After greeting me at the door with his trademark lady-killing grin, Tilson—one of the MCs of the power-party hip-hop collective the Saturday Knights—shows off the basement of their Tacoma house, where they're recording their first full-length LP, due out this fall. But first and foremost on their agenda is a mission to entertain me.
The Saturday Knights With El Perro del Mar, the Blakes, and the Shackletons. Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9467, www.neumos.com. $10. 8 p.m. Fri., March 9.
"We have chips, we have DVDs," says the Saturday Knights' DJ Spence.
When Tilson brings more beers and bags of chips, he reveals that there's more to the party favors than mere food.
"Each brand of chips represents one of us," he says, asking me which I like best."This is me," says Barfly of the hearty Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Chips: Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper. Barfly, a stapleof the hip-hop scene with groups like Oldominion, Norman, and the Nite Owls, is releasing a solo effort, I've Been Worse, later this year on Self Core.
Tilson, naturally, is the Guiltless Gourmet: Baked Spicy Black Bean on Blue Corn. And today, the MC who never curses is in fact extra-healthy, taking swigs from a bottle of sparkling water. "I'm going macrobiotic," he says. "Gotta look good for the show, y'know?"
The group's DJ, Spencer "Spence" Manio, whose résumé boasts time spinning as DJ Suspence and DJs on Strike!, as well as a gig at Play Network as a senior music programmer, holds up his brand: a red-and-white-striped bag of Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips, with Johnny's Seasoning Salt.
"I'm pure magic," he says, pointing to the motto on the bag. "See, it says right here."
"It's true, you really can't have just one with those," Tilson chimes in.
Around 5:30 p.m., Brian Weber wakes up, joins in, and unknowingly reaches for a handful of his own chips: Tostitos With a Hint of Lime.
"See how he just grabbed for his own chip? It's white, but not just white," says Tilson of the guitarist/keyboard player, who spent time with indie outfits like Dub Narcotic Sound System and Dead Presidents. Weber sips on a beer and shows off a care package—a wishbone and newspaper clippings—from his new friend, an elderly woman he met recently on the bus from Seattle to Tacoma.
"You gave this random woman ouraddress?" asks Spence.
"Yeah. Shut up," he says. "I'm not afraid of people."
Together, the Saturday Knights are strong-headed and boisterous, talking over each other, more party than band.
"We're really not a group. We don't do none of the stuff," says Tilson, formerly of the Grain, whose wisecracking onstage antics have earned him the title of the group's charismatic ladies' man.
"Did you know that there's a group in Minnesota that does all of our music? They do the Shins' stuff, too," deadpans Spence, before adding, "Musicians don't talk about music. They just do it."
True, there's not much talk of music in the basement, crammed with scattered recording equipment, cowbells, drums, records, a caulking gun, and empty cans of Miller Genuine Draft. After brainstorming ways to enhance the experience of the Saturday Knights' live show with pyrotechnics, set design, and wardrobe, the conversation soon turns to new weapons to add to rock, paper, scissors (amongthe possibilities: squid, knife, gun,"gun-knife," sword, the Clapper, flashlight, the sun, and the moon), snow globes, human cannonballs, taxidermy, carpetbagging, and kangaroo fights.
But amidst this hilarious, ridiculous talk, music is always on their mind. The conversation is peppered with "Could that be a song? That could be a song!" and stabs at turning each other's words into lyrics.
With this raucous lifestyle, getting the attention of all four requires a miracle.However, that's a huge boon during their songwriting process: By the time a phraseor hook actually grabs their collectiveattention, it's inherently catchy, genre-bending, and shamelessly fun. The result is an infectious mix of up-tempo, good-natured party jams, with thrashing punk guitar blends and comedic, effortlessly flowing lyrics. It's old-school hip-hop, influenced by "the sound effects on Super Mario Bros. or that theme for Monday Night Football." Not to mention power-pop, funk guitar, organ, and lyrics about Clark Kent.
"We wrote a song about surfing," says Weber. "But we were so blacked out when we did it. We went back the next morning, and when we played it, we were like, wow, this is a good song. But I don't remember any of the details of writing it."
Part of that ease is the simplicity of the song structures, and part is the glut of the members' collective songwriting experience.
"We've gotten better at getting our point across in three minutes," says Weber. "We've just all been in plenty of bands before, so we're better at it. It's not like I'm 22 and have to reinvent the wheel every time I want to write a song. It's pretty easy for us to write songs."
"God, that sounds so pompous," counters Spence.
But things have been fairly easygoing for the group since the beginning. Although Barfly and Weber were recently roommates in Beacon Hill (Tilson and Weber first met in their teens), the four had never played or hung out together before landing their first gig. They opened for RJD2 in April of 2004 with a last-minute crunch of writing all of their songs in one night.
"We thought of it like performance art," says Spence.
"And the whole thing just came together. I don't even know how," says Tilson.
They've since played Bumbershoot and have shared a stage with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Death Cab for Cutie.
This Friday, the group celebrates its first official release, a self-titled four-track EP. "Motorin'" begins with a throb of thrashing, aggressive drums before gliding into the pure pop of barbershop harmonies, then into flawless flowing verse backed by sounds that straddle the line between psychedelic and funk. While some songs (like "45") borrow heavily from the sounds of dance-friendly old-school hip-hop, and the guitar riffs on "Ass Kicker's Haircut" borrow from pure metal, it's representative of the eclectic grab bag of sounds that is the Saturday Knights. The group's demo was rougher versions of these same songs, and it attracted the attention of powerhouselabels like Interscope and Def Jam. But the Saturday Knights ultimately signed with local up-and-comers Light in the Attic, making them the label's second original group after the Black Angels.
"We're not just another band to them," says Spence of Light in the Attic.
"[The bigger labels] wooed us with money, but not the love," says Tilson of the label. "Plus, I got into a thing with Jay-Z at a Christmas party, so no Def Jam."
But now that they have a label, they're currently managerless. Spence, who once acted as the group's manager, quit his managerial duties (and nearly the entire band) after playing double duty provedtoo taxing. But that lifestyle is part of theSaturday Knights' paradox: If they were more focused on making music, the songs they managed to make might not be as fun, hook-filled, or lovable as the songs they do put out. They're not the kind of band that thinks too much about their influences.
After hours of eavesdropping on the Saturday Knights on a Sunday afternoon, I head to the nearby Safeway to get an energy drink for the ride home, where deadlines await. As I walk toward the cash register, I turn around and spot Barfly and Weber, holding the new issue of Vice and two forties of Olde English.
"What are you up to?" they ask. "We're going to hang out and watch Caddyshack."
Though I have way too much work to do, how could I say no? I give in and head back to their place.
There, on the floor of the living room, next to the stack of DVDs that includes Caddyshack, is a copy of Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.
"Have you read this?" asks Weber. "It's great."
"Yeah," Barfly says, studying the cover. "It's pretty much what we're about."
Sitting there with drinks in hand as the movie starts playing, I develop a craving for chips—but what kind? I ask myself, thinking back to Tilson's question. AndI realize that my answer is simple: They're all fine, but just like the Saturday Knights themselves, you need all four to throwa party.