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Andrew Field-Pickering’s great-grandfather was James Pickering, published astronomer and lecturer at New York’s famed Hayden Planetarium. Suffice it to say the guy knew about gravity, and he would no doubt have appreciated his great-grandson’s mastery of the concept: Field-Pickering is a hulk of a man who doesn’t just look serious. As the microphone-toting half of Takoma Park, Md., hiphop duo Food for Animals, he sounds it, too.
“A lot of MCs [end up] going all over the place just to say, ‘Fuck George Bush,’” the basso-voiced 21-year-old says. “I can just say, ‘Fuck George Bush.’”
Well, sort of. The line Field-Pickering is talking about actually goes, “When I say, ‘Fuck you,’ I really mean, ‘Fuck George Bush.’” Or maybe he means the one that refers to a “Fuck Bush sticker.” Then again, maybe it’s another line altogether: Though the Animals’ recently released debut, Scavengers, gets its political position across just fine, it isn’t exactly a model of clarity.
In fact, the 20-minute disc tries harder than most to live up to its title, presenting an ever-shifting collage of jittery beats, found sounds, and not-quite-random noise that has more in common with Kid606 than with 50 Cent. It’s an approach that has already gained the group some attention from tastemaking Web ’zine Pitchfork Media, whose reviewer wrote, “Food for Animals step up to the plate and mostly obliterate the rhythmic conventions we’ve come to expect from hip-hop….[W]hat remains…sounds like a field recording from a sheet metal factory getting flattened by a herd of bulldozers.”
“I wanna…be loud,” declares Field-Pickering, who performs under the name Vulture Voltaire. “I like Nas and Mobb Deep and Jay-Z. When they come in on tracks, you know they’re coming in.”
The man responsible for making sure Field-Pickering has to raise his voice is 25-year-old Nick Rivetti, who on this steamy July afternoon seems to be grappling with gravity issues of his own. Sucked back into his seat and enjoying a meal of box macaroni and squash, the beatman, aka Ricky Rabbit, lets his stringy hair cover his face and his band- and roommate do most of the talking. Field-Pickering, meanwhile, sits in a scratchy-looking easy chair, comfortable in a way that calls for a pipe.
“We’re lazy,” Rivetti says—though the at-the-ready mike, acoustic guitar, and other equipment that rest nearby suggest otherwise. So do the Animals’ upcoming tour dates—not to mention the way Field-Pickering keeps himself so unrelentingly on message: The six Scavengers tracks that feature the MC are evenly divided between extolling FFA’s noisy, dumpster-diving aesthetic and, well, fucking Bush.
“I want to rap about political stuff,” Field-Pickering says. “I used to think it was bullshit…but as I get older, it’s so much more like, If people are gonna hear this record, I might as well say something I want to say.”
In his first go-round with hiphop, Field-Pickering had almost nothing that he wanted to say—or at least nothing that he had to say. In fact, it’s probably for the best that Jew*Chink was more of an in-joke than a functioning musical group. Based in the Orrtanna, Pa., native’s adopted hometown of Silver Spring, the band was marginally known around the D.C. music scene for lyrics such as “We’re fresh off the boat and we’re coming after you” and song titles along the lines of “F.O.B.J.E.W.”
“I was in the second one,” Field-Pickering says dismissively of the many-lineupped group, preferring to focus instead on his drumming for various high-school hardcore bands. “I didn’t know it was that bad of an idea, ’cause I was 16 and friends with all those guys.”
Still, one of those friends would prove to be an inadvertent catalyst for Food for Animals: Field-Pickering met Rivetti through vocalist Joe Mitra, with whom he had played in the far-less-yukcentric hardcore outfit the Chase.
“He was in bands with Joe before I met Joe,” Field-Pickering says of Rivetti, who also grew up in Silver Spring before moving on to school at Harrisonburg, Va.’s, James Madison University. There, he says, he “got pretty into punk…and grind and noisier stuff”—one of his bands from the period was called Violence Takes Refuge in Virtue.
“It was a lot of chaos,” he says.
Field-Pickering and Rivetti never spent serious time together until a road trip in April 2003. “We went to [the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference]…and he had a CD with a bunch of noise tracks on it,” recalls Field-Pickering. But Rivetti had also worked out a more vocal-ready track and was in the market for a rapper. Struck by his friend’s work, Field-Pickering agreed to add his voice to the cut.
Thus began a collaboration that would culminate in the nearly yearlong recording of Scavengers. Not that FFA worked in a studio, or anything even close: Field-Pickering and Rivetti used an ancient PC and an aging iMac to create their debut. Vocals were done at various locations when relatives weren’t around, with the help of friend, roommate, and live-show Animal Dan Helmer.
“He knew everything about recording vocals that we didn’t,” says Field-Pickering. It helped, too, that Helmer had the hardware. “His cousin had this…$1,100 mike,” continues Field-Pickering, “and we just borrowed it [for what seemed like] two years.”
Opportunity—or, at any rate, happy accident—seems to be bountiful for Food for Animals. And never was that more true than with the band’s association with Canadian label Upper Class Recordings, best known for latest-generation indie-pop bands such as the Cansecos and the Russian Futurists.
“Good story,” enthuses Upper Class co-founder Gareth Jones. He and his partner, Mike Religa, were attending the 2003 College Music Journal Festival in New York, promoting the bands on their label—handing out customized fortune cookies to “drunk” people, as Jones puts it. “So we’re at one club…a Britpop-, funk kinda dance night…and there’s a CD-R [on a table],” he says, “and [we’re] like, ‘Oh this’ll be good for a laugh.’”
It was good for more than that.
Ethan Goldwater, a friend and former bandmate of Field-Pickering’s, was at the end of his rope when he left the discs back at CMJ accompanied by little more than his phone number. “I targeted a lot of the real big-name guys,” the staunch FFA supporter says. “None of them really gave me any response.”
So Goldwater, formerly an intern at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, left the Food for Animals demos on a table “in some kind of maybe industry room.” He and Helmer were at a McDonald’s when Jones and Religa called. Goldwater says it was “like 3 in the morning.”
“It sound[ed] like Aphex Twin being beaten up by Chuck D,” Jones says of the FFA demo. “We just lost our minds.”
Jones says that when Upper Class talked to Goldwater and found out that the disc had been slated to be the first release on his own label, Muckamuck, they offered to help in any way they could. Eventually, the Canadian label agreed to a licensing deal, and the two imprints released Scavengers on CD last month. Scottish imprint Northern Hemisphere has signed on to produce a vinyl version this fall.
“It found us…totally on a whim—it’s great,” Jones says.
From his easy chair, Field-Pickering is reminiscing about his recently redeveloped hometown. “Seventh and 8th grade, it was like, ‘Lets go to the skate park….Let’s fuck around Silver Spring. Let’s be jerks. Let’s videotape each other skateboarding and falling,’ and stuff like that,” he says. “The armory was up there, and Montgomery Donuts was up there.”
“One of the things that I have a big problem with, more than political stuff, is…[that] culture is getting so weird,” he explains. “In a matter of six months, Silver Spring looks exactly like Bethesda.”
“[It’s] the same thing everywhere,” agrees Rivetti.
Though the exciting days on tour seem far away on this meditative afternoon, Field-Pickering and Rivetti will soon get to find out if that is indeed the case. On Aug. 18—a day after making their local debut at the Black Cat—they’ll start a four-day East Coast swing with Washington postpunk group Q and Not U.
In preparation, Food for Animals has practiced five times, which isn’t as paltry as it sounds. Because much of the group’s music is prerecorded, practice, Rivetti says, is just for “finishing touches.”
Still, the programmer has a hard time adjusting to FFA’s live setup, admitting, “I was struggling for a while to think of what I would even contribute.” In the end, he decided to put aside his laptop in favor of playing keyboards and backing up Field-Pickering’s vocals.
“It kind of sucks, in that we’re not going to be able to expand on the songs,” Field-Pickering says. “It’s only going to go on for so long.”
Even so, Field-Pickering and Rivetti hope to be in the game for a while—perhaps even nudging a few more-traditional heads toward FFA fandom in the process. In addition to the shows with Q and Not U, they and Helmer will likely head north, where Jones hopes the group will perform with others on his label.
Goldwater, for his part, is promising West Coast shows with C.J. Boyd, a bassist whose Web site says he “combines the improvisational prowess of jazz, the grace of classical music, the punch of progressive rock, and a rhythmic edge culled from all over the world.”
Boyd, it seems, is not exactly DMX.
But no matter. “I intend to play shows with hiphop people at some point,” Field-Pickering says. “I’m gonna be upset if I don’t.”CP