Anywhere's Better than Here

How can Miami ever develop a decent music scene when its best bands keep leaving town?

Since he left town, Smith says his "dance card is full." In addition to a multitude of collaborative projects, Smith is preparing material to be released on New Zealand's Corpus Hermeticum label; doing mixing and mastering work for Audible Hiss, the New York label that will soon be releasing To Live and Shave's fourth CD, An Interview with the Mitchell Brothers; assembling a two-CD opus for Fifth Column Records to be titled The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg; and planning a tour of Japan for later this year. "All I had to do is leave town and all this shit started happening," he says. "There's a great noise and no-wave scene in Chicago, and the culture here is great because it's so fucking nasty. You go into a bar and everyone there is ugly as shit, with dirt under their fingernails. And there's none of that in Miami. Every woman in Miami is gorgeous as hell and all the art sucks. Everybody's so beautiful they just want to listen to shit music every day and night."

Bill Orcutt, a friend of Smith's and one-third of Miami's noise collective Harry Pussy (which also includes Orcutt's wife Adris Hoyos on drums), comes across as considerably less abrasive when asked about the city's music scene. Although he knows that problems exist here, he has no interest in moving. "I'm happy with the job I'm doing now and the band isn't a big enough part of our lives to think about relocating somewhere else," notes Orcutt, who works as director of the Alliance for Media Arts on Miami Beach. "It's never been an issue. I guess if someone was into a more commercial kind of music venture, I could see why they'd want to leave, but [Harry Pussy] is nothing that could ever support us. It's just a fun thing to do, really."

Despite Orcutt's nonchalance, Harry Pussy's piercing barrage of feedback-laden guitars and crash-and-bash drums has attracted national and international attention in the postpunk underground. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore talked them up and played a Harry P. concert clip a couple of years back while hosting MTV's 120 Minutes; more recently Sonic Youth took the trio along for several dates on their national tour last fall. Harry Pussy has released several singles and one album on such respected indie labels as Blackjack, Audible Hiss, and Siltbreeze (the last of which expects to release both a new Harry Pussy album and a compilation of out-of-print tracks in the coming months).

Orcutt describes Miami as a city without a scene, which helps foster his band's willful anonymity (they hardly ever play locally) but can also kill good musical ideas. "In other cities, it seems like everybody's neatly cordoned off into their own separate scenes, whereas in Miami it's just a big mess, which is nice. I like the mess and the confusion. The downside of that is that nothing ever gets developed very far. People have ideas but they don't go anywhere. But this is a very young city, and there's a potential for things to happen here that maybe couldn't happen elsewhere."

For Miami musicians will loftier ambitions than Orcutt's, however, some questions linger: Will those things happen here, or will the potential instigators of those events leave town and make those things happen in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or Atlanta? Or more to the point, will Miami ever become a place that musicians wouldn't want to leave? "That's a tough call," admits Ulloa. "I do think it will change, and I see places like Churchill's and Cheers being in the forefront of that change by continuing to develop young bands. That's where you'll find the future of the local scene. Some people will always believe that you have to move away to make it, but I disagree. If you're good and people are responding to what you're doing, the cream will always rise to the top and the word will get out, whether it's something Latin or country or alternative or whatever."

For Muse, though, the point is now moot. They're gone, eager to work in a city they believe will be more receptive to what they're doing. Still, you can hear a hint of reluctance in Brett Thorngren's voice when he discusses the move. As soon as you hear it, though, it vanishes, replaced by the cold, hard realities of Miami. "This isn't the easiest thing to do," he confesses. "We have family here and all our friends are here -- the people who helped us develop a following and get us to where we had to be. We'll miss being on the water. The ocean is very beautiful and uplifting and spiritual. We've had many nights where after gigs we'd just go to the beach and watch the sun come up. But this just isn't a rock-and-roll town. There's nothing for a musician in Miami to do who's into this stuff. We want to play at rock-and-roll clubs and hang out and meet people who are into the same things, but it's just not happening here. And that's really sad.

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