By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Stephen Lewis, the local DJ/producer known as Anatomy, reckons that "The Vultures" might be mistaken as the anthem of his group Kill the Vultures. And he's right.
The central image of the song has the group fending off the elements that would turn them into carrion, a choice of villain that adds desperation to their already-pained vocal styles (vultures are, after all, enemies only to the nearly dead). Meanwhile, they reflect on the "golden years, now viewed as stolen goods," which one can assume refers to the group's previous life as the young, commercially viable, critically drooled-over hip-hop crew Oddjobs. With Kill the Vultures' three MCs--Advizer, Nomi, and Crescent Moon--chanting "Kill the vultures/Before they dine on all of us" in urgent unison, it's hard to regard the song as anything but the mission statement of the Twin Cities' oddest rap group.
In fact, the line was written well before Kill the Vultures adopted their name. "Advizer wrote that, and I just really liked it," says Lewis, speaking outside of the Scooterville building near Stadium Village. (The group's second album, tentatively titled The Careless Flame, is being mixed at Third Ear Studio, one floor above the scooter showroom). Lewis's tight white shirt and sculpted black hair make him look like a greaser from The Outsiders. He runs his fingers through his pompadour and says, "I just love the blunt darkness of it." (The lyric, not the hair, presumably.)
Advizer (born Adam Waytz), a grad student in research psychology at the University of Chicago, finds a deeper meaning in the line. "There are people in your life who really benefit from bringing you down," he writes via e-mail. "Killing the vultures is about preempting those demons."
As Oddjobs fans nationwide have been discovering since Kill the Vultures began performing in Minneapolis, Chicago, and San Francisco (the current respective hometowns of Anatomy and Crescent Moon, Advizer, and Nomi), such dark talk is an about-face for guys once known for their throw-your-hands-in-the-air hip hop. And those are just the lyrics: Anatomy, finding himself alone at the production helm following the departure of Oddjobs DJ Deetalx, steered Kill the Vultures into new musical terrain. Gone are the ready-made backpack beats that got Jurassic 5 fans all atwitter; in their place is innovative avant-rap that sounds a little like walking through a tool shed in the dark while carrying a boombox blaring free jazz.
A case in point: "Blue Collar Holler," Oddjobs' highest-charting single (number six on the CMJ college chart), was a feel-good fanfare to the common cats, themselves included. "We just a crew doin' a job/And it's an odd, odd job," went the chorus. Compare that boosterism to this line, from Kill the Vultures' "Behind These Eyes": "Scum of the earth, gathered are we/Numb to work for manufacturing/Assembly line, running so smooth/Faster than a wartime economy boost."
So what happened?
"We could have written the perfect Oddjobs record," says Lewis of the time following the final Oddjobs release, 2003's The Shopkeeper's Wife. "But we weren't into that kind of music anymore. I wanted to use more raw materials. Raw vocals. It wasn't about making 'quality hip hop' anymore. I was more titillated by dark, psychedelic stuff."
"Even when [Oddjobs] tried to make basic indie hip hop, we never really got it right," adds Alexei Casselle, a.k.a. Crescent Moon. "We're just weird dudes."
Curiously, Kill the Vultures wasn't created during one of those endless Minnesota winters that have given rise to so many disconsolate local records. It is, in fact, the product of sunny California. After emigrating from Minneapolis to Brooklyn in 2002, Oddjobs eventually relocated to Berkeley, where they resorted to covering their windows with black garbage bags to escape the easy-breezy vibe. It was then that they started to record what was supposed to be another Oddjobs record. It didn't take long for the four longtime friends to realize that part of what they were documenting was Oddjobs breaking up.
"Those were the truly dark days," Waytz says. "All of us sort of had personal breakdowns early on in our time out in the Bay Area. The angry or bitter tone of the album probably comes from that period of time."
Lewis agrees. "It helped that we were really unhappy there," he says.
Kill the Vultures erupted from that morass. Waytz says recording the record felt like "screaming with a purpose." Casselle, having blamed the crew's former woes on "business polluting what we really wanted to do," found therapy in turning his focus away from his audience.
"I just love these songs, 'cause I don't give a fuck who likes them," he says, accenting the "fuck" with a punch to his palm. "If you're up there and you're trying to get a room full of people to put their hands up and sing along, and you fail, that's really hard to deal with. We're not even trying to do that anymore. It's our guts on the stage, and it ain't always pretty."
Nor is it very popular, at least with their former fun-loving fans. Casselle fondly recalls the Kill the Vultures release show, when they billed the group as "formerly Oddjobs." "A lot of people just didn't get into it," he says. "And why should they?"