MARGINAL PROPHETS – interview by
The Marginal Prophets are a San Francisco Hip Hop duo that blends funk rock and pop with light-hearted, self deprecating poor-mans lyrics. Rather than bobbing around to a DJ or settling for the Karaoke method, they bring out a full-band and an auxiliary percussion rig.
The band was formed in 94, by Jeff Kramer, formerly of Stisism, a hardcore NY punk band and Keith Knight, a syndicated comic strip artist behind the K Chronicles and two books, Fear of a Black Marker and Dances With Sheep. They released their first full-length Twist The Nob on Gamma Ray Records in 96, which has since gone wood (not quite Platinum, but better than jack shit) and have been touring the Western US, while piecing together their follow-up ever since.
I caught them decked out in their signature kilts and Footlocker uniforms playing with Insolence, Bathgate, Grand Theft Audio and The Sloppy Meateaters at this summers Rebeliache Tour in Sunnyvale, CA.
Howd you hook up with the Rebeliache Tour?
Jeff: That was just pure fate. There was a guy in Las Vegas who was involved with a failed music website and Id spent a lot of time talking to him on the phone, because they went under with a bunch of our CDs still on consignment, which is a typical thing for the Marginal Prophets. Two years later, he calls me up and says, Hey, I was approached by Slim Jim (the tours sponsor) and they need me to find some bands. I think you guys would be right for this. Are you available on these dates? Its just a part of being connected to a bunch of other people.
How long have you guys been around? Ive been hearing your name for a couple of years.
Jeff: Weve been around forever. Im actually frustrated. Im at the end of my rope. I think every band on this tour is on some kind of label and were not. Im convinced the whole world just hates us.
Its the slow crawl up. This isnt a bad place to be right now, is it?
Jeff: Slow crawl up?! Good Gad, man. Were corpses! Weve been crawling for five years. I dont have any skin left.
At the same time, your sound is very polished.
Jeff: Yeah, if I didnt think we were improving, God knows… wed… no.
Howd it begin?
Jeff: It began with me and Keith. Im sorry (to Keith), you want to do some interviewing. Ive been talking like a madman.
Keith: Believe me, it aint going to change. No, it was two guys and a dat machine. We got together for a love of Hip Hop, but we also discussed how its really hard to pull off a show without a band, so we went about putting a band together and weve gone through a lot of different band members. The core group that we have now is our most solid and talented to date. Yeah, it has been a slow climb. Weve played with a lot of different people in a lot of different places, but were doing well. Its taken so long to put out our second CD. Its been almost four years since our first one. But with the stuff that weve got, I think its going to be really solid once we put it out. Weve just got to stop playing all these shows and get it out.
For a lot of bands, touring is actually the real key – getting out and basically putting your life on hold to circulate throughout the country.
Jeff: Yeah, we just went up to Seattle and Canada and Tacoma. We like touring. Its fun.
Keith: The problem is, everyones like, Whens the new CD coming out.
Jeff: We did really well, considering that we werent signed to a major label. Compared to other bands out there that are just doing their own thing, we sold quite a lot of CDs.
Keith: 3000 now?
Jeff: Its over 3000.
If anything, you could release a live CD of your new material rather than slowing down to record.
Jeff: Its kind of funny, but were almost like the Grateful Dead in the sense that our live sound is really good and we havent been able to quite duplicate that in the studio.
Keith: But heres our situation. When we work with our producer, we use lots of samples and stuff. Theres a different sonic element that we dont get out here. When people hear the CDs, its a whole other experience.
Jeff: If we had any brains, wed have that one sound. People cant handle a lot. Sound on the record the way you sound onstage and have every song be the same. That seems to be what sells.
Keith: If we had any brains… but if we had any money, wed put out the CD that we have and put out a live CD as well.
Jeff: Just think about certain bands that are very distinctive. You know from the first guitar chord what youre hearing. Weve got a lot of influences. Some stuff is going to be really digital – clean and sterile sounding – and some of its going to be the live band. Some is going to be the homogenization of the two. Boy, I can really get long-winded about this shit.
Keith: On a footnote, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (in SF), theres a retrospective on Hip Hop. Fucking amazing – check it out. Even if youre not a fan of Hip Hop, youll see why Hip Hop is worldwide; why its influenced so much. Our CD is in there, which goes to show how extensive it actually is. Its a fucking shock and we didnt even have to sneak it in there.
Jeff: Well, that slingshot and some gaffer tape on the back and ping! and next thing you know, its on display.
Keith: My childhoods in there. I remember going to see Run DMC back in 83. Curtis Lowe, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five… its always been a part of me.
One thing you do differently – you dont have a DJ?
Keith: No, no. We tried to have a DJ, but we jump around the stage too much and make the records skip and the DJs get mad at us.
How do you deal with the sampling live? How do you sync?
Keith: We have some backing tracks too, running off of a dat.
Jeff: The drummer wears headphones.
Keith: (in Twist The Nobs liner notes), we listed every sample in there. We hid behind the truth. We couldnt afford the samples, so we just wrote them all down and said, Hey, listen. We dont have any money. Contact us when were big. So far its worked. A couple of people who we sampled actually heard it and really like it. Someone gave one of our songs to Tori Amos and we sample her in it. She said she liked it. Either way, there aint a whole lot the publisher could do.
You could write them an IOU.
Keith: You know what? Heres what I picture. If it ever happens, all the litigants in court and us on the stand and theyre all ready to kill us and it looks like were gonna lose and then I get up and say, Hold on. Look at all the diverse artists and musicians together in this room at one time. We brought you all together. Hip Hop brought you together. Ill say, Think about that! and then everyone loves each other… and we walk away Scott-free.
Youve got to think positively. They might not come back to haunt you.
Keith: Yeah… and then the drugs wear off and I realize… yeah.
Check out the Marginal Prophets in Davis, CA on Thursday, Oct. 4th, at the G. Street Pub (w/Lavish Green) and in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 & 27 at Liquid Joes. Theyve just released a video through Pink Thing Productions, not noteworthy in itself… except that its X-rated. Its well worth a look even if youre on a 56K.