It doesn’t make sense, especially to the man himself, to trace Alan Bishop’s artistic arc in linear terms. He made his name in the early 1980s as a member of Sun City Girls, the gonzo rock band he formed in Arizona with his brother Richard and later added Charles Gocher to the lineup.
They made the kind of lo-fi, experimental music — psychedelic rockers, art songs, punishing punk blasts, haunted incantations — that guaranteed they’d never be famous. Respected, sure, but always on the fringes of convention. Before disbanding in 2007, when Gocher lost his battle with cancer, Sun City Girls were a genre unto themselves: weird as all hell and just as fascinating.
That same spirit imbues Bishop’s work under the moniker Alvarius B., a solo project he launched in the early ’90s. Since then, he has released four Alvarius B. albums, including last year’s overlooked “Baroque Primitiva.”
That was the perfect title. The songs, many of them deconstructed covers like the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” (rechristened as “God Only Be Without You”), were often lush, but you could still see their skeletons poking through those pretty melodies.
“I do this all the time: I sit in a room and I create songs. A lot of times they’re spontaneous and I don’t put any time into them,” says Bishop, who comes to Tavern at the End of the World in Charlestown on Saturday. “If I get 100 songs, maybe 20 of those I wouldn’t mind living with. I like going with first takes and improvisational developments.”
Bishop is sometimes described as an outsider artist, but his output is closer to the work of Captain Beefheart than, say, Daniel Johnston. Like his music, Bishop doesn’t think too conceptually. When he started Alvarius, it wasn’t out of a desire to shift gears from what Sun City Girls were already doing.
“I listened to the songs I was writing and instead of having to develop them for the band, I thought they were good as is and decided to put them out as a solo record,” he says. “It wasn’t anything more than that — just a spontaneous decision to say this is going to be on a record and I’m going to call it Alvarius B. There’s really no mystery behind it. You do songs and then you live with them.”
His first record, 1994’s “Alvarius B.,” was a collection of home-recorded guitar instrumentals. Next month he’ll re-release the sophomore Alvarius B. album (also self-titled), which was originally put out on limited-edition vinyl. Those initial 400 copies sold out a long time ago. That album will finally be available digitally, too, and more than a decade on, it’s still a strange and hair-raising listen — crude, discordant folk songs played on an acoustic guitar that may or may not be in tune.
Asked what he’s like as a self-editor, Bishop is momentarily flummoxed.
“I don’t know,” he says, suggesting he’s never considered it. “I guess I have a system that I don’t even understand. It just seems to work for me. There’s not a lot of [common] threads if you put all four of the Alvarius records together.”
As odd as it is, “Alvarius B.,” the folk album he’s about to reissue, is probably the most straightforward of Bishop’s solo records. “Baroque Primitiva,” in particular, was a dense undertaking indebted to Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Which leads to the obvious question of how Bishop will bring it to life in concert.
“I can only do so much alone, so I don’t attempt to do things that are beyond my capability in terms of re-creating what’s done in a studio,” he says. “It’s fairly spontaneous. I have a massive list of potential songs I could do and don’t really know where the set is going to go.
“I gauge the moment, I talk to the audience, and [expletive] with them,” he adds. “That’s what I do for a living: I provoke people. It keeps me engaged and inspired. And if it wasn’t for that, I’m sure I’d be in prison — or dead.”