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Marijuana Deathsquads: Everyone's got that fucking crazy animal in them

Marijuana Deathsquads: Everyone's got that fucking crazy animal in them
Photo by Erik Hess

Fuck capturing a moment. Marijuana Deathsquads have stockpiled heavy artillery and are ready to unload on a moment until the chamber's empty. After a couple years of artist residencies, loft parties, and covert studio sessions, the guitar-eschewing Minneapolis electronic experimenters have arrived above ground on their full-length debut, Oh My Sexy Lord.

"Our business game is slowly getting its shit together," says producer/instigator Ryan Olson, who seems most comfortable with a lit cigarette between his nimble fingers. He and four other members of the 'Squads -- drummer Ben Ivascu, auxiliary noise programmer Mark McGee, studio engineer BJ Burton, and vocal manipulator Isaac Gale -- are gathered at Spyhouse Coffee in northeast Minneapolis on a sunny September Friday. Olson adds, "Until now, we haven't really pushed our shit out of the city."

See Also: Marijuana Deathsquads May 2013 Residency at Icehouse

Aside from a couple of multi-day stints in major cities -- including a Spaceland residency in Los Angeles that yielded a collaboration with Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow -- this is true. But this rotating cast of Gayngs/Building Better Bombs alums finally will push it out as the main support for their more pop-oriented scene siblings Poliça later this year.

During fall and winter dates across North America and Europe, it'll be double duty for Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, who play drums in tandem for both groups. For live Deathsquads sets, the tempos run on a treadmill set to a speed that'll make your legs buckle underneath you. To shift gears seamlessly, the pair take instructions that Olson barks through a mic into headphones cupping their ears. "Sometimes it's not necessarily what you do to the change, as long as you change at the right time," the plain-spoken Ivascu notes.

Filling out the live setup is a table packed with gear. It's a family-style dinner with various boxes, pedals, keyboards, Macbooks, microphones, and a tangle of cords woven into a sound guy's nightmare. Along with Gale, McGee, and Olson, friends like P.O.S., Slapping Purses' Jason Power, Spyder Baybie Raw Dog, and Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh often bounce and scream around the table.

Ryan Olson
Ryan Olson
Channy Leaneagh
Channy Leaneagh
Marijuana Deathsquads: Everyone's got that fucking crazy animal in them
Photos by Erik Hess

"For me, it's mostly about just trying to go absolutely insane," Gale says in his ever-raspy voice, while squinting into the late-afternoon sun. "And jump out of this world and into some crazy realm where we can cause chaos and devastation. We play with a lot of musicians whose bands sound nothing like this, but they're incredible players and they know everyone's got that fucking crazy animal in them. We try to get it out."

Until recently, each Deathsquads performance was a different beast. Through curated events (like accompanying a slam-dunk highlight reel), happy improvisational accidents, trippy projections, a hip-hop mixtape (free download), and a catalog of songs that now numbers in the dozens, intensity has been the only constant. But Oh My Sexy Lord, out October 15 via Totally Gross National Product, and a pair of EPs released earlier this year titled Music Rocks I & II (free download) signal a new era of live uniformity, at least by their standards.

 

"We're gonna go out and play these songs," says P.O.S., whose 2012 album We Don't Even Live Here has been remixed in its entirety by the 'Squads for release later this year. "Vamp on it when it's appropriate, but mostly give an honest representation of what the album is. And freak out Poliça fans."

"At least the band is called Marijuana Deathsquads," Olson says. "You can't be that confused. Hopefully we won't lose or piss off too many people. We'll give Channy a big hook to pull us off stage."

Ben Ivascu
Ben Ivascu
Isaac Gale and Mark McGee
Isaac Gale and Mark McGee
Jason Power and Isaac Gale
Jason Power and Isaac Gale
Photos by Erik Hess

The freak-out factor is partly due to Gale's heavily processed vocals. His demonic delivery -- "Part male, part female, part whatever," he says -- rose above the cacophony during the group's formative 2010-11 residency at now-shuttered Loring Park hangout Nick and Eddie, and is now one of Marijuana Deathsquads' undeniable trademarks. (Unsurprisingly, the group has also enjoyed an ever-expanding partnership with the West Bank's yearly drunken gore-fest Zombie Pub Crawl, which is this Saturday.)



"I believe in getting even," he wails maniacally on Oh My Sexy Lord's "Bad Boy Masterpiece," a combination of gloomy industrial-grade synths and brutal blasts of live drums. Then he's forlorn on the album's more-serene first single, "Ewok Sadness." As a whole, the album is Autobots vs. Decepticons, reverential vs. detrimental, and video games vs. your ears. You won't get it on the first try. Sorry. After all this time with it, Gale says he's still uneasy about using the voice: "It's so crunchy and distorted and noisy that I want to keep refining it, I guess."

Refinement for Oh My Sexy Lord began nearly three years ago during an initial 10-day recording session at Justin Vernon's April Base studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. And since then, given the uncertainty of what Marijuana Deathsquads actually was, there's haze and sweet-smelling smoke draping over the project's shape and personnel. A long list of collaborators credited on the record includes Vernon, Leaneagh, and Har Mar Superstar, and you can pick out their voices here and there. But Marijuana Deathsquads aren't here to take your hand and walk you through the who, where, and when of anything.

"They're very experimental, exploratory sort of situations," Olson says of the recording sessions, as a wide grin forms on his face. "It ended in an insane zone, being completely lost on mescaline, freaking out, and having no idea what music was. It was pretty great."

Marijuana Deathsquads: Everyone's got that fucking crazy animal in them
Photo by Erik Hess

MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS & FRIENDS 
perform at Zombie Pub Crawl on Saturday, October 12, at the Red Sea; 612-333-3349. More ZPC info.

POLIÇA. With MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS. Friday, November 29 and Saturday, November 30 at Mill City Nights. RSVP here.


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