SaxKixAve: Much More Better
SaxKixAve: Much More Better
Jan 18, 2023
Trust Them 'Cuz They're Young, Talented, and Handsome
Most musicians are lucky to have one successful project. In a world where there are anywhere from 50,000-100,000 songs being released every day, the market is oversaturated and the chances of breaking through this noise are harder than ever. Musicians who actually do break through and have any kind of success with one group is a rarity, let alone those who can take on and do well with multiple musical projects.
New Orleans duo SaxKixAve is comprised of award-winning rapper Alfred Banks and Albert Allenback, saxophonist and flutist of the twice Grammy-nominated group Tank and the Bangas. These two artists are plenty busy with their main gigs, but thanks to the suggestion of Tavia Osbey, manager of Alfred and of Tank and the Bangas, that the two work together at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these artists started a side project that is truly something special. Their first record, “I Don’t Wear Suits”, was released in April 2020 and is a celebration of this collaboration, and the duo has been performing those songs in front of live audiences whenever they can find the time to do so.
SaxKixAve is currently finishing up their follow-up record, and I was lucky enough to be able to have them both over to chat about that, about how they make this project work with their busy schedule, and about some of the band’s highlights so far.
MaM: I’ve heard a couple different versions of what “kix’ed” this all off. How did this insane, wonderful experiment begin?
Albert: Well, Tavia—the manager of Tank and the Bangas and the engine, the logistic and business/life-path mind behind it all—hit me up and said [Alfred] was looking for beats. She said, ‘I know you make beats. Let’s get you in the studio together and see what happens.’
Alfred: It was great … I like Alby. He’s good money. We crack wild jokes. He sent me an email of beats, I picked one, I wrote to it, knock this one out. It was right when COVID hit. So yeah, I got in the studio with this dude, [and] we laughed for about three or four hours before we even started really recording. I thought, ‘This is a good guy.’ We recorded ‘Tawny’ and I guess he liked what I did. I loved it, and we just kinda kept goin’, kept goin’, kept goin’. Then it was like, ‘Hey man, you wanna make this a thing?’
Albert: It was like a 'Step Brothers' moment.
Alfred: Yeah! He was like, ‘Yeah!’ I was like, ‘Aight.’ [sic]
Albert: Are we in a band?
Alfred: Are we a band?!
Albert: Yeah, I think so!
Alfred: (to Albert) Do you remember how we came up with the name? I know we joke about it.
Albert: I remember us opening a Word document and trying out different fonts and stuff. I don’t think we tried it phonetically. I don’t think we ever would have tried this dumpster fire of a phonetic pronunciation—have you ever tried to say it fast?
Albert then attempts to say the band name SaxKixAve quickly several times in a row.
Albert: No, it’s terrible. Why did we do this? Maybe we should shorten it to SKA and say we’re bringing ska back and hire a trombone player.
Alfred: Definitely. Nah, I think this is one of the best things I think I’ve ever done. I enjoy this so much.
In 2018, Banks was named "Best Hip-Hop Artist" at the Best of the Beat, presented by New Orleans' premier music publication, Offbeat Magazine. He followed that up with the 2019 Big Easy Award for Best Rapper, presented by Gambit Weekly.
MaM: It’s opened you up. Not just personally but creatively, too. You’re now singing a little bit.
Alfred: Definitely. [Singing] was something I always wanted to do, but I didn’t really have the producer to help bring it out in the right way that would make me sound good, because my voice doesn’t have a lot of range. I can hit some notes but not too crazy. So, someone [who] could make something that could make me sound even better than I am … I think Albert does that. Rapping to shit I wouldn’t normally rap over—he’s down to go there with me. He’s down to do some really wild stuff, and I’m down to at least try and see what happens.
In 2020, the two performed live as a duo for the first time at an Onbeat Session for Offbeat Magazine filmed at Loyola University.
Alfred: That was the very first time we had ever performed together, ever. How nerve-wracking was that?!
Albert: It was terrifying.
Alfred: I was scared out of my mind.
Albert: (to Alfred) Doing this thing with you, having to do it live and perform the songs, I’ve become a much better piano player the past two years, and you don’t put a lot of pressure on me. We don’t put a lot of pressure on each other.
Alfred: I don’t know how to read music. I’m not about to insult or critique someone when I don’t even know what you’re doing.
Albert: I’m not a rapper—I’ve tried. It’s more difficult than it looks!
(from the album “I Don’t Wear Suits”):
MaM: So, have Albert’s rapping skills have gotten better?
Alfred: I think Albert has more skills than he thinks. Maybe he couldn’t be a ‘rapper’ rapper, but (to Albert) you’re a good writer. You might not have rapper swag per se, but you could rap.
Albert: I could deliver it, but it might not be believable when attached to a body—MY body.
Alfred: (to Albert) You really understand how songs go. He’s a dope-ass writer outside of being a musician.
Albert: I just got [sic] to say this: As my rapping skills have improved, so, too, have Alfred’s declined. (laughter) It’s perfectly even, the way things have gone down. It’s more of a parasitic thing. (to Alfred) I think I’m stealing your rap life force.
MaM: Your songs have a wonderful mix of silly and serious. What’s y’all’s vision for what SaxKixAve is now and what it can be in the future?
Albert: I think we want to have this digestible funny thing, because we’re both naturally funny and when we get up on stage, we’re not sure what it is, but something happens between us that generates what people have been calling entertainment.
(Alfred breaks out in laughter.)
Some sort of passable thing happens. We want it to be funny, but we want the funny to help communicate. Our natural state is tinged with melancholy. Our natural state is more depressive … more low energy. So, if we have this high-impact thing that’s kind of funny, then we can get in things; there's no other way to say this: We laugh so we don’t cry. It’s something that I’ve … learned watching Tank—how do you interface with the audience? You can be doing the best stuff in the world, but if you have any contempt or if you’re just holding the spoon of baby food out of reach of a toddler, that’s just rude. You should interface with the crowd so you can get it to them. We want this mix of goofy so we can be ultra-serious, and we want to be ultra serious so the funny stuff is even funnier.
Alfred: I disagree with everything he just said. I’m here for the money.
(More laughter ensues.)
Alfred: We’re both very serious. We’re both really good at what we do—like, obnoxiously good at what we do. In the back of my mind, it’s about making how good we are palatable. Sometimes being really good can push people away like it’s not even relatable. I think the comedy takes the edge off. It’s like, ‘Let’s just vibe and have fun. Some of it is just on the cuff, but we give ourselves that room. In our other situations, there’s a lot of structure. For us, the future, people are going to hear … the music is going to be even much more better [sic] than it is now. More jokes. It’s just going to be unapologetically amazing.
Albert: SaxKixAve: much more better [sic].
Alfred: That’s grammatically correct.
MaM: Was there a moment when you both knew you had something?
Alfred: That [first] recording session. I always tell that story [about the song] ‘Tawny’ when I say [the word] crib. [Albert] was like, ‘Dude, can you yell ‘crib'?’ and I was like ‘What?’
Albert: Like 15 times.
Alfred: I had to yell it and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this? This is stupid.’ Then he played it back and I was like, ‘Oh … yeah.’ That was the first time I trusted him. (to Albert) When did you feel like we had something?”
Albert: When I knew we had something was when it was backed up by a crowd. I think we were doing Tip’s (Tipitina’s) or something. You said a few things in a row that I didn’t find very funny, but people were losing their minds. They were also losing their minds with the songs, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ There are things that only happen once per show [like] Alfred [going] off on this freestyle thing; we usually do this at the show. He’ll just freestyle rap for, like, five minutes. You’ve seen it: People hold up stuff out of their pockets [for him to rap about]. As I see the crowds more and more, I’m just like, ‘Wow, well let’s just be honest and a little unsure of ourselves, because apparently somebody likes that.’
MaM: Your dynamic—when you come together, it’s something you wouldn’t expect, I think, from seeing you both in your respective projects. It just works somehow.
Alfred: I think that shit’s amazing, too. That Tav (Manager Tavia) ... maybe she didn’t see SaxKixAve, but she just thought we’d do good together. I don’t see Al all the time. We’re both doing our own thing, but every time I see him it’s like we were just hanging out yesterday. I don’t know if it’s because of our same sense of humor—the way that we’ve come to some recent discoveries about ourselves, but we just gel really well. (to Albert) Outside of the music, I can actually hang with you; that comes through, too.
[Another] moment I knew we had something was [during a show] when the mic cord came out, I put [it] back in maybe halfway through the verse, and I finished the song. We had another song after that, but I was like, ‘Yo, Al, audible, play a beat.’ I freestyled about me f**kin’ up, and the crowd lost their minds. I was like, ‘Yeah, we got somethin’ here. I don’t think we can lose. This is incredible.’ That shit was dope. (to Albert) What was the first big show we did? I think when we did Performance Inception ... when you opened for yourself?
Albert: Yeah! When SaxKixAve opened for Tank and the Bangas at one of The Broadside shows [last year].
Alfred: That was the first time I think Tank and the Bangas had [sic] saw us. When they came back and said, ‘You guys are amazing,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re lit. We are LIT.’
Albert is known for wearing short shorts all the time.
MaM: Albert, is it hard for you to be behind the keys when people can’t see the full leg action?
Albert: We’ve been workshopping methods to get around that, talking about maybe having a video feed that’s right under the piano, directly pointed at the legs and maybe running some sort of monitor behind Alfred so it’s just my knees constantly while he raps.
Alfred: (to Albert) I know you’re joking, dude, but I’ll tell you this: You know what everybody says? They don’t even talk about your bun first; they talk about your legs. I’m not even joking. Everybody [sic] like, ‘Dude, the guy with the legs.’
MaM: I hear you’re working on your next record. Is there a title for it? What can we expect? Will it be similar to the first one?
Alfred: There IS a title. (to Albert) Are you cool with that?
Albert: Let’s do it!
Alfred: (begins to count down) One, two, three …
Albert: Wait, on three or right after three?
Alfred: Like, ON three. One, two, three: Albert’s legs.
Albert: Ahhh! Sorry, ok, ok … Go!”
Both together: One, two, three … ‘Nectarine Peels.’
Albert: Yes, we know you don’t peel nectarines, [and] we address [that].
MaM: It makes people think, and that’s the point.
Alfred: (laughing) It’s provocative, man.
Albert: It actually came from a text message. (to Alfred) Didn’t you just send the words nectarine peels or something? I was like, ‘Nectarine Peels?’
Alfred: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Albert: So, I said it has a kind of a ring to it. It seems to mean something, and then immediately I went and wrote this little melody and song at the piano when I got that text. I sent it to Alfred the next day. We’ve taken it to mean a whole lot of things thematically. A big part of it is ambition and its corrosive effects on how we think people see us, how we see ourselves, how we want people to see us, and how we want to see ourselves. That’s one of the main themes of it. I think we’ve made some of our best songs ever. It’s about the same runtime [as ‘I Don’t Wear Suits’], but there’s six real songs.
Alfred: I feel like the first project, as great as it is, it was us figuring it out. I think for this one, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is dope, but how do we refine it?’ Keep it us, keep it funny, keep it light or, in some instances, not even as light. We have a song where we switch the topic seven times within the song … switch the energy. We kind of have an idea of what we are now.
MaM: So, no sophomore slump, then?
Albert: I think this [album] is way better. We’ll see if people like it, but we have this thing: We love dance music, and we love old school hip-hop. So, we kind of find this thing—we have this sliding scale between boom bap and dance sometimes, and it’s really cool. You see little seeds of that on ‘I Don’t Wear Suits.’ We’re putting the very final touches on it. We’re almost completely finished. We’ve got great features: Mega Ran is on this, Pell is on this, LeTrainiump is on this, HaSizzle’s on this …
Alfred: Who else is on there?
Albert: Is that it, or is there one more?
Alfred: I think Albert Allenback is on it.
Albert: There’s a fledgling rapper named Lyriqs da Lyraciss from New Orleans, and he’s on this record.
Alfred's original rap name was Lyriqs da Lyraciss.
Alfred: Bless his little heart. That guy, that guy left us around 2015. Bless his little heart.
Albert: That was the first rapper I ever sent beats to. He left me unread.
Albert explains how he first tried to work with Alfred back in January of 2014.
Albert: I’d been making beats for, like, two months but you couldn’t tell me they weren’t the greatest thing in the world. So, I sent him this impassioned paragraph about how I’m studying music at UNO (University of New Orleans): ‘Here, I made these beats, they’re real songs, and they’re great. Here’s nine of them. Check these out. I don’t use any samples.’ I wrote this to a prospective business partner [and] said, ‘I don’t use any samples. I make THESE biscuits from scratch.’ Alfred replied, ‘Word.’
Alfred: Yeah, I’m bad with that. So, here’s a little secret about me: I get overwhelmed really fast. I get about 20 to 30 DMs a day, and I can’t let one go unanswered. (to Albert) I’m just very bad with that, right? I’m the worst with that.
Albert: But you’ve gotten better. You set much better boundaries now, and I’m proud of you.
Alfred: I’m trying. Let me ask you a question, Albert: How did you hear me?
Albert: I think it was this list in Gambit [Weekly]: the five worst rappers you need to avoid.
Alfred: I was number three.
Albert: You were all five!
Alfred: I’ve just always wanted to know how you found me.
Albert: Must have been someone from UNO shared a video or something. I honestly do not remember how I became your friend or followed you. You were constantly updating your status.
MaM: His social game is on point.
Albert: It still is to this day! Alfred is just a fountain that you just put digital cups in front of and he says, ‘Here, take more, my child.’ I don’t have that. My fountain is not on.
Alfred: It’s out of necessity. It won’t get done otherwise. I want to be successful. I don’t have money, so I don’t have a person promoting me all the time. So, I literally have to promote myself all the time. So, I just have to respond to that message. It can’t go unread.
Albert: (to Alfred) I learn a lot from you, self-promotion-wise. I feel embarrassed and goofy just to be here sometimes. Just to be on planet Earth. I think there’s a lot of people like me. You’re going to post the thing you love to do and for some reason, you feel like it doesn’t matter. It can be some huge stuff and for some reason, we get in our heads and self-consciously you feel like it doesn’t matter, no one cares, but that’s not true.
Alfred: (to Albert) I admire you about how much you detach yourself from it. I think that’s the illest shit ever, because I could never be that way and I admire someone that can.
Albert: You inspire me. Like, when we make a video or a skit or something, or make an announcement, the only reason it gets done or posted with any kind of schedule or intensity or intention or commitment is because I feel obligated to live up to what you got [sic] goin’ on. So, I really appreciate your help in sharing more and feeling less embarrassed about self-promoting. I come from that tradition of people of ‘don’t talk about yourself too much.’
Alfred: One of the main things of this group, I really want people to know Albert Allenback as a solo act. I want people to know him because he’s really good. I just want people to know this motherfu**er is amazing. Drop your nuts, Cuz!
Albert: Well, thank you. I will take that into consideration when it comes time to lower my testicles.
MaM: You both have your successful projects. How do you find time to do SaxKixAve? Is it just those slivers of free time?
Albert: Yep, when we can; that’s the only way. We have conversations. We’re like, ‘Hey, you know what? I still really like you, still like doing this, but I’m busy right now.’ We’re really good at being able to keep a good, professional relationship. We’re close, but I think maybe there’s a part of us—some internal kill switch—that doesn’t let us get too close or something? It works really well.
Alfred: (to Albert) I respect you and your time. I think one of the things you did early on was lay the boundaries of your time. I think I did that very early, too. I respect that. I know that when you’re running with Tank and the Bangas, you’re busy as shit. When I’m dolo, I’m busy as shit. We both respect each other’s time. So, when we HAVE time, I try to be as malleable as possible, given his schedule. I do a lot of shit, but I do have a little bit more free time than he has. So, I’m like, ‘Yo, when you free?’ ‘I’m free here.’ Done.
Albert: That is how it goes. That is true, and you text back FAST.
Alfred: That bitch always [sic] in my hand!
MaM: There’s a lot of artistic freedom in SaxKixAve. How do you keep from floating away into the creative stratosphere with this, because it seems like opportunities are limitless. What keeps you both grounded and productive?
Alfred: We do have some form of an outline of what we expect from each other. We go into the studio with this blank canvas. It’s not huge though. It’s a nice-sized canvas that we can throw a bunch of shit at and scrape off the paint that doesn’t work. We aren’t just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks.”
Albert: Fortunately, we know that we can do a lot of things, but I think we’ve also seen enough people try to do too many things. We have made a concerted effort to at least make an attempt to identify what we do the best That keeps us in the same bowling lane.
Alfred: Definitely. Otherwise, you start making all kinds of weird shit. Not the good weird but that bad weird. That Chris Cornell and Timbaland-weird stuff.
MaM: Things that just shouldn’t exist. What have been some highlights on stage so far?
Alfred: So, a guy at Tipitina’s was saying my job (freestyling to things people hold up) was easy because people bring out the same things, and I was like, ‘Dude, I can literally freestyle about anything.’
Albert: (to Alfred) He was giving you shit because, ‘You can prepare for a phone and a lighter, and a comb, and keys.’
Alfred: So, I was like, ‘Go ahead, do whatever.’ I didn’t know that they had got [sic] together because Albert, him, and one other person were just pulling shit onstage, and I just knocked it out every single time they brought something out. That was one of the bigger eruptions we’d had.
Albert: We had a Shop Vac, and a dolly, a partition, and a barricade …
Alfred: … an ice chest, an orange cone. I just freestyled. The reaction of the crowd … felt good. French Quarter Fest was, by far, top five of my favorite shows I’ve done with you.
Albert: Yeah. We had a drummer; it was great.
Alfred: The story behind the set is so crazy.
Albert: Oh yeah. It was horrible rain, and we weren’t gonna’ get to do the set. Pell stayed, but HaSizzle and LeTrainiump were gonna sit in with us and the rain messed everything up. Everyone else had other stuff to do, but then they let us do like 35 or 40 minutes and that was amazing.
One of my favorites was from that Tip’s show as well. It was either a girls’ weekend or a bachelorette party—I couldn’t read the t-shirts—but they did NOT like us. First of all, we came out to this song of Alfred’s called ‘Too Much,’ which is a beat I made, and it is entirely his fault for picking it. (Albert laughs) It’s a wild, ecstatic, frenzied beat—wild music—and we came out to that hard. We came out swinging; we were spinning around and jumping.
There were eight to 10 older women in matching sequence and t-shirts, who just wanted to celebrate Karen or whatever. They were not having it with us. I pointed them out and said, ‘Hey, I know we came out swinging, but we’ll get you back.’ By Alfred’s freestyle, they were into it and having a great time.
My other favorite: We played a show [at a gallery] and there was a drum set up on stage. Alfred was doing his freestyle, so I grabbed a cymbal and walked it into the crowd, held it up, and Alfred rapped about it. I didn’t put it back, which is what got me in trouble. This drum set belonged to a kid at NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), and this 14-year-old kid came up to me after the set and he was pretty pissed. He wanted to fight me. I felt more like I related to him than anything because when I was 14, if you had touched my saxophone, I’d be like, ‘What the f**k is wrong with you? Where do you get off touching my shit?’ So, I understand, but it was funny because this fourteen-year-old kid really wanted to fight me because I moved his cymbal. Something clicked where I knew I was now an adult, because I didn’t feel like I was another fourteen-year-old being dressed down; I felt like I was able to take my lick. ‘Hey, you know what? I’m actually sorry and I understand why you feel that way, and I shouldn’t have touched your shit without asking.’
MaM: I know y’all have jokes. What’s your favorite joke right now?
Albert: What’s the difference between a chickpea and a garbanzo bean?
(Silence for a few moments as the joke goes over my head.)
I’ve never had a garbanzo bean on my face.
(Much laughter ensues.)
Alfred: There’s no way I could ever top that.
MaM: Your social media videos are pretty funny. Do you guys sketch them out before you do them, or do you just hit record and go?
Alfred: Definitely sketch them out.
Albert: We fancy ourselves, against our better judgement, as some sort of amateur sketch comedy team. We are NOT. That’s why we make music. Listen, we’re musicians first; we’re not Saturday Night Live writers, okay? This is a means to an end. Don’t hold us accountable for this. A lot of our videos are Alfred doing funnier shit in the moment than either of us could’ve come up with just writing it out.
Alfred: Yeah, those videos are great. I think we’ve had two go viral. You know its popular when you get those assholes that are like, ‘This shit isn’t even really that funny.’ Those trolls. It’s like, ‘Yes! We did it, baby!’
Albert: At least they feel something. We spend much more time than we’d care to admit coming up with these.
Alfred: I really enjoy doing it. I don’t enjoy it as much as the music, but I do enjoy creating because we both have funny shit in our head, and we live in a time we can legit act it out.
Albert: And it feels like a break from the music. It feels like going into woodworking or something. There’s no pressure on this. I’m just building a cabinet; I’m not making my life’s work, which is what the music can feel like sometimes. You have to step back and be like, ‘Hey, chill out, because this is putting pressure on you.’
Spoiler alert: You don’t make great things when you feel a lot of pressure. Maybe some people feel like the pressure gets it going for [them] but for me, I have to be in a relaxed state and let good things happen; otherwise, I’ll shape myself into all kinds of molds that aren’t me.
Alfred: I ain’t [sic] gonna lie, I enjoy pressure. I think back to, like, 2010 when I was freestyle battling guys and that feeling of being scared shitless out of my mind, jumping on stage in front of these people, not knowing what I’m about to say and just reveling in it. Being like, ‘Oh, I just can’t wait … but what if I f**k up? This is great; I love it.’
Albert: (to Alfred) Props to you. That’s amazing. That’s like being a stand-up comedian. I could never imagine.
Alfred: I may sound cocky, but I’m very much an amazing rapper and I am looking for a moment to stumble. I want to f**k up because I want to learn where I f**ked up at. I want to perfect that and do it again and be much better at it.
Albert: Sometimes you just want to feel human.
Alfred: Seriously, though; I really do enjoy the pressure. Pressure makes diamonds.
MaM: So, Albert, you’ve been making beats for a long time. You have a decent back catalog of tracks to pull from. This new album, is it pulling from that or are you coming up with new stuff on the spot?
Albert: Some of it is brand new, some of it is ideas that I’ve been working on for years. You make these things and see what comes out. It’s new to everyone else, but it’s something you may have been working on for so long. I got some advice really early on. I forgot this fella’s name, but it was the first time Tank and the Bangas were playing a super lounge at Essence Festival. We were getting to hang out at Essence, and it was awesome. Kelly Price’s music director was there. He said he had started making beats late in life. He said, ‘Just make it and hold on to it because you might like it, but you never know who will.’ I’ve really taken that into account.
I have probably over 1,000 songs or song ideas. At this point, I’ve been making beats and writing songs and doing full productions for almost 10 years now. I have a lot built up; it’s just a matter of, ‘Man, you remember that one I made a long time ago? Let’s see if that works.’ That’s how I get to a lot of good stuff, and then seeing what Alfred does. It’s like two comets hitting.
Now I’m more likely to try a few more things and be like, ‘You know what? This is working. We’re going to go with what works, what’s good, how he said that this time, and how he was feeling this time, and how I was feeling right here.’ Just going more with using the stuff as it happens, instead of, and this is a nice tie-in—this is what ‘Nectarine Peels’ is about—instead of making yourself a delicious, fragrant, niche, sub-variant of a peach called a nectarine that some people are going to love and that some people aren’t even going to know about or care about … trying to force yourself into being an apple or an orange or any of the other Renaldo and LeBron-level fruits. You can do that, or [you can] stay being your nectarine delicious self and probably make yourself and a lot more people a lot happier than if you’d tried to be a banana.
Alfred: I disagree with everything he just said.
Albert: SaxKixAve: much more better.
MaM: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the new record?
Alfred: This new album slaps.
Albert: It’s good!
Alfred: ‘Nectarine Peels’ ... I'm very proud of it. I like it.
MaM: How many tracks are going to be on it?
Alfred: About nine in total. Three skits.
Albert: It’s like a 23-minute runtime, but it’s, like, nine tracks. We don’t want anybody to have to skip a song because they want to skip one of our stupid skits. I want to give people total control. Honestly, just take the skit off the album if you want, that’s fine, but we want to give people the option.
Alfred: This album is amazing. Albert’s production on it is nuts. The songs came out so good. Lyrically, I feel like I’m doing some really cool things on here, jumping out of the box on stuff. We’re just having fun, and I really think people are going to like it.
Currently, there is no release date for SaxKixAve’s second album, “Nectarine Peels”, but you can check out their website for any updates, and be sure to follow them on social media.
Questions or comments? Email us at email@example.com.