By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Underground musicians in South Florida have always suffered from a certain geographical isolation. Florida's sheer length makes touring a logistic and economic mess for homegrown talent. And while major cities such as Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville get their fair share of national tours, in Miami-Dade it's slim pickings. For local bands, that translates into precious few support gigs and limited national exposure.
Despite this isolation, South Florida underground musicians are also notorious for their fierce, DIY attitudes. The microcosmic, self-contained SoFla scene of the late Seventies -- which generated punk heroes The Eat, The Psycho Daisies, The Reactions, and The DT Martyrs -- served as a stepping stone for a second wave of fresh, exciting bands that cropped up in the Nineties.
The members of art punk group Kreamy 'Lectric Santa -- Robert Price, Priya Ray, and a revolving door of local punks, hippies, and heshers -- were among the first to hop on this second wave and would soon become the leading voice in South Florida's underground. When they left the area in 1998 to spread their version of the indie gospel, the sky seemed the limit. But tragedy soon struck -- one member died and another would be disabled. In spite of these setbacks, the group remains vital, and when KLS rolls into Churchill's later this week, concertgoers will be treated to a band whose influence, both artistic and commercial, continues to this day.
Born and raised in Miami, KLS lead guitarist and mastermind Robert Price first appeared on the indie radar with the late-Eighties group The Prom Sluts. But the Sluts disintegrated as fast as they recorded an album's worth of material. Price, however, wasn't the type to sit quietly on something, and he soon released a full-length cassette (crediting the other Sluts) dubbed Taking Rainbo Bridge by Strategy. That tape marked the first official collaboration between Sir Robert (as he was known then) and long-time associate Priya Ray, whose violin can be heard on "The Ballad of Charlie Pickett." It was a logical pairing -- the two shared a very broad interest in modern pop music. Price gravitated toward AM radio, funk, disco, Alice Cooper, pop, and ultimately New Wave. "When I got into that, mind you," Price says of his New Wave fixation, "I was the only kid in school and I got beat up a lot." Meanwhile, Ray is a classically trained violinist who credits Camper Van Beethoven, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, American folk, and Wings as influences -- though she also confesses an obsession for Seventies supergroup the Partridge Family. The duo formed not only a musical relationship but also a romantic one that continues to this day.
As KLS, Price and Ray rested their sound on a bed of avant-garde blues and punk jazz racket. This abrasive, manic aesthetic was complemented by the occasional surf rock riff and thin sheets of musique concrte's noise manipulation.
But more than its recorded material, KLS was and will always be a live band. With raucous energy, the group quickly became the house band for Churchill's Hideaway, and its local shows in the early Nineties paired the group with well-known proto-indie acts such as Chickenhead, Cavity, Los Canadians, and the Stun Guns. These bands would eventually form the nucleus of one of the tightest underground scenes in the Southeast. But KLS refused to let its sonic experiments stagnate in South Florida, and the Kreamies set out on a number of small tours throughout the Southeast, the East Coast, and the Midwest.
Though short, their tours were packed with plenty of action and debauchery: numerous traffic accidents, costly van repairs, interesting characters along the way, arrests/bails, and on one occasion a murder. This streak of bad luck culminated in Atlanta in February 3, 1998.
"We had been at Warehouse C-11 in Atlanta, where we had played before," Price remembers, "and I had been drinking and I passed out, and then some people woke me up telling me Priya had fallen." Ray had been standing atop a skateboarding half-pipe, and either the flooring buckled or a flimsily insulated wall gave in. In any case, Ray, who was completely sober at the time, fell thirteen feet onto a concrete floor.
There she was found convulsing and was taken by paramedics to a hospital. She spent three weeks unconscious, suffering from pneumonia, a spinal injury, and a head injury that caused fluid to drain from her skull. "But one day I woke up and I said I wanted French fries, I wanted McDonald's," remembers Ray. Diagnosed with a T12 L1 spinal injury, Ray has full control of her upper body, light sensations above her knees, but absolutely no feeling below.
"We had some friends who were around all the time, and after my accident, they disappeared.... However, some people who we had not seen in years called every day to see how I was doing," says Ray, unsoured by the experience. "I couldn't pin down a lot of emotions when I woke up, but I did not dwell on any negatives. My family was wowed by my attitude, and I was able to recover mentally fairly quick." Though she is occasionally angered by places without handicapped access, Ray believes she is "nicer overall, nicer than before the accident."
In 2003 tragedy struck again, when former bassist Andrew Ross Powell suddenly passed away. Despite the drama, KLS has soldiered on. The group's influence is palatable, and the throngs of bands it inspired range from Pin Kai, Smack, Vidavox, and Pygmy to dozens of musicians who've performed onstage and in home recordings. Since relocating to Berkeley, the group boasts a lineup consisting of South Florida's multiband man Buddha on guitar, Bingo Mut's Ravi DeMayo on bass, and Craig D. on drums. The bandmates recently released a seven-inch five-song retrospective of previously unpublished tracks covering KLS's fifteen-year career, titled Great Plans Laid to Rest.
The Kreamies' old haunt Churchill's has undergone numerous transformations, and many bands they once gigged with have fallen apart and moved away. But one thing is certain: KLS continues to tirelessly push forward on its own terms, with a growing arsenal of recordings ready for release. Though the bandmates claim this will be their last show in Miami, their influence will undoubtedly continue to be felt throughout the scene, and their DIY spirit will reign over South Florida for a long time to come.