"This was all kind of a bad idea from the start," Barfly admits, posted up at the Redwood. "We're kind of based on bad ideas," Suspence confirms. "The rest of our career will be spent conning people that they're all great ideas." Color me gullible then, because Mingle, the long-awaited debut full-length from the Saturday Knights, is the surefire (if tad early) contender for Album of the Summer, if not Seattle Album of the Year. Seriously, Mingle is the audio equivalent of skipping school on the nicest day of the year with your funniest, goofiest homeys—somewhere in between that stoney Wendy's run and those beachside 40-ouncers, you remember that you're not supposed to be having this much fun. Then you realize: Why the fuck not?
But how did a precocious, genre-bending DJ, a wisecracking rap/jail/taco enthusiast, and the Puget Sound's most enigmatic lothario MC become the Saturday Knights?
"It all started out as a sewing bee," Barfly explains. "We'd always joke about making these doo-wop songs, till one day, without our knowledge, Spence books us a show. So we really had to pull out all these silly doo-wop songs and girl-group songs we'd been goofing around with and call his bluff, and somehow it wasn't a disaster. So, really, we're not so much flying," "Fliz" deadpans, "as we threw ourselves at the ground and missed."
DJ Suspence (ex–DJs on Strike!) met former Knight Brian Weber (ex–Dub Narcotic Sound System) through DJ gigs in the early 2000s, eventually forming a short-lived crew with him and others incredibly called Blacksatinamazonfireenginecrybaby (so named for a cut from The Blue Guerrilla LP by the Last Poet's Kain). If you wandered upstairs at the I-Spy back then, you might hear a fucked-off mix of whatever that not only predated the trendsetting, anything-goes vibe of the OG Yo, Son! but also sparked the musical DNA of some of the town's funkiest primordial ooze. Weber connected Spencer with the already-vibing Tilson (former K Records artist and member of Tacoma crew the Gra'ain) and Barfly (Oldominion's MC/graphic designer/roustabout). Several name changes later, the Saturday Knights were born.
TSK pressed up a four-song demo, which got the label noses open from Def Jam to local indie Light in the Attic, and, thankfully, the latter won out. LITA rereleased their EP, and the Knights holed up to stitch together what would become Mingle. The LP's sonic wardrobe is equal parts pristine American Apparel and work-dirty Ben Davis grit. "Blue collars don't pop, they too soaked with sweat," Barfly slurs on the Knight's most sartorial slab, the goofy yet movingly soulful "Patches."
The only thing that compares to Mingle in the local sphere is the unabashed fun and don't-blink momentum of the Presidents of the United States of America back when they were first a local sensation. (Fittingly, PUSA's Chris Ballew lends some bass to TSK's raucous numbers game "Count It Off.") Beyond that, the best comparison for the Knights—and I'm not the first to make it—is the Beastie Boys.
When it comes to getting that proverbial peanut butter in the metaphorical chocolate, credibility and fluency are a must. TSK blend hesher metal, SoCal punk, Dick Dale, Hall and Oates, indie-rap self-awareness, and gangsta-rap swagger all without breaking stride (sort of like how Tilson bounces all over a stage wearing three hats and a peacoat without breaking a sweat). Nobody's managed anything like that trick without looking like Fred Durst since the B-Boys. Lyrically speaking, though? Give Barfly and Tilson two mics, and they're shitting all over those two Adams (and Mike, too).
Mingle's ease at traversing the longtime (but rarely spoken of) rift between Seattle's entrenched rock 'n' roll hierarchy and its forever-burgeoning hiphop scene is nothing less than an astonishing reconciliation. Back in the '90s, the Rocket and the Flavor—not to mention The Stranger—illustrated two disparate realms that hardly crossed paths, that never had the language to comprehend the other. Veteran hiphoppers in the Emerald City resented the dominance of guitar bands—often because they couldn't get booked in the same clubs. In the last few years, though, and with the latest surge in local rap's popularity, there's a lot more mutual respect, networking, and opportunity. More than anyone, the Saturday Knights are a cipher for the new intergenre fluency of Seattle music, and Mingle is the unmistakable proof. It's not just the guitars and guest stars, either—Tilson's Oly-scene pedigree and Barfly's Oxnard hardcore stripes make them uniquely prepared to share stages with Harvey Danger as comfortably as with Blue Scholars.
Really, it's not fair to have two such versatile dudes rapping on the same record. Barfly's out-of-pocket attitude is matched only by his right-in-the-pocket, multiple-rewind-rewarding raps. Sweat the technique on "Foreign Affair": "Veteran dirtbag off the vapors/wetter than the pearl baked on your scrapers"—slick as your candy paint. Tilson is a consummate pro, an MC's MC, at home anywhere from the sunny Anglo-pop of "Dog Park" to the raunchy ZZ Top–hop of "Private School Girl." Slick as snot, subtle as hell, surprisingly poetic by turns: "Misplaced anger is my self-hate/so baby, your self-love is my escape." Yes, the pop hooks are huge, undeniable, but the spit game is top-notch.
Yet for all these skills—and the kind of experience most crews in town couldn't dream of—TSK at first flew way below the radar of the local community. Even now, take-it-back traditionalists don't know what to do with 'em. Are they a band? What's up with the cowbell?
"It's almost the same way that the Minutemen were not looked at as a really punk-rock group when they were out," says Barfly, "because they weren't buying into the whole codified Cro-Mags or Suicidal Tendencies thing. Shit, before 1994, when hiphop got so codified into this really dogmatic thing—before all that, you had albums that were rendered out with live elements, that were all over the place. There weren't all these rules. We're not that far out. We're pretty simple. If thinking that helps people get their heads around us, fine. But the Beach Boys and the Fat Boys made a surf-rap song like 20 years ago; it's not that big a deal."
Au contraire, dude. While "Wipe Out" wasn't that big a deal by any means, TSK's "Surf Song"—with its cough-syrupy Ventures riffs and SoCal punk call-and-response shoutro—is the defining moment in surf-rap, a genre that probably had no idea it was so goddamn viable. Over the twist-worthy beat, Tilson and Barf Loco name-check Warchild from Point Break, Jeff Spicoli, and Clambake like it was cocaine, Cristal, and AK-47s.
"Honestly, I kinda feel sometimes like we're the ultimate hiphop group," Suspence confesses. "You know, when I grew up with hiphop, the number one rule was No Biting—at all. For me the underlying theme is, we have to be different."
Which explains the high caliber of collaborators that Mingle with our heroes—from Jack Endino's drums on "45" to the Dap-Kings' Tom Tom Club–style funk on "Patches."
"It's pretty humbling to have, like, Kim [Thayil] from Soundgarden on a track", says Barfly. "That's pretty outrageous to me. Back when Louder Than Love came out, if you'd told me that that dude would be on a track on an album I was involved with? I'd laugh you outta here. And working with Jim Horn and the Muscle Shoals Horns? I didn't have anything that could prepare me for that. Why would someone who worked with Elvis or Brian Wilson or Joni Mitchell want to work with us?"
"We're definitely the black eye on his discography," laughs Suspence. Jokes aside, one listen to Mingle ought to tell you these dudes are ridin' this bitch till the wheels fall off. Until then, it's "bang the tables/bang the bass/fuck the neighbors."