Circus Devils as just another indie project by Guided by Voices founder Robert Pollard, the band encompasses a different form of musical exploration altogether, and dismisses the styles of his solo endeavors for a more ominous and nightmarish tone exploring the themes of good and evil. According to the group's whimsical website bio, Circus Devils formed because a dog-faced man approached each member on separate occasions to deliver the message "Circus Devils is real!" Like this story, their lyrics are often unsettling fictional tales of horror delivered within deconstructed rock operas. In 2001, Pollard met with producer Todd Tobias and Todd's brother Tim Tobias, who had been playing bass for GBV since 1999. The trio decided to start recording under the moniker Circus Devils, and collaborated to create the album Ringworm Interiors, which was finished in 2001. Tim and Todd split the musical duties (Tim focusing on guitar layering, and Todd working the recording console and bass), building atmospheric tension while Pollard delivered his sinister and wry vocals.
The Harold Pig Memorial, a slightly less abstract concept album about the memorial service of an L.A. biker. The ambitious two-part rock opera Pinball Mars followed in 2004, and the successive year brought forth the difficult ambient prog album Five. In 2007, after signing to Mike Patton's haven for off-kilter musical projects, Ipecac, Circus Devils released their most straightforward record to date, Sgt. Disco. After that, the trio began releasing material though Pollard's own label, Happy Jack Rock Records, and became one of Pollard's most prolific side projects. Circus Devils managed to crank out nine full-length albums (including Gringo, Escape, Stomping Grounds, and the film soundtrack I Razor), an EP (Sunflower Wildman), and a limited-edition "best-of" compilation (A Riot of Gold Teeth) between 2008 and 2015. In 2017, Circus Devils announced on their website that they were pulling the plug on the project, and said goodbye to their fans with two final albums -- a set of new material called Laughs Last, and a career-spanning collection titled Laughs Best (The Kids Eat It Up).