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Any citrus-blooded Floridian worth his farmer's tan knows the essential ingredients in a mimosa are champagne and orange juice. So, after six years on the South Florida music scene, it seems like cultural ignorance, if not outright blasphemy, for Brendan O'Hara to release an album called — gasp! — Champagne & Apple Juice. "It tastes good," insists the Jesus-bearded 28-year-old Hollywood resident, defending the mixture that has come to define the eclectic sound of his latest project, a two-man "street lounge" act called the Big Bounce.
Perhaps we can forgive O'Hara for forgetting. You'd probably be confused if your weekly schedule entailed flying back and forth between New York, Miami, Atlanta, and Tampa — hence the name the Big Bounce. All of that while holding down a Tuesday-night residency at one of South Beach's most intimidating beachfront bastions of A-list culture, the Florida Room at the Delano Hotel. The music, too, is a dizzying array: It pretty much sounds like what would happen if G. Love, John Legend, Billy Joel, OutKast, and Rahzel forgot they don't have a heck of a lot in common and decided to put some songs together.
The Big Bounce's other half, a not-so-secret beatboxing weapon called Komakozie (born Michael Rodney), scoffs at the notion of comparing the duo's sound to anyone else's. "The music that we create is created directly out of our hearts from the music that we listen to and love," he says. "I do hear different artists, but why compare? Who did they compare Michael Jackson to or Stevie Wonder to? No one."
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The duo's preference for apples over oranges agrees with its tendency to do things a bit differently from everyone else. "It's mixed-drink music," Komakozie says, "not 25-cent-beer music." Most aspiring local groups present their music, take it or leave it, in one-hour sets to music geeks at insider venues. The Big Bounce, though, plays to mainstream crowds that grew up on good music but have tuned out because, as O'Hara puts it, "music on the radio is shit."
"That's the identity until now," O'Hara continues. With the introduction of Champagne & Apple Juice, they're trying to walk the line. "The irony is that you did this thing where you went from baring your soul onstage to gearing songs toward the audience that you already developed and to creating songs based on what's going to keep you working," he says. "And then that work turned into a following and to more work, and now we're taking the spoils of our labor and putting it back into defining ourselves as a band."
The world serendipity dominates O'Hara's vocabulary, and he has trusted his gut over the past couple of years to recognize those career-defining moments when the right person walks into the room. In the fall of 2005, that room was Sneakers Sports Bar & Grill in Hollywood, and that person was now-21-year-old Komakozie, then 17, who trailed in with DJ Immortal's crew.
"Immortal brought this kid," O'Hara recalls, "and was like, 'Yo, you gotta hear what he says.' Komakozie was like, 'I'm going to do Rahzel, but I'm going to do it better than Rahzel.'" The young man's confidence and charisma floored O'Hara. "It was a moment when I thought, Wow, if he could do that with me as opposed to just on his own, I'm down."
Komakozie, who'd spent a year in hip-hop outfit Major League and who still occasionally performs with Matisyahu, was down too. Over the next two years, they formed the Big Bounce and soon landed the Tuesday-night residency they've held for more than 18 months at the Delano.
Oh, the Delano. Not one, but two manned velvets ropes stand between the ordinary world and the staircase that descends to the dark and winding hallway that opens to the Florida Room. The old-speakeasy-style venue, designed to recapture the glamour of Miami's early days, sparkles beneath a large central chandelier. On a recent Tuesday night, it boasts a thick crowd of size-zero gazelles in minidresses canoodling with suit-jacket- and sweater-clad men who look like they just stepped off a yachting magazine photo shoot.
Yet they all sing along to the title track of the Big Bounce's upcoming release (that "Champagne & Apple Juice") while sipping actual bubbly and tossing back cocktails in a bar where an eight-ounce bottle of water costs $8. Amid the horde sits the room's centerpiece, a Lucite grand piano that's been fingered by the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Jamie Foxx.
O'Hara is manning the clear instrument, and he has transitioned into "Take Your Time," a slow and mournful-sounding plea for good oral sex. Stark single piano notes underlie scratchy M. Ward-like vocals that offer useful suggestions: "Use your fingers, go on, use your tongue/Whatever gets the good job done." Komakozie's hissing percussion kicks in, and the piano and O'Hara's vocals accumulate urgency as quickly as they do volume. Trumpet player Patrick Converse blasts out long, melancholy notes that offset the song's risqué subject matter with high drama.
The effect is comical, and the audience gladly participates. The Big Bounce has the Delano crowd well trained, and right on time with the third repetition of the chorus "take your time," O'Hara pauses between "your" and "time" long enough for everyone in the room to yell "motherfucking" as they pump their fists into the air.
It's some kind of accomplishment for local artists to exact such enthusiastic crowd response using original material. And though much of that comes thanks to near-constant gigging, O'Hara thinks distributing a live recording of their December 23, 2008, show has been a huge factor. "I never appreciated a record until I made a 21-track record that people listen to and come in and sing along to," he says. "Then I was like, 'Wow, I gotta go in and make another record that's sonically superior.'"
Another so-called serendipitous chain of events, beginning with New York City club owner Josh Boyd's entrance into the lounge one night, brought that opportunity to life. Boyd invited the Big Bounce to play at his posh East Village club, Ella, and it was then, in the fall of 2008, when the plane-hopping began.
About six months ago, O'Hara says, he told Boyd he wanted to make a record, and Boyd, in turn, found studio engineer and drummer Kevin Tooley, who had played with New Wave band the Mundanes in the '80s. When O'Hara first saw Tooley, he recalled a random occurrence (hello, serendipity!) that cemented the connection: "Come to find out that the guy had seen me play down here [in Miami] and said, 'Hey, man, I'm dying to make some music,' and ran home and got a kick and a snare and came back."
Six months later, this past New Year's Day, O'Hara, Rodney, Tooley, and multi-instrumentalist Robert Aaron drove a rental car from LaGuardia Airport to the remote, live-in Leopard Studio in Stone Ridge, New York. Over four days, they laid down the 15 tracks that would become Champagne & Apple Juice. And with the finished result, they're hoping their trajectory will change and they'll land more headlining gigs. "The Big Bounce will always be a live band," O'Hara says, "but we're trying to make a record that tugs on the shirt sleeves of Dave Matthews and John Legend and says, 'Hey, you're not alone.'"