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Q&A with Vursatyl of Lifesavas

From Razorblade City to Gutterfly

Itís been awhile since the Pacific Northwest has gotten its shine on in the hip hop world, but that could change shortly with the release of Gutterfly, the sophomore album from the Portland-based Lifsavas that is due out on the Bay Areaís Quannum Projects record label April 24th. The conceptual album, which takes place in fictional Razorblade City and leans on the blaxploitation genre, is already receiving critical praise from a variety of national publications. Vocalist Vursatyl spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from Portland prior to a embarking on a tour with DJ Shadow that will stop at The Fillmore on April 26th.

SF Station (SFS): You teach a class called Hip Hop 101 to high school students in Portland. What life lessons can teenagers learn from hip hop?

Vursatyl: Itís actually a class on the history of hip hop. I teach the essence of how the culture began and I bring in a lot of guests. They can learn that you can make something out of nothing and you donít have to be limited by monetary resources as long as you push yourself to be creative. Hip hop is a testament to what can be accomplished by just having some imagination and creativity. Hopefully, that is what they take from the class. With creativity and originality, the sky is the limit.

SFS: What have you learned from hip hop?

Vursatyl: Iíve learned just that. I saw that cats early on had no blueprint for what they were doing and it was just up to them to be original. The originality of hip hop hit me the hardest and stayed with me. It helped me find a way to reach my level to see what I could do with my creativity to add to it, without treading the same path that somebody had already gone down. Iím giving the class lessons that Iíve learned in that respect.

SFS: Your music treads its own path, but it is also rooted in the school of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and other acts of that era. What is it about that particular brand of hip hop that is most appealing to you?

Vursatyl: I liked the apparent freedom that they seemed to have when they emerged. They dared to be different. When that movement began, it began at a time when we had grown accustomed to seeing hip hop from a certain viewpoint. When those brothers came into the game, they showed us a different side of it. That is the most powerful thing that we took from them. They dared to be different, when it probably wasnít popular to do that.

SFS: Blackalicious also has a unique, original sound. How did touring with them early in your career shape who you are as a musician?

Vursatyl: First and foremost, it gave us the opportunity to get on the road and see the world. It gave us more to write about and allowed use to see things from beyond a battle standpoint and trying to be the best in Portland. We started to see things from a bigger scope and gained a broader perspective for making music.

SFS: Portland is known more for its contributions to rock music. Was it hard to get attention outside of the city?

Vursatyl: Itís tough to get out of Portland because of that fact. We have to let people know that we exist out of here and weíre creating music that is worthy of respect. On a local perspective, all of the clubs here were just playing indie rock groups. It was a journey to make it happen and make it viable to local club owners and promoters. To get national attention is a process and we are just starting to break those doors down.

SFS: Is Razorblade City a metaphor for Portland?

Vursatyl: Yes, it is. We call Razorblade City the home of the cut throats. When you have a city like Portland with talented artists and so little light being given to it, itís easy for us to turn against each other. One of the difficult things about getting heard out of this region in past years is groups didnít work together.

SFS: Gutterfly is a reference to blaxploitation movies, but it has another meaning too, right?

Vursatyl: Yeah, once again, itís about creating something out of nothing. Itís similar to a butterfly being the metamorphosis of a bug. Even though we're from this kind of substandard condition we are living, we strive to be fly and make the best of this gutter condition.

Lifesavas perform with DJ Shadow at The Fillmore on April 26. Tickets are $37.50. Doors open at 7pm. and the show starts at 8pm.