Otem Rellik discusses his new album and the influence of early Anticon releases on his music
Performing for the last several years under the moniker Otem Rellik, Toby Hendricks has certainly paid his dues. Living in Fort Collins, he's developed his craft largely through experimenting at open mikes and performing at shows with indie rock bands. Although his own vocal delivery is heavily influenced by Sole of Anticon fame, Hendricks drops his words like dominoes, one falling after another, rather than the fiery, chain link burst delivery that has made Sole such a magnetic figure.
With his latest album, Elephant Graveyard (slated for release tonight at the Meadowlark), Hendricks takes a departure from his previous release, Chain Reaction Robot, adding a bit more musicality and variation in song dynamics. Every song is a lyrically thought-provoking exploration of identity and leading a meaningful life. We had a chance to speak with Hendricks about his origins, his songwriting and what it was and is like to be an experimental hip-hop artist in Fort Collins.
Westword (Tom Murphy): What is the significance of the name of your project?
Toby Hendricks: A lot of people ask me that, and it's kind of an innocuous choice. People aren't going into my music thinking a certain way about it. It's one of the goals of the name, I guess. My music is sort of hip-hop, but I don't want people to assume it is because of the name. It's designed to make people take the music for what it is without preconceptions. There's no real significance to it other than that.
WW: How did you get into hip-hop, and what lead you into doing something different from mainstream hip-hop?
TH: I grew up listening to it. My older brother listened to Public Enemy and NWA way back in the day. I strayed away from it for a while. I was listening to a lot of semi-underground, kind of commercial hip-hop like people on Rawkus Records. Then I heard about Anticon, and that pretty much changed my perception of music entirely.
The early stuff on Anticon was a huge influence on why I wanted to start making music. It was so much different from anything I've heard. It was an eye opener in terms of what could be done with music. That was really inspiration. Sole and Dose One -- I started making music after I heard those Anticon guys.
Ww: "The Four Sided Secret" and "Elephant Graveyard" definitely sound like you've been influenced by Anticon acts, in general, and Sole, specifically.
TH: My cadences and how I rap... I honestly never thought about it. It was whatever fit the song. I haven't really stressed a lot about if I'm a good rapper or not. I place more emphasis on the lyrics themselves. Singing, I feel like, for me anyway, is a lot harder than the rapping, and I'm growing more in that direction.
Ww: Being from Fort Collins must be interesting for someone doing the kind of music you do. What were your early shows like, and were there venues, people or bands that you found encouraging and nurturing along the way?
TH: When I first got my started playing out here, I got my start doing open mikes. For the first year, that was pretty much all I played. There's a small coffee shop out here called The Alleycat that I played at. There's a restaurant called Avogadro's Number, near The Alleycat, where I played as well.
I just wanted to play because I was just getting into it and I had no idea how to book shows. My friend Max Hughes, he's a guitar player, he used to play open mikes a lot, so I decided to start doing that. From there, I started meeting other artists. I guess my first shows came from that.
The scene here, for me, is not great. I definitely have fans in this town. I don't want to sound egotistical or anything, but there really isn't anyone else doing what I'm doing here. So it's this weird thing where nobody really knows how to book me.
I basically get shows just because I'm friends with other bands. But we mostly don't sound alike. I play with Candy Claws, because they're really good friends. And Paean. But there's no hip-hop scene here that I fit into. It's hard to get a big following because it's a small group of people who know who I am that come to the shows.
I've played everywhere in Fort Collins. There used to be a really good house show scene here a couple of years back. There was a place called The Alley House down the street from The Alley Cat that had some really good shows. Then there was a place called The Schoolhouse, which was this schoolhouse on Vine Street. It was all DIY stuff. My release show is at Avogadro's Number, and I've been going back there. I played Hodi's Halfnote last week. I'll play anywhere really, but there aren't a lot of great places in Fort Collins.
Ww: Why did you call your latest album Elephant Graveyard?
TH: I started making the songs, and they had a lot to do with memory and collective unconscious kind of stuff. One day I heard the term, I don't remember where, and I thought it was a cool concept, and I looked into it and figured out what it actually was. It was right along the lines of what I was writing about at the time.
The idea of an elephant graveyard being a place where elephants naturally go to die because of some weird instinctive, unconscious memory thing is cool. I felt where I've been in my life and the places where I've spent a lot of my time, I've left an imprint in that space. I left my skin cells or whatever there or some kind of energy. Like I've left my own elephant graveyard in the various places I've lived.