Foot Patrol's improbable ascendance to the top of the heap of weirdness that defines much of Austin, TX has their rabid fan base rooting for their favorite underdog. Not many bands can truly say that they are one of a kind, for it would be nearly impossible to find another ensemble that is so devoted to all matters of the sole. A DIY funk outfit fronted by a blind musical prodigy with a foot fetish is an interesting hook, but Austin certainly has its share of novel acts. Foot Patrol could have been relegated to that tier but by virtue of their raucous and perpetually fun live shows the group has managed to transcend the joke and become something more concrete. They have been honing their craft of subversion for over five years now as evident in their increasingly complex arrangements and theatrical antics onstage.
The band is spearheaded by the synergistic collaboration of the bassist, Hung Nguyen, and lead vocalist/keyboard player TJ Wade. It is the decade-plus friendship between Nguyen (a Vietnamese refugee) and Wade (a sight-impaired African American) that makes an idea as ridiculous as Foot Patrol endearing. They met when Nguyen was a residential instructor at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired and Wade was a 14 year old student there, bonding over their mutual love for Prince's music. Nguyen quickly recognized Wade's talents and encouraged him to perform original music that came from the heart rather than from music charts. They managed to record over 200 songs in a two year span with a mix of covers and originals. This eventually resulted in their hardcore rap duo, MC Terroristic.
"Coming up, Ice-T was my number one influence," Wade says. "He taught me you can say what you want - it doesn't matter what people think. Especially being blind, sometimes people don't always understand you. Ice-T taught me to vent.”
In 2000, Wade graduated from Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired and left Texas to try and make it in the mainstream music business, landing with the label Grassroots Entertainment headed by Dwayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Tone'! fame. Although the project did not go as far as they had hoped, Wade gained valuable experience working as a professional musician. Wade and Nguyen reunited in 2005 when the singer's mother recognized his need for an outlet and got back in touch with his former mentor. It would take another year of tooling before Foot Patrol was born. In that interim, they concentrated on doing hardcore rap and experimental rock, reflecting their varied influences.
One of the pair's first songs, "Freeze," from their 2006 debut Toetry in Motion, is one of Foot Patrol's most popular - the chorus of which (Freeze/You're under arrest/Put your feet behind your head) is unlike any other you'll hear shouted by a crowd of drunk college boys and downtown ladies. Same goes for "Such a Pity," from the following year's Smellabration, which decries, "I can see you touch your toes when you're in your yoga pose, but I'm so far away." Wade and Nguyen's collective ear for catchy beats and choruses has turned fetish into something wacky yet accessible. They went so far as to include a scratch and sniff sticker of actual foot odor on limited edition pressings of Smellabration.
"I wanted TJ to have a broader audience” says Nguyen. “But it had to be presented in a subversive manner in order for him to be interested in playing funk music.”
Foot Patrol's crowd has grown exponentially since their first gig at the Chaindrive over five years ago. 2010's Michael Jackson tribute night- complete with a moon-walking contest and a sing along to “We Are the World” - packed the Scoot Inn's outdoor patio with fans honoring a man who was considered bizarre himself. After the performance, Wade entertained a long line of women waiting to have their feet worshiped.
Foot Patrol has played various regional festivals including SXSW, Fun Fun Fun, Norman Music Festival, UtopiaFest, Pecan Street, First Night Austin and the Austin Hot Sauce Festival in 112 degree heat. In 2011 they were featured on the cover of the Austin Chronicle. They have self-produced four full length albums and two EP’s: Toetry in Motion, Smellabration, No Small Feat, Pussyfooting, Foot Worship Queens, and The Chrissy EP. They are currently working on their fifth album, The Underdog.
“An air-tight funk band.” – Spin Magazine
“The vocal performance and the power of their inescapable rhythms was enough to make you surrender to their outrageous presentation…not just a foot-worshiping novelty act. Foot patrol puts the fun back in funk.” – Austin American Statesman
“Resuscitates the party-up vibe of early-1980s synth-funk via clever toe-tappers.” – Austin Chronicle
“Inspiringly crazy and awesome on stage.” – Vice Magazine
“Slithering, sexed-up funk.” – Onion AV Club