Instead of going insane, the group has learned to embrace the madness
The first time I listened to Columbus natives label me lecter’s EP Dreams, I was caught by several different elements; Solid production, wicked rhymes, and a stirring piano and drum combination that catches you on each and every track. But it was the final track, Find My Way, which featured the most jarring element on the entire EP. The female voice you hear is rapper and producer Brian Penn’s mother, talking about her fears when her son was born.
“Fame and careers are fleeting,” explains Penn. “I wanted to make sure I got my mom on the record before my career was over. Now that I’ve done that, we can do just about anything!”
If there is one thing you can expect to find on each and every label me lecter track, it’s the tremendous lyrical work of Penn. On Saved, Penn utters my favorite line from the EP, “it’s hard to be oh so close, but still so far away. It’s clear that I think too much, that’s why I write songs that are hard to play.” The image that comes to mind is “This is deep” and that is an understatement.
“I’m blessed to have a band-mate who genuinely values the authenticity of the lyrics. He makes it a point to make sure they stand out on each record,” conveys Penn. “He’s willing to let the production take a lesser position to make sure that the drums and lyrics touch people the way they’re supposed to.”
The man Penn is referring to is drummer and producer Michael Rist, who kicked around in other rock bands around town before getting together with Penn. I had the chance to sit down with the duo recently to talk about their future plans and recent ascent.
It all began with a jilted dream and a concoction of wacky ideas bouncing around in Penn’s head.
“It all started about six years ago when I was still a solo hip-hop artist. Long story short, the producer I was working with stole all of my music and money,” he admits. “I had to reboot after all of that.
“I was already friends with Michael, and I called him up with an idea,” Penn continued. “I literally just had a band name and a midi controller, but I was going to make it work.”
“I said ‘dude, I don’t know how long this is gonna take, but I really think we can make something’ (happen).”
The band name was label me lecter, stylized in all lowercase letters. Penn said that after having all of his music stolen, he felt like he was losing his mind and it kept coming back to “label me lecter.” He says all of the madness in his life legitimately made him feel like he was going insane.
“Fortunately, I had an awesome drummer who had faith and waited for me to figure it all out.” he finished. “I started giving Michael ideas, and he was giving them back to me. We knew then that we had to start playing shows.”
The two set their plan to motion in 2016, growing a local fan base and releasing their debut EP Sirens X Silence, featuring the song Champion, which Penn says was about overcoming the malice of his former producer. While their album release show at The Basement in Columbus almost sold out, both agreed that their most exciting show so far was opening up for k.flay at the A&R Music Bar in 2017.
“As a local band, it was our initial goal to sell out smaller venues around town,” admits Rist, “but playing for a full house at A&R was amazing.”
“It started out as 400 strangers, but by the time we got to perform our encore, the entire stage was shaking,” chimes in Penn.
“I had come from a band that could barely get 10 friends to show up, and all of a sudden we’re selling tons of tickets and being played on the radio!” beams Rist.
“To hear your song on the radio,” Penn pauses, “that’s… that’s really weird. It’s really great, but also overwhelming. I’m blessed, man.”
The song in question is Someday, off the Dreams record. Someday garnered regular radio play on Columbus’ alternative station CD102.5 in 2018-2019 as a “Local Gem.” It was there that I first heard the band and was immediately caught by the infectious looping synth and Penn’s lyrically mastery.
“Someday… that was the fastest song I’ve ever written in my life. It took me less than two days to put it all together,” Penn acknowledged.
The song almost has a minimalist feel to it, despite Rist telling me it took a lot longer to write the drums and beats for the track. Both agreed that they like the straight forward nature of both the song and the entire Dreams EP.
“One of the things I’ve learned as a musician is that simplicity does not suck,” smiles Penn. “I used to make things more complicated, but it’s so much better to dial things back.”
“The thing we tried to focus on with that record (Dreams) were B’s lyrics and his stories,” says Rist. “We don’t need a bunch of music or distractions in the background.”
“I know what I like to hear,” continued Penn. “Once it feels good to my ear, it feels good to my soul. And once my soul feels it, then I can write over it.”
To follow up Dreams, the band took the last few months of 2019 off in order to re-energize and prepare themselves for what is hopefully a massive 2020. The band is looking to release a full length LP, as well as playing festivals around town and touring outside of the state. They currently have their sights set on Indianapolis, Charleston, Lansing, and beyond.
“Not to be arrogant, but once we put this LP out, we think things are really going to blow up for us,” admits Penn.
As far as the full length record goes, the band is taking a different approach this time.
“For Dreams, I essentially locked myself in a room to make that record. I should have let Michael in more and let him be more creative,” confesses Penn. “For the LP, we will be much more open about making things together.”
But that doesn’t mean the band is looking to make a gimmicky, Top 40 record with a thousand different producers and collaborators. Remember, simple is the modus operandi for these two. Instead, they are looking to draw upon their roots and influences, which range from Tupac, Talib Kweli and Eminem, to Travis Barker, Breaking Benjamin and Joywave.
“There are a ton of dope artists that I’d love to collaborate with, but we really just want to make our own great music,” says Rist.
“Honestly, I’m a selfish MC,” laughs Penn. “I’ve never really been big on collaborating with others.”
“Besides, I don’t know why we’d want to collaborate with another rapper when we’ve already got B,” nodded Rist. “If we were going to do something, it’d be something totally different, like when Linkin Park and Jay Z did their thing. I’d love to do similar to that with someone like Joywave!”
But at the end of the day, the band isn’t looking to add a bunch of fritz or fuzz to their record. Penn says that wouldn’t be true to the aesthetic that label me lecter is trying to create.
“I don’t want to put a lot of things on the record that we can’t emulate live,” he affirms. “There’s no need for the other stuff, because after the piano and bass, it just sounds fake. There’s something simple about our element that just allows my words to breathe.
“The lml sound is simple; piano, strings, synthesizers… and then dope ass drums and BARS!”
Both of them are remarkably humble and you can tell they both admire each other’s abilities. I don’t think I’ve ever met two gentlemen who spent more time building each other up, which is a far cry from the selfish, “me first” mentality you usually find in contemporary rap music. Perhaps that is what allows them to thrive in a genre where lining pockets seems to supersede empowering others these days.
“The best part about lml is that we can hold our own,” says Penn. “I can do it a cappella if I want, and if I walk off the stage, my man Mike can do his thing and pump up the crowd with a drum solo.”
The band is playing their first show of the year on February 18, supporting Bonelang at Rumba Café in Columbus. Penn says that while he is excited for the idea of blowing up the band and touring outside Ohio, he still lives his life by a simple motto.
“It all boils down to this… I just try to wake up every day and be better than I was yesterday.”
label me lecter – Someday