When we spoke, Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni, a Bridgeport-based husband-and-wife duo who make music together as Caravan of Thieves, were boarding a train for New York City, which I could hear through the receiver.
It seemed like the perfect backdrop for the conversation. Caravan of Thieves draws liberally from gypsy jazz, late-romantic string-bands, the sounds of Victorian saloons and street performers, working train-station platforms for extra scratch before moving on to another town. There's vibe for miles on their records — two studio efforts, "Bouquet" (2009) and "The Funhouse" (2012), and "Mischief Night" (2010), a live recording — that calls to mind smoke-filled rooms, shady characters and warbling vaudevillians.
"We had this vision of being street performers," said Fuzz. "It felt a little more appropriate playing instruments you could literally play on the street corner. … The styles we wear on stage came after this project was started. We wanted to visually present this music in a way that would bring listeners into our world."
Before forming Caravan of Thieves, the Sangiovannis played in conventional rock bands, on electric instruments, then began singing and playing together on acoustic guitars. When they plugged back in, Carrie said, their fragile chemistry, which now comes across so strongly on such songs as "Sister Went Missing" and "Raise the Dead," disappeared under the weight of the full band. Sonically, she said, "it was too big and overpowering."
Moving forward meant stripping back to a duo, then adding violinist Ben Dean and double bass player Brian Anderson; "Mischief Night," recorded live at a sold-out gig in Fairfield, captures the rowdy, energetic sound of the early quartet. For "Funhouse," Caravan of Thieves headed to Peter Katis' Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, where Katis has produced albums by The National, The Swell Season, Interpol, Mates of State and more recently Trey Anastasio of Phish.
"It really worked," Carrie said of the quartet format. "The music is a combination of things we were really getting into when we started," Fuzz added. "It reminds some people of Tim Burton."
For a pair of Halloween shows, the group decided to perform the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album in its entirety, and the process of learning and playing those songs was rejuvenating.
"After doing the whole thing, I think we feel a little more educated about songwriting," Fuzz said. With "Pepper," he said, the Beatles were shedding the weight of their own creative personalities, forcing themselves to write, produce, play their instruments and sing as their alter egos. It's similar to what he and Carrie found was happening when they started performing in their new band.
"We had a run of things leading up to Caravan of Thieves," Fuzz said. "It was a chance to get into somebody else's skin… We aren't literally gypsies, but [with Caravan of Thieves] we are certainly getting into that mindset and letting our imaginations wander."
Caravan of Thieves kicks off its 2014 touring season with a show on Saturday, Jan. 4, at the Sounding Board, an intimate listening room in the Universalist Church in West Hartford, before moving up and down the East Coast. Without a new full-length release to bring with them, Caravan of Thieves recorded a new single, "Dead Wrong," and shot a video on location in Stafford Springs with local auteur Daniel Salazar, who handled the cinematography on "The Last Intervention." They'll most likely head back into the studio in March to record a follow up to "The Funhouse."
"We've been writing and touring a lot the past year," Carrie said. "The sound is evolving… We haven't quite decided what we're going to sound like next."
"The songwriting, in our minds, seems to be getting better and better," Fuzz said. "Our writing sessions this spring and summer were better than they were last winter."
Information: Jan. 4, 8 p.m. $18-$20. Sounding Board Coffeehouse, West Hartford. folknotes.org