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It's a pleasant surprise to be able to chat with Louis Lowy, who plays bass and writes most of the lyrics for local original rockers the Wait, and not have to undergo therapy afterward. By his own admission, Lowy's lyrics are usually downers, about as far removed from dance-floor fare as one is likely to get unless the dancers happen to be Gomez and Morticia Addams. If you had to form an impression of him solely from his songwriting, you might make the assumption that he was one depressed puppy. "I suppose I do have a tendency to write on the dark side," he allows. "That's partially because those are the feelings I choose to examine, but also, possibly, partially because subconsciously I hear Diane's voice."
That would be Diane Ward, the band's frighteningly powerful singer, who was recently voted Best Female Vocalist at the South Florida Rock Awards. Ward, Lowy, and guitar wizard Frank Vila have been playing together for nearly five years, first as three-quarters of a moderately successful original rock band called Bootleg, and since March of 1989, when drummer Jaime LaSala signed on, as the Wait. Lowy is quick to salute Ward's voice, which runs the gamut from raw and edgy to soothing and contemplative, whispering seductively one moment and exploding into a shriek the next. One could exhaust a thesaurus coming up with enough adjectives to describe all the moods and shadings. Lowy knows he could do a lot worse than to write with that compelling instrument in mind.
Ward is a bit of a surprise in person as well. A femme fatale who whirls and prances with the best of them on-stage fronting the band, Ward is soft-spoken and ingenuous offstage. She chooses her words carefully, and even blushes a little when Lowy acknowledges the luxury of having a voice like hers to write for.
They have been writing songs together - Ward usually providing the music and Lowy the words - since bumping into each other as students at Miami-Dade Community College's north campus. Lowy was, at the time, playing in a group called, morbidly enough, Hemlock. He and Ward tried to steer that band away from Top 40 and covers and into the original music current, and in so doing experienced an immediate taste of downward mobility, personal finance-wise. "When we stopped doing covers, we pretty much kissed the money goodbye," says Lowy.
As is the case with most unsigned original rock bands, all members of the Wait have day jobs. Their lives are a hectic whirlwind revolving around rehearsing, writing, recording, playing live gigs whenever possible, and plowing whatever money comes their way back into the band. A normal social life has become a quaint memory.
Judging by their recently completed four-song demo tape, the sacrifice is justifiable (notice how we avoided saying "worth the wait"). Recorded at RT-60 with renowned studio whiz/musician Jerry Marotta (he's worked with Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, and Paul McCartney) manning the boards, the tape is a masterful representation of one of the area's premier original rock bands at the top of their craft. "Working with Jerry was a great experience," says Jaime LaSala. "Lots of times you know what's right, but you don't know how to get there. He knows how to get there."
"And he catches every off note along the way," adds Lowy.
The tape opens with "For My Baby," a teeth-gnashing, gut-wrenching, heart-busting lament about obsessive love on which Ward's vocal pyrotechnics put a torch to Lowy's tale of a lover gone 'round the bend, willing to swallow his/her pride, negotiate a bed of hot coals, beg, crawl, and suffer all manner of pain and degradation with "no guarantees from my baby." The way Ward sings it, "baby" becomes a six-syllable word. From the first crash of LaSala's cymbal and electric buzz of Vila's guitar, the listener is abducted and forced to go along for the masochistic ride. It is a tour de force for Ward, who evokes the likes of Alannah ("Black Velvet®MDNM¯") Myles, Pat Benatar, Lone Justice's Maria McKee, and the standard by which all female rockers are measured, Heart's Ann Wilson. One cannot listen to the song without being singed.
An up-tempo, kinetic rafter-rattler titled "Truth" follows, and provides an energetic release for listeners who made it through "For My Baby" without a trip to the Jackson/UM Burn Center. That burst of energy is immediately negated, however, by the next tune, a melancholy ballad titled "Straightjacket" that Lowy and company credit with piquing Marotta's interest in working with the band.
"Straightjacket" is the tape's showcase tune. Layered against a lush background of crystalline acoustic guitars and light, soothing keyboards, Ward sings Lowy's words of bitterness, loneliness, and isolation in a voice as calming as a megadose of lithium. Where "For My Baby" takes the listener for an emotional roller-coaster ride, "Straightjacket" is a tale of resignation, of giving in to the safety of a padded cell. It is up to the listener to determine whether the straightjacket is a literal one or a metaphorical one. "Locked behind this forsaken place/Confined to solitaire/There's no one here to untie the straps/Of this straightjacket I wear," goes the refrain, and it's difficult to recall a more haunting song of alienation and despair since Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Sylvia Plath would have loved it.
The tape closes with the atmospheric "Into the Light," a song whose narrator is slowly but surely freezing to death. In the Louis Lowy oeuvre, this is what passes for upbeat.
It almost goes without saying that, being an unsigned, original rock outfit, the Wait are hoping this demo will land them a deal. "We used to make detailed lists of our goals, and then later we'd turn the paper over and write lyrics on it," explains Ward. "But now we're taking it [the struggle for success and recognition] more seriously. RT-60 has been really fair with us, but [making a demo] is still very expensive and time-consuming. We put a lot into it. A lot is riding on this tape."
Even before the tape, however, there were signs that the band had fans in high places. Last year's invitation to Miami Rocks, where Marotta first heard them play, is one example; Ward's honor at the SoFlo awards is another. The band was also invited to appear at the taping of the soon-to-be-released Live at the Square CD, which will feature one of their newer songs, "Can the World Refuse to Turn?".
But in the final analysis, an original rock band's chances of breaking into the big time ride heavily on their demos. To that end the Wait have laid down four scorching, passionate, radio-ready tracks on a tape that gives them as good a shot as anyone at the great rock-and-roll crapshoot, which begs the question: What will Louis Lowy do for inspiration if the band makes it to the promised land? Is he equipped to handle success?
"I've already started working on some less negative lyrics," he confides. Somberly.
THE WAIT performs at : p.m. Friday at Washington Square, 645 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 534-1403.