that try things without having a professional, then they get fucked up and we all get a bad name for these types of stunts. The Coney Island Sideshow School is a great place to learn, also a lot of the bigger sideshow performers teach these acts on the side. It is just a matter of approaching these people to learn from them.
GA: What is one of your favorite acts to perform on stage?
BG: It would have to be fire eating. Its kind of my forte. It is what I am best at. I also swallow swords and do the blockhead act, the bed of nails, and glass walking; but I am best at the fire eating.
GA: What is next for Hellzapoppin after this tour?
BG: We have so much going on it’s crazy. Every year it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and we try to out do ourselves from the prior years. Last year was amazing, Short E was in the new Ripley’s book, and they made a wax figure of him and put it all over the world. Next for us though, we are doing a lot of festivals, then some follow up tour dates. We will be playing a lot of the same, well maybe not same venues but possibly same cities. The smaller shows we do tend to be clubs and bars, then for the bigger productions like festivals we bring the trucks up from Texas or Florida.
(Photographer Andrew Bastion had a question at this point)
AB: You mentioned about having box trucks coming from Texas or Florida, how many trucks does it take for the bigger production?
BG: We have one big box truck and three trailers. The trailers carry the lights, the stage, the sound system and the banner line. We have a huge devil head that goes in the box truck. These are twenty-foot trailers, but we have actually outgrown them. The show has more production than we can carry so half of the shit we don’t even get to use. We have so much cool stuff, and we don’t get to use it because we have no way to get it to the show. We are looking to invest in an 18-wheeler later this year, which will cut down on a lot of the trucks and trailers and be down to one truck and one bus.
GA: Where can people find out more about Hellzapoppin, and find out where to find you performing?
BG: The easiest spot would be going to our website, http://www.Hellzappin.com. You can find everything on our website, the tour dates are there, and we also have new merch for sale in our online store. We are also all over every social media site; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We are currently booked all the way up until November but continue to check the website for updates.
Official website: Http://www.hellzapoppin.com