The wind whipped my face as I stepped cautiously out of my Brooklyn apartment, and I wondered what my interview with David Peterson, the iconic but unintentionally mysterious lead singer of the Crab Apples, would be like.
The Crab Apples, despite the name, harken back to 70’s Brazilian psych-folk. There’s a little bit of hip and a little bit of hop, but scant a trace of hip-hop. Their inspiration is Dre meets Cher, and there are 27 people in the band on a rotational basis, with guest spots filled by unknown rappers with pretentious names. They are mushroom-fueled Brazil-pop, ignoring all their influences and pursing a psychedelic folksy revolution.
I meet Dave Peterson at his place in Queens, and his typically aloof demeanor dissipates into a great big smile and a warm handshake, followed by an uncomfortably long hug that I had trouble escaping from. He is unshaven, his right forefinger is home to a ring bearing the insignia of Captain Planet, and his alpaca sweater is a testament to his heartfelt support for non-nylon fibers. On his left cheek is a tiny freckle, though he has many more freckles that are much more visible. His shirt lapel is off-kilter, at a 46 degree angle. His left knee jitters up and down in his Star 5 jean shorts, a brand so rare that he is wearing the only remaining pair. His argyle socks are pulled up to his knees.
As it is, Peterson is the apotheosis of cool, and argyle is the apotheosis of hip. Is he…hip-cool? It’s hard to say.
We continued the interview downstairs in Peterson’s pimped out 1977 Taurus station wagon. The purple paint job and fuzzy green seat coverings reflect the mystery of the man and possibly poor interior decorating taste.
The Crab Apples are truly stage performers above and possibly behind their time. When the Crab Apples are on stage, they are like a pack of overly-excitable lemmings, darting from one corner of the stage to the other (just one of many analogies easily harvested from Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth). Darby White, the band’s drummer, has a stagehand for each drum, carrying hers with her while she walks around the stage in a windmill of drum-thrashing, body-moving energy. During one memorable concert, the Crab Apples all donned fake facial hair to convey the passing of time and hair growth.
Peterson is a walking, talking contradiction. “I like to think of our sound as like music but not quite there. It’s like what the 99 cent menu is to McDonald’s: it’s cheap, but is it worth it?” His unshaven hipster vibe betrays his crack-lipped, half-smirk half-smile as he shifts fleetingly in his seat.
Peterson is the nerve center of the Crab Apples, writing the music and playing most of the instruments during recording sessions. He and the Crab Apples have no doubt revived the melting music landscape, layering their sound with drums, a guitar, a bass, a horn section, an Aeolian wind harp, and two wood blocks.
From the mesmerizing, ecstasy-charged beats (like the heart murmur of a cat on crack) to the soft thumps (like the dropping of a pillowcase full of body parts on the concrete), the Crab Apples definitely have it going on. The third track on their latest album, “Satan Has a Mama Tattoo,” teases with just a hint of New Orleans jazz reverberating against a repartee of cymbal and snare drum that reminds me of my gentle nurturing during childhood.
Finally, we reach Peterson’s studio, where he plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for me on the drums.
“We don’t make music. We make glorified noise,” he quips casually. Then he squints into the distance as if he can see the band’s future. I ask him about it, and as he wraps his leg around his head he whispers, “If Cher can get a Grammy, I can get a Grammy…dammit.”
As I drove home and reflected on that cybernetic day, listening to “Sour Face” by the Crab Apples on the radio, the lyrics seemed to speak to me:
You’re on your own.
Everyone hates you.
But let’s just be happy.
Even though you’re really unpopular.
“Perfect lyrics for junior high school,” I thought.
The Crab Apples, for all their innovation, have reached a point in their career where they simply “are,” which for them is the best form of “to be.” The Crab Apples are proud of their reach and influence on the gullible youth of today, even instigating four school mass shootings, a testament to their lyrical prowess.
Peterson tells me that this winter they are set to release their 74th studio album, “Crabby Apples 6,” featuring Busta Rhymes and Mark McGrath. At that point, I have to ask myself again, “What are the Crab Apples?”
The Crab Apples are everything, and they are nothing. Whether that is good or bad is irrelevant—they are above such petty divisions. They are music in their silence, and they are music in their noise. They are love songs. They are hate songs. They are all songs, and they are no songs. They are Apples, and they are Crab. They are red yet green, always ripening.
And most intrinsically, they are real music at its best.