From local to national to local again, members of the newly formed alliance Planet Boom have individually tasted morsels of success and swallowed epic helpings of disappointment. From being overshadowed by former bandmates to being orphaned by record labels, the foursome has built up enough animosity and adrenaline to lend their music a strength it lacked, animating the dark side of their songcraft.
Ex-Saigon Kick stickman and local producer Phil Varone, ex-Young Turk bassist Bill McKelvy, ex-East of Gideon singer Bates, and ex-Bondozer guitarist Tony Cortese make up this tour de force. "We were all frustrated writers in our old bands because we couldn't express ourselves," says Varone. "Now the creativity is out of control. We literally start practicing one song and end up writing another."
In November 1993 Varone crawled out from beneath guitarist Jason Bieler's ego and left Saigon Kick. Varone wanted a group where each member had an equal voice and the music possessed a heavier sound. Although Saigon started out that way they went through many changes and were considered a power-ballad band after the release of the song "Love Is on the Way."
Varone's first phone call was to Cortese in Buffalo, New York. Cortese was in the Bondozer at the time, but as soon as he heard Varone had kicked the Kick, he was packed and on his way back to Florida. "It was just a matter of logistics," Cortese says. "I lost some friends over this because I left my band. I had wanted to play with Phil again, but at that time he was doing well in Saigon Kick. I knew the chemistry was right, I just didn't think it was possible."
During middle and high school, Cortese and Varone were in a South Florida garage band called Leeway. They parted ways when Varone joined Saigon and Cortese moved to Buffalo to get into the restaurant business.
After Varone recruited Cortese for Boom, his next call was to Bates in Los Angeles. Bates's own outfit, East of Gideon, broke up four days prior to Varone's call. The singer says he was itching to get involved in something new. After a decade with Gideon, a failed record deal with JRS Records (a subsidiary of BMG) and a music scene that got him nowhere, Bates was in a position to relocate to Florida.
Varone had known Bates from South Florida's local talent pool back in the Eighties. Back then Bates played down here with Gideon, then known as Talk of War. "Saigon Kick had just started to play out, so we were in the club scene together," says Bates. "We even practiced next door to one another, so sometimes I would come over and Matt [Kramer] and I would share verses."
Around the same time Bates was asked to join Boom, McKelvy left Young Turk. Signed to Virgin Records, Turk cut one record but they were dumped by the label and joined the ranks of all the other foundering local bands.
McKelvy, with an abundance of spare time, played on Matt Kramer's new demo tape. After hearing the tape Varone decided he wanted McKelvy onboard. At the same time Varone was trying to bring McKelvy into the fold, McKelvy happened to hear that Varone had an opening. He got the gig and in December the band got down to business.
In March, after writing and rehearsing new material, they took some time at Gled Studios, recording an eponymous four-song demo that ain't exactly a stroll through Candy Land. Commercialism, sugar-coated lyrics, and hooky little numbers are absent on this tribute to pentup emotions and energy.
The vocals are vital to Planet Boom's identity, and although it sounds like Bates has been digging up Alice's Mud Garden, he's found the element Miami's "heavy" rock scene is missing.
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In his bottomless vocal range, Bates spews out lyrics like "Don't get in my way/Spit in my face/I'm gonna blow you all away," clearly reflecting the Boom attitude. The songs "Don't" and "Mind Slide" wallop the listener with an earful of tribal drums and a rhythm section that stands on even ground with the potent lead guitar. Planet Boom is fueled with odd chord and rhythmic changes and orbits around powerful intros, outros, and harmonies.
"We're in our 'mad' stage right now," says Varone. "Although we've written some radio-friendly songs that are hooked into the band's sound, there won't be a ballad -- or any song with love in it anywhere near this band."
Planet Boom performs at 11:30 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) at the Reunion Room, 2660 E Commercial Blvd, Ft Lauderdale, 776-4081. Admission costs $5.