If you didn't know that Regan Farquhar is actually Busdriver–second generation Project Blowed rapper, stalwart of the L.A. indie rap scene, architect of a fifth solo album of impassioned and impressionistic raps–you might think he was a grad student in literature. He looks the part, seated outside a café in L.A.'s hipster Silverlake hood, with a copy of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World resting atop a composition book.
Neither does he look out of place with his tweedy blazer and black-rimmed glasses; no surprise: he was a Silverlake resident for a spell. "I moved here a couple years ago, and I was living here a minute, but I was kind of forced out," he says. "My rent kept going up. I still love Silverlake, though: it's comfortable, it's very local, record stores, Spaceland–it's cool. Unfortunately, all the kids, they jack up the prices.
"That gelato spot," he says, gesturing to a bustling storefront across the street, "That's like a beacon. In the summer it was hopping at all hours. Over the summer they couldn't keep gelato in stock! I was worried it was gonna close the little pupusa spot, but I think that the pupusa spot's okay, at least for right now. I don't think the clientele overlaps much."
It's hard to say which joint might hold more fans after a Busdriver show these days; after all, his fifth album, RoadKillOvercoat, is dropping on Epitaph (meaning Bus is now labelmates with Bad Religion and Sage Francis) and he's been opening for acts from French rhymers TTC to indie rock darlings Deerhoof. RKO begins with the loopy, upbeat "Casting Agents and Cowgirls," where Busdriver spits lines overflowing with witty jabs and absurd asides before dipping into a partly sung chorus. L.A.'s beat mavericks Boom Bip and Nobody aid Busdriver's hyperactive metaphors and stylistic switchbacks, layering techno zip, grunge guitars, and even fake reggae into a sonic soup that improbably winds up somewhere between Top 40 and classic rock.
"I was interested in pop formula and form," explains Farquhar. "I say that... but it's not necessarily how [a song] comes out. That's what Boom Bip had in mind, too. The beat [for Sunshower] sounded a little Depeche Mode-y to me, but I was all for it. I don't feel [fenced] in by hip-hop or anything like that. I'm not oblivious to whatever else is happening in the music world. I'm not just ciphering at my house with a four-track, watching CNN."
Bus might talk some shit, but he'll be the first to admit that he often can be found at home ciphering and watching CNN–at the moment, he's got his eyes on the 2008 election. "I hope Barack Obama will run, but he's almost too nice, he doesn't call anybody out!" Farquhar muses. "He's really a middle guy. I think that's kind of smart. You have to take into account, he is young and black–you're already a fuckin' wildcard."
Then, true to fashion, he can't help fucking up the commentary with a little of that patented Busdriver surreality. "So maybe we'll have a black man, a woman, and a leprechaun [running for office]," he speculates. "A leprechaun running for the Green Party."
It's these contradictions that drive Busdriver and RoadKillOvercoat. He aims for pop and ostensibly misses. He analyzes the failures of indie and conscious hip-hop even as he releases a politicized record that will get filed under "indie rap." He rants about the elections while dissing shut-ins who obsess over the latest headlines.
If anything, it seems like Busdriver is just wary of becoming the posterboy for a genre he's not even that into. "Conscious rap has failed us," he says. "I don't like the real didactic, over-handed political jargon that rappers clutter their songs with–it's counterproductive sometimes. I think it's healthy that it's out there but the context is outmoded. It's like '60s Black Panther fist-in-the-air shit still happening... It's 2006 and that just doesn't apply anymore. I don't have an answer for it! I do my social/political jabs mostly at the lefty kids, hippies, [and] people like myself; liberal armchair lefties who just kind of bitch and moan but [offer] no counter-myth to what the right wing has done."
That's right, agoraphobic bloggers: Busdriver's got your number on "Kill Your Employer (Recreational Paranoia is the Sport of Now)," a thundering condemnation of lazy people, Halliburton, and bad feelings on all sides, where a self-deprecating Busdriver paints himself as "just another rapper know-it-all."
If there's one thing Farquhar admits to not knowing, though, it's how to save indie hip-hop from the nerdy corner it's painted itself into. "There's this clique-y-ness that is killing the appeal of the genre," he says. "No one tours with anyone that's not on their label or part of their group. People find their comfort zone and stay in it. I'm seeing indie rap careerists kind of doing their thing, but that's it. There's kind of no new blood, because there's no scene to really develop someone new. Everyone came out of the '90s [but] no one's coming out of the 2000s, so the whole subgenre's less interesting... which is unfortunate because I can't really divorce myself from it!"
Indeed, it would be impossible for this intrepid wordsmith to get away from the style he helped define with his hyper-syllabic, stream-of-consciousness flow. But instead of separating himself from it, he's using his past to try to stretch the present a little bit further.
"I'm kind of a mishmash of the older Good Life/Project Blowed people," he explains. "I'm an extension of them. My whole approach to music is based on [their ethos]: to use free association, dabble in other genres, develop different facets of what you do. [I'll] always be rapping [or] freestyling over different kinds of music, whether it's jazz, blues, rock... or bluegrass."
"Dummies for Rummy" Mixtape By Busdriver
Dungen "Du E For Fin For Mig"
Picture sprites floating about your head, pelting you with quarter notes. You'll be thrilled and scared all at once.
Yes "We Have Heaven"
The theme music for charging Pegasus, soaring through rings of fire over seas of outstretched hands.
David Bowie "Sons of the Silent Age"
I imagine Ziggy (in full glam drag) calmly slapping scientists draped in lab coats when this song is played.
Daft Punk "Oh Yeah"
#1 ass-shaking theme. No one is immune to its sway over the lower regions.
Labwaste "Get the Signal"
When most people catch wind of this one, they realize it's the only song they should ever have intercourse to.
Max Tundra "Lights"
Fewer bands/groups make me happier than this bunch.
Blonde Redhead "In Particular"
This song summons a certain aspect of my personality. Not one that I'm fond of, but nonetheless, it is special and deserves attention.
Abstract Rude "Coat of Paint" I have gazed deeply into women's eyes while this song played. Nothing ever came of it, but the intent was there.
Barbara Morgenstern "Kleiner Ausschnitt"
I miss Amsterdam. I am Black Pieter.
Of Mexican Descent "Something Cool"
Brilliant in its brevity, enthralling in its execution.