Royal Blunts, the first album by the local electro/hip-hop trio Dumb Lunch, is a dizzy, paranoid scramble of almost-recognizable samples, cheap synths, drug references, and butt jokes. It feels a little dirty and sounds pretty scary—like a bad trip on bad drugs in a bad part of town with some people you don't know and aren't really sure about, which is almost exactly what the closing track "Don't Vomit Yet Yo" is about. But Royal Blunts is also, for the same reasons, a small local masterpiece, a dense and delirious 45 minutes of dark psychedelia that might be the closest Knoxville ever gets to it own version of the defiant and youthful Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future.
As forbidding as the album is, though, its creators, who go by the names D.L., NDN, and Chris What?, are three regular guys in their 20s who have all played in other, more traditional rock bands and are looking for new ways to make music.
"We would just stay up all night and jam on stuff," says frontman D.L. (who generally performs in a purple cape, crown, and giant sunglasses) of Dumb Lunch's origins. "We didn't know exactly what we were doing, but we wanted to do something musically. We decided it wasn't going to be guitar and drums, anything like that—just make noises and see where that went. The jams started getting more structured, so I guess last summer we came together as Dumb Lunch, more or less."
After a while, NDN began capturing those sessions on cassette, mixing them up with samples and found sound, and making those tapes the foundation for Dumb Lunch.
"I was using everything I could think of," he says. "I have a bunch of instruments and I would make samples. When we first started jamming, I just had a corner of the room that was full of all these instruments, and I eventually narrowed it down to what I liked and what I felt like taking to shows. It came down to, I love playing all that stuff, but I don't love taking it to shows. I like just making jams, tapes, and taking tapes to the shows. It's more fun that way. I don't have to recreate what I did in my home. I can just take it with me and play with it further."
The appeal of the analog cassette, as opposed to the laptop, lies in its unpredictability. (Royal Blunts was recorded digitally, but a recent follow-up is available only on cassette, and, in keeping with a recent underground resurgence of tapes, that's now the band's preferred format.) The layers of recording on NDN's cassettes—tapes of tapes of live instruments, tapes of pre-recorded samples—and the difficulty of manipulating a tape with the same precision as a turntable or software keeps the band and its audience unsure of exactly what will happen next.
"A lot of what we do, rhythmically, is multi-rhythm technique, where we just play three to 10 different beats at the same time," D.L. says. "They'll sync up sometimes, but not all the time. I think it's way more fun and interesting to listen to, because you have so many more sounds that are going on that you can pick through. On a second listen, you're like, I didn't hear that the first time. I get bored with music really easily."
"Some of my tapes have a quick succession, like two seconds of this and two seconds of that," NDN adds. "I'll set it at a show so I don't know where it is, so I'll put it on and it's like you get to play with what happens."
The name came from Royal Bangs drummer Chris Rusk. None of the members are sure exactly what the name means, but they suspect that D.L.'s initials had something to do with it.
"I think that's why he mentioned that, I don't know," D.L. says. "My wife really wants me to change my name to Dumb Lunch. ‘I would love to be Mrs. Dumb.' But I looked into it, and it's a lot of work to change your name."
For this Friday's performance at Pilot Light, the band will set up a round robin with several other bands, playing short sets and perhaps collaborating. Dumb Lunch is also premiering its video for the song "Big Ass," directed by Logan Myers of Artificial Agent Productions, and there will be special butt-shaped cakes available.