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As the sun sets on a Monday evening, the sweltering early August weather shows no sign of relenting and the daily bustle at the intersection of Lyndale and 24th continues unabated. Cyclists speed by with lights flashing, cars pass with barely muffled exhausts, and the frequent stopping of buses along the curb force those sitting at the tables outside Leaning Tower of Pizza to raise their voices virtually to a shout.
At the corner of the patio are four of the members of Culture Cry Wolf who, joking and carousing with one another, fit easily into the hectic twilight environment, often breaking into fits of group-wide laughter as they sip their beers. They're a varied crew, and it's not hard to see how they arrived at such a lively, freewheeling mash-up of musical styles, which takes its cues equally from punk rock, hip hop, and reggae.
"This winter I was listening to a lot of old '50s doo-wop and '60s stuff and I had the idea to mash that up with hip-hop—you know, the old Penguins, "Earth Angel"-type stuff," recalls guitarist Mike Daly, who wears a black fedora and delivers his words in a deliberate, rasping voice. Around that time, he heard Adam "Botzy" Botsford freestyling at a party in Uptown. "I'd been looking for an MC for a long time, obviously the right kind of MC that would work with a live band . . . "
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"So it worked out pretty well," says Botzy, a transplant from Tempe, Arizona who grew up in Boston, as he lounges back in his chair, gesturing freely as he speaks.
In the time since that initial meeting, Culture Cry Wolf have steadily built a following with their eclectic and infectious live show and, just last Friday, the group released their first EP, The Wesley Opus Sessions. "It's viral, man," Botzy enthuses about the energy surrounding the band, noting that people have traveled all the way from Michigan to see them play—and even knew their lyrics. "That's the kind of response I'm not accustomed to. Friends come to shows and that's dope, but (when it's) people you hardly know, it feels good and makes you want to keep doing what you're doing."
There have been growing pains along the way, particularly as they've gone through no fewer than four drummers—"The last one choked on his vomit!" exclaims auxiliary instrumentalist Jaime Pelaez, who quickly gives the reassurance that "he lived through it"—and parted company with their first producer.
However, as Botzy explains, the band figures these challenges have only helped them grow faster: "We had to make that decision of, like, do we want to be inside this box or do we want to be able to do this one song ska, one song Latin. And after making that decision, I think it made us have a more solid vision." That vision is brought into focus on Sessions, as the group tackles a variety of genres on songs such as "Tattooed to You," and "Lay Me Down" without ever feeling schizophrenic.
As the bandmates are chatting, a lanky kid with a buzzcut and an oversized t-shirt pops out of the sidewalk melee, climbs under the patio rope, and pulls a chair up to the table. It's Wesley Opus, the sextet's periodic seventh man who produced the EP that bears his name and rapped on two of its tracks. He and Botzy are roommates, and the entirety of the record was cut and tracked in their basement.
"Wes knew what we were going for," says Daly. "For me, at least, it was easy working with Wes. He understood the music side of it—I don't understand the hip-hop side—but he understood our side, the band side."
Yet the EP may best be considered a snapshot of Culture Cry Wolf, as the band insists the true measure of their music lies in their live performances, where they rely on a whole other arsenal of still-unrecorded material. "Our setlist, (it's) not as cohesive as the songs on the EP. They vary so much that at one point I'll jump off stage and virtually mosh with people on 'Angry on the One Count,' (then) Wes and I will be up there for 'Lay Me Down' and making the girls swoon," Botzy says, much to the amusement of his bandmates.
Pelaez's Latin grooves and trumpeter Daniel de la Torre's mariachi flair also feature much more prominently live than on the EP (last week's release show was only Pelaez's fourth with the group), which adds extra excitement to the proceedings. "We're six people deep on the stage, sometimes seven, so there's literally something to watch" says Botzy. "Daniel (even runs) out and plays trumpet from the middle of the crowd."
Of course, with all the excitement the band generates, things can occasionally get a little carried away.
"It's all fun until people start stepping on your pedals," de la Torre laments, referencing a recent show the band played where he ran afoul of some audience members dancing at the edge of the stage. "There were some older women in the audience," Botzy begins diplomatically, before Daly interrupts. "And they loved Daniel! The cougars just loved him!"