Dropped by Lorraine Rosemary
As you have most likely seen and heard, Orlando recently had a geek invasion that included some of the most unique up-and-coming acts in the nerdcore scene. One of the highlights of the event was a lyrical mastermind named Schaffer the Darklord. With quippy lyrics about cats, making sex, and a slew of pop-culture references, this self-deprecating ego-maniac has more to his music than his character would let on. I had the opportunity to exchange a few quick emails with the Darklord himself, only to receive some of the longest—and most entertaining—responses I have gotten to date. Mark Schaffer once again proves his brilliance with these well-articulated answers to my overly-mundane questions.
We talked about his status in the nerdcore scene, his original inception, how he’s influenced by George Carlin, the Beastie Boys and Norwegian black metal and so much more.
The Dropp: Who are your major influences?
Schaffer the Darklord: I have a very vivid memory from 1986. I was standing in my living room when MTV debuted the music video for Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” I stood a few feet from the screen TRANSFIXED for the entire 4 minutes and 40 seconds of it. Sure, I had already seen “Fight For Your Right (To Party)” at that point, but it didn’t affect me like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” did. Here were three goofy white dudes acting like fools and rapping over metal guitar riffs, and one had a gravelly voice, and one was wearing a suit of armor, and they were making fun of all the glam rock videos that I loved at the time. I knew AT THAT VERY MOMENT that this was what I wanted to do someday. I became a diehard Beastie Boys fan on the spot, and they have remained not only my all-time favorite recording artists, but my primary influence as a rap musician ever since. Then, of course, there are all the other usual suspects in my list of influences: Public Enemy, Slick Rick, Kool Moe Dee, NWA, LL Cool J, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Salt N’ Pepa, etc. (I especially connected with the “storyteller” rappers who used three-part narratives in their songs.) Over the years, I also got into Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Nas, Kool Keith, Snoop Dogg, Gravediggaz, Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, etc., all of whom I would also cite as influences. But as I am a metal-head at heart, my live performance aesthetic has also been heavily informed by the over-the-top dark theatrics of some of my favorite rock acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Slayer, the entire Norwegian black metal scene, etc. The comedy in my material has been inspired by the comedians I’ve idolized throughout my life like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Hicks. Also, my intense vanity, self-obsession, ambiguous sexuality and even my color scheme were all strongly influenced by another one of my all time favorites: Prince.
The Dropp: What do you expect from an event like Nerdapalooza?
Schaffer: This was my fifth year at Nerdapalooza, so at this point, there aren’t a lot of surprises. In other words, I now know exactly what to expect from an event like Nerdapalooza, and that’s why I spend all year getting excited for the next one! I know I’ll get to enjoy performances from a whole bunch of my favorite acts in one weekend. I know I’ll get to see (and party with) a whole bunch of my beloved friends that I only get to see once a year. And mostly, I know I will be treated to the kindest, warmest, most generous audience I will have the honor of facing all year long. Seriously, the Nerdapalooza audience is my favorite. They’re so excited and eager with their enthusiasm, they know all the words to my songs and they make me feel incredibly welcome and loved. Those geeks are the goddamn wind beneath my wings.
Watch the music video for Schaffer the Darklord’s “The Bender” below (NSFW):
The Dropp: What initially drew you to the nerdcore scene?
I wasn’t initially drawn to the nerdcore scene; the nerdcore scene found me and dragged me in! Seriously. I started my solo rap act back in 2002, long before I’d ever heard the word “nerdcore.” I started my act after being a heavy metal drummer for years, so the early version of my act was very “satan-heavy.” I still wrote/performed rap songs, and they still had lots of jokes in them, but the material was mostly about the experiences of playing in rock bands, with lots of exaggerated references to satanism and skulls and monsters and stuff. (You know, like metal bands are want to do!) After releasing an album and conducting several DIY tours around the county for a couple years, somebody on one of the early Rhyme Torrents message boards (the internet petri dish that really spawned the nerdcore scene) mentioned me in some thread discussing “other” nerdcore rappers, a post I found through a Google search of my name. At the time, I didn’t really understand how I was considered part of a scene that I didn’t even know existed. I mean, sure, I wore glasses, and I had a Darth Vader joke in my act, but my songs were about metal, not D&D [Dungeons & Dragons]. (Years later I would finally realize that fantasy role playing games and theatrical black metal are not exactly disparate subcultures.) Some people from that board really took to me (lots, however, DID NOT), and pretty soon I was invited to join the boards and submit a song for one of the compilation albums that the Rhyme Torrents community released. In 2007, MC Frontalot caught wind of my nonsense and invited me to do a couple local shows with him before taking me on the road as his support act. After getting exposure to the “godfather of nerdcore’s” audiences around the country, my place in the scene became cemented. I was invited to my first Nerdapalooza in 2008, and although I was still a stranger to most of the small, tightly-knit scene (small and tightly-knit at THAT time, anyway) I was warmly welcomed into the community. My material has evolved beyond the satan and metal stuff over the years, and I’ve continued to find a welcome audience in the nerdcore community ever since.
“Sure, all of these elements are rooted in a much more tame version in reality, but a part of me is still trying to impress my high school theater coach.”
The Dropp: Do you feel like you play up your character on stage or is it someone you genuinely relate with?
Schaffer: I’m a theater geek. I’ve also got a background in stand-up comedy. Exaggeration is a key element of both successful theater and comedy. The main note my high school drama coach would always give me was “That’s good. Now just do it BIGGER!” I don’t think my stage persona is a different character from who I actually am in real life, a’la Clark Kent/Superman. I think the character I play onstage is just a cartoonishly exaggerated version of who I actually am. For example, I have a tendency to be a bit manic/easily excitable, and I have no problem listing sex, drugs and rock-n-roll among the major interests I’ve enjoyed in my adult life. However, the stage version of me is a wildly gesticulating, bug-eyed, ranting lunatic who describes crazed bouts of hardcore drug abuse and thrusts his crotch at the audience as he promises to have sex with every single person in attendance, all while constantly throwing devil horns into the air. Sure, all of these elements are rooted in a much more tame version in reality, but a part of me is still trying to impress my high school theater coach.
The Dropp: How do you think your internet following translates when it comes to live performance?
Schaffer: I owe everything to the internet. The internet has allowed me to connect with my audience in a way that I never could have dreamed of back in my DIY punk/metal drummer days. The internet allows me to distribute content to fans, interact with them for their feedback, book/promote shows and have a fanbase in cities/countries I’ve never even visited. My online presence has bolstered my live audiences by allowing me to amass fans that will come out for the shows when I DO appear in their cities. In short, the internet has been very good to me. I think my favorite audience members aren’t necessarily the long-time die-hard fans who’ve attended dozens of shows. I don’t think the strangers who turn into fans over the course of a set the first time they see me live are either. I think my favorite audiences are those who see me live for the first time after being long-time internet fans. Though I stand by the material that I’ve released, I realize that production isn’t exactly my strong suit. I don’t think that any of my recordings really capture the true nature of my act. My strength is in performance. If I may be so self-indulgent, I believe that my live show is pretty strong. So I really enjoy performing for people who already like the material, but have no idea how much BIGGER everything is when that material is delivered live. Those are the fans whose minds I reeeeally enjoy attacking and (hopefully) blowing when I get onstage and step up to the mic.
Wed Sep 12