Just as a child has no intention of creating high art when dabbling with finger paints, South Miami's avant-punk quintet Kreamy 'Lectric Santa has little intention of creating proper music when playing their instruments. And even though the band members are all well into their twenties, they have no desire to let go of their inner-child finger-painting muses. Since the group formed in 1991, they have used the stage of Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti as a playground, tearing through their skewed songs with unfettered abandon, flaunting their childish sense of adventure with no sense of shame. The resulting racket can make you feel both rejuvenated and disturbed, often from one cacophonous blast to the next.
On-stage they are a sight to behold. Dressed in paint-splattered denim shorts held together with duct tape, vocalist-violinist Priya Ray screeches at the top of her lungs as she slashes her instrument with a bow that has more strands dangling than attached. During "Rabbit Ass," she punctures the blissful escapist statement "I just want to fly into the sky" with a litany of unnerving, ear-piercing screams, undercutting the song's expression of naive but hopeful desires. Vocalist-guitarist Bo Price, taking the lead on "Punk Rock Sity Waysted," yelps and rants while he strums his guitar, first with determined intricacy, then pounding hard on the strings, summoning a paint-peeling panoply of feedback and dissonance. Main vocalist Jan Nine sings the warped homicidal anthem "Red Bull" with the innocence and delight of a kindergartner who has just learned a naughty rhyme: "He loves her and that's a fact/So he hits her with a baseball bat/And she cries, 'Darling, hit me some more'/So he cracks her on the head/Brains go flying and she winds up dead/And he says, 'Now I've got to clean the floor.'" Through it all, drummer Tim Vaughn and bassist Andrew Powell thrash away chaotically, pushing the songs down bumpy and uncharted sonic trails lined with bubbly pop grooves and disjointed postpunk rhythms.
It's an intriguing brand of aural terror, with links to both the area's squawking white-noise titans (Harry Pussy) and national pop experimentalists (Guided by Voices). You'll have to make those connections yourself, though, because Kreamy 'Lectric Santa isn't much for explaining their artistry. While lounging around a table in a dark corner of Churchill's, the group's members show little interest in discussing who they are and what they do. They reveal that the songs on Da Bronx Sity Chicken Machine Vol. II, their debut CD on the local independent label Star Crunch, were produced through collaborative efforts, but they shrug their shoulders when asked to explain the ideas and concepts at work in their music. Price seems to be their designated spokesperson, as the rest of the band turns questions over to him at almost every opportunity. But even he seems reluctant to talk about where his band is coming from.
"A lot of it is different," acknowledges Price of Kreamy's music, which draws from the band's eclectic tastes (they'll confess a passion for everyone from Buddy Holly and James Brown to Slayer and the Damned). "I guess I could use a John Cage quote, but that would be pretentious. I don't look at it as art rock or whatever. I just have fun doing it." Actually the musical philosophies of Cage -- an influential avant-garde composer who could find music in the sound of passing traffic -- aren't too removed from Price's ideas about rock and roll's sonic possibilities. "To me, music can be so many things, so it's kind of fun to play with it," he says. "It's the polarity of mixing mediums and ideas. Some of the stuff on our CD is really straight-ahead and some of it goes off the deep end."
Ray adds that Bronx Sity is as much a chronicle of Kreamy's past as a glimpse at how their music has evolved since the release of "Supergroup 2000," their 1993 debut single on the local Paddywagon imprint. "We've been around for a pretty good while and have a lot of songs," she notes. "We've had over 30 people come and go through this band and a lot of them are on the CD, so it's more like a history of the band than anything."
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Although some of that history has found its way onto the playlists of a handful of college radio stations across the nation, including the University of Miami's WVUM-FM (90.5), Price acknowledges that Kreamy 'Lectric Santa isn't expecting to find a market niche among the alternative rock of today's revamped music mainstream. Certainly Bronx Sity comes across as considerably more vexing than what you'll hear from the latest pack of guitar-toting angst rockers moping it up on MTV. While songs such as "Punk Rock Sity Waysted," "Sugar," "Kleer Puddin'," and "Whose Got Da Nu Amerikkka?/Iconokrap" sport a low-fi punk-pop sensibility that recalls the early work of Sebadoh, the album also throws some unexpected curve balls. There's the melancholic, neoclassicism of "Harry Pussy," named after their local alt-rock peers; the bizarro sound effects heard throughout "Boo Boo Boo Boo Gumbo La La La La La #5"; and the self-explanatory "Mrs. Green's 4th Grade Class's Execution of Macbeth with Random Musique Concrete (Revolution #10)" A fourteen minutes of stuffy-nosed grade-schoolers reading Shakespeare's Macbeth that were lifted from a tape found at an area thrift store by a friend of the band. "We put the Macbeth thing on there because it was so great and so absurd," Price explains. "People can take out of it what they want."
Da Bronx is a risk-taking album. Its variety and uncompromising, daring explorations support Kreamy's determination to avoid surrendering their artistic license to a major label. "To a large degree, someone putting money behind your music can usually lead to someone telling you how to do things," Price points out. "I like to be in control of the music. I want to keep the music growing in whatever direction we want and keep it really independent."
To that end, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa took to the road twice last year for self-financed jaunts through the Midwest and along the East Coast, and plans are in the works for another trek -- again at their own expense A this summer on the West Coast. The band also contributed an alternate version of "Who's Got Da Nu Amerikkka"/"Iconokrap" to the compact disc that accompanies the latest issue of Chemical Imbalance, a respected underground rock magazine based in Chattanooga. A new single is planned for this spring, also on Star Crunch.
If all of this activity suggests Kreamy 'Lectric Santa is eager to get their challenging music heard beyond the confines of South Florida's handful of punk clubs, Price nonetheless remains humble about perceptions people may have of his band. "Someone can take a look at us and think we're a bunch of fuckups, but we're only a bunch of real people who strongly believe in what they're doing," he states matter-of-factly. "It's really easy to look at the extremes of our music and take it all very literally, but really we're just as fucked up as everybody else.