The Lifesavas: This is Why We’re Fly

On an 80-degree Philadelphia evening, The Lifesavas are chilling in the green room of Philadelphia’s Khyber bar venue. Huddled around dozens of untouched Heinekens on ice, the Portland, Oregon trio is focused less than an hour before they perform. The veteran artists are touring their second album, the recently-released Gutterfly. With its ‘70s themes, George […]


an 80-degree Philadelphia evening, The Lifesavas are chilling in the

green room of Philadelphia’s Khyber bar venue. Huddled around dozens of

untouched Heinekens on ice, the Portland, Oregon trio is focused less

than an hour before they perform. The veteran artists are touring their

second album, the recently-released Gutterfly. With its ‘70s

themes, George Clinton and Camp Lo appearances, and peculiar

back-story, the soundtrack to a non-existent film is perhaps the kind

of creativity that Hip-Hop demands in these oversaturated, ephemeral

times.     The voices of the group, Jumbo and Vursatyl, take

turns weighing in on The Lifesavas’ message and purpose while DJ Shines

attentively looks on, getting a few ideas in. Cool, calm and collected,

the trio would leave the interview to headline an evening of West Coast

independent Hip-Hop 3,000 miles from home, to dozens of fans locked

into the movement. Gutterfly comes across like a Blacksploitation soundtrack. Within that genre, what are some of your favorite films? Jumbo: The Mack.Vursatyl: Definitely The Mack.Jumbo: And the soundtracks to those. Vursatyl: Of course Black Cesar and Superfly, and their How much is Gutterfly, starting with its title, based off of Superfly?Jumbo: It’s not. It’s loosely based – the characters are, loosely based from The Mack, but not really. There’s another flick called Coonskin, which was the original title to a film renamed Street Fight.

It’s half animated and half [cinema]. It was voiced-over by Barry

White, Scatman Carruthers, Phillip Michael Thomas. None of those

characters were actually based on those, because there was a movie that

wasn’t made called Gutterfly, which we created. The characters, the director, it was all created by The Lifesavas.

A lot of critics and fans thought it was a movie from back in the day

that never came out. Was that confusion intentional?Vursatyl:

The goal was, for lack of a better example – if you dig Yesterday’s New

Quintet [one of the alter-groups by] Madlib, there’s this back-story to

how that group exists, despite the fact that the workings is all just

him. It’s same thing; we just wanted to create this whole back-story

for what Gutterfly was all about. Idealistically, it would be

all of us in character from the gate – in costume, in character, till

after this campaign is over. So even when you talk to us now, it’d be

[personas] Bumpy, Sleepy and Jimmy Slimwater. The movie would really

play out in front of peoples’ faces, but it’s really tough to deliver

that with no money, going city to So like Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves?Jumbo: No, it was different than Prince Among Thieves,

because our purpose – the intentional thing we did do was to create

urban legend. So if it threw people [off], that wasn’t necessarily a

ploy, but that’s why we say “loosely based.” We wanted to enough to

your imagine. If you listen to the record, it’s not 100% in character.

Half of it is the character and half is The Lifesavas, so you’ve got a

good Like you said, you’re going from

city to city on thin dollars. How important do you think it is have to

creative concepts and back-stories in today’s independent Hip-Hop

climate?Jumbo: It definitely holds your interest. If you see

something that’s interesting, we’re all gonna want to be up on it. The

idea is staying power. If you’ve got something with some depth in the

creativity, some layers that make you want to go back and listen to or

read about or tell your friend, then it stays around longer. That makes

it timeless; that was the goal from the outset.

Vursatyl, the last time we spoke, you were candid with me in telling me

that in your life you’ve been shot, and put in positions to shoot at

others. That really stuck with me. Does it bother you that there’s a

perception that in the underground Hip-Hop community, cats are removed

from street life? Equally, many major label artists have to be lying

about their street exploits…Jumbo: And they’re lying. The most

stupidest term is “backpackers.” We don’t run from the term. We also

don’t run from [the term] “hood cats.” What happened to fools that used

to dance to Rakim battle records? Rakim on Follow the Leader looked like New York’s Black Goodfellas

– Louis Vuitton and MGM sweatsuited out; in the video, he looked like a

crime boss getting shaved up. But he’s the greatest lyricist of all

times. So you look at cats like us, where you get our first record Spirit in Stone,

and it feels good. They immediately want to throw these terms at us and

typecast us in a box. So this time, we’re gonna show you another page

of us. We’re still just regular cats from off the block. Like [Kanye

West] said in “Celebration,” “He can’t be hard, he can’t be hood / He can’t be that good.” Vursatyl:

It alienates you from your audience and divides the culture. It really

does. If you say “backpackers,” the connotation that comes along with

that is that we’re not part of the hood. Then the hood doesn’t feel

like they should connect with us. On the flipside, if you’re too hood,

then the underground cats who are wavin’ the flag, they’ll be like,

“Oh, that’s that stuff; that’s that commercial, mainstream approach to

music.” We come from the day where you had Public Enemy on tour with

N.W.A. or EMPD on tour with King Tee and Too $hort. Shines: Del [the Funkee Homosapien] on tour with Scarface and Ice Cube.Jumbo: Imagine that!

Is it true that you guys did a cover of an Elliott Smith song for a

tribute album? [Editor’s Note: Elliott Smith was an Oscar Award winning

singer songwriter who took his own life in 2003]Jumbo: Yeah.

Elliott Smith is an incredible songwriter. The fact that he was from

Portland had a lot to do with [our getting involved]. They approached a

friend of ours who plays guitar for The Decemberists, Chris Funk; he

knew a lot about Elliott Smith’s catalogue. They called us. It was just

the fact that he was a tremendous musician and songwriter, and we said

we should do it. That’s another thing that we can add to our catalogue

and our legacy of music that’s more than just Hip-Hop. We did

“Happiness.” Do you ever perform it?Shines: No, we’ve never performed it.

It was three and a half years between your albums, when plenty of

independent artists pimp the marketplace with two releases or an album

and several mixtapes each year…Vursatyl: It’s tough too, ‘cause

even the pressure comes. With us, do we need to put out another record

this year? The market is like that now, where fans’ attention spans are

shorter because they’re getting so much music all the time. How do you

keep people involved in the music long enough for you to get out to

their city, without them being off to the next thing? In terms of

putting Gutterfly together, we’re trying to give something extra to the people. When you’re doing these tours, outside of the hometown, what city gets the livest?Jumbo: Oh man, you’re gonna get us in trouble. [Laughs, looking at Vursatyl] Go ahead…Vursatyl:

It used to be Santa Cruz, California. There used to be this spot called

Palookaville; that was the first time that Shines performed back with

us, after living in New York. This was right after we had got the

record deal with Quannum. Every time we had played there before, it was

crazy. But that night, we broke out “What if it was True,” our lead

single to the album. It was just bananas, dog! You could feel the

floors shake. That night was the first time we ever performed it, and

everybody was [following the chorus]. They caught onto it immediately.

There was something about that venue. But it closed. It might be

Boulder, Colorado.Shines: Chicago is crazy.Jumbo: A close third is Austin.Shines: Texas overall. We’ve had dope shows in Dallas.Jumbo:

We did the Quannum Tour in this place called Emo’s in Austin. Everybody

was there to see the Quannum stalwarts. But that night, it was weird to

see 150 people just bum-rush and move everybody out of the way and just

come to the front, just pounding the stage. It was incredible.