Minneapolis is best known as a burgeoning hotbed of music spanning all genres, most notably, hip-hop and indie.
Natives No Bird Sing combine both of those elements, while adding experimental beats, jazz and bold lyricism, making them one of the Twin Cities' most-buzzed-about hip-hop acts. When they decided to put together their first-ever tour, I was excited to help them book a San Diego show. So I'm pleased to announce, Friends' With Both Arms Presents: No Bird Sing, Kristoff Krane, Junkyard Empire and San Diego's Parker and the Numberman at Kava Lounge on Sept. 25.
I sat down No Bird Sing frontman Joe Horton (aka Eric Blair) to talk about their record Theft of the Commons and their upcoming tour.
Nada Alic: This was the first tour you've ever put together. How difficult was it to book shows in places you've never been?
Joe Horton: Really weird -- there were a couple cities we book easily -- like Missoula, Mont., we booked in like 30 seconds. The guy had heard about us because Kristoff Krane and Eyedea and Abilities [slegendary Minneapolis hip-hop band] came through there, so he'd been hip to us. He got us a venue and gave us a guarantee right away. Denver was impossible. It was kind of hit-or-miss, but overall I was really happy about the response.
NA: Why did you decide to tour after this record?
JH: I think we just really feel good about the last record we put out. It's difficult to now put out a few months after the release; on the one hand, it's old hat to people in Minneapolis, because we put a lot of work into releasing it here, but on the other hand, we can do a lot just by going out there and expanding that number by playing. So the first record we put out, it just wasn't the introduction, but this record, we thought, 'If we have to have one cohesive statement for people to hear, then we want it to be this one."
NA: Because your sound cross-pollinates across various genres, how would you best describe it?
JH: Having to define the sound is very much a function of having to sell the music -- like if you didn't have to sell it, the genre would be much more loose. If you give someone a hip-hop record, and they consider themselves to be a fan of hip hop, then they're more likely to buy the record. In that sense, we made the decision to be called a hip-hop band. People who are going to listen to us are going to be fans of Kristoff Krane, Eyedea and Abilities, Sadistic, Kill the Vultures. We're very much in that pool. But how we talk about our sound to each other, it's really not categorical at all. We talk about instrumentation, other bands; more often than not those bands aren't hip hop but blues, grittier guitar, like Black Keys or electronic stuff. But we have been listening to LP I'll Sleep When You're Dead and some Aesop Rock. It's just so experimental. That's where hip-hop is as a genre right now: People want to experiment with it, it's been around for awhile, it's got it's legs beneath it, it can go anywhere, it can do anything it wants.
NA: "Theft of the Commons" is an aggressive piece -- calling out the dysfunction of society and the state of the world. Was that a cathartic experience, or are those things still unresolved?
JH: Being a person that's living in modern times, seeing some of the most atrocious things that have ever happened in our known history happen today -- that's really difficult to deal with, and I think that anybody that's not bothered by that is sick. For as much frustration as I was feeling in that process, I was also feeling really guilty, because I do live in this society, I drove here today, I put gas in my car, I paid money to do that. Those are things on some level, i don't agree with. Some of my frustration was shifted into other areas -- the whole reason that I dislike capitalism is that it kills people without actually killing them. It's the very impulse that I love about human beings is being systematically oppressed, and everyone just goes about their business as though that's not happening. Sitting with that brought me to a place where I'm like ... I can either continue to express frustration or guilt, or I can set to the task of being the antithesis to capitalism. If I'm angry that people are being supressed, I should supress myself as little as possible, to be an example. This is how beautiful things are when those kinds of narratives aren't in your way. Everything I've written since then has been focused on trying to look at the beautiful things int the world.
NA: Do you think that people are getting the message through your music?
JH: Right now, social networking is a tool that brings people together -- I can have conversations about people that listen to my music. I feel really humbled to be able to do that. I just check myself often. When there's really intelligent people interacting with the music and with me, that's really beautiful. It's not gonna be for everybody -- but the people that are prone to liking something like that really responded in an intellectual way, as well as with empathy and commonality.
NA: You're going out with two other prominent Minneapolis hip-hop acts: Kristoff Krane and Junkyard Empire. What is it about the Twin Cities that breeds such strong artistic community?
JH: The music scene here is really beautiful. There's a lot of different factions, but I really don't feel any animosity between us. There's a lot of interaction between the groups, and I feel like there's a really healthy peer pressure here -- if I were to do something that i think is mediocre, I would have a lot of people lining up to tell me that's not OK. It's not acceptable in Minneapolis to just sit around. Because everyone else is doing such wonderful work it kind of pushes the whole scene up. The hip-hop scene in particular, everyone from POS to Eyedea and Abilities to Kristoff Krane, one of my best friends and most special people I've ever met in my entire life.
You can catch No Bird Sing at Kava Lounge Sept. 25 with Kristoff Krane, Junkyard Empire and Parker and the Numberman. Tickets are $7 and doors are at 9 p.m. For more details, go here.