By: Janie Franz, High Plains Reader – Fargo, ND
December 6th, 2007
“If you’ve been following Minneapolis band Down Lo for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that these musicians have been all over the map musically. You’ve heard funk, bluegrass, jazz, rock and roll, and intricate instrumental jams as the band members explored new genres and lyrical styles.
A couple of years ago, Mark Grundhoefer, lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter, began to test the waters of rap and hip hop. That eventually led to a collaboration with San Diego rapper Deploi, first as a guest at some of their shows and later as a shaper of the band’s new urban sound. This new path for Down Lo allows the band to offer up something uniquely theirs but definitely Midwest-grown. It is hip hop with the friendliness of Minnesota and details of the people of the region.
Down Lo and Deploi have distilled this Midwest sound into their latest CD, for which they are currently hosting several CD release parties. They will be in Fargo and Grand Forks this week to celebrate this landmark album.
The journey to this new sound was not forced. “It’s been a kind of a natural progression,” said Grundhoefer in a recent telephone interview. But it clearly was his connections with the hip hop realm that brought rappers to the Down Lo stage. “There’s a DJ that I’m good friends, DJ Innovation, here in St. Paul. I met him right after he moved back here from San Diego. He had lived there for a few years and that was where he met Deploi. So, DJ Innovation and I started doing some work together and promoting some shows in St. Paul. Eventually, it was kind of a no-brainer when he said, ‘I know a great MC from San Diego. Let’s bring him out.’ So, we flew Deploi out for a show and that’s when we first met.”
As Grundhoefer began to bring him out more frequently, Deploi started interacting more and more with Down Lo. “After a few jam sessions and collaborations, we started to do full tours with him. It’s a creative brainstorming between all of us. We’re inspired by each other.”
Mark Grundhoefer and Deploi wrote about the snowy streets of St Paul and the warmth of the people there, not about crime or drivebys. “It’s about good music, and it’s about breaking those boundaries. It’s about making something new without being restricted by the rules. Hip hop doesn’t mean that you have to talk about guns and violence. The more we recorded, the more we wrote, the more shows we played, it became evident that we were making a pretty unique connection from the Midwest all the way to LA. It was almost two different worlds that we were mashing together…just because you’re from the Midwest, it doesn’t mean that you can’t play hip hop.”
Grundhoefer’s facility with the medium has placed him on stage with Deploi, trading verses. In the new CD, Grundhoefer’s place as Down Lo’s lead singer isn’t totally usurped by Deploi’s vocal skills. “I have a number of tracks that I still do. I will take the bulk of the song. I’ll take the first two verses, and then we let Deploi do the last verse. There are other ones where we trade off verse for verse. Then there are times where we trade off within the verse. That’s the new experimental stuff.”
The band still does all of the musical arranging, “but the words, definitely, was where Deploi had input.” Not only in the studio. “Performing live, we come up with new stuff a lot.” That usually means new lyrics generated during the performance.
That kind of freestyling soon became easier for Mark to do. “I pretty much became an MC by touring with a seasoned veteran like Deploi,” he admitted, though he had been trying it for about two years on his own. “Now, I freestyle on a regular basis on stage. Being on tour with an MC like Deploi and the dynamic that’s created live on stage, like trading off verse for verse or line for line, all that happens spontaneously because we have that kind of chemistry.”
As Down Lo ventures farther from the Midwest, they are finding fans everywhere. “People are very excited about the new sound, even bands that are very far off from what we do, bluegrass and country bands. There’s even a collaboration being developed right now between the White Iron Band and Deploi.”