“We’re the penultimate folk-rap band. We’re the Greenday of…whatever it is we’re doing.”
That was my introduction to D.D.E.P., a Des Moines musical comedy duo that performs under the stage names of M.C. Lyrical and $Mic (pronounced “Money Mike”). What does D.D.E.P. stand for?
“We’ve never told anyone,” said Lyrical.
I first met the pair in Ames last December during a broadcast of local radio station 105.1 Channel Q’s “Iowa Unsigned” segment. They were trying to determine the proper amount of beer that should be consumed before a live radio show and came to the conclusion that their original amount was insufficient. They immediately left to get more before the show started.
Then the duo took to the airwaves and had everyone rolling. The guys are hilarious. They’re also the creators of some of the most wildly offensive and sexist songs around. So objectionable is the pair’s music that their own families have written it off.
“My dad came to our show (in early December),” Money said. “When it was done, he just nodded and said, ‘Yup, it’s crap.’ ”
D.D.E.P. songs riff on racial and cultural stereotypes, Chris Hansen, Hitler, food courts, drunk girls and more sexual scenarios than “Penthouse” letters. They are Sodom and Gomorrah given flesh.
Listening to them banter back and forth can make it hard to take the pair seriously. So as the stories and the beer kept flowing, it’s hard to know where the truth lay: After appearing on “America’s Got Talent” they were asked to come back a second time; they were so offensive at Baconfest two years ago, the event lost a major sponsor, yet they were invited back this year; their current project is a children’s album; and they’re embarking on a European tour. What’s true? Turns out, all of it.
With a musical style that can best be described as all the worst parts of Tenacious D, the act is predictably popular among the frat set, but also stunningly popular with females and older listeners. Whenever the band prints new T-shirts, they sell out in a matter of minutes. For a band that doesn’t try all that hard, the two continually seem to fall upward into more success.
So the first part of 2013 was sure to be an eventful time.
“We go to Chicago to audition for ‘America’s Got Talent’ at the end of January,” Lyrical told me. “We’re set to lay down the tracks for our children’s album the week after that; then we’re playing Baconfest again. After that, we leave for Ireland and Amsterdam at the end of February.”
What the hell? I know real bands that don’t have that much going on. I wanted to see this for myself.
“Sure. You’ll be embedded,” said Money. “It’ll be like ‘Almost Famous.’ ”
“Except we’ll never be famous,” added Lyrical.
But would “America’s Got Talent” producers allow a reporter to sit in on the audition process?
They pondered this for a moment before conceding that it wasn’t likely. Then Lyrical shrugged.
“Fuck it,” he said. “You’re our new cowbell player.”
D.D.E.P.’s Got Talent
“So here’s how our rehearsals usually go,” Lyrical explained. “We run through the songs, then we watch ‘Workaholics.’ ”
It’s a week before the “America’s Got Talent” audition, and I’m at Lyrical’s house for my first and only band practice. Lyrical hands me a drumstick and a cowbell. My role in the band is simple: count each song in with four hits, then, stand there. True to form, we run through a half dozen songs, then watch the cast of “Workaholics” battle a super moon.
This isn’t D.D.E.P.’s first go-round with “America’s Got Talent.” The group auditioned for season three as well.
“The producers loved us,” Lyrical said with some genuine surprise. “You’re supposed to get like two minutes. We wound up playing six songs for them.”
Auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” in season three, D.D.E.P. made it through the preliminary rounds and found itself up on a stage in front of Howie Mandel, Sharon Osborne, Piers Morgan and — as Lyrical puts it — “7,000 people who pretty much immediately decided they didn’t like us.”
Mandel asked them what D.D.E.P. stood for.
“We made the decision as a band to not reveal the meaning until we were either on the cover of Rolling Stone or Cityview,” Lyrical told him.
For the show, D.D.E.P. had written an “America’s Got Talent”-centric song. It was cheesy, but sanitized for television.
“We were walking out onto the stage, and I just turned to Mike and was like, ‘We’re not singing that song dude,’ ” Lyrical recalled.
Instead they opted for a song from their second album entitled “Falcon, The Balloon Boy,” a song about the “balloon boy” hoax perpetrated by the Heene family in 2009. It’s an amusing, poppy song that also happens to make liberal use of the word “motherfucking.” The band was voted (and booed) off stage in less than 30 seconds.
This time around, after checking into a hotel and procuring enough alcohol, we retired to the room so the guys could drink and talk, which led to singing, which led to jamming, which led to a 25-minute marathon of folk/rap renditions of hip-hop classics.
Here was D.D.E.P.’s charm laid bare. They aren’t what you’d conventionally classify as “good.” Money has some solid guitar ability and is actually the better singer of the two, while Lyrical is a clever writer with a solid background in old-school hip hop. But as a duo, the band is entertaining without being particularly adept at anything outside of comedy. But the songs aren’t really the point.
“Our shows are less about the music, and more about the banter,” Money said.
That’s because Lyrical and Money are good friends. Watching the two men offstage, one becomes intimately aware of the duo’s deep, almost familial affection for one another. It’s an “aw shucks” kind of attachment that peeks through as moments of unbridled joy, and it’s something that audiences pick up on. These guys are having fun, which makes it more fun for the rest of us.
Turns out, the atmosphere at an “America’s Got Talent” audition was exactly as expected. D.D.E.P. had a scheduled audition, which meant we didn’t have to wait in the packed rooms with the other cattle-callers. A staffer led us through the huge convention center to some chairs outside the audition room.
Walking past us was a motley assortment of wannabes and attention-seekers: a stage mother toting around a 3-year-old dressed like Mozart and carrying a violin. Behind them passed a group of African-American teens dressed in shoddily constructed X-Men costumes. Even if they had talent, there’s no way they were making the show dressed like giant copyright violations.
NBC’s performance contracts preclude me from writing about the auditions themselves. But when it was over, the mood in the band seemed to shift. Not because the audition had gone poorly — it really hadn’t — but because it was done. Even having done it before, there’s an incredible amount of stress that builds in the anticipation. Once D.D.E.P. walked out that audition room door, it was as if that pressure had suddenly deflated. The light, loud and boisterous mood had grown somber, and everyone just wanted a nap.
As we navigated our way to the parking lot, I asked Money how he thought it went.
“It was OK,” he said. “I think they liked us.”
What next? Does it matter if they advance?
“Well, if it didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have come,” he said. He pondered a moment and admitted, “I don’t really care.”
He pointed toward Lyrical, who was a few steps ahead of us.
“I did it for him. He’s my best friend. He wants it, so here we are.”
Text message, 2:31 a.m.: “So Mike and I are done. D.D.E.P. are broke up.
The week after the audition, D.D.E.P. was scheduled to head into the studio to record its third album. The first two albums are practices in vulgarity and low-brow humor with songs like “Hot Girls at the Lake,” “Hey Hitler” and “3:10 to Poon Town.” But for its third album, D.D.E.P. decided on a different tack.
“The name of the album is ‘Invisible Touch,’ because we want to touch kids on the inside,” Money explained.
“Emotionally,” Lyrical clarified.
Then, a moment of sincerity.
“We just decided that we wanted to make an album that our little cousins could listen to, but that would still make the adults laugh,” Money said.
Text message, 2:38 a.m.: “True story. We’re not going (to the studio) tomorrow, and 99.9% (sure) we’re done. Europe’s out as well.”
The six songs that make up the album include no swearing whatsoever. The surprising result: “Invisible Touch” may just be the duo’s best work. By hamstringing themselves on content, they’ve forced themselves to be genuinely clever. There are some moments of really great wordplay, and even the obvious songs are still more entertaining than much of their previous material.
People eager to buy the album, however, will have to wait.
Text message, 2:41 a.m.: “Ask Mike what happened. He’s a fucking idiot.”
The next morning, I text Lyrical, asking if he’s OK.
“Yep. I’m good. Mike’s not. He’s like the Scott Stapp of Des Moines.”
That’s an interesting place to take it.
Eventually, I get a text asking to meet them at a bar. When I get there, the air seems to have been cleared.
“We’re OK,” Lyrical said.
“We made up,” added Money.
The night before, the boys had played a Wounded Warrior benefit show at The Lucky Monkey. As is often the case during their performances, they had gotten spectacularly drunk, and on the way home Money brought up the fact that he “hoped Lyrical was joking” about wanting to advance on “America’s Got Talent.” Heated words were exchanged, and the pair nearly came to blows.
“The next 12 hours, it was like an angry high school couple,” Lyrical said. “That asshole better text ME first. I’M not texting him.”
What about the album?
“Well, we lost that deposit,” Lyrical said.
And Baconfest? Europe?
“Last night I sent texts out to everyone being like, ‘We’re done,’ ” Lyrical admitted. “So today has been a lot of, ‘Sorry, never mind.’ ”
Bullet dodged. But “Invisible Touch” would, for the moment, remain unseen.
We’re heading to Baconfest (the band, along with some friends, chartered a bus), and a few guys are guessing what D.D.E.P. stands for.
“If we get it, will you tell us?”
Money says yes, but they only get one guess each.
“Drunken Dildos Entering People?” No.
“Double Dicks Exciting…um…something.” No.
“Double Dildo Enters Puss…” No.
“Every time somebody guesses they always go sexual with it,” Money said later. “I guess we kind of bring that on ourselves with our lyrics.”
Scheduled to play first, we arrive at the fairgrounds about an hour before the Baconfest hordes, giving the band plenty of time to drink with the Icelanders who are in town for the Viking-themed festival. The Icelanders had brought cubes of fermented shark — a local tradition — which they downed with shots of Icelandic hooch — a stomach-emptying combination.
Finally, it’s time to take the stage. To add some depth to their sound, Lyrical and Money enlist the help of their studio drummer, Chang. Having a drum line behind them adds a new dimension to the act. It makes everything sound more complete. As Money, Lyrical and Chang take their places, I count maybe 50 people in the hall. Just before the band lurches into its first song, a Baconfest staffer bounds up to the stage, motioning to Lyrical.
“I really need you guys to not swear until the Governor leaves,” he said.
Sure enough, The Mustache himself is wandering around a few feet behind us, looking older than I remember and a little lost.
This presents a conundrum for the band. Can’t swear? That’s kind of their whole thing. Clearly, there’s only one course of action. Break out the new songs.
“OK, so this first song is off our new children’s album,” Lyrical said, addressing the crowd. “It’s about our friend Mary and her unusual pet. We call it ‘Mary’s Bald Beaver.’ ”
Guiding hands are immediately placed on Brandstad’s shoulders as he’s directed to the door and toward the festival’s second hall.
“Mary’s Bald Beaver” gives way to another track from the new album — a group participation song called “The Clap.” From there, D.D.E.P. launches into a couple of covers until the band receives official confirmation that the governor’s ears are out of range.
“Now,” Lyrical announces, “it’s time to fucking party.”
The crowd grows: 200, 300, 400 people start to fill the space — hundreds of people standing in one place, watching the show, thoroughly engaged. In the month that I’ve been following the guys around, this moment is the most fun I’ve seen them have. The crowd —most of whom have never heard of D.D.E.P. before now — is putty.
I approach a trio of young women and ask if this is their first time hearing the band. It is.
“They’re fucking hilarious!” shouts Kristin Hewitt.
“Women like guys who can be funny at their own expense,” adds Amanda Melton.
As a set scheduled for one hour slowly grows into 90 minutes, the boys decide to close with the song that got them booted from “America’s Got Talent” the first time. As they sing the chorus to “Falcon The Balloon Boy” (“Falcon, the balloon boy/he wasn’t even in the fucking balloon, yeah/Falcon, the balloon boy/he was up in the attic like a motherfucking twat”), a petite, middle-aged woman steps to the front of the stage and poses for a picture in front of Money, who’s wearing just a loincloth and Viking helmet. He beckons her on stage, and the woman stands demurely next to a 6’2”, half-naked Viking as he calls a little boy a twat in song. On the last line, Money asks if she’ll sing the last words with him. He leads her in:
“Like a motherfucking…”
And after a second’s pause, she leans into the mic: “Twat.”
“We don’t know how to end after that,” Money says to the cheering crowd. “That’s a nice way to end, right there.”
The big reveal
The moment I heard the story about the conversation between the band and Howie Mandel on the “America’s Got Talent” stage, I knew how this story had to end. D.D.E.P.’s meaning had been a closely-guarded secret since the guys formed the band. To the best of my knowledge, they’d never told anyone before. I’d asked fans, friends, family members and significant others; nobody knew. The only clue I’d gotten was that it wasn’t sexual. For all I knew, it didn’t mean anything, but I had to find out.
All together for one last time at Lyrical’s house, I asked. There’s a pregnant pause as Lyrical and Money look at one another.
Money: “Dirty Dicks Eat Pussy.”
Lyrical: “Drunk Dudes Entertaining People.”
Money: “Don’t Dare… Eat Play-dough”
Don’t do this to me.
But eventually M.C. Lyrical draws back the curtain: “Double Disc EP.”
“We were sitting at Royal Mile,” he explains. “We had two songs written at the time. Money was opening for some singer/songwriter over at Mews, and so I was like, ‘Do you want to play the songs we wrote?’ We decided we needed a band name. I’d always thought that it would be funny to release a double disc EP, have like four songs on each disc and package them, so that’s where the name came from. I know. You’re disappointed.”
“But when you’re looking at a show calendar, D.D.E.P. stands out,” he continues. “You have no clue what it is.”
“When you see ‘some guy’s trio,’ you kind of already know what that band’s about,” Money says.
“But D.D.E.P. could be anything,” adds Lyrical. “It could be a techno group, or a DJ, or…”
“…just two guys who are mediocre,” Money finishes. CV