Cribshitter on the long journey to Acapulco
The Madison band celebrates a new album on October 10 at Mickey’s Tavern.
Cribshitter began some 11 years ago as an attempt to get kicked out of the Memorial Union open mic. But the joke band survived that set, which included early originals like “$25 For A $5 Dollar Blowjob” and “Let’s Beat Up Chad’s Dick,” plus a cover of Ben Harper’s "Burn One Down,” and has evolved into something more than a joke band, still deeply perverse and transgressive but, in its own strange way, accomplished. Over time the main lineup—Karl Christenson (stage name Diaper Daniels) on vocals and guitar, Christine Christenson (Danika Dutchcap) on vocals and tuba, Kyle Ritchie (Don Rubbish) on vocals and bass, and The Fucking Lion on drums— has seen other members come and go, with lead guitarist Jeff Masino (stage name Spice Rack and brother of Madison shredder John Masino) departing a few years ago, and Eric Caldera of El Valiente and Oedipus Tex joining last year on vocals and guitar, and taking the stage name El Ese.
When I first saw Cribshitter play in 2007, I little expected that I’d still be paying attention to the band eight years later—my thoughts ran more toward “Why is there a tuba and why is the drummer [stage name The Fucking Lion] wearing a lion mask?” But on its first two albums, 2008’s Cry A Little Rainbow and 2011’s Methlehem, the band explored the warped and scatological while pulling off a lot of solid pop melodies and proving its mettle in idioms including country, electro-pop, dubstep, funk, disco, and screamy seconds-long punk outbursts. Standout tracks like “War Torn Vaginer,” “I Got Hot Sauce In My Pussy,” and “Boom Goes The Vaginamite” appeal gratuitously to one’s inner sick-minded 12-year-old, but it’s clear that a lot of time and thought goes into the songwriting and production. And while it would be going way too far to say Cribshitter has grown up, they have over time thrown out or changed certain songs they came too feel were too gross or misogynistic—“We have children,” Christine says with mock indignation, referring to the son she and Karl welcomed last year. (Full disclosure: Karl and I currently both work at Wisconsin Public Radio. I have written about Cribshitter many times over the years, well before we worked at the same place.)
The Madison band’s Saturday, October 10 show at Mickey’s Tavern will celebrate its third full-length album, Acapulco. Conceptually framed around an idyllic Mexican vacation fantasy and a bizarre time-share pitch, the album was four years in the making and is Cribshitter’s most elaborate yet. The songs range from the soaring melodies of “Acapulco” and “Fantasy Factory” (listen close and you’ll hear sax player Nathan Treddinick thread the hook of “Fantasy Factory” into “Acapulco”) to the goofy mouth-breathing raps of “Mall Pretzel.” The song “Sunshine” features Ritchie rapping in the style of a highly emotional Kendrick Lamar and somehow breaking “pastries” into three syllables. Caldera, in his first recorded appearance as a Cribshitter member, lays down a verse of his own on “Acapulco.” The band’s country-ballad tradition continues with “Where You Going With That Hard On?”, featuring a stately but still kinda gross performance from Christine. “Jellyshoes” boasts a hook sung by Phox’s Monica Martin, recorded before Phox blew up. Other surprises, which we’ll discuss more in the interview below, include a horribly disjointed cover of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine.”
Cribshitter might lay a bit low after this weekend’s release show, as the Christensons focus on family, though they are starting a children’s group called Loose Stools (Karl says this act debuted at a children’s birthday party earlier this year and features the band sitting on wobbly stools). Ahead of that, Karl, Christine, and Ritchie sat down with me to discuss the new record in detail.
Tone Madison: So the verse that Eric Caldera does as El Ese, is that his first-ever appearance on a Cribshitter recording?
Karl Christenson: Absolutely. We were calling it “The El Ese Introduction.” That’s the first line out of his mouth, “This is an El Ese introduction.” He was excited. Over the three-and-a-half years it took to record this album, he was like, “Hey, can I maybe do a rap at some point?”
Tone Madison: And he’s a full live member of the band now.
Karl Christenson: Yeah. We lost one of our guys, Spice Rack, who was our shredder, Jeff Masino. He’s John Masino’s younger brother. He was our shredder for two years, maybe, then he quit because he wanted to start a cover band. So there was a hole there. We needed some shred. I started playing with Eric in Oedipus Tex and thought, maybe this guy would want to play, because he’s a legitimate awesome guitar player. I actually didn’t think he’d want to be in the band when I first asked him, but he was like, “Let’s do it!”
Kyle Ritchie: He’s a card-carrying member now.
Tone Madison: And in the verse he even refers to Oedipus Tex and El Valiente.
Kyle Ritchie: That’s rap, though. It’s a little self-aggrandizing.
Tone Madison: Speaking of rapping, Kyle, you rap on the song “Sunshine” and you use basically an emotional Kendrick Lamar voice. How did you end up deciding to do it that way?
Kyle Ritchie: My voice was just fried. The way that I wrote it was just playing the beat in my car and just driving around and rapping along. It was at the long day—I was at work giving presentations all day—and my voice was just kinda fried. I was like, “I kinda like the sound of it. I think I’m gonna go with that.” So I adopted that voice for the entire song, which is difficult to get through the whole thing and try to maintain that level of insanity throughout it.
Karl Christenson: And the fact that you had just got off the plane from a long trip to Canada, a business trip—it helped that it was a natural fry going on. You weren’t faking the vocal fry.
Tone Madison: That’s the voice Kendrick uses when he’s on the verge of crying or something, and you’re rapping about pastries and stuff.
Kyle Ritchie: Yeah, and diabetes. My preparation was reading the Wikipedia entry on Acapulco. And that made me a little emotional, thinking, “Oh, what a beautiful place, Acapulco.”
Tone Madison: So at what point did you decide to frame the album around Acapulco and this timeshare pitch story?
Karl Christenson: I mean, I’ve been in a couple different timeshare pitches. One was in Hawaii, one was in Mexico. But that kinda came, what, a month ago?
Kyle Ritchie: It was close to the end. The Acapulco theme was always there, and we wanted to tie it together.
Karl Christenson: I ended up buying a T-shirt at a vintage shop that says “Taco Monday” on it. Which is a day better than Taco Tuesday, I think. But it was some bar in Acapulco, and I just saw that word and I went, god, that’s gotta be the name of whatever the next album is. From there, three, three and a half years of recording shit in my basement, it kinda slowly sculpted into, like, this is actually maybe about Mexico in some way. Then at the very end, Kyle and I were like, “Maybe this should be a timeshare pitch.” It’s like a big gag. The whole thing starts with a voiceover and ends with a big pitch, and it’s just this slow seduction into some shitty-ass timeshare.
Kyle Ritchie: And plus the word just sounds great. “Acapulco”? I mean, that word, the way it rolls off the tongue.
Karl Christenson: I’m trying to turn it into a drinking game, this album, where you drink every time the word “Acapulco” is said.
Tone Madison: And on the title/opening track, you sing the word “Acapulco” over and over again with a bunch of different vocal phrasings.
Kyle Ritchie: It’s the glue. It’s the cohesion for the whole album. That word, “Acapulco,” all throughout.
Tone Madison: You created a whole website for this fictional timeshare resort, too.
Karl Christenson: Yeah. It’s easy to make a WordPress site. Any dummy can get a template. I didn’t notice that I misspelled it—it’s called Grand Sun Villas, and I put three L’s in Villas, but it totally worked for me, because it helped the SEO on it, because there’s not that many villas with three L’s.
Tone Madison: The pitch narration itself, in “Acapulco” and “Riptide,” is laying it on really thick.
Karl Christenson: I was coaching Michele Good as she was doing it, and I said, “Can you be maybe more condescending?” There’s that one line where it’s like “Are you gonna get the door?” She nailed it. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of directing. I was just telling her to be fake, bubbly, like a salesperson that’s giving you a timeshare pitch.
Tone Madison: And then she also talks about the violent history of the Aztecs.
Karl Christenson: I wanted to get the absurdity in there—think of a pool shaped like a hatchet, and basically a bloody waterfall.
Kyle Ritchie: And we reference [Neil Young’s song] “Cortez The Killer” in some other things throughout the album, too. References to violent uprisings.
Karl Christenson: I gave Michele an out: “Are you sure you want your name on this? Because it’s got all these songs on it,” and she’s like, “Oh, I know about you guys. And yes, I want my name on it.”
Tone Madison: The thing that did it for me was the way she says “¡Muy bien!” at the end of this one statement. And it doesn’t belong there logically, but it’s so bubbly.
Karl Christenson: The line that was before it was “…the spectacularly violent pre-Hispanic era in the region,” or something like that. And she builds to it. She just nailed that right away. I didn’t think she was gonna say it like that, so that was kind of her thing.
Tone Madison: The two covers are “Mou Pei Na,” from the repressed Cambodian surf-rock era, and then JJ Cale’s “Cocaine.”
Karl Christenson: I heard “Mou Pei Na” years ago on a compilation someone gave me, and I’ve always wanted to cover that song. Problem is, you can’t find the lyrics anywhere written out online, so I had to phonetically sound it out, and I bet you I’m way off on all that stuff. I have no idea what I’m saying. But I just love the song so much.
Tone Madison: How did you do the “Cocaine” cover? It’s so disjointed.
Kyle Ritchie: “How did you make it that bad?”
Karl Christenson: It’s harder than you think. Because it goes against—when you’re a musician and you’re tapping your hand, you don’t want to be off, you want to be on. So to be off is really, really hard.
Tone Madison: It has to be off for most of the song, but then everyone has to come back together rhythmically at certain points, is what this cover sounds like.
Kyle Ritchie: We’ve practiced at being bad. We’ve played that live, intentionally bad, so we’ve perfected the terribleness of it.
Karl Christenson: How to be bad but somehow keep people listening?
Kyle Ritchie: And then a line at some point to make sure there is still something holding it together, and then it just falls apart.
Karl Christenson: The inspiration was a viral video of some band covering that song. If you Google, like, “worst band ever,” that’s the first YouTube video.
Kyle Ritchie: After Cribshitter.
Christine Christensen: They’re at an outdoor festival.
Karl Christenson: They’re playing in front of a music store and there’s this sign above them that just says “MUSIC,” and they’re playing so bad, but they’re trying really hard to be good, and the singer’s holding a crumpled-up piece of paper with the lyrics, and he’s just reading them and getting really mad at the bassist because he’s so off, and he just keeps glaring at him.
Christine Christenson: We’re doing that cover of that song.
Kyle Ritchie: So JJ Cale, Eric Clapton, the worst band ever, then Cribshitter. That’s the progression there.
Karl Christenson: We should make a hominid-to-wherever scale of where it goes.
Tone Madison: You guys have a few little traditions that run throughout your recordings now, and one is these country songs about genitals, basically, and on this album it’s “Where You Going With That Hard-On?”
Karl Christenson: It’s funny, all the songs Christine sings are vaginal-related, poop-related, dick-related… There’s a theme going there. There’s a song on this one called “If These Vaginal Walls Could Talk,” and that’s all Christine.
Tone Madison: What’s the dynamic there, of being a married couple and making those kinds of songs together?
Christine Christenson: We don’t communicate very much at all. Especially with a child now.
Karl Christenson: We communicate through dirty country songs, I guess.
Christine Christenson: I don’t know. I mean, what is our process of songwriting for something like that? I think it’s usually just a line that we think of that’s funny, and then we go, “Aw, shit, we need to have more words!”
Karl Christenson: Cause that one, you said, “where you going with that hard-on,” and I knew we had to write a song. I didn’t have any idea what it was going to be. Then [Christine] wrote most of that song.
Christine Christenson: We recorded it in Louisville. That was our baby-moon. We went down there about a month and a half before he [the baby] hit the scene. It’s like the ticking-time-bomb album for Karl. He’s always felt this pressure of getting things done, whether it’s before the baby, or before 10/10, for some reason.
Karl Christenson: 10/10, our release date.
Kyle Ritchie: I remember that I made a promotional video and put October in there specifically so that we’d have a target, and after that [Karl] said the 10th.
Karl Christenson: But the recording of “Where You Going With That Hard-On?”, we were taking this baby-moon to Louisville, she’s eight months pregnant, and we didn’t even have music for this song, we just kind of knew the chords and stuff. And I was looking on Craigslist on the drive down and said, “Oh, there’s a studio in Louisville, some guy’s house where he’s got a discount deal. Let’s go do a quick vocal track!” So we went into a studio after we had this vocal track. We did this at Blast House, a few of these songs. We rolled into Blast House with just a vocal track that we’d recorded in Louisville, and tried to record the song around the vocal track, which was kind of weird. And it worked.
Tone Madison: I find it interesting that you did this while in the midst of something as adult as a “baby-moon.” That’s the first time I’ve ever even heard the term “baby-moon.”
Christine Christenson: It’s a thing nowadays. [Beats on the table with baby’s giraffe toy to punctuate each word:] “I! Want! A! Push-present!” “I! Want! A! Baby-moon!"
Tone Madison: Another recurring thing on Cribshitter records: these short, scream-y punk songs. On this one it’s “Still Kick Chad’s Head,” which is about 7 seconds long.
Karl Christenson: We had already recorded that song, but we had not done it at a nice studio. We were at Blast House. It was our first foray into a real studio, because everything we’ve ever done has been in our basement studio. The funniest thing about that whole thing, we went in there for like five hours and knocked out four songs, but we had the engineer, Dustin Sisson, who’s awesome, he spent like an hour setting up the drum miss, getting just perfect everything, making the bass sound really awesome. And then we start right away, click it off, he’s like, “Alright, we’re recording!” and we played “Cocaine,” this terrible cover, and I think it took Dustin a couple minutes to realize, “I just did all that work, and this is gonna be a horrible session.” We could see him in the window.
But yeah, “Kick Chad’s Head,” another example, just a ridiculous spaz, six-second song, that sounds awesome on a really nice mics in a nice studio, but it’s just garbage.
Christine Christenson: But it’s original Cribshitter.
Karl Christenson: This album’s pretty slick, so it’s nice to have a couple just shitbombs on there.
Tone Madison: OK, but obviously there’s a lot of thought given to melodies, vocals, and production here. How do you strike a balance between that and the humor and bizarre-ness of it?
Kyle Ritchie: Karl’s the gatekeeper. Because I wanted to add dolphin noises to a lot of the album, and he basically said, “That’s a step too far.”
Tone Madison: A step too far? How so? Is it just telegraphing too much?
Kyle Ritchie: The telegraphing is part of it. We were talking about realistic absurdism. We want it to be absurd but just slightly. We don’t want it to be too over-the-top to where it gets ridiculous. We don’t want to telegraph it too much. Like you were saying before, you were listening to one of the tracks and going, “What is this? Is it real, is it fake?” We like that interplay, that it is fake, of course.
Karl Christenson: Or the hotel’s website, where at first it almost could be real, and then you go, “Oh, wait this can’t be real. There’s no way.” I think that riding that line the whole time is kind of our comfort zone.