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"What Merg and Ako bring is credibility," Elyea explains. "It's like, they're real MCs. They've been doing hip-hop for 15-plus years. So they're like the real thing."
Making the fusion work has required some adjustment from both camps.
"Richard, Chris and I, we come from a totally different background than Ako and Merg," Elyea admits. "So to fit what they do over what we do . . . well, some of it happens naturally, and some of it is a little work. Because you have to leave pockets in the music for them to be able to work with."
"The best thing about it for me and Ako," McVay adds, "is that these guys are such dope musicians, they give us the room we need without compromising what they do. Whatever we're not feeling, they're able to change. And whatever they're not feeling, we're able to change. It's not a compromise," he insists, "it's elevation."
The merger has changed the listening habits of both circles in the band.
"Now we listen to Power 92 all day long," Gartner says, laughing, referring to the Valley's leading hip-hop station, "and Merg and Ako are listening to the rock 'n' roll station. They'll be rockin' out to 100.3, and we're like, 'Turn this crap off!'"
If Bionic Jive's tale of the band's formation is as good an account of rap and rock's unholy union as you're likely to hear, their recollections of how it felt to finally get signed to a major record label provide a great take on what it's like for a hardworking local band to suddenly "blow up."
"We played the TV show Farmclub," Elyea recalls. "And Jimmy Iovine [veteran producer and now head of Interscope Records] came up to our dressing room after the show. And our attorney, who was shopping our demo around and trying to get us a record deal, was all cocky. He's like, 'Y'know, Jimmy, we're doing a big showcase for, like, 25 labels at CBGBs in New York next weekend.' And Jimmy just says, straight up, 'No you're not. I'm shutting that down.' And within three days, the deal was done and we were signed."
The other guys remember Elyea's call on that fateful third day. "I was working in Oregon for Intel," recalls Gartner, who was funding his rock 'n' roll dream as a repair technician for the computer giant. "And I had the hugest machine you've ever seen ripped apart into a million pieces. Suddenly I get a page from Larry, and I call him back and say, 'Hey, Larry, what's up?' And I hear, 'Hey, bro -- it's over, dude.' And I'm like, 'What do you mean, it's over?' I'm thinking it's something bad. And he says, 'It's over. We got signed. Congratulations!' So I'm looking at this pile of parts, and looking back at the phone, and I'm thinking, 'Forget this! I'm ready to take a flight home!'
"Mike McGregor, the guitar player who used to be with us before we got into this new formation, he was my partner at Intel who was working with me to repair this machine. And he saw it in my eyes. He said, 'No. It didn't happen.' And I'm nodding, 'Yes, it did -- we're signed!' And he grabbed a crescent wrench and went, 'Boom!' Threw it down, kicked it and walked away. And I'm just sitting there in the middle of all these parts in a daze."
"It's weird when you finally get a record deal," adds Elyea, who still works at his own recording studio, Minds Eye Productions. "It's like your whole life has been leading up to this one point, and now what? And you really have to search for new goals. You have to fill that void with something new."
For Bionic Jive, that void will be filled fairly quickly with lots of touring, opening for Eminem's group D-12 on its fall tour and landing a coveted spot on next year's Ozzfest. "We probably won't be back in Phoenix for a while," Elyea says wistfully, before taking the small stage at Boston's -- his and Gartner's stomping grounds for the past decade. "It's definitely weird."
On a closed set in Los Angeles, just 12 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, the five members of Bionic Jive are wrapping up the last of an exhausting two-day video shoot for their first single, the sure-to-be-controversial "I Shot Lucifer." With the intense Ako firing off brutal rhymes about every demonic figure in history from Charles Manson and Son of Sam to the devil himself, the song is given an unsettling relevance by the recent events. Indeed, the track's unflinching personification of evil makes it a kind of aural target: You can imagine the U.S. troops in Afghanistan listening to it on the jets while they aim their artillery.
"We're hoping that becomes the anthem for what's going on," Elyea says.
Given today's nervous national mood, Interscope's legal department nearly ordered a couple of the more political tracks off the record, but finally let it go pretty much as planned. "They're pretty excited about us at the moment," McVay shrugs, "so they're like, 'Let it ride!'"
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