In just a little more than a year since its inception, See Venus has generated more buzz than most local bands do in their entire careers -- and thanks to the Internet, the group has done it without performing a single live show. Thirty-year-old founder and guitarist Christopher Moll has geared up the troops to sate local interest, but See Venus's ultimate goal lies far beyond South Florida stardom. In the long term, I don't think there's anything that we could get from a local scene that we couldn't do for ourselves, says Moll from his Fort Lauderdale apartment.
Strong words but as a veteran of the local music scene, he knows that wowing 'em at Churchill's is not an end in itself. Playing live is just another aspect of the whole thing, he says. If any label did come knocking, I'm sure that's one aspect that they'd want to make sure was in place. I think it's going to come in very handy when we start the next wave of recordings.
Cut to the South Miami apartment/rehearsal space of 23-year-old keyboardist/trumpet player Eddie Alonso, where the rest of the band, all inhabitants of that city, have gathered with Moll for a practice session. Twenty-year-old vocalist and guitarist Rocky Ordoñez is lying on the carpet at the foot of a staircase, casually strumming the acoustic guitar resting atop her bare midriff. Above her towers an array of keyboards, from analog dinosaurs bearing names like Moog and Farfisa to high-tech digital samplers. The apartment appears to belong to them more than to Alonso; the only other bits of furniture include a few chairs, a delicate Japanese-style partition separating the keyboards and computers from the solitary dining room table, and a mattress covered with a white llama-fur comforter under the stairs.
Twenty-one-year-old bassist Eric Rasco reclines on the mattress, caressing the soft, fluffy blanket. Backing vocalist and keyboardist Erica Boynton, also age 21, sits on the floor. Moll perches on a small black chair with an acoustic guitar on his lap, prepared to lead the group in an impromptu rehearsal. Alonso stands with his back to his bandmates as he toys with the Moog. Twenty-year-old drummer Chris O'Malley counts off for the group by brandishing a set of car keys in one hand and an egg shaker in the other, creating the bossa nova swing beat that carries Boy Bubble Blue. As Moll accompanies her, Ordoñez sits up and swings into the song's lazy, light melody on her guitar. She closes her eyes and sings, her seductive vocal line sweetening when Boynton chimes in with a high harmony. Alonso conjures a percolating electronic swirl on the Moog while Rasco just lies there, quietly stroking the comforter, looking as if he's about to doze off.
It's a spare quiet moment for See Venus, but even stripped of the decorative intricacies featured on the band's five-track demo EP, the song is a work of sweet, satisfying pop. See Venus's EP, available as individual MP3 files on the group's Website (www.seevenus.com) and as a homemade CD-R, is simply titled Extended Play. The members recorded the songs piecemeal, adding layer upon layer of musical elements in any place that reproduced sound well: bedrooms, closets, warehouses -- everywhere but a traditional recording studio.
The result is a surprisingly expert mix of intricate alt-pop songs full of harmony and multilayered melodies, revealing a studious respect for the Beach Boys and the Beatles as well as contemporary influences such as Air and Stereolab. Shine Like Stars opens with a fluttering flute sample and a backward loop, which suddenly explodes into a lazy drumbeat and electric guitar strumming, decorated with the scrape of a guiro and bells that seem to harmonize with the flute loop. Ordoñez's luscious voice fills the remaining space with a smooth tone not far removed from that of the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. And that's all within the first ten seconds.
Are You Ready? is a driving instrumental that bobs along on breakbeats and bubbly synths, while Ordoñez coos a variety of ooohs, las, and da-dums. The wondrous Boy Bubble Blue features a synthesized harmonic hum that shimmers below the breezy Brazilian bounce of acoustic guitar plucking and the woodblock beat of its samba rhythm. The band augments this Jobim-inspired flair with electric guitars, electronic beeps, and a chorus that squawks endearingly through a megaphone.
The idea that eventually would become See Venus began on Moll's home computer in the mid-Nineties. He had just endured the breakup of his previous band, a power-pop trio called Twenty-three, leaving behind an incomplete catalogue of songs.
He began toying with samples and then decided to quit lead-vocal duties and focus on a search for another singer. He met Ordoñez one night at a Coral Gables art gallery. Alonso came into the picture next. He has this hypermelodic style that blends very well with what we're doing right now, says Moll. I will say this, and I'm very pleased about it, too: This is the first time I've been able to sit and collaborate with somebody musically.
Recording of Extended Play began in September 1999. I think it's very dense, offers Moll. Go back and listen to Boy Bubble Blue' on headphones and the melodies and stuff that are laid over on top of each other.
Ordoñez agrees. There's nothing that attracts me more than really lush and dense-sounding music, she says. Like the end of Shine Like Stars.' That's something that's specifically and intentionally dense, but you can make things out, like strings, horns, and vocals.
See Venus recorded everything on a sixteen-track hard-disk recorder, with each of those tracks containing even more tracks piled on top of one another, making for tightly coiled beauty. For Shine Like Stars' there were like 59 separate components on there, Moll notes.
The band finished Extended Play this past April and packaged the album with colorful artwork and a promotional bio for various independent U.S. record labels. As former music director and current general manager of WVUM-FM (90.5), the University of Miami's student-operated radio station, Rasco was put in charge of mailing See Venus's demo. There's labels that you'd like to be on, and there's labels you know you'd rather not be on, he says with a laugh. Otherwise you toil in the wrong way. You play with bands that you shouldn't be playing with; you release some things you shouldn't release.
Rasco says he's not eager to see the band signed to a major label. I haven't thought any of those guys would want to put it out, he explains. And what happened to the people from here who signed to major labels? Mary Karlzen [who inked a deal with Atlantic in 1994]? Whoof! She got fucked over. They don't have time to develop artists. They sign shitty bands that are going to pay off on the first record. I'd rather be on a label where you know the people who run it. You know they're at least cool people. You know they like your music and that they're not working because it's just a job.
The Website has been an even better promotional vehicle than the CD. Once the tunes were available on the site, See Venus began receiving e-mail from all over the world and noticing mentions of the band on a variety of newsgroups. A Swedish music site (www.twisterella.com) recently interviewed the group. We were getting recognition without even trying, Ordoñez says. It's just incredibly exciting to feel that. At the same time, it's kind of scary. We spent so much time and worked so hard on that EP. Then immediately everyone was like, Oh my God! This is something. This is substantial.' It's kind of shocking.
The idea to perform live came only recently. Moll wanted to augment See Venus with a real drummer (Eddie Lopez added live drums to some of the songs on the EP while computers provided synthetic beats) as well as a second vocalist to harmonize with Ordoñez and provide extra keyboards. O'Malley joined the group in June, and Boynton came aboard the following month. Rehearsals for live performances have begun in the past several weeks.
The pressure is on for See Venus to live up to its debut recording and attendant expectations, but Moll isn't about to let that get to him. It's amazing that somebody up in Canada or Norway can say, Hey, I downloaded your MP3s, and I think they're really good,' he observes. There seems to be a good word of mouth about it, but, hey, who knows? We can go out and play, and it could just be a complete train wreck. But we'll see.
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