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It might be the George Clinton-style four-voice breakdown in the middle of the harrowing "Possessed by Demons." It might be Lawson's buzz saw vocals, or DJ Jason Dubree's solid and confident MCing, which sounds like 10 tons of concrete slag being unloaded from a dump truck in a bad part of town. (The vocal crossfire delivered by Lawson and Dubree is one of the most compelling elements of D-Styles' music.) It might be the remarkably adept keyboard work of Greg Forney, crossing easily from blues breakdowns to soul riffs and back again. It might be the guitar-bass-drum backing which serves as the music's rhythmic core. But in all likelihood, none of these elements would mean much in isolation. The proof, finally, is in the mix.
D-Styles is Lawson on vocals; Dubree on turntables and vocals; a large and silent fella with the untouchable given name of Joe Boogie on bass and backup vocals; Chuck Epperly on guitar; Forney on vocals and keyboards; and Clancy McCarthy on drums. They've known each other for years, and for the past half-decade or so, they've been stomping the perimeters of the Valley (with the occasional foray into California, where they've built a strong following). They played Edgefest in Phoenix with Kid Rock and Primus; they tore up 1999's That Damn Show and released two records, the Spanking the Funky EP and the aforementioned Elevator Music, but quickly sold out of both at their live shows. Pin the Tail on the Honkey thus represents Dislocated Styles' best chance so far to break into wide airplay.
"It was Spanking the Funky, I think, that brought us to Roadrunner's attention," says Lawson. The EP had made the rounds, and several A&R men had been trying to track down the band on the strength of a series of shows in California in 1998.
"The guy who finally signed us wasn't even working at Roadrunner when he first heard us," adds Forney. "But he liked us and he kept us in mind, and when we finally started getting approached by labels it was Roadrunner that felt best."
"Really," interjects Epperly, "it felt right from the first handshake. "We've always gone with gut instincts. Some reps would talk to us and say, 'Well, okay, you guys are good, but . . .' and they'd go into some hesitation about the way we sounded."
The group didn't want to tinker with the sound; they'd spent nearly six years playing together, feeling out each other's strengths and moving in the directions they wanted. When they finally signed with Roadrunner in 1999, they had the opportunity to hit their stride in a full studio setting. Individual songs on Pin the Tail took "between five years and five minutes" (as Forney phrases it) to put together, with producer Howard Benson (P.O.D., Motörhead) at the helm in Sherman Oaks, California. Over six weeks in 2000, D-Styles reworked older jams and built new ones from the floor up.
"Liquified," the album's first single, is one of the new tracks, and it went into early rotation in California and on The Edge radio in Phoenix earlier this month. In case you've missed it, "Liquified" is two minutes and 40 seconds of utter irresponsibility, as gleefully and unremittingly stupid as the Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey" and the Ramones' "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." Over a classic James Brown sample and Joe Boogie's thumb-pop bass, Lawson and Dubree face off: "Now I'm twisted, who got the herb?/Let's get lifted/Carryin' around two drinks, double-fisted"; "When I get drunk I act real stupid/Always shitfaced, it's just undisputed." The chorus is a guaranteed club shout-along as well: "Raise up your cup and drink up, it's as simple as that/When you see me in the club, show me love, 'cuz I'll give it right back." Scottsdale accountants and club skeeves are put on notice: This is the song you're going to be dancing to in the summer of 2001.
D-Styles' workout on "Liquified," though it shows off the group's prodigious musical talent, offers but the barest hint of the musical confidence and lyrical technique on Pin the Tail. The band's expressed mandate is to "override and revise your traditional thought/No matter how many Limp Bizkit albums you bought." (Yes, yes, y'all; some of us have been waiting two years for that line.) And on songs like "Riders of Silence" and "On-Line Virus," the vibe gets downright creepy, the way Cypress Hill's Black Sunday took rap to a sinister level; music and vocals slip and slither like a black snake in high weeds.
All this slithering might lead them out of Phoenix -- probably will, if Pin the Tail blows up half as much as they want it to, or anywhere near as much as it deserves to. "But I want to come out of here," says Forney (who's actually a New Jersey transplant), speaking, to judge from the nodding heads, for the entire band. "I want to come out of Arizona. Nobody's really made it from here the way they deserved to, or the way it should be done."
Discussions of the local music scene soon lead to a long (and wholly justified) gripe session about the state's club laws for all-ages shows. Used to be, says Epperly, that high school kids could come see the shows in clubs, when you could drink with just a wristband. "When the state laws set up the cages to divide the adults from the underage ones, it separated us from the kids, and they were the ones who came out to see us. We were all just out of high school ourselves. A lot of our friends were still in high school, and now they were way the hell back, behind the fence. It was fucked up."