Welcome, y’all, to the wild and wacky world of Carjack. Leave your shoes at the door but don’t expect to find them there when (and if) you leave. Chew glass and play Hungry Hungry Hippos by yourself. Fly a jumbo jet and then bury all your clothes. Paint your left knee green and extract your wisdom teeth. Shit’s about to get freaky.
Carjack is the one-man band and sonic project of Lo-Fi Bri, a local nutcase who wishes to remain anonymous to all but those who know him. He’s involved in other local bands, but he doesn’t want them connected. “Think of it,” he says, “as a ‘Clark Kent’ sort of thing.”
Fair enough. If you’ve seen Carjack live, then you’ll understand the loose concept. With a mask covering his face (ET or something), Lo-Fi Bri will create all manner of Atari-esque electronic noises while holding up signs and basically performing for his crowd. It’s an oddball event, as much performance art as musical spectacle. There is literally nothing like Carjack out there.
“I’ve been making four-track home recordings ever since I was 21,” Lo-Fi Bri says. “I bought my first Tascam four-track with my first paycheck outta school. I’m obsessed with sound. I’ve collected records my entire life, and made virtually hundreds of home recordings prior to even doing my first show. I was asked to perform at my good friend’s birthday party [Laura Willem from Duende!] and I never looked back.”
I know, I know — it all sounds a tad kooky: “Look at the crazy dude with the mask acting the fool on stage.” But thanks to some really strong, unique electronic music, Carjack manages to maintain a sound level of integrity amid the visual chaos.
It’s like live-action anime, in the form of a crackpot musical — and it’s been working. Carjack has performed more than 400 shows throughout Detroit, and Brooklyn, N.Y., Chicago, Toronto and Cleveland. He’s played with the likes of Melt Banana, the Dirtbombs, the Sights, the Electric Six, Deastro and the Detroit Cobras.
“My initial goal was to bring fun back to live shows in Detroit and hopefully turn some heads in the process,” he says. “You’ve got to realize, when I started performing (at the end of the garage rock days), the local scene was a bit stuffy, to say the least. There was definitely no one else rolling up to the bar by themselves with an SG guitar, a drum machines and some toy robots in hand.”
Lo-Fi Bri grew up in the ’burbs of Detroit (his words), on a steady diet of skateboarding, punk rock and break dancing to the Electrifying Mojo on WJLB. For years, he worked sales-related day jobs while performing live at night and getting his face in magazines (that Clark Kent analogy raises its head again). “This year I’ve completely unplugged myself from what I call the ‘Corporate Matrix,’” he says. “I am now solely focusing and being compensated for my creative endeavors — music, performance, DJ’ing and my newest passion, photography.”
That’s great because, as any artist will tell you, the toughest nut to crack is the initial ability to make a decent living from your art. When your work comes from left field, it’s even tougher. And his music throws one curveball after another.
“In terms of sound and aesthetic, I love big bombastic beats with trashy guitars,” Lo-Fi Bri says. “Carjack consists of one man, a guitar, drum machines and the occasional robot fire.”
The man does seem to have an obsession with science fiction, particularly robots. Listen closely to a Carjack set and you’ll find it littered with all manner of bleeps and bloops that could be pulled from a Dr. Who or Buck Rogers sound-effects tape. His house is filled with robots and memorabilia. The man’s a sci-fi geek, but that hasn’t stopped him from fitting in with an eclectic Detroit music scene.
“I think I’ve influenced a lot of newer bands in the process,” he says. “I’ve definitely opened the door for others to try new things live and focus on having fun in the process. If someone’s going to actually pay their hard-earned money to see me play, then I’m going to give ’em a show to remember.
“I’ve always been a huge proponent of the Detroit scene ever since [becoming] a big fan of it. Seeing those first White Stripes shows at the Gold Dollar, seeing Man Inc. play, watching the Demolition Doll Rods’ visual sonic onslaught, seeing the Buzzards — those are the shows I remember. I’ve been very lucky to share many stages with a ton of great bands through the years and made a ton of lifetime friendships in the process.”
Lo-Fi Bri allows himself unlimited freedom, musically, to create whatever springs to mind at any crazed moment, and that freedom is carried over onto the stage.
“The Carjack live show is completely about self-expression,” he says. “In the moment. No limits. Making art out of the nothing and embracing the chaos of everyday life — and having fun in the process. Trying new things. Being light-hearted. Self-effacing. Borderline cartoonish. Making others smile in the process.”
Technically speaking, his setup is very minimal, purposely using only one guitar, one mic, no effects pedals and no laptops. Each show is unique.
The sign of a great artist is the ability to play the same songs night after night but never do the same show twice, as opposed to a consummate professional who can sound exactly like the live album at each and every show.
His shows “are always different, and each is special in its own way,” Lo-Fo Bri says. “My personal favorite — and a big milestone for me — was the first time I played the [Metro Times] Blowout in 2007. There was a new breed of underground bands coming up at the time and that show put me on the map. Other favorite shows include playing with the Hentchmen, and my first ‘real’ show that Troy Gregory asked me to play. Playing live is always a blast, especially performing in random places to random faces. I actually like to drive right into the madness and teeter on the brink of my show imploding. That’s much more entertaining and memorable for all parties involved.”
Whisper it, but Carjack has deep and personal connections to “electro Detroit tribal booty dance band the Electric Fire Babies,” but the one-man project continues to evolve. “It started out just as just some sound experiment recordings in my bedroom to eventually blossoming into what it is today,” Lo-Fi Bri says. “It’s also gone from being a bombastic one-man show, to various cameos, to full bands backing me, like Wildcatting, Oscillating Fan Club and, most recently, a nine-piece version of Carjack with the Sights.”
This Thursday, Carjack plays at the Lager House, a going-away party for local artist Kyle McBee. “I’ll be playing some classics for Kyle, plus I’ve got some new stuff up my sleeves. I always want to keep the crowd guessing. I’m also working on a new Urge Overkill cover to hopefully play at the show. Expect the unexpected — that’s the beauty in what I do.”
Never a truer word spoken.
Carjack appears with Tinder Tiger, Troy Gregory, Black Lodge, Future Slang and Factory Girls on Thursday, Dec. 12, at PJ’s Lager House,1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668.