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Ikey Owens and 2Mex of Look Daggers got their rock in each other's hip-hop
Any musician with the savvy and skill to hash out a career longer than 10 summers will tell you that true passion lies in the daily grind. For seasoned soundsmiths Ikey Owens and 2Mex of Look Daggers, it’s a philosophy that relates to everything from rocking out at a book-store show to hustling a record label for more recording cash to countless nights huddled next to crappy stereos and combing live recordings for their next big idea.
It’s the kind of enthusiasm that keeps a labor of love alive, despite crazy tour schedules, endless side projects, and the general aches and pains of two accomplished, thirtysomething musicians who are willing to forsake popularity in order to forge their own sounds. So what’s the title of their just-out CD/DVD release? Suffer In Style, of course. And if anyone knows how to do that, it’s these guys.
“Suffer In Style is the title of our whole career,” says 2Mex. “We’re lifers, man!”
Considering his 13-year run with LA hip-hop crew the Visionaries and the whopping 34 CD releases to his credit since 1998, that sounds like a pretty fair statement.
Owens, primarily known for his keys work with art-rock wizards Mars Volta, is also used to juggling several gigs at a time. He has become a sought-after producer, toying with tracks for up-and-comers such as Crystal Antlers and Dusty Rhodes and the River Band.
With all they have going on, it’s a wonder this pair even have time to breathe, let alone record and cultivate another pet project. Which brings us back to Look Daggers, a hip-hop band, the concept of which was originally inspired by their love of the experimental funky punch of the Brand New Heavies and other freewheeling Euros such as Beans and Holy Fuck.
A gaggle of Long Beach friends and musicians followed the pair into the studio and onto the stage: guitarist Veronica Cruz, original Sublime drummer Marshall Goodman (who briefly played with Owens in the Long Beach Dub All Stars), bassist Travis Laws, drummer Chris Clawson, guitarist Jesse Wilder, Bob Forrest of Thelonius Monster, drummer Stephen Hodges, Reel Big Fish drummer Ryland Steen, and Mendee Ichikawa, who sings in Free Moral Agents, another of Owens’ sonic side projects.
But despite their beefy résumés and sweaty, satisfying gigs in stuffed venues such as the Prospector and Que Sera, Look Daggers are still determined to attract as many new fans as they can. Something that certainly hasn’t hurt their cause is the quirky video “Call You Later,” a direct cop of the opening scene of the Talking Heads concert doc Stop Making Sense, with 2Mex making like David Byrne, setting down a boombox, and then dropping rhymes while writhing spastically about. (2Mex looks like he could actually fit into Byrne’s famous big suit—eyeball it at www.myspace.com/lookdaggers.)
“We’re definitely still building a following,” says Owens. “Just because we come from other projects, it’s not enough to bring people into a venue. You have to prove yourself at a street level.”
It’s just been hard to capitalize on the growing buzz when Suffer In Style has taken more than two years to finish; blame the side projects, if you want, but Owens hints at other, more personal events.
“I think anyone who does music or art in general, it’s kind of like a two-edged sword,” Owens says. “You’re lucky enough or worked hard enough to where you can make money doing it, but now you have all these problems surrounding it. To get all that stuff, you’ll definitely create an amount of pain for yourself. And this record has definitely been that for us.”
Pain is the primary topic for many of 2Mex’s rapid-fire rhymes. The raw emotion in his voice is all-too-believable in songs such as “Call You Later,” which chronicles his dealings with lusty jezebels, controlling girlfriends and every shade of she-devil in between.
In a departure from his previous work with Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents, Owens shows notable restraint on his keys, creating a pop foundation that’s somewhat reminiscent of his days in Teen Heroes, which keeps the emphasis on the rhythm section of Laws and Clawson. However, he manages to showcase the fire in his fingers with some signature convulsive runs on “Before You Say No,” a tune that welds jazz-lounge vibes and West Coast hip-hop swagger. For the most part, though, the songs are easily absorbed by fans of pop music.
For 2Mex, the opportunity to sweat onstage in front of a live band is a 180-degree turn from a career that has up till now been backed mostly by programmed beats. But these days, he finds himself hooked on what you might call the “real feel.”
“The freedom that you have with the band, rapping with the band, playing with the band . . . it’s dangerous,” 2Mex says, smiling. “It’s so good to be playing with the music breathing like that.”