Modern Fix

MARGINAL PROPHETS – interview by


The Marginal Prophets are a San Francisco Hip Hop duo that blends funk rock and pop with light-hearted, self deprecating poor-man’s lyrics. Rather than bobbing around to a DJ or settling for the Karaoke method, they bring out a full-band and an auxiliary percussion rig.

The band was formed in ‘94, by Jeff Kramer, formerly of Stisism, a hardcore NY punk band and Keith Knight, a syndicated comic strip artist behind the “K Chronicles” and two books, Fear of a Black Marker and Dances With Sheep. They released their first full-length Twist The Nob on Gamma Ray Records in ‘96, which has since gone ‘wood’ (not quite Platinum, but better than jack shit) and have been touring the Western US, while piecing together their follow-up ever since.

I caught them decked out in their signature kilts and Footlocker uniforms playing with Insolence, Bathgate, Grand Theft Audio and The Sloppy Meateaters at this summer’s Rebeliache Tour in Sunnyvale, CA.

How’d you hook up with the Rebeliache Tour?
Jeff: That was just pure fate. There was a guy in Las Vegas who was involved with a failed music website and I’d spent a lot of time talking to him on the phone, because they went under with a bunch of our CDs still on consignment, which is a typical thing for the Marginal Prophets. Two years later, he calls me up and says, “Hey, I was approached by Slim Jim (the tour’s sponsor) and they need me to find some bands. I think you guys would be right for this. Are you available on these dates?” It’s just a part of being connected to a bunch of other people.

How long have you guys been around? I’ve been hearing your name for a couple of years.
Jeff: We’ve been around forever. I’m actually frustrated. I’m at the end of my rope. I think every band on this tour is on some kind of label and we’re not. I’m convinced the whole world just hates us.

It’s the slow crawl up. This isn’t a bad place to be right now, is it?
Jeff: Slow crawl up?! Good Gad, man. We’re corpses! We’ve been crawling for five years. I don’t have any skin left.

At the same time, your sound is very polished.
Jeff: Yeah, if I didn’t think we were improving, God knows… we’d… no.

How’d it begin?
Jeff: It began with me and Keith. I’m sorry (to Keith), you want to do some interviewing. I’ve been talking like a madman.
Keith: Believe me, it ain’t going to change. No, it was two guys and a dat machine. We got together for a love of Hip Hop, but we also discussed how it’s really hard to pull off a show without a band, so we went about putting a band together and we’ve gone through a lot of different band members. The core group that we have now is our most solid and talented to date. Yeah, it has been a slow climb. We’ve played with a lot of different people in a lot of different places, but we’re doing well. It’s taken so long to put out our second CD. It’s been almost four years since our first one. But with the stuff that we’ve got, I think it’s going to be really solid once we put it out. We’ve just got to stop playing all these shows and get it out.

For a lot of bands, touring is actually the real key – getting out and basically putting your life on hold to circulate throughout the country.
Jeff: Yeah, we just went up to Seattle and Canada and Tacoma. We like touring. It’s fun.
Keith: The problem is, everyone’s like, “When’s the new CD coming out.”
Jeff: We did really well, considering that we weren’t signed to a major label. Compared to other bands out there that are just doing their own thing, we sold quite a lot of CDs.
Keith: 3000 now?
Jeff: It’s over 3000.

If anything, you could release a live CD of your new material rather than slowing down to record.
Jeff: It’s kind of funny, but we’re almost like the Grateful Dead in the sense that our live sound is really good and we haven’t been able to quite duplicate that in the studio.
Keith: But here’s our situation. When we work with our producer, we use lot’s of samples and stuff. There’s a different sonic element that we don’t get out here. When people hear the CDs, it’s a whole other experience.
Jeff: If we had any brains, we’d have that one sound. People can’t handle a lot. Sound on the record the way you sound onstage and have every song be the same. That seems to be what sells.
Keith: If we had any brains… but if we had any money, we’d put out the CD that we have and put out a live CD as well.
Jeff: Just think about certain bands that are very distinctive. You know from the first guitar chord what you’re hearing. We’ve got a lot of influences. Some stuff is going to be really digital – clean and sterile sounding – and some of it’s going to be the live band. Some is going to be the homogenization of the two. Boy, I can really get long-winded about this shit.
Keith: On a footnote, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (in SF), there’s a retrospective on Hip Hop. Fucking amazing – check it out. Even if you’re not a fan of Hip Hop, you’ll see why Hip Hop is worldwide; why it’s influenced so much. Our CD is in there, which goes to show how extensive it actually is. It’s a fucking shock and we didn’t even have to sneak it in there.
Jeff: Well, that slingshot and some gaffer tape on the back and “ping!” and next thing you know, it’s on display.
Keith: My childhood’s in there. I remember going to see Run DMC back in ‘83. Curtis Lowe, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five… it’s always been a part of me.

One thing you do differently – you don’t have a DJ?
Keith: No, no. We tried to have a DJ, but we jump around the stage too much and make the records skip and the DJs get mad at us.

How do you deal with the sampling live? How do you sync?
Keith: We have some backing tracks too, running off of a dat.
Jeff: The drummer wears headphones.
Keith: (in Twist The Nob’s liner notes), we listed every sample in there. We hid behind the truth. We couldn’t afford the samples, so we just wrote them all down and said, “Hey, listen. We don’t have any money. Contact us when we’re big. So far it’s worked. A couple of people who we sampled actually heard it and really like it. Someone gave one of our songs to Tori Amos and we sample her in it. She said she liked it. Either way, there ain’t a whole lot the publisher could do.

You could write them an IOU.
Keith: You know what? Here’s what I picture. If it ever happens, all the litigants in court and us on the stand and they’re all ready to kill us and it looks like we’re gonna lose and then I get up and say, “Hold on. Look at all the diverse artists and musicians together in this room at one time. We brought you all together. Hip Hop brought you together.” I’ll say, “Think about that!” and then everyone loves each other… and we walk away Scott-free.

You’ve got to think positively. They might not come back to haunt you.
Keith: Yeah… and then the drugs wear off and I realize… yeah.

Check out the Marginal Prophets in Davis, CA on Thursday, Oct. 4th, at the G. Street Pub (w/Lavish Green) and in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 & 27 at Liquid Joe’s. They’ve just released a video through Pink Thing Productions, not noteworthy in itself… except that it’s X-rated. It’s well worth a look even if you’re on a 56K.,3699,2402162,00.html?cch=678.