The Show is the Rainbow talks about his one-man, punk-rock, hip-hop party
When music writers have trouble agreeing on a description of an artist, chances are they’re onto something original. Dipping into the press clippings of Lincoln, Nebraska’s Darren Keen, a.k.a. The Show is the Rainbow, bears this out. Here are some examples:
"…a one-man-rap act that’s storming the country with a strangely unique yet catchy brand of hip-hop that’s presented like an interactive, in-your-face freakout.”
“Part Pentecostal preacher, part carnival barker, part scam artist and part psychotic stalker.”
“Combining equal parts of electronica, sweat, sequins, balloons and epileptic seizures, The Show is the Rainbow could be the greatest one-man live show since Iggy Pop.”
Let me add that TSITR’s live show is just Keen, singing in a variety of voices—from a deadpan rap similar to Cake’s John McCrea to rock star yowling—over a pre-recorded soundtrack of Beck-meets-Devo funness blasting from his Discman.
Keen’s own assessment on the song “Ning Ning” (from Correcting Dog Behavior Problems Using Dog Radartron, 2004, Suckapunch Records), of putting “charisma before career choice!” explains his approach most succinctly. In anticipation of his upcoming show at Off Limits, I spoke with Keen on St. Patrick’s Day as he prepared for a CD-release show in his hometown the following night.
On MySpace.com there’s pic of a guy with a tattoo of you on his arm that kind of looks like it was carved into his skin. Do you know that person?
That’s my friend Zach from Portland. … It’s half based on a joke from the first time we met, but also because he likes my band, I suppose. But Zach is like one of the best people I’ve ever met on tour.
What should the local rocker kids expect from TSITR?
Just expect about 11 minutes of music and 12-13 minutes of historical facts about Vikings, particularly my Viking heritage, and how I totally love Jupiter (Zeus). He is my copilot.
I remember reading something that mentioned video being added to the mix. What’s the production of your live show like now?
I have a video screen that has videos that sync up to the music. Once I reach the end of the music, the video screen works as a great Powerpoint presentation to outline the struggle of the Norsemen trying to find themselves, and it has a great flash cartoon strip about the dangers of not following Jupiter’s (Zeus’s) rules close enough. Don’t fuck with the River Styx.
People seem to explain your act in pretty dramatic terms—like they’ve seen nothing like it before. Is this something you’re striving for?
It doesn’t factor in really at all. I mean, I take it as a huge compliment, but I’ve never really pre-conceived any part of this. I don’t really think it’s too weird or anything.
I imagine being freed from the extra equipment and organizing of the typical rock band setup makes audience interaction a breeze. Can you comment on the ways this approach has been a better/worse deal than your previous experiences in a traditional band?
Well downside is, if a show is super bad, there is no one there for moral support. The plus side is, I can talk about whatever I want to talk about, and do whatever I want to do. That’s really (going back to your other question) my only motivation with this band … doing whatever seems fun to me.
Do you play everything on the TSITR recordings?
No. I write it all and compose it all, and I play maybe 85 percent of it, but I just record at my house, so sometimes my friends want to play stuff too, and that’s fun for all of us. A good way to tell if it’s me playing is if it’s out of tune or in the wrong key, [then] it’s probably me.
What about the fights at shows [Keen’s history includes altercations with other bands on the bill and getting a beer bottle smashed into his face]? Any new stories?
Yeah. In Colombia, S.C., a guy got all in my face and snot rocketed on me, and he said he’d kick my face in and called me “an art fag faggot pussy,” which was pretty dope. Later on in the show, he got his ass handed to him by Joel from Beep Beep. Basically a brawl started and it was wicked. I didn’t tell that story very good because it’s weird and long. [Laughs.] I rule.
What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day? You’re in a college town like ours, so I imagine it’s drinky-drink insane as well.
[Laughs.] I wish. I’m editing video and hanging out with my girlfriend. I have to leave again for tour on Sunday, so we’re just gonna take it easy. I’ve been gone for like 30 days and am gonna be gone for 20 more. So yeah, that’s it.