The middle-class suburban species of the playa-hata (definition from the Rap Dictionary: “Player hater, one who despises or speaks ill of another because he does not have any game of his own”) doesn’t talk trash on the street. He does it on the Internet from the safety of his cubicle or mom’s basement. Hundreds of local e-wars are being waged in cyberspace at this very moment, and few Salt Lake City bands inspire playa-hata keyboard frenzies like Vell-Kro—mostly because bassist B-Lens (Brannon Murphy) instigates them with late-night message board drive-bys.
“I claim no responsibility for my actions,” he laughs, shaking his long hair and popping open one of two beers in front of him.
“We make friends everywhere,” guitarist Hoodman (Jeff Hood) adds sarcastically. “B-Lens has a few drinks and says, ‘I’m getting on the Internet and fucking with everybody!’ Then he’ll show up at practice the next day and say, ‘Uh, you know last night? I might have written some stuff and pissed a few people off. Watch your back in the parking lot.’”
Away from the computer, if not the alcohol, Vell-Kro is an amiable bunch far removed from their aggressive rap-metal attack. Frontman Smoke (Jason Morgan)—who can flow from post-grunge growls to thunderous Chuck D lyrical spits on a dime—comes across like a hulking badass onstage, but he’s actually a big teddy bear.
“We just talk a lot of shit,” he says softly, smiling. “We really just want to give hugs.”
“Anyone who actually knows us, in person, is down with us,” Hoodman says. “We’re misunderstood, but it helps us get attention.”
“It’s either that, or advertise our shows like ‘Come see midget Nazi nurses on fire! Tonight!’” interjects B-Lens. “Just saying you’re a good band doesn’t seem to stir much interest.”
Vell-Kro, which also includes guitarist Knuckles (Michael Larsen) and drummer Animal (Erik Wahlstrom), stands apart from the local cadre of rap-metal acts because of Smoke’s fiery mic skills, B-Len’s gonzo-virtuoso bass riffage and a single-minded approach to throwing down hard. Variety and subtlety may not be their strong suits—hell, they’re not even in the closet—but when Vell-Kro plays it, there’s zero doubt they mean it. The rap-metal tag, however, doesn’t sit well.
“You can always pigeonhole something if you’ve got a big enough hammer,” B-Lens says. “If calling us rap-metal motivates someone to check us out, fine. If you like what you hear, buy our CD [Credentials, at Vell-Kro.com]. If you don’t like it ... buy our CD.” [Laughs].
Count City Weekly’s own Ben Fulton in the no-sir-don’t-like-it camp. Reviewing 1999’s Showdown to North by Northwest, Fulton said of Vell-Kro: “If you like banging your head against the side of a swimming pool, empty or full, here’s your scene.” Together for barely a couple of weeks before joining the competition, Vell-Kro nonetheless banged their way into the Finals without so much as even a set list.
“It was only our second show,” Smoke recalls, laughing. “Before we played, I’d ask, ‘How does that song go again?’”
“I baked that dude [Fulton] a cake,” Hoodman says dejectedly, “but I still don’t get any love.”
Besides frequent local spins on Fat Guy’s Left of Center weekend radio show, Vell-Kro does get some love, but not necessarily from their hometown. “Over the Internet, they love us in Florida, for some reason,” B-Lens says, perplexed. “And in Michigan, and on the East Coast. We get e-mail all the time from places like that, but it’s hard to get anyone to spell our name correctly, anywhere.”
So, what’s up with the name? “We can only spell it that way, or we’ll be sued by the Velcro Company,” he snorts. “I looked it up and they had it trademarked in 250 different spellings. I wrote and asked, ‘Do you have it in this spelling?’ They never wrote back, so fuck them.”