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The Bros. and the Sister

Can a little hippie chick with a big, big voice trample the bottom line?

Schascle "Twinkle" Yochim is typical of so many unsigned talents, a tough-voiced belter of bluesy rock with tons of melodic skill. She writes big, memorable songs, captured neatly on a demo, and has been touring the club circuit from her Sarasota base for several years.

Your standard dreamer who deserves better or your basic loser who needs a day job A depending on your degree of cynicism.

Except one thing: Schascle (the surname is dropped for show-biz ventures) has a recording contract with that majorest of labels, Warner Bros., and in 1991 issued a debut album under the company's Reprise imprint. The album sold squat, but she had signed for at least two, with the company holding an option on four more after that.

Schascle (pronounced chess-EL when pronounced correctly) says she had been singing in clubs for years until someone asked her to provide some studio backing vocals. She made friends with James Fairs, who produced a demo, which made the industry rounds. The singer herself wasn't especially proud of the tape A too much digital sequencing for her rootsy taste. Biz big shots, however, loved the voice and the tunes, and soon enough Schascle was jetting to Lala land to meet with execs from Atlantic and Warner Bros.

Producer Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Roger Waters) latched onto the project and offered to produce a record before Schascle inked with a label. "I went to Atlantic's offices," she recalls in her bluebird speaking voice, "and it was too sterile. Then at Warners it was all wood, and they were like, 'Whatever you want to do is great.'" She signed one year later. The album A Haunted by Real Life A was released. It bombed.

It is not a terrible record, even though Leonard dressed it up with everything from an orchestra to a gospel choir while also employing virtually every A list studio cat west of the Mississippi. The spry passion of Schascle's powerhouse voice somehow rose above the clatter on at least a few of the tracks, and, she says, "I love the record and I'm very proud of it."

The release's commercial failure could be attributed to several factors A if anyone knew for sure what went wrong, he'd be running Warner Bros. Leonard perhaps went overboard with his large-scale production. Haunted came out during an era when "new" female singers were a dime a diva A Mariah Carey clones were as common as greasy attorneys in the corridors of power. And there was no way for Schascle to tour with a real band because she didn't have one.

She refuses to blame Warners for any of this. "Pat pulled in some real players, the best in the universe," she says. "That was wonderful. But I wouldn't do that on my own. What am I going to say? He's sold millions of records and Warners has sold millions of records. What am I going to say to them? Madonna was a foot A a big, big foot A in the door for him and he was a funny, brilliant producer. But I'm no pop diva." She says the label did its best promotionwise. "They made this box with a video and CD in it," the singer says. "VH-1 was supportive, they played it a lot. The video was shot at an old mansion up here, the last 48 acres of untouched forest land on the bay, with eagles' nests, and herons. It was very cool. Warners has been great."

Nonetheless, Schascle A commonly referred to as "Twinkle, the hippie chick," possibly because she performs barefoot and possesses a look of glow-ing innocence common to young women in the Sixties A has found a new direction, one she's hoping to persuade her label to support.

One night in a Tampa-area club, Schascle had caught a band called One Block South, a rockin' outfit with the right attitude. "It was like being in high school," she recalls. "They were having fun, loving to play, jamming on these fifteen-minute songs. I thought, 'This is who I need to play with.' But Warner would never go for it."

There was another problem with One Block South A she became half of an off-stage duo with the group's drummer, Andrew Lacroix. "I was worried what others would say about it," she explains, "so I stayed away.

You know, that they would say, 'Oh, you're working with your husband.'"
With more than a decade of playing live and a major-label album behind her, Schascle began to outgrow the self-questioning. "They were practicing one day," she says of One Block South, "and I showed them one of my songs and they whipped it out just the way I wanted it. I said, 'That's it.' Then I had a nervous breakdown because now I'm going to tell Warners this is who I want to play with. This is the future, a band, being part of a band instead of me hiring people. They each have their own ideas. I used to care what people said, but now I have more confidence. It's a great feeling. I mean, I'm not coming from outer space. I play often and people love it because we play from the heart. It's not the skill, but that it's from the heart."

Several cuts from a new demo support her theory. These are songs of groove, cut through with scalpel-sharp guitar lines and ass-on-fire percussion and breathless piano runs, music that ricochets and rattles and rocks, all of it spotlighting a voice with enough range and depth and inflection and pure power for any ten pop divas. The common comparisons to Janis Joplin-meets-Aretha Franklin are accurate up to the point of understatement. Schascle can sing the ice off the polar cap, and the rough-edge high-energy band format could not be more suitable.

"I'm at home with this band," she says. "I've told Warners I want to produce the record, with this band. It's a far cry from the polished L.A. sound, very organic. That's what I love. If I had a B-3 [organ] player, I'd do that, too. But I'm not quite ready to make the next record. We want to play out more, get tighter as a group. It's really neat that way. We hope to get to where we can make the record live in the studio, in a couple of days with a small audience. When I sing to someone, it's different than singing in a studio. In L.A. I couldn't understand A I thought something was wrong with my voice. The next one won't have the modern digitized overdubs A any of that shit. I want to capture the soul."

She will at the least have that opportunity on any stage that'll have her, including Tobacco Road's this weekend. Schascle isn't much for anecdotes, but music writers have described her walking into clubs, asking to sit in with whatever band was playing, being scoffed at as a "barefoot little hippie chick," and proceeding to blow the roof off the mother, leaving the crowd awed and the band in deep sand as far as following that. She recently opened for the Indigo Girls in Orlando and received a standing ovation. "That was a great feeling," she admits shyly. "The crowd's usually out in the hall during the opening act. That's the kind of thing I want to do to show Warner it's okay."

In one way the lack of sales for the first album is a boon. "Back then I had my head up my ass," the hippie chick says. "I had this management firm in L.A. that did nothing but get a big chunk. I never knew whose job it was to promote me. It was mine. I needed to get out and sing. Touring is the biggest thing. With this next record I'm just gonna play anywhere and everywhere. I'm glad the first one didn't happen A I'm not locked into it. First impressions are strongest and I'm glad I'm not gonna have to sing those songs the rest of my life, be adult-contemporary/Top 40."

When you hear her raucous, often brilliant, new sound, you'll be glad, too. Everybody's a winner. Except, perhaps, the label she hopes to finagle into putting art before commerce, a long shot if there ever was one. "I don't know if they'll drop me," Schascle offers. "In my situation the important thing is touring, opening for big names so we can reach 5000 people at a time, getting the word out. That will make it work. I don't have to have the label's commitment to promoting it, just their financial tour support. Sure, they don't pay openers dick, but you get real lights and a real stage and people to play for. Whatever happens, I'll be singing until I'm 90. I talked to [president of Warner Bros. A&R] Michael Ostin today on the phone. He's into my idea. He's very diplomatic, not passing judgment. The whole idea of a long-term recording contract is that they believed in me and knew it might take a while. As produced as the first record is, it's still organic and eclectic. You can't throw that at Top 40 radio and make it work. And they didn't."

If there's any justice A and who says there is? A Schascle will grab the gold without losing the sound of her own soul. "The thing about being on Warners," she says, "is I can work now, I can get gigs where others wouldn't be able to. It's neat. Living on music, making a living with music, is the best feeling in life." Hearing it isn't bad, either.

Schascle and One Block South perform after 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Tobacco Road, 626 S. Miami Ave., 374-1198. Admission costs $5.

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