They are the worlds first LIVE Mashup Rock Band straight out of San Francisco mixing the best 80’s, 90’s and contemporary songs together onstage. Prepare to be injected with the best of the best in songs and performance, what’s not to love about this band? We caught up with lead singer Adrian Roberts and got the inside info on the phenomenon that is SMASH-UP DERBY!
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Photos by Eric ‘ShutterSlut’ Stein
What is the band line up?
Adrian Roberts – lead vocals
Mimi Lee Ferrari – lead vocals
Angela Momiyama – bass, keyboards, vocals
Gavin Owen – guitar, vocals
Graham Ruby – guitar, vocals
Matty C – drums
Tell us more about the band history and how you all met:
Smash-Up Derby has its roots based in the One Night Stand events that used to happen every year at Slims in San Francisco. This was an annual charity event where various local bands would mix and match their members to create one-off “super groups” to play a trio of tribute or themed cover songs. At the time, I was in a band called Blue Period, and my drummer Matty and I put together an early version of Smash-Up Derby to play this back in 2003. We had so much fun doing it that we did it again the following year, this time with members from a band called For Madmen. This line-up really gelled, we realized that we were having so much fun playing live mash-ups and that it was such a unique and novel concept that no one else was doing that we had to keep on doing it. Fortunately for us, I had already started our Mash-Up club night Bootie at DNA Lounge, so Smash-Up Derby quickly became the “house band” at Bootie SF. Throughout the years, we’ve had a few line-up changes, but most of our members have almost always come from our mutual social circles, so the band has always had a bit of a “family vibe.” (past line-up below)
You are a live mash-up band playing songs from Nirvana, Black Sabbath, U2, Led Zeppelin, ACDC, Ministry, to Metallica while the vocalists are belting out Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Blondie, or Run-DMC at the same time. Which songs get the biggest crowd response live?
We have a few mash-up “classics” that never fail to make the crowd go crazy. Probably our biggest “hit” is “Closer To Rock ’n’ Roll,” which mashes up the vocals of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” by Joan Jett. “Tricky Sandman” is another big crowd favorite, as we rap Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky” over Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” One of our most more recent crowd fav’s is “Semi-Charmed Call,” which is “Call Me Maybe” over Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.”
I’ve watched Smash-Up Derby play live over a dozen times. As a musician I know how complex and clever you all are and to perform LIVE mash-ups with a FULL band is quite the task. Explain the process of choosing what song goes with what:
Indeed, sometimes band practice makes our brains hurt! In the early years, we used to jam on ideas during band practice, with the band riffing on an instrumental loop of a familiar rock song that they all wanted to play, while myself and the other singer would stand there singing a variety of other songs at the same time, trying to see if anything would fit. Nowadays, our process is a bit more streamlined, with one of us usually producing a rough “proof-of-concept” mash-up using music software, and then sending an MP3 to everyone to learn the new arrangement. We also do quite a few live covers of already-existing tracks produced by our community of mash-up producers.
There’s 2 lead vocalists, one male and one female as well as backing vocals. I bet you guys can pull off Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” quite proficiently. Which songs in your sets are the most challenging vocally?
We’ve only done a mash-up of “Bohemian Rhapsody” once, but we were mostly singing Green Day on top of it, so I’m not sure that counts! As for what songs are the most challenging vocally, it’s usually the ones that are the newest, because we’re still sorting out the various harmony parts. We just start doing a mash-up of Lorde’s “Royals” (over Beck’s “Loser,” based on the DJ Tripp mash-up) and there are some tricky harmonies in that chorus!
What was the most memorable show and why?
OMG, there have been so many memorable moments in this band, it’s difficult to pick out just one! There was once a Folsom Street Fair show where out of nowhere, the stage was suddenly filled with furries bumping and grinding us, just as we started singing Nine Inch Nails’ “I wanna fuck you like an animal.” There was a weekend of shows in Beijing, China at a club that was so smoky (they’re still allowed to smoke in bars in China) that our throats were burning by the end of each night. At Bootie SF once, a seven-foot-tall drag queen was go-go dancing on stage and toppled over onto our guitarist while he was in the middle of the guitar solo from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” — and he still didn’t miss a single note! I’m sure there are many more, but there are three off the top of my head.
Some of my favorite songs you do are Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” and a mix of Daft Punk meets Madonna “Get Lucky Tik Tok Star”. Which songs are the vocalists favorite to perform?
My personal favorite is singing Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” over MGMT’s “Time To Pretend.” It’s takes an indie-hipster band and makes them sound classic. Mimi’s favorite song to sing is probably “Don’t Stop Believin’” over Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” Always a sing-along crowd-pleaser, of course!
If you could have any artist living or dead perform onstage with you on a mash-up song who would they be?
Having Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain come back from the dead to share the stage performing our mash-up “Smells Like Billie Jean.” OMG, that would be magical.
Any plans on a full on music video?
That’s one of those things we always say: “Hey, we should really make a music video!” I suppose someday it will eventually happen!
When and where can people catch your live performance?
As the house band for Bootie SF, we play at DNA Lounge every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. We’ll be performing Saturday August 15th for the BootieSF 12 Year Anniversary joined with Hubba Hubba Revue Burlesque.
SEE THEM LIVE AUGUST 15TH!!!
What’s next for Smash-Up Derby?
Making more mash-ups, focusing on a lot of ‘90s songs (the ‘90s are back!) but updating them with current pop songs.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Finding the beauty in the gritty… like a gorgeous pop melody wrapped up in some dirty rock ’n’ roll!