We're with the Band

Superstars fly personal jets from concert to concert. Real rock bands rent a van and go. Natural Causes is a real band. They're renting a van. And we're going with them.

It's about nine o'clock Saturday morning and the rain pounds down. Keith Schantz, manager of the Miami-based rock band Natural Causes, negotiates the cluttered alley behind the Stephen Talkhouse, parking in front of a half-dozen tattered derelicts huddled in a Dumpster shed. Schantz tries to get in the back door of the Talkhouse, but it's not happening, so we move to the front of the club, on Collins Avenue. Drew Holshouser, the Talkhouse's sound engineer, up all night working the board for a Little Charlie and the Nightcats performance, is asleep in a second-floor room.

On the sidewalk, Schantz finds a key bearing a Chrysler insignia. He throws it at Holshouser's window. After a few tosses, Holshouser appears and says he'll be right down to let us in. "He's gonna be hatin' me," Schantz says, shaking off rainwater like a dog, "but we have to get the piano stand. This is what it's about, being on the road. You gotta get shit done."

Never more so than now A crunch time, when contract offers with several record labels are pending. With the help of a Los Angeles entertainment attorney, Schantz isn't seeking a deal, he's seeking the right deal. "We want more opportunity to play, record, shoot videos, the chance to reach more people with the music. It's not about rock-star things. The things that come, we'll accept, but we all know it's the music that will take us wherever we go."

After retrieving the piano stand (a tubular frame that supports frontman Arlan Feiles's digital keyboard), we drive to a hotel on Collins to fetch Natural Causes guitarist Sean Edelson, who announces, "I've got 36 cents in my pocket." He climbs into the big white Rally STX van. "Are we going to pick up Joel at Mortuary Towers?"

That's the next stop -- Morton Towers -- where Keith's cousin, guitarist Joel Schantz, waits downstairs. He loads in his equipment and we head to the Bagel Factory. Keith Schantz, Edelson, and I go inside to buy a bag of carbohydrates. Bagelmaker Dave Stein serves up the order and, as we exit, says, "Hey Sean, have a good gig, man."

The skies are black and bleak as the van rolls onto NE 207th Street, a few miles east of Joe Robbie Stadium. The mean, crusty blues of Lightnin' Hopkins drizzles from the van's Delco. Arlan Feiles and the Causes's drummer, Jim Wall, share a house in this neighborhood with two other guys. Karen Friedman, keyboardist/vocalist/percussionist, is also waiting there for us; bassist Matt Coogan pulls up in his car right on time.

The van wasn't easy to come by; the Miami Beach boat show depleted the car-rental agencies' fleets, and Keith Schantz had to pull a favor to get it. Band members pack in guitars, drums, amplifiers, and it takes a while to figure a way to cram everything in and still accommodate eight people. "We're gonna have to leave you behind," Feiles tells me with a laugh. The dashboard clock reads 10:58 a.m. Time for Natural Causes to go to Gainesville. Time for a good gig.

That's how Joel Schantz persuaded Arlan Feiles (pronounced fie-lus) to come to Miami in the first place. The guitarist and the singer/songwriter met in Boston about five years ago, when both were attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Schantz was forced to come home to Miami after he'd been struck by a car in a near-fatal accident. He was hospitalized for months. Doctors put him back together like Frankenstein, replacing bones in his hip and legs with metal pins and rods. Before the accident, Feiles and Schantz had formed a band called the E-Z Walkers, which played the Boston club circuit. Now Schantz wanted Feiles to come to Miami. "Lots of gigs" was all he had to say.

In the back of the van, Matt Coogan is wearing headphones and shades, riding along in virtual nonreality. Sean Edelson is falling asleep. Jim Wall -- the tireless drummer who came to Miami from Cleveland with his old band, Ragamuffin Soldier -- is telling a joke about bass players. Ragamuffin, a reggae outfit that also featured Coogan and Edelson, died of natural causes -- or so goes the joke.

After Feiles came to town at the end of 1990, he and Schantz put together a new band, which included Frankie Trullenque on bass and a rotating cast of drummers. They played their first show -- as Arlan Feiles and Company -- at the defunct 32 Grand in Coconut Grove, a benefit that also featured Iko-Iko and Nil Lara's old band, K.R.U.

Fred Freeman soon took over bass, and the band, which rehearsed in Freeman's garage in Coral Gables, dubbed itself the Last Ride, and performed at Washington Square and other area nightspots. Nearly a year went by before Jim Wall came in as stickman. He hadn't yet left Ragamuffin Soldier, and played for both bands, sometimes on the same night when the two groups appeared together. A few more months passed and Edelson decided he wanted to rock and roll, defecting from the reggae group. Coogan also left Ragamuffin and, after a couple of other projects, replaced Freeman on bass. With the addition of Karen Friedman (who was in Blue Trixie and graduated from UM's music program), the Causes were born. It may have come at the expense of a very good reggae band, but feelings couldn't be too hard. Ragamuffin's former lead singer is one of Feiles's and Wall's roommates.

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