A handmade CD turned up in the mail the other day from Burnie Booth, a local guy who records under the name Folkicide. It's called Devotional Hymns From the Church of the Darwinian Snuff Film. The album art is a collage, the focal point of which is a nearly nude Filipina undergoing some kind of bloody voodoo operation involving a needle.
The music is no less provocative. Booth has a nasally singing voice and plays a kind of fast, punk-style, bar-chord acoustic guitar. The songs have an eerie, dissonant undertone, which he often achieves by bending the strings far above or below the original notes. But it's the lyrics that are most striking about Folkicide. You can read Atlas Shrugged as often as you want, but you're still a cunt, Booth bleats on one song. On another, he asserts with a sort of militant pride, I am a turd in the punch bowl, and I feel wonderful. He has a tendency to sing in complete sentences: I love my Mom and Dad, but I can't wait 'til the baby boomers are dead. Nothing good came from their generation.
Folkicide is an apt name for what Booth is doing. It's like he's attempting to exterminate folk music by playing it in the most offensive, bastardized way imaginable. Folkicide is like Woody Guthrie in the midst of an exorcism. It's disturbing, room-clearing music — the work of a sociopath. I promptly arranged a meeting.
Two guys with tattoos obscuring their necks were smoking cigarettes on the Twin City Tavern patio, but Booth wasn't one of them. Nor was he the old, leather-faced man sitting at the bar frowning at his bourbon. Booth, it turns out, was the 40-ish man — collared shirt, square jaw, brown hair, easy smile — sitting at a table by the door. Socially well-adjusted. Outgoing, even. The type of man whose co-workers would probably be surprised to learn that he sings songs about people slitting their wrists while masturbating or ripping people's hearts out with ice-cream scoops.
"I'm happy being alive," Booth says. "I have a wonderful wife, a house. But life can be kind of shitty sometimes. And there are a lot of things out there that are wretched. The concept behind Folkicide was to totally delve into all that. And you end up finding your way into some nasty stuff that way. I admit that there's nothing subtle about it, which might be one of my weaknesses. I'm more like a sledgehammer. I wish I could be more like a scalpel sometimes. I wish I could do what I do without punching you in the face and screaming about how horrible things are. But I can't."
Booth grew up in Spring Hill, Kansas, about 10 miles south of Olathe. In high school in the mid- to late '80s, he was in a band called Big Toe, which was a part of the hardcore scene centered on the Outhouse, outside Lawrence. In 1991, he moved to Seattle and played for four years in a band called the Moogs ("short, Velvet Underground-type pop songs"), working days in pest control. He eventually married and, in 1999, moved back to Kansas City with his wife.
"I figured I would leave Seattle and come back here and stop doing music," Booth says. "Just be a little more together, get a career going. But I ended up jumping from job to job. It didn't work out so hot."
After ignoring his guitar for a couple of years, he found himself picking it back up. He formed a band, Charge Droplets: Booth on guitar and vocals, Marc Tweed on drums (Craig Comstock, of This Is My Condition, would later replace Tweed, and Chubby Smith joined on bass). Ultimately, though, Booth decided that the best way for him to engage with music was to do it alone, and Folkicide was born.
"For me, it's all about the lyrics, but Charge Droplets was this big, fuzzy, grungy, hideous thing. It was great, but the lyrics got lost beneath," he says. "And when the band kind of ended, I didn't want those songs to die. I felt like I was starting to write some really interesting songs. So I bought a crappy acoustic guitar and started seeing what I could do with it."
Booth's transformation into Folkicide has been ongoing since 2007, but it wasn't until last year that he got around to releasing a real album, Ultimate Decimation Blues. "Figuring out how to do a solo thing has been a process. I've really had to teach myself things," he says. "I've learned what I can do with my voice. One day, I was just like, 'Oh, there's my diaphragm.' And playing an acoustic guitar has really opened up some avenues. My philosophy is, I still play it like an electric guitar and try to wring every sound out of it that I can. I really like to attack it."
"He's maliciously holding up a mirror to society," says Rod Peal, who has invited Booth to play at his music-leaning vintage shop, Halcyon Diversified Trading. "It's punk lyrics that are so abrasive, but he has a deceptively charming delivery."
Folkicide lyrics tend to attack established ideologies and belief systems. Booth's own philosophies are harder to pin down, though nihilism comes to mind. "When you stare at the human condition, it seems like this big ridiculous, rolling mistake that has no meaning, and that ebbs and flows and comes and goes and, I mean ... disaster's coming, you know?"
He takes a sip of Budweiser and gathers his thoughts. "Everything in the world right now seems very flimsy. It seems like it could break at any second. Western civilization really seems to be coming to an end. It's running its course. It's consuming itself. That's what helped me write a lot of songs. And now the decline really seems like it's picking up speed. So I kind of like that my songs are coming out when things are really starting to get weird. I'm not saying I'm creating something brand-new with Folkicide, but I like to think I'm really hacking at something that's bloated and huge and omnipresent."
For those interested in getting in touch with their inner pessimist, Folkicide performs Friday at RecordBar to celebrate the release of Devotional Hymns From the Church of the Darwinian Snuff Film. Booth is calling it a "recital."
"People tend to stand around at my shows and not know what to do. They laugh, sometimes uncomfortably. But, I mean, I'm not fucking around. I'm totally serious," he says, laughing, shaking his head, gazing out into some middle distance.