Pearl Dragon has some time to talk, but not a ton of time. He's taking a lunch break from his job at a pawnshop in south Seattle, so he calls in and I answer. But I have no idea who he is at first, mostly because his tone is that of an old friend calling to see if I can meet up for a beer or watch his dog or something.
I soon realize that this is Pearl Dragon, one of the emcees in the emerging hip-hop crossover act, Champagne Champagne, a Seattle trio that's riding a wave of buzz into Bend this weekend for a show with fellow Seattleites Mad Rad and locals Cloaked Characters and Joanna Lee. The simplest way to frame Champagne Champagne is as a hip-hop group, but they're as much an electronic rock act as anything else - in a way, they're a party-friendly sampling of a variety of several different Seattle sounds.
Part of the reason for this is that the band's DJ and multi instrumentalist, DJ Gajamagic, is actually named Mark Gajadhar and was the drummer for longtime Seattle hardcore act The Blood Brothers. Now, Gajadhar is creating electro-rock quirkiness over which Pearl and Thomas Gray, the band's other emcee, can spill their highly energetic and cerebral rhymes. Some have gone as far as to tuck the Champagne Champagne sound (one that's shared somewhat by their tour mates in Mad Rad) into a genre called "hipster-hop," a label Pearl isn't all that wild about. Rather, he says the band's uber-eclectic take on hip-hop is, in part, a byproduct of the wide-ranging musical interests (and musical friends) of the group's members, including his own.
"I like a lot of Seattle music and I'm kind of personable, so I get along with a lot of people in the music community. I think [our sound] started with people just hanging out. I have a lot of different people in different scenes," says Pearl, who attended Seattle's Rainier Beach High School, which also happned to produce NBA stars Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson.
Also, the fact that hip-hop kids, or punk kids or metal kids no longer just listen exclusively to those genres makes something like Champagne Champagne possible.
"This new generation can get anything instantly, so genre's are melting because everything is at your fingertips. They can access it all so much quicker," says Pearl, who himself has interests that vary greatly, including a deep love of Nirvana ("You'll still see me in my Kurt memorabilia," says Pearl.)
Over the past two years, Champagne Champagne has received a slew of regional and national attention, beginning with plenty of rotation on Seattle's worldwide popular nonprofit radio station, KEXP and a 2009 appearance on MTV.com's "Five Dollar Cover" blog, while also maintaining a steady, loyal and willing-to-dance crowd of fans in their hometown. Since, Champagne Champagne has expanded its appeal with nationwide touring and plans to stay busy on stage as they prepare the release of their next album, due sometime this year, according to Pearl.
And while their sound is wildly up beat and has the ability to do the seemingly impossible - get Seattleites dancing - Pearl emphasizes that the band has plenty of substantial commentary to offer.
"People overlook the heavier stuff and think it's party-party and all that stuff about girls," says Pearl, adding that the band has hit on topics far outside the party arena, including "Radio Raheem," a song about Pearl's brother, who was shot and killed by a police officer near Pike Place Market in 2007.
Even if some tracks offer this sort of substance, it's hard to ignore Champagne Champagne's penchant for keeping a party going, especially when they're onstage. With Gajadhar now playing the guitar more, in addition to pumping out beats, the band can toss in a punk rock vibe when needed or maybe go electronica for a bit. While the packaging may vary, what Pearl and company are always doing is dispensing thoughtful, engaging lyrics, full of excellent pop cultural references. Pearl isn't exactly sure why so many different groups of people have been attracted to the band, but he has some ideas.
"Some of the people like hip-hop. Some just like Mark. But what we try to do is win them over as a whole group as Champagne Champagne," says Pearl. "We work well together and we just want to have fun with each other."
Champagne Champagne, Mad Rad, Cloaked Characters, Joanna Lee
8pm Sunday, January 9. Old Mill Music Lounge (above Level 2), 360 SW Powerhouse Dr. $8. Tickets at bendticket.com. All ages.