Burnie Booth knows his music isn’t for eternal optimists or the faint of heart.
He calls it despair-core or misanthrope pop or shock folk. His album titles also reveal the nature of his music: “The Genocide Is Mean” and “The Meaningless Glare of Broken Human Beings.” So does the name of his music project, Folkicide, which suggests he is doing something homicidal to folk music, which he is.
“The goal was to write songs that were pessimistic almost to the point of being absurd,” he said, “and to make the acoustic guitar sound as violent and inhospitable as possible to accompany the lyrics.”
Booth’s music career goes back 30 years, to his days in Big Toe, a punk band whose resume includes an opening gig in 1986 with the Descendents at the Outhouse in Lawrence. He was 17 then, and intent on making music a big part of his life.
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Big Toe generated some heavy traction in this region but broke up, so in 1992 Booth moved to Seattle, just as it was becoming the world’s grunge capital. There, he started a band called the Moogs.
“They were a great band,” he said. “Kind of a Velvet Underground band. But Seattle was a battle zone back then.”
He had spent seven years in Seattle. In 1999, he returned to Kansas City for a Big Toe reunion show at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence. His wife, Anna, fell in love with Kansas City, so they moved.
“She was sick of the rain,” Booth said. “She wanted a change of pace, and she likes the heat. So we’ve been here since.”
Music was not part of his plans, however.
“For a couple of years, I was very insular,” Booth said. “I worked and I did a lot of reading.”
He returned to music in 2004, starting a band called the Charge Droplets. It broke up two years later, but Booth’s interest in music was rekindled so he decided to go the solo route.
“As you get older, it’s harder to keep bands together,” he said. “People get married and start families or get demanding jobs. Or some people want to go in a different music direction, so they start a roots or bluegrass band.
“I didn’t want to stop playing songs, but I didn’t want to go in that direction. I wanted to go the other way. So, I picked up an acoustic guitar. Learning to play that was a humbling education.”
Booth had always played electric, aggressively. He applied the same approach to the acoustic guitar, but it required some major adjustments.
“It’s harder, physically,” he said. “I use heavy-gauge strings so I won’t break them. I had to figure out how to get it to make as much noise as possible.”
In 2007, he started Folkicide and started writing songs under the name Folkicide Mercury, paying tribute to his favorite band, Queen, and its lead singer, Freddie Mercury.
Folkicide’s mission statement: “As the Western world continued its spiral into a vortex of idiocy and decay, a new form of folk music was required to document the decline as well as to poke a sonic stick into its decomposing corpse. Folkicide was created to address this challenge.”
Inspiration for his songs often comes from whatever he is reading at the time, like the book “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.” That became the title and title track to “The Genocide is Mean” EP. The song, which has a Pavement vibe, is a dark, jangly indie-rock tune with serrated edges and heavy undertones of darkness.
Booth started taking his act to open mics and singer/songwriter nights, becoming a regular at the Weirdo Wednesday showcases at Davey’s. His songs often catch some people in the crowd completely off-guard.
“I’ve never had anyone get in my face, but I’ve seen some people look absolutely horrified,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what to think, but I usually get everyone’s attention.”
A song called “When the Praying Mantis Crawled Out of Her Eyes” prompted one of those episodes.
“It’s about this rich person who gets too rough with a prostitute, and she dies,” he said.
Then some dismemberment and cannibalism ensue, and a praying mantis crawls out of the woman’s eye socket.
“It’s a ridiculous song, with some bad language in it,” Booth said, “and one woman in the audience was not happy at all.”
In 2010, Booth released his first Folkicide recording, “Let’s Worship Degenerates.” He has released five more including the “Genocide” EP and his version of Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” in 2012. In 2014, he changed his nom-de-plume to Folkicide and released the “Meaningless Glare” album. He creates the artwork for his albums, most of them collages that are as provocative and deranged as his songs.
Folkicide has become part of a monthly first-Wednesday gig at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, where Booth swaps songs with Mark Smeltzer, who performs as Rabbit Killer (his part in the duet Freight Train Rabbit Killer).
“Burnie is one of the only people I play with who allows me to be the orthodox one on stage,” Smeltzer said. “His music is uncomfortable. His guitar is an assault on the ears. His voice is offensive to many. His lyrics are smears of hopelessness and misery. And he puts it together in such a way.… It’s very inspiring.”
Booth has started performing live as Folkicide Electric with some of the musicians who performed on his albums: Marco Pascolini on guitar, Chris Fugitt on drums and Cole Wheeler on bass. The band has a gig tonight opening for the Ants at the Ship, 1217 Union Ave. in the West Bottoms.
Pascolini, who plays in some of the more esteemed bands in Kansas City, including Mr. Marco’s V7, said Booth’s songs are eminent in their own way.
“I equate Burnie’s ability to compose songs about taboo or unpleasant but very real subjects to be true art,” he said. “His music is catchy and entertaining, but don’t expect to be pandered to. We’ve all heard enough love songs to last a lifetime. But have you considered a song about a day on the job performing pest control at a funeral home? I think not. Folkicide has got it covered.”
For Booth, the return to electric guitar has been invigorating.
“I’ll never stop doing acoustic shows, but I’m about as excited about this incarnation of Folkicide as about anything else I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “I’ve switched back to the electric guitar, and after playing an acoustic with heavy-gauge strings like it was an electric guitar for five years, it’s pretty liberating.”
For Pascolini, one of this town’s most inventive and admired guitarists, Booth’s guitar-playing exemplifies the gist of Folkicide.
“Burnie is as unconventional on guitar as he is lyrically and visually with his artwork,” he said. “I don’t know nor want to know what he’s playing most of the time. It’s frightening.”
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Folkicide Electric will perform tonight at the Ship, 1217 Union Ave. The Ants will headline. Show time is 10 p.m. Admission is free.