"I saw 13 black crows as black as 3 a.m.
and as big as vultures eyes
with wings hanging to their sides like laundry on the line /
they were standing in a circle letting their tongues dry ..."
This is not the apocalyptic prophecy of a self-proclaimed messiah. It's the opening stanza from the Listener's song, "You Have Never Lived Because You Have Never Died."
Talker Dan Smith, a longtime member of Christian hip-hop collective Deepspace 5, and lead instrumentalist Chris Nelson form the group Listener. And it's lyrics like these that Smith writes and speaks for the group, while Nelson composes the music that they perform.
Smith describes their art as "talk music," a mixture of poetry with rock 'n roll. To get an idea of what that sounds like, Aaron Weiss from MeWithoutYou and Captain Beefheart would be good places to start.
As far as on-stage antics, when Smith performs — as he will at the Wareloft on Friday and at a Woodland Park church on Saturday — he's a genre all his own. The 32-year-old summons the spirit of an evangelical preacher in one second, and in the next the raging, creepy uncle whom everybody waits for to snap (but in a strangely good way).
Smith's musical beginnings included making hip-hop albums in junior high, but he says that he was more interested in making this type of music then actually listening to it.
"Hip-hop is not really relevant to me, because it's kind of a stream of consciousness that doesn't make sense in life in general," he says. Yet there was a benefit to listening to hip-hop as an adolescent, he adds, because it "cut the grooves deep in my mind as far as writing poetry and song structures, and word structures with a lot of words."
In 2005, after signing a record deal and making a couple of indie rap albums, Smith decided that he wanted to go a different route — speaking his poetry, making his own music and booking his own shows (which usually meant potluck dinner house concerts). While on tour in Las Vegas, Smith met Nelson. A couple years later, they began touring together.
"We kinda like making whatever the song requires, not really worried about a genre or a scene," Smith says. "It's just for everybody, wherever people are at. Anything that's honest and from the heart."
Since then, the two have put out two albums without a label, and are currently touring their latest effort Wooden Heart — in Smith's same grassroots way.
"We have this attitude about touring, or at least as far as booking tours," he says. "We try to go to the places where people want us to go. [We] just ask them to secure a place for us to have for the night that is pretty cheap ... or free."
This philosophy has landed them shows in bars, attics, basements, churches, coffee shops and rooftops. For a gig in Brooklyn, the band performed on a five-story rooftop with no elevator. Smith jokes that after the show, they jumped off and landed on both feet.
Speaking of feet, Smith always performs without shoes and with his pockets empty.
"It's just kind of a ritual. I just prefer to play barefoot, no toe rings, completely naked from the shins down ... naked, open, vulnerable, not even any tattoos. "