Underground Musicians Collaborating, Creating New Sounds, and Breaking Ground
Multifaceted groups Crew Life and Thot Saviors to perform at Kings Rook Club
Weekends in Erie are full of bars and venues where you can enjoy the sounds of rock, alternative, pop, country, and various local bands. However, there has been a void for some locals since the closing of former hot spots such as the Crooked I, Sherlock's, the Beer Mug, and Bobby's Place. Erie's underground hip-hop scene and more experimental and genre-bending musicians have been slightly harder to find. If you're not "in the know" or able to find their creations online, you may be missing out. Enter the King's Rook Club, which is one local venue opening the doors to many of these musicians, providing a place locally to showcase their talents.
Crew Life is one of these groups, composed of four multifaceted musicians and creatives: Dominic "Dommy'' Ferrare, Kelvin "K. Sanz'' Sanchez, Jeff "Just Jeff'' Pohl, and Deverick "Thraxx Godd" Ohmer. Established in 2014, the name of this hip-hop group is described by one of the artists as being something that you love doing creatively with your friends/crew. The goal of the creation of the company Crew Life Productions is that all creatives can come together as one, and everyone thrives as a whole. You can see this expressed in their music as the group has two collaborative albums (with a third on the way) as well as many side and solo projects from each of the artists involved in the group. Crew Life Productions also creates photos and videos (and won the 2022 Erie Reader Best of Erie category for Best Production Company), as does group member Sanchez with Sanz Studio Productions.
"In 2014, Dommy Ferrare started Crew Life when he was a teenager. We did a lot of music and shows together but it was never an official thing. We did Crooked I a lot, the original Basement Transmissions on State Street, Park Place/Sherlock's, Sullivan's, Beer Mug, Bobby's Place — we became cool (friends) through music and were performing all these places together," recounts Sanchez. "It felt like it put a drought on our kind of live music for a little bit when these places closed. And I think people started getting tired of the limited options available, so we kinda started seeing things in a different way, venturing out, having shows in a more grassroots way. In the summer we would start having shows in front of shops," Sanchez said.
The closure of many venues in the wake of COVID has shifted the way many musicians are thinking about their art and how to expose others to their music. "The big shift for me personally was kind of like when you're on the internet you have access to any place, and if you're not getting the love you feel you should be getting there, you can expand your reach to other places. I get videos sometimes from people I've never met in my life — they find me on social media after they stumble across me on Spotify — and they will be singing their favorite song and I don't even know these people and that's cool, man. It makes you kind of feel like somebody else has the same thoughts as you," Sanchez said. His latest solo project, Taino Tears, was released in January 2023. Not originally from Erie, Sanchez relocated here in 2010 and feels this gives him a broader perspective and has widely influenced his sound. "Someone who doesn't really leave their hometown has a harder time grasping the bigger perspective on things. I've lived in Boston, Florida, and California, and the influences I draw from are a little bit more than just here."
Keeping Erie's underground hip-hop and experimental music scenes alive amidst the closure of many local venues, Crew Life has found new life at the King's Rook Club. (From left to right) Kelvin "K-Sanz" Sanchez, Dommy Ferrare, Jeff "Just Jeff" Pohl, and Deverick "Thraxx Godd" Ohmer.
Sanchez recently served as a co-host for Erie Arts and Culture's February Creative Crowd events and likens Crew Life to a creative collective. "It's like being in a creative cloud of people when we work together because we are definitely bringing our own vibes and perspectives and feelings on things, but when we're working together in that moment, our energies are matched and on the same frequencies. The chemistry is really good. Creating the sound and projects are really smooth. As creatives we all have our own what-ifs: what if I try this or try that, and if you have the right creatives around you who say 'Yeah let's do that, let's try this.' It's fun to have a lot of fluidity in the creative process. It never feels like a stagnant session," said Sanchez.
The premise of a creative collective also informs the local hip-hop group Thot Saviors, who are, according to one artist, "attempting the impossible." Member Eli "Elias, if only" Kerr added, "I love posse cuts when three or four rappers try to get the hardest shit out they can over a really interesting, eclectic beat and I think that's where Thot Saviors' real identity is," said Kerr, who you may also remember was also one of the local entrepreneurs involved in Proof Kitchen. "Thot Saviors isn't meant to be taken too seriously, it's more this fun expression. I find that when I'm working on my solo 'Elias, if only' music, I'm having to talk about the world and my family and my own personal plight. But when I'm with the guys on Thot Saviors I can relax and flex a bit and talk about funny shit and so, it's really just getting back to why we do this — it's fun," Kerr said.
Thot Saviors has released two albums and two singles. In addition to Kerr, the group includes artists Sean Harris, Avery "James Myles" Mooney, Richard "Eugene" Bowser, and Bryan "B. Gilly" Gildone. Gildone, like several of the other artists, has also performed with Crew Life and on other musicians' albums. Members of Thot Saviors have also created several solo projects, including Gildone, whose music reaches across several genres including hip-hop, R&B, EDM, house, and country. His most recent solo project, Blood and Guts, was released in November 2022. His upcoming project, a country album with Elias, if only, is expected this month.
"I don't want to make one kind of music. I play a little guitar, mandolin, I tap around on the keys. I feel like the music is within me and I try to let it out in as many different ways as possible. I don't want there to be boundaries to my art. It's not about pursuing recognition or fame, it's just what I need to get out. It's really just self-expressive, not trying to win popularity contests, it's a statement and if you like it you like it, but we definitely hope it catches people's ears," Gildone said.
"I want to get to the point where I'm genreless and my music is 100 percent Elias," said Kerr. "We all listen to so much different music and we want to get to the point where we are making music that inspires us. I'm working with Ian Maciak now on some drum tracks — one of the best musical minds I know personally — and I'm looking forward to getting to the point where we can literally make anything happen at the drop of a dime. That's what I'm most excited about," said Kerr.
"We all have our own work that we take mastery over, but in Thot Saviors we all have our certain set of skills we bring to the table and it all works. Just like gumbo, there's a lot of different ingredients, but when you put them all together it's soulful. That's what's so cool about working with these dudes, is there is no ownership, we all have our additions and we all push each other to try new things outside of what we would've. There are a lot of aspects of our solo music that goes into the collective, but the collective doesn't sound like our solo music which is really dope," said Gildone.
Gumbo Sound, another piece of the collective puzzle, is a genreless and abstract concept, a series of concerts that showcase regional hip-hop talent that was created by Thot Saviors member Kerr. "We've had artists from Cleve, Pitts, Buffalo," said Gildone. "Thot Saviors is a conglomeration of artists who have built a working relationship. We're also all friends, coming together and trying to make masterpieces to the best of our ability. It's really like a group project, we have some of us that are producers, as well as rappers, vocalists, instrumentalists, but we all sit in and we all direct it. It's really a group experience which is what's dope about it. It's a lot of talent and a lot of knowledge of music coming together," said Gildone.
Those collaborative efforts and group projects have led the members of Thot Saviors to create some truly unique sounds and experimental music that seems to defy genres and labels. No stranger to the music scene himself, Kerr has been performing since approximately 2013, though he says he just wanted to be involved by "being a genuine fan and appreciator" in those days. "It took me a long time to develop my own style and sound, and it wasn't until 2016 that I started to really make headway with my own sound," said Kerr. He credits being involved with Crew Life and working on a genre-bending album of rock, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music called The Dean with artist Najee as helping to cultivate his sound. Kerr's most recent solo project, …Nights.Between… was released in January 2023.
"Since 2018 I've been putting a lot of the groundwork into the production side of things to make sure I can translate ideas fluidly through my computer, through instruments, and through editing to make sure things are big and swimming. I was pretty silent during that time but I was always working on music silently and honing that craft, learning how to mix vocals and drums and learning how to compose and arrange songs," said Kerr. "I always knew the artists who are now in Thot Saviors made music, but I had never collaborated with them. So I really tried to cultivate and orchestrate a community around my production and their ideas. Then with me knowing Crew Life from a while ago, I kind of bridged the gap between everybody and really tried to create a community around it."
"We all love the art form, we all love the art of songwriting, performing and the anthropology or the ethnography of music and where things come from and trying to pull through these different mediums is what makes us an eclectic group. The ideas we are willing to go for and the trust we've made," said Kerr. "Unless there is a common space where we do this stuff all the time, we're never going to get back to that place where Erie was for hip-hop like it was in 2013 when people like Jon Box and Iggy (Imig) were here all the time making things happen," said Kerr.
Both groups believe cultivating the collective community is important. "Events and shows like this help to make the community a little stronger and bigger by supporting each other," said Gildone. He noted that the third and fourth Gumbo Sound events are coming up in the late spring and early summer.
Sanchez believes the diversity in both the groups and solo artist's sounds is what makes the show a complete experience for everyone. "If you try to sound like anybody else, you're gonna get lost in the sound. Just sound like yourself. What I try to translate into what I create is one of my favorite things to do which is driving around in the summertime with the windows down, vibed out, warm breeze, listening to good music. So, I'm definitely going to imprint that into my music because it's an extension of myself and I try to keep my mentality positive and my music positive. The show is going to be like a house party that your boy who had the crazy CD book back in the day would throw, that kind of house party," said Sanchez.
Crew Life, Thot Saviors, and Guests will perform at the Kings Rook Club, 1921 Peach St., on Friday, March 10. Doors open at 8pm and there is a $5 cover charge. For more information on events at the King's Rook Club visit tickets.eriereader.com
You can find both groups and the artists as solo performers on Spotify and Apple Music. Instagram handles listed below for more information.
Crew Life @crewlifeprod
Dominic "Dommy" Ferrare @dommy_crew_life
Kelvin "K. Sanz" Sanchez @ksanzcl and @sanzstudioproductions
Jeff "Just Jeff" Pohl @justjeffcl
Deverick "Thraxx Godd" Ohmer @thraxx_godd
Thot Saviors @t.h.o.t.saviors
Eli "Elias, if only" Kerr @eliasifonly
Bryan "B. Gilly" Gildone @bgilforreal
Richard "Eugene" Bowser @richard_eugene
Sean Harris @boogienights1997
Avery "James Myles" Mooney @james_myles
Amy VanScoter can be reached at email@example.com