The unique flow of Tahoe hip-hop trio Melting Elk
Tahoe experimental hip-hop trio Melting Elk has always tried to incorporate guitar and drums into its sound whenever possible. But in the past year the band has gone full time, as live instrumentation has become its modus operandi, including on its forthcoming album, Redbowl.
“I think hip-hop is such a broad genre, but I also feel like a lot of people focus on avoiding instruments,” said Collin Wright, aka Father Baker, MC for Melting Elk. “We were able to get our ducks in a row and have instruments all the time. It fits in well with the experimenting we want to do in the hip-hop genre, to work in more sounds that aren’t traditional.”
Wright has been performing his own raps since he was 14 growing up in Buffalo, N.Y. After moving to Tahoe a decade ago, it took him a while take his act to the stage.
“I moved to Tahoe in 2009 to ski and whatnot, and ended up getting into the music scene a lot later,” he said.
Father Baker eventually became a fixture at an open mic night at The Grid in Kings Beach on Tahoe’s north shore. The show was run by Rob Kominsky (Bobby K), who in 2016 joined Wright and fellow Buffalo transplant, guitarist and producer TJ Becker (aka Tokyo) in ditching the open mic in favor of forming Melting Elk, which played its first show at The Grid.
“It’s still our favorite place to play,” Wright said. “It’s got that dive kind of vibe to it.”
Wright acknowledged that Tahoe is “a very weird place” for the group. “It’s a pretty open music community, but we also feel like we are on an island,” he said.
To that end, Melting Elk tends to play more diverse bills with rock, punk and even jazz bands at times. And it’s in the live setting where the band thrives. The trio has played close to 50 shows since 2016—from Reno to all parts of California, including Chico, where the group returns this Friday (Jan. 10) for a show at The Maltese with locals Lo & Behold and Similar Alien & the Lizard Brains.
In 2019, though, the band made time to record and make music videos. A new song/video called “UFO” was released in early December, and Redbowl, the band’s second album, will come out this April.
“We decided [in early 2019] that we wanted to step back and take another step forward with the new stuff we were writing,” Wright said. “We’ve been playing definitely more infrequently than we have been.”
The new album will showcase the band’s live approach. “It’s completely analog,” Wright said. “We played everything from scratch, so it will be easier to do that when we do live shows. That’s been the focus for us, reinventing what we do. It’s been working well.”
“UFO” is a moodier take on hip-hop, somewhere between throwback trip-hop and more modern experimental styles. Wright said it’s just one flavor in an eclectic collection of new songs.
“We have two or three tracks that are more of a grimy, East Coast hip-hop style. There’s another one that’s not really like metal, but like alternative music, more high-energy rock but still with rap in it,” he said of the scope of Redbowl. “The album’s very versatile. It’s been interesting to take every corner of what you can do in hip-hop and try to push it.”