Local Funk Band Has Ties to East End
Writer / Shannon Siders
On any given night, there are bands playing sets across bars, restaurants and music venues in Louisville, representing a wide array of genres. Shaun Wallace saw a hole in the market in the summer of 2011 and set out to fill a niche. From there, Soul Circus arose as the region’s premier groove band.
“The bands in Louisville mostly play a very similar setlist,” Wallace says. “When we started out, I wanted to play more of the funk genre, groove music. Nobody else is playing that stuff in the city of Louisville at all, so it helps set us apart.”
Soul Circus grew from a five-piece band, eventually adding a horn section. Wallace serves as the frontman of the group on main vocals and also manages the business side of the band. His father, Steve “Pop” Wallace”, also does some vocals and plays guitar.
The band’s current lineup is rounded out by Mike Vest (saxophone), Earl Dickerson (bass guitar and vocals), Tim Flowers (lead guitar), David Hoback (drums) and Felipe Hernandez (percussions).
Soul Circus has averaged about three shows a week over the last six and a half years and even had a stretch where they played 15 shows in 15 days. With over 150 shows a year, and practices thrown on top of that, Soul Circus has had a lot of time to perfect their craft.
“By the time we play a song three or four times, we’ve got it figured out,” says Wallace, who has an interesting approach to playing new songs.
“I tell the guys to learn a song. They come out, play that song at a practice, and I say, ‘That was great, sounds just like the record, now throw that all away and play how you feel it.”
Wallace’s aim is to hold true to the song but to change the way it is played. He says the song is different each time it’s played because each band member puts their own spin on things.
Soul Circus operates under the tagline “groove, funk, and grease” and plays a setlist highlighted by classics from Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, Prince, and Ohio Players, as well as new takes on more contemporary artists like Bruno Mars.
“I think the best way to gain traction is to play something nobody else is playing that we can make relevant for a current audience,” Wallace says.
While the band channels funk and soul through their music, they have stayed away from wearing costumes on stage.
“I want to be who we are, making the music we want to make,” says Wallace, who is often seen wearing jeans and Chucks at shows. “I didn’t want us to be a hokey band that dressed up. That’s just not us.”
Soul Circus got its name from a 2005 album of the same name released by popular funk bass player Victor Wooten. Wallace’s start in music actually came a few years after the release of that album, following the 2008 financial crisis.
While growing up in Jeffersontown, Wallace picked up a little guitar from his father, who was a traveling musician but never took it very seriously.
“I never really played until 2008,” Wallace says. “The economy went bad, and dad and I were in construction together at the time. Money dried up and we both had big mortgages to pay.”
Wallace’s father reached back to his musical roots and told his son to go book a show for them as a duo. His plan was to teach Wallace how to play bass in the time before the first gig.
“In two weeks, he taught me 45 songs on bass, and I’d never played bass before,” Wallace says. “I dove into music because we didn’t have any income.”
Before long, the duo was playing five nights a week and enjoying a steady cash flow. Wallace, who was 30 years old at the time, had found a new love in music and began to grow his confidence as a singer.
Today, Wallace owns a successful construction company, Walco Custom Construction LLC and enjoys his music career with Soul Circus for more than the income it provides. Wallace and his bandmates enjoy giving back and playing benefits for their friends in the community and especially relish seeing the joy on the faces of the audience when they perform.
“For me, it’s about the brotherhood that I have with my bandmates, and the fraternal brothers and sisters we have in the music community in Louisville,” Wallace says. “Being able to look out offstage and see a sea of people dancing and grooving to my music, smiling and having a great time, that is so rewarding and fulfilling for me.”
Wallace has also been involved with the Musician’s Emergency Resource Foundation (MERF) over the last three years and was recently named president of the organization.
“I deal with musicians who are in crisis and in need all the time,” Wallace says. “It helps me bring the community up at large and we’re working on some big things for the future.”
In addition to an effort to help bring healthcare to musicians, Wallace and his colleagues at MERF can help musicians get caught up on taxes, and assist them with rent payments or finding food when times are tough.
“Being in a band and being part of this community is not just about making great music with my friends but giving back to the community as well,” Wallace adds.
The nearly 37-year-old organization accepts monetary and in-kind donations to help musicians in need and also hosts several fundraisers throughout the year.
Wallace has enjoyed staying close to his roots and playing shows in the town he’s called home his entire life.
“I’ve lived all over the city, and I’m attached to people all over the city,” Wallace says. “I can walk into a bar anywhere around town and know people there. This is home.”
Soul Circus is going strong leading up to their seventh anniversary. A full lineup of upcoming shows can be found at the band’s website, soulcircusband.com.