To say that Eyedea and Abilities’ latest accomplishment, By The Throat, (summer 2009, Rhymesayers), resides solely in the land of hip-hop is to say that that Africa is a country because that’s what Sarah Palin read to you off her hand.
For fans of the Minnesota duo, I may be preaching to choir here. For the rest, Eyedea (Micheal Larsen) & Abilities (Gregory “Max” Keltgen) has created an amalgamation based on the foundation of hip-hop, but with a New York No Wave edge.
This magical musical ride takes place not just within the streets and alleys of Eyedea’s lyrics, but inside the unexpected quirky bleeps, dirgy guitars and abstract, billowing beat-laden melodies that wrap around each other like velvet and barbed wire.
Experiencing each track is like being dropped in a new city with no map and no sense of direction, but knowing that around each corner awaits some unexpected experience that validates your desire for adventure. Basically: one doesn’t need to ask how the album’s title By The Throat came to be.
“Junk,” a song E&A performed at Red Rocks for the 2009 Rock the Bells tour, Eyedea proves just how fast those Battle-winning lips can move, while Abilities’ scratch work is more liken to a lead guitar in a TSOL track than the result of fingertips touching vinyl.
One of the more intricate songs, “Smile,” spotlights the hypocrisy of self righteousness. No, this isn’t a stab at the right wing evangelists or the like. It’s asking the listener to take a good look around. To walk the talk. “Self proclaimed rebels say, ‘We oppose the system. Bring the troops home!” but when a homeless veteran asked for change, they’re too busy protesting to listen.”
It’s also a song filled with optimism, to know that even when you’re kicked to the curb, the option is to pick yourself up and keep going…with a smile.
On the road and returning from the E&A tour in Canada, Eyedea talks about the source of his lyrical art, the emotion behind it, and his pursuit to connect with the listener.
“All of my stuff comes from the same place. I look inside and look outside, trying to push through the superficial stuff and look at the core issues. That’s what I like to write about,” he said. “I feel like, a lot of times I write about my own isolation, alienation and loneliness, sadness and depression, not because I want to indulge in it but because people that feel that way are the people who need to hear it the most. So if I feel those types of emotions I have to write music about it so other people can hear and thing, ‘Ah, fucking great. I’m NOT alone.’ So that’s why I do that side of it.
“Something like ‘Smile’ was to counteract that a little bit and give a little more of a positive twist rather than just being like ‘The world is so fucking heavy.’ It’s a little more like, if you’ve had those moments of clarity, ‘Well, I actually can deal with this.’ Then taking that passing moment and trying to make it something bigger, making it longer lasting so you actually can live a life of psychological health, to be able to love yourself and the world.”
Switching up to the song “Factory,” which moves fast and furious via slices of punk rock and a bit of Devo acidity, an ironic tone is taken while mocking those who are defiant in fashion only, “Your so hipster, you’re so hip-hop, you’re so, so, so, so cliché.”
Having just watched the Grammy’s, where some new country group beat out Ting Tings, Silversun Pickups and MGMT as the Best New Artist, and Beyonce wins six Grammy’s herself, the hit “Factory” is running on all cylinders. To me it’s the equivalent as far as frustration goes, as my reaction to someone who answers, “Whatever is on the radio” when asked “What kind of music do you listen to?”
This penchant for the masses being drawn to mainstream music, Eyedea believes it happens as well within independent music. The state of the world is that for the most part, people will gravitate towards things that are the most easily accessible.
“As a person and as an artist you just have to accept it, and then it’s not as frustrating or as difficult to deal with. I remember reading an article about one of my heroes, Aceyalone, years ago, like ’95. He did a record called All Balls Don’t Bounce. I loved it, I still love it. It encouraged me to do so many different things, but in the article he said, ‘Creativity doesn’t necessarily pay your bills. You just gotta swallow that.’”
So, is that where the whole “starving artist” term came from?
“Well yeah. Think about trying to exist in the world of visual art. That’s like, 1 in 20 million people make a dime off it in their lifetime. It’s ridiculous. Music is actually a little easier. I know a buddy who sold 10,000 records out of his house. It’s great. I’m really happy for him. But it’s still so crazy that that can happen. You never hear about a guy selling 10,000 prints of a painting that he made in his living room. It’s the whole Internet craze. MySpace and Facebook are like these social networking sites that fully embrace music and art.
“I also think people around the world are super infatuated with the idea of fame. In some ways some people consciously want you to become a celebrity. They want to go above and beyond to support you because they want to have known a celebrity before they were famous. It’s all kind of a sick, twisted infatuation. You know?”
It’s easy to immediately point blame on shows like Entertainment Tonight that tend to overshadow something like Democracy Now! in terms of viewers, or gossip dirt rags at the grocery store checkout display. But as everyone knows, if no one was watching or buying the magazine, they wouldn’t exist. It could be a chicken or the egg scenario, or it could be that a lot of people are naturally drawn to who is wearing what on the red carpet instead of paying attention to how their local Senators are voting on healthcare reform.
“The media isn’t a thing that’s separate from people. The media is made up of people who work jobs. When you think about it in that sense—and I think this is a healthy way to think—you get to see the essence of people. But it’s not like there’s some mystical machine that’s creating this big conspiracy. It’s a group of individuals that become a collective that are all doing the same thing. Why are they pushing all this crap down your throat? It’s because people want the crap down their throat.
“For instance, if I was a member of some media source I would take it upon myself to be a little more responsible. But I know a lot of people aren’t even responsible for their own bodies and minds, or anything anywhere in the world! We’re all constantly destroying the planet. We murder each other over ideas. This is the state of humanity since the beginning of time. It is an interesting insight, when almost everything causes discontent. And it can be very enlightening in a lot of ways. This is what humans do.”
Pausing for a moment and laughing almost to himself he finishes his thought, “We eat, fuck, fight and blow shit up and then die.”
So when we as individuals are looking for that sanity, that place of peace, escapism, whatever you want to call it, many of us turn to music to transport us out of this wild, wild world. Whether John is putting on headphones while he makes his way through the maze of people in an airport or subway, or when Jane is working a job she hates in cubical “Office Space” hell, or when I and my friends gather to delve deep into music that pours off of a stage. Music is our medicine.
And it’s the same for Eyedea, both as a performer and one who appreciates music. He recalls seeing Bob Dylan for the first time; a legend who has never played by anyone’s rules except his own. “I thought, ‘I have to see him, or I’ll be kicking myself for the rest of my life.’ It was great how uninterested he was in impressing the audience. He refused to play guitar. Only played keyboards,” he says, laughing a bit as he looked back on the experience. “He changed the words and melody and key of every song. And he was doing it on purpose. It was fucking amazing. It was the most punk rock thing I’ve ever seen.”
He goes on to share what most of us, standing in a stadium with thousands of other people have thought as we stare at a spec on the stage, or gaze up at the large screen.
“But it was at this huge venue with like, thirty-thousand people. I would always prefer to see a show that holds a smaller amount of people.”
So opposed to what I experienced at Rock the Bells, which would have been even more amazing than it was had I not had a crew of drunk kids behind me who had been drinking since 3pm that day, Eyedea & Abilities will perform at the intimate venue, the Marquis, this coming Tuesday, February 16 with Dosh, Whiskey Blanket and Ichiban.
Martin Dosh, a good friend of Eyedea’s from Minnesota, has joined the tour. “He performs great instrumental-based music and he creates it all in front of you at the show; plays keyboard parts, the drums, everything. It’s fully the real thing the whole time.”
Although E&A don’t have definite plans to perform at SXSW this year, but at the least, Eyedea may tag along with Dosh for his Austin gigs.
By The Throat by Eyedea & Abilities is available on Rhymesayers. Dosh is releasing a new album, Tommy, on Anticon mid-April.
Remaining tour dates after Denver:
2/18 – Lawrence, KS – Jackpot Saloon
2/19 – St. Louis, MO – Firebird
2/20 – Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon