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Interviews: Crazy Town

Crazy Town: Interview with Squirrel
February 2001
By: Lauren Jonik (

By blending rock, hip-hop, and r and b with edgy, street-smart lyrics, the members of Crazy Town bring their collective talents and years of experience to the table. Their current single, Butterfly, is rapidly climbing the charts and introducing their unique brand of music to mainstream audiences. But, it is their entire album, the Columbia Records debut, The Gift of Game, that proves they are as diverse as they are talented.

The evolution of Crazy Town had its beginnings in a downtown Los Angeles recording studio several years ago when the desires of co-lead vocalists, Bret "Epic" Mazur and Seth "Shifty" Binzer began to take shape. Both had been working behind the scenes in the hip-hop world, producing and doing remixes for artists like MC Serch and Bell Biv Devoe. After deciding they wanted to pursue having their own band, they enlisted the skills of bassist Faydoedeelay, guitarist Trouble Valli, DJ AM and drummer JBJ. Epic had known JBJ, who has a long history of doing percussion for artists like Anita Baker, Beastie Boys and Chuck Mangione, from during session work. When original guitarist Rust Epique left the band in the Spring of 2000, Squirrel, who had also previously worked in many aspects of the music industry and had been in 16 Volt and Chemlab, came on board to complete the seven-member band.

With the lyrical invitation "come my lady, come come my lady, you're my butterfly, sugar, baby," the song Butterfly begins. What follows is the mixture of an immediately catchy beat, subtle guitars that complement each other and a sample of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' song Pretty Little Ditty, from the album Mother's Milk. It is the only sample the Chili Peppers have ever given their approval to. An appreciative tribute to finding the one special woman in a man's life who makes him want to be a better person, Butterfly, the third single from The Gift of Game, is soaring up the alternative, hard rock and top 40 charts to reach a combined audience of over 46 million. "It's like a punk rock love song," says Squirrel.

Set in what looks like the Garden of Eden, the video for Butterfly is another example of one of Crazy Town's collective visions coming to life. With a concept predominantly conceived by Shifty, the band bounced ideas off of one another and came up with an end result that far exceeded their expectations. "We talked for a long time amongst ourselves about what we wanted that video to look like and when we got there and saw the set, it was fantastic because it was like,'this might actually be exactly what we were thinking about," explains Squirrel. Filmed in one day in a canyon north of Hollywood, the video was directed by Honey and contains scenes with the natural light of the sun coming up over the hills and through the trees behind where the band performs. "The funniest thing is that it looks like we were in some tropical environment," says Squirrel. In reality, temperatures on the day of filming hovered around thirty degrees and the band had to keep moving to stay warm, but in the end, it paid off. "When we saw the final version, everyone of us just loved it." The video is receiving airplay on MTV and MTV2 and the band will be performing on MTV's TRL in late February.

First and foremost a hip-hop band, Crazy Town's album, The Gift of Game, offers a variety of musical styles both within individual songs and on the entire record. "I think the first album is decently eclectic," says Squirrel. Before Crazy Town, Epic and Shifty had focused primarily only on hip-hop music and this is the first rock band they have been in. "We could write any kind of song, be it Black Cloud, which is almost new wave, or something like Think Fast . . . but when Epic and Shifty bring what they bring on top of it, it is a Crazy Town song." Produced by Epic and Josh Abraham, who has worked with Orgy and Coal Chamber, The Gift of Game spans the range from the aggressive, in-your-face sounds of Toxic and Dark Side to the r and b flavored Players (Only Love You When They're Playing) and Revolving Door. But, one things remains constant: every song has a power, cleverness, and raw energy that is unmistakable.

Crazy Town invited several well-known guests to add their talents the album. Long time friends of the band, Jay Gordon and Amir Derakh of Orgy contributed to the melodic Black Cloud, a reflective song about karma. KRS-One volunteered his skills for "B-Boy 2000," a song that is always a crowd favorite, when performed live. Dirty Unit added vocals to Think Fast, as did Mad Lion on Hollywood Babylon. There is even a family connection of sorts relating to The Gift of Game: Shifty's father, Rollin Binzer, an artist who has designed album covers for bands like The Rolling Stones, created the artwork on the cover of the cd.

Having toured extensively in support of The Gift of Game, Crazy Town has shared the stage with Buckcherry, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Orgy and Methods of Mayhem, to name a few. They have toured both in the US and Australia and have headlined shows throughout Europe. In 2000, they joined Staind, P.O.D. and Dope for MTV's Return of the Rock Tour. "My favorite thing about touring is the fact that we get to turn it up loud and play shows," says Squirrel. Instead of feeding off of the crowd's energy, Crazy Town likes to have the audience come into their vibe. "When you come see us play, if you didn't like hip-hop or Crazy Town, there is no way you could not end up being affected by this group of friends that are having such a good time . . . you can't deny it, it's too much fun." While Butterfly is the most well-known song, crowds are also especially responsive to Think Fast, Darkside and B-Boy 2000. "Everyone loves B-Boy 2000, it's kind of fast and it's kind of crazy. And, everybody loves Butterfly." The band will be returning to the road in March. Squirrel said he would love for Crazy Town to tour with other hip-hop artists to share their music with an even greater audience. "What we're all about is breaking down all these walls. We're all making music and good music is good music."

With several of the members of Crazy Town having worked as producers, their approach to songwriting is one of collaboration. Each member brings their own ideas to a song in order to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. "I love the is my life and it is truly my first love," says Squirrel, who once produced an EP for the band Apex Theory. Some songs happen quickly and other take longer to become what fans will hear. "Sometimes, it is just like that. . . and the songs are pretty cool, but to get them to where they are damn cool takes longer--- like from a sketch into a painting." Squirrel, who gained his nickname by always being prepared and thinking ahead, like a squirrel who collects nuts for the winter, is as much a fan of music as a creator of it. He is currently listening to Radiohead as well as a cd by the Los Angeles band theSTART, which will be released later this year. "It is absolutely amazing, I love theSTART cd."

At its core, Crazy Town is about making music that they believe in, supporting other bands and connecting with fans. "I've been so lucky in my career, I've never worked on anything or been in any band that I haven't genuinely been able to put my heart into," says Squirrel. Looking toward the future, they hope to continue to experiment and expand upon their sound. "We have it figured out for who we are. . . the next record will be more eclectic and even more developed." But, until then, they are satisfied to keep writing and supporting the current album and to "play a bunch of big-ass rock shows, make some killer records and make kids happy." Indeed, the gift of game is only one of many gifts Crazy Town has on its side.