If you are aching for something to kill the potted plants that have taken over rock clubs lately, look no further. DDT is the antidote. The Canadian fivesome have melded rock, rap, punk and ska, into a stinging collection of adrenaline infused songs that just might serve as the missing link between cool funk and rowdy alt-rock. Urban Observer is the band’s feisty debut album and is the inaugural release from Elektra’s new venture with TMC, a label started by Lars Ulrich, who along with his partner Tim Duffy, discovered DDT.
Founded by singer Brian Howes and drummer Bobby James, the band was launched in 1992 in Vancouver Canada. The eclectic group – whose early influences ranged from hard rock, to ska-inspired punk to the high energy funk of the Chili Peppers – began to attract a loyal following of post-punk club fans yearning for something new. Howes, James, and guitarist Mike MacKay plowed through the group’s formative years, playing Canadian rock clubs, and even trekking across the border to Seattle.
But Howes says they really hit their stride when vocalist/rapper (and former radio DJ) Cory Perry White joined the group in 1994. The move gave the band dual frontmen, and a license to experiment like never before. “It brought a whole new energy to our show, and made us a little more brave and creative about throwing in different styles” says Brian. “Cory doesn’t necessarily define himself as a rapper or anything like that. It’s more of an attitude. We started gelling around the time that there were a lot of shoe gazer bands, and I think people responded to that.”
The group continued building their fan base, eventually releasing a critically acclaimed 7 song EP in 1995 — the mercurial LOTGOOP (Living Off The Generosity Of Other People.) They toured Canada and the Western US, as well as Sweden and Germany, even landing a spot on the Vancouver Lollapalooza show. Their enthusiasm paid off. US Record companies began calling, with Ulrich eventually paying a visit and signing them to his new imprint.
The resulting LP, Urban Observer, explodes from the very first track, combining the fresh-mouth tirades of Perry White and Howes’ thought provoking lyrics which add seasoning to DDT’s crushing musical assault. The pumped-up rhythm section of Dr. Dave and Bobby James with Mike Mackay’s searing, funky guitar work heightens the bands genre-defying sound.
Bursting out of the gate as the first single, is the primal, punchy “Walkabout,” which Brian says was written about some other Vancouver bands who were signed to record deals and then adopted an attitude. “We know we’ve got a long way to go so we’re determined to avoid that whole thing.” Among others is the cryptic socio-political “Lie Detector” which points a finger at the made for TV dramas of Clinton, Simpson and Co. “People can put on their poker faces all they want, but when you really look into someone’s eyes that’s how you know whether they’re bullshitting or not.”
Howes also says the band guards against being labeled as latecomers to the Hip Hop Bandwagon. “There was never much of a scene for rap or urban music up here. We always loved Public Enemy and The Beastie Boys and stuff like that. We love the grooves and the vibe of the music. But by no means do we call ourselves a hip hop band. What we like to do is throw pop or hard rock over it. When it comes to the actual rapping we’re the first to admit we’re still learning.”
So how can a small Vancouver band get its message out over the tangled wires of U.S. corporate rock these days? “I think that’s one of the advantages of working with TMC and Elektra,” he says. “These are both creatively driven companies, totally capable of getting the band and the record to the people — exactly what we need. They respected our music and ideas and we clicked from the very beginning.” Howes also credits co-producer Matt Wallace (Replacements, Faith No More, R.E.M. ) with helping the band better realize their material in the studio. “He made great suggestions – things that help make the songs better, and not just changes for changes sake.”
Though the band is forever perfecting their songs, Howes points out that it is their live show that has always best represented what they’re really all about. “SPEED, ENERGY, FUN,” he says, reeling off one word definitions as fast as a DDT lyric. If we can get people into the disc so that they want to come out and play with us, then we can really get to them. People want to have a good time. They want to be positive. We can provide that.”