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Aviary Interesting

Egged on by a soaring Tallahassee following, Zombie Birdhouse flies in your face with invention

With St. Called Haight becoming known and a follow-up nearly ready, the Zombs are perched for...something. Already eager critics, perhaps distracted by the band's very occasional cover selections, are dropping comparisons to Led Zeppelin and R.E.M. and whatever else they can come up with. "This one cat compared us to Buffalo Springfield meets Soup Dragons," Cloutier admits. "That was pretty cool."

"I don't think comparisons are negative," offers Weisberg. "I like the guy in a band up here who told a writer that their influences are, like, the Beatles to Steve Martin, but `nowadays we're sounding more like ourselves.' That's the way I think of it, too. Essentially our strong point is that we have five different voices, four songwriters. Chris didn't write anything on the first album, but he's the true musician of the band. And we have four songwriters with a lot of different influences. It's not just one guy and his vision."

If anything, they'll likely remind you of the Canadian Invasion bands of late -- Blue Rodeo, the Tragically Hip, even Crash Test Dummies -- with their used-not-abused guitar rushes, solid-as-Quayle's-head and double tight rhythms, easily flowing arrangements, unforced hooks, multi-voice harmonies, and brainy lyric structures. Rock and roll, remember?

And lots of it, too, though the Birdhouse rarely feathers its nest with cover tunes these days. "We have 45 originals or something," Cloutier says. "And more every day, it seems. We play live so often that we rarely have time to practice. So we don't waste that time learning somebody else's songs." Instead they use it to collaboratively write new material. "We believe strongly in our music," the singer-guitarist continues. "And in our lyrics and our ability to arrange. Dave and Chris are the best rhythm section, just incredible. Mike's a great guitarist and writer. We just keep turning out our stuff."

A day after running sound for a seven-band celebration of Grand Finales' eighth anniversary, guitarist Michael Weisberg explains that his group's flight includes a plan to spread out. "We're trying to play out of town as much as possible," he says, "because people are telling us that's the right thing to do. We've being doing all our own booking, keeping it small, playing out, doing our thing. Some bands move too quickly. We're very stable. We've got one guy -- Bruce Barkwill -- who started managing us as a hobby, he wanted to get into the music business. We're working at the big picture, but at the same time trying to keep our shit together."

Under Barkwill's efficient guidance, and with high-grade production by John Kurzweg on St. Called Haight and the next album, the Birdhouse is drawing the label interest Cloutier believes Tallahassee deserves. An A&R rep from Sony wrote the band to say she was impressed, loved the lyrics and phrasing, loved the hooks, loved the vocals, and to ask for a live intinerary. And the band was filmed in action months ago, performing the lead track, "Anyway," which seems a logical hit, from Haight. "That wasn't a real video," Weisberg says. "It was just, a guy at Epic wanted something visual. Something to show his partners up there to help us get signed."

Those concerns don't seem to interfere with the music. "Hypnotized," for example, is a driving tune suited to radio play, except that it includes lyrics such as "this ain't no fucking pleasure cruise" that automatically prohibit mainstream exposure. "We're pretty headstrong," says Cloutier. "We've been waiting so long and working so hard, there's no reason to change our way of thinking. Bruce sets down the strategy. But, hell, what it basically comes down to is we'll have two CDs, all our own. That's good for labels, because they think, All we have to do is offer these guys a deal, and we already have two CDs of good quality, not just a two-song demo. Come on."

The band has clearly come a long way since those early shows at Grand Finales. "When we first started," says Weisberg, "we used to do `Communication Breakdown.' We don't sound like Zeppelin or look like them or anything weird like that, although Matthew wears his Les Paul down low. But in a sweaty nightclub, jamming...we would destroy `Misty Mountain Hop' when we were drunk. Not in a good way, but it's fun, real aggressive."

If ever there was a band that linked itself to the Quaalude mentality, it was Zep. Zombie Birdhouse is better suited to smart pills.

ZOMBIE BIRDHOUSE performs at 11:00 p.m. Friday at the Reunion Room, 2660 E Commercial Blvd, Ft Lauderdale, 776-4081. Admission costs $5.

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