Photographer Claire Woods
Peter Lim and Matt Payne form Tensegrity Nine, a charming comedic, emotive, new wave, R&B, hip-hop twosome that often busts into synchronized dance routines during shows. The Oakland, CA-based group spoke to Hyphen about its success, or lack thereof.
In your song “Gawd,” you ask the lord for an absurd display of proof (“like a three-legged hippopotamus sprouting wings and flying”) that he exists. Have you each accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?
Peter Lim: No, but I’m currently working on a paper for my sociolinguistics class that analyzes a fiery sermon given by a Church of Christ preacher in context of William Labov’s narrative theory.
Tensegrity Nine tends to turn WTF?!? skeptics into hysterical fans within a couple of songs. Do you have any amusing stories about playing for unsuspecting crowds?
PL: One time we played at this coffee shop in San Diego and there were about three people there when we were setting up, not including the two baristas, and by the time we had launched into our second or third song, those three people had vacated the building. It was really quite an inspiring experience. Thank you, San Diego! But in terms of actual “good” experiences, one time we were performing for a live TV show taping and we started off our set by sitting on the ground for a good three to five minutes, reading a passage from Willy Shakes’ The Merchant of Venice, and the producer of the TV show had never seen us before and he was thinking to himself, “Wow, this is gonna suck.” And then all of a sudden we busted into the full T9 shtick: the dancing, strobe lights, etc. and the guy was totally blown away. And he’s since learned not to judge a tragedy by its bad lackluster reading by two aspiring non-actors. Consequently, we recently played again for his TV show, and this time the audience was composed primarily of the hyphy hip-hop community of Fairfield, CA, which received our fake gangsta rap slap-a-ho flamboyancy surprisingly well, considering the circumstances.
You said, “fake.” Just regarding the “slap-a-ho” and not the gangsta rap, right?
PL: Fake gangsta rap: You’ve killed more people on record than you have in real life. Hence, I classify what we do as “fake gangsta rap.” As for the “slap-a-ho” portion of my description of our genre, I like the way it rolls off the tongue; it has a nice phonetic quality to it. It sounds like the word “pantyho” or “Navajo.”
Matt Payne: The concept is similar to how I’m a fake black guy, in that I’m not.
Aside from gangsta rap, you cite Yanni as a musical influence. Please explain and elaborate with any other odd or non-musical influences.
PL: Yeah, I used to like Yanni, but that was mostly in elementary school and quite frankly, as soon as I found out about his ho-slappin’ tendencies, I was utterly turned off. Nowadays I tend to find myself browsing MySpace day and night in hopes of discovering the next Paul Wall or Tila Tequila. I can also cite John Mayer, The Shins, Nick Bell, The Unicorns and Berkeley’s own The Pack as influences to my musical style.
MP: I’ve got a great joke, ready? It’s variation on another joke I tell a lot. Okay, here it is. Yanni.
How do your songs come together?
PL: I’ll be sitting around at home attempting to study or write an essay for school when, bam! divine inspiration will come to me in the form of some random observation about life, and I’ll pick up the guitar or Fruity Loops version 5.0 or some type of keyboard and start laying down musical and lyrical tracks on the Cakewalk home studio. As soon as I’ve sufficiently destroyed any hope of finishing my schoolwork on time, I’ll take this rudimentary recording to Matt, and we’ll talk about how we want to tackle the song for Tensegrity Nine purposes. Hopefully my teachers and professors will forgive me later on, when they see our faces on the covers of glossy supermarket magazines such as Rolling Stone, Spin, GQ, Teen Idol, Ebony, etc.
MP: Yeah, I mostly do production-type stuff: arranging, concept stuff. I figure out how to make everything happen onstage with only four hands and four feet.
What advice can you give to your legions of inspired fans that would one day like to achieve your caliber of success?
PL: Be “True to Your Heart” like the 98 Degrees song from Disney’s Mulan soundtrack because then you will most likely reach Tensegrity Nine’s “caliber of success” which, incidentally, is not very high at this point.
MP: Be really nice to people and don’t be pushy. Don’t advertise quite enough, and let your MySpace get deleted at least once because you used an old email account that got deleted. Go to La Piñata No. 3 after every show for the first few years. Have so much equipment that you can’t always talk to people after you finish playing. Don’t record a decent album for at least three or four years. That should put you at about the same level as us.
Rudy Beredo is Hyphen’s music editor.