Like the twisted ladder of genetic material that fuels life, Recluse DNA is a shifting chain of elements that come together and split apart. The band of six core members can attract additional members to double in size or shrink back, all the while switching musical codes from dark, ambient meditations to grooving world-beat mantras to ear-splitting hardcore noise.
At the front of the darkly lit stage of what was once the Sound Room at the Fairwind Hotel's bar on South Beach, skinny 20-year-old Neil Rippe, with a hawklike nose, sits cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a tabla, his fingers tapping high-pitched beats. Behind him 28-year old Paul Lewin shakes his thick dreadlocks as he pummels a giant drum strapped around his thin waist that almost pulls him to the ground. Off on stage right, Eric Yusem, a large-framed 30-year-old with cropped black hair and a sinister-looking half-goatee, plucks droning guitar hooks from his graphite-colored Ibanez guitar. In the corner on stage left stands rotund 26-year-old bassist Henry Rajan, with bushy goatee and clean-shaven head -- the Buddha of the group. His fingers run up and down the neck of his shiny black electric bass, tracing a swirling groove. He presses his lips against a microphone, murmuring in a deep-throated singing style called "kargyraa," which he learned from researching the indigenous singers of Tuva, a nation from the Siberian part of Russia. Behind him Dan Norris, a pale-skinned, spiky-blond 30-year-old, stares off into space as he runs his drumsticks in a steady pattern across a large floor tom and two ragged snares. Occasionally he reaches up to hit the crash cymbals or the buzz-saw blades stacked vertically on a cymbal stand. Next to him stands classically trained singer Chrissy Ferguson, a pretty 22-year-old with short, light-brown hair. She coaxes lush chords from a keyboard while singing sweet, breathy operatic notes, but pronounces no discernible words.
The members alternate instruments. Rippe rises from the tabla to play an organ behind him. Rippe and Lewin take turns at a second oddly arranged drum kit with an upturned bass drum framed by two large floor toms and cymbals. Then Lewin or Norris takes up one of two djembe drums. Yusem lets his guitar hang, freeing his hands to turn nobs on a digital sampler or summon eerie quavering notes from a theremin. Or the guitarist joins Rajan in his throat singing, his harmony fattening further the already robust sound. Suddenly Lewin screams into a didjeridoo, likely making traditional didjeridoo players roll over in their graves.
Putting organic instruments at the forefront and keeping electronics in the background, Lewin says Recluse DNA is on a quest to decimate traditional pop formulas. "We're sick of hearing regular bands and regular music -- guitar, bass, drums, and singing," he says. "We do have those instruments, but we want to add as many variations of instruments as possible. That's why we don't use conventional drum sets, and a lot of times we try to do different, crazy, weird sounds on the bass or the guitar."
Recluse DNA has been exploring the unknown since its inception in 1997 as a concept band with no name. After their previous project, an ethereal, noise-pop outfit called Gyrachrome, went bust, Norris, Rajan, and Yusem held jam sessions at Yusem's warehouse in Kendall, inspired by a quote from Sun Ra: "Don't consider yourself musicians; consider yourselves tone scientists."
"Gyrachrome was heading into that realm anyway," explains Rajan. "Because of our influences like My Bloody Valentine, Swirlies, Lungfish, and stuff like that, we started getting into more experimental stuff. We would all get in there with two or three drummers, have all these different instruments kicking, like two or three basses, four guitars, and just playing from like ten to like two in the morning -- nonstop. And we were doing this for like three or four months straight. Recluse was already being built from that situation."
Later that year Yusem and Rajan decided the connections among the musicians were tight enough to call themselves a band, even though the lineup constantly shifted. "The main reason for the startup of this group was for spiritual reasons," declares Rajan. "When you get a real intuitive group of musicians together, you start to create a collective. You perceive things with one another. You know when to stop without looking at each other. You know how to move to the next movement, or even hear the rhythms with your eyes closed by using your intuition."
Recluse DNA played out only when invited. Truly a labor of love, the band mostly played benefit shows, free of charge. Yet soon after the group felt cohesive, rehearsals became less frequent as some members were obliged to commitments in other bands, and the group went on hiatus for almost a year. The members scattered, but the love for the jam sessions remained. In early 1999 Rajan convened the Recluse sessions once again with the intention of solidifying the band.
Late that year Yusem released Neburu, a compilation CD featuring various local artists, as a calling card for his record label, Astronome Records. Most of the bands on Neburu have participated in Recluse DNA: H.A.L.O. Vessel, Out of the Anonymous, Enamored Gazes. The CD also featured two tracks by Recluse DNA proper.
"What we wanted to do was try to unify some of the bands [in South Florida]," explains Yusem, "like have a support system for certain bands that had the same kind of style, like Swivel Stick, us, 2XL, Carnival Waste. Even though all those bands sound different, there's some kind of common thread that runs between the different sounds."
Astronome has another compilation on CD-R, featuring those acts along with Recluse. Yusem says the band members give the CDs out free of charge, just to spread awareness of this experimental, underground scene of musical outfits in Miami that he believes has not received its fair share of attention. A professionally produced and mass-manufactured follow-up compilation, which the band will sell, is still in the works.
Ultimately, though, Yusem says the group's ideas are not about selling records, signing to another label, or becoming rich and famous. To him it's all about offering the world an alternative to commercial music. One of his wildest goals is to have a giant concert with an orchestra-size Recluse DNA. "We had this concept that if anybody moves from Miami, to have different R-DNAs in different places," he says. "Like one in California, one in Miami. If all the bands got popular, we have this image of a giant concert of six bands playing or like a show that features every R-DNA with some freakout at the end with all the bands at once. If the people wanted it to happen, it could happen."
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