Know Yourself

Like the members of any decent self-made band, these four guys need to go out flyering soon. They do that a lot, flyering, spreading the good word about their live shows through the mass distribution of handbills. For a little while on this recent weeknight, though, they find time to talk about it. What? I Don't Know.

Actually the four members of Miami's latest Next Big Thing (watch and see, ye skeptics) don't talk much about themselves or their band. Offered the chance to hype their new self-produced twenty-song CD, Gullible's Travels, the four collectively say this: "It's out." It's also outstanding, not simply because it's eclectic ethnic dance folk cranked by a punk ethos. And we'll get to that, but the first thing that comes up when you walk into the Shack -- I Don't Know's Hialeah warehouse recording studio, rehearsal space, and general hangout -- is the lizard.

It's a new lizard, named Creedence, to replace the old lizard, which died. Creedence is an iguana spending its first day in the Shack. The lizard has crawled up an American flag that hangs in the soundbooth. I've brought along a legal pad in case I feel a need to actually take notes. The pad is the same one my friend Zap was doodling on a few nights before. When I open it, I notice Zap's written in green ink the phrase "El Legarto." That roughly, very roughly, translates as, yes, "the lizard." (Actually, "el legarto," Zap says, is a Cubanism for "alligator," but nobody's in the mood to debate semantics.)

Drummer Izo Besares, accordionist Mark Ruiz, multi-instrumentalist Ferny Coipel, and new bassist Tony Landa seem to enjoy talking about the lizard and the etymology of el legarto. They also discuss the eating of Japanese tourists by some lions at one of those wildlife parks. The tourists, Besares reports, stepped outside their car to take photos, at which point the big cats stepped up to the proverbial dinner table. And Miami thinks it has p.r. problems.

The boys in the band also mention that they watched the episode of Channel 7's 7:30 that featured Natural Causes. At the end of the program, 7:30 showed a clip of a captive bear that turned on some woman sitting next to it and beat the crap out of her. The Know boys think this is very funny, and they do have a point: Take any animal out of its natural habitat, and you assume the risk of that animal's natural behavior.

I Don't Know is in its element at the Shack, but the weirdness continues. One time, the guys claim, they were booked to open a big show at the Edge in Fort Lauderdale. Of course they created and distributed flyers to promote it. On the flyer was a small circle emblazoned with the words "suck me" and a bogus coupon that said "free genital massage." They hauled two carloads of equipment from Hialeah on show night. And they were told to haul themselves right back out of there. The club wanted no part of I Don't Know. "Apparently some kid took one of the flyers home," says Ferny Coipel. "And the kid's father saw it. He was a city councilman. I don't know his name. Just call him the Unknown Councilman. He threatened the club with a fine and to take their license away. C'mon!"

Scary, but hardly as haunting as the tales of the Shack. One night the musicians were inside the soundbooth portion of the big room trying to decide whether to go outside into the main section of the space. Should we go or should we stay -- when, right at that moment, the door, for the first time ever, opened by itself. "Then I knew I wasn't going out of that soundbooth," Coipel recalls. "I wasn't going anywhere."

They decided that a doll hanging (in a noose) next to the door was responsible for the eerie occurrence. So they took the doll outside, doused it with paint thinner, and set it ablaze. "It was an evil looking doll," Tony Landa recalls. "After we burned it, it still had one good eye left, and it kept staring at us." So Landa disposed of it in a hole. "And he drives his truck over that hole," Coipel adds. "So the evil entered the truck."

Then again, maybe the evil emanates from a large painting in the room, of some Renaissance dude strumming a stringed instrument. It is unsigned and untitled. Until now. We decide to dub it "The Unknown Councilman."

Whatever the case, the Shack has its good side, too. Furnished "piece by piece from the trash and whatever," Coipel says, the Shack has evolved into a fully equipped recording studio, which, along with a Budweiser sponsorship, made it possible for the band to record and release Gullible's Travels, a remarkable collection of the songs you might expect if you've seen as many I Don't Know live shows as I have -- "Mr. Malcolm's Chronicles," "Story Song," "Tipper Gore" -- plus ten more songs that make up the "Gullible's Travels" sideshow.

Since completing the massive project, the members of I Don't Know have learned that Soul Asylum once recorded a song called "Gullible's Travels." They don't seem to care much either, commenting only, "but ours is cooler." And theirs is virtually a rock opera, or rock circus really. (Also since recording was finished, Landa was brought in to replace bassist Jorge Gutierrez.)

One of the many achievements of Gullible's is that it captures some of the excitement and fun of the group's renowned live shows, which feature, as the band members themselves admit, a sound that blithely combines nursery rhymes, polka, country, Eastern European folk and dance, punk, what have you. The unlikely combination works, provoking even accidental tourists on-hand for other reasons, such as getting drunk and/or laid, to dance, or at least gape. I Don't Know seems to be trying to make a mockery of angst-riddled, from-the-heart rock without straying too far from the basics of angst-riddled, from-the-heart rock. Somebody's gotta do it.

Creedence, the lizard, remains in the same spot, near the blue-backgrounded stars, on the second red stripe from the top. The boys joke that it reminds them of Saigon Kick's latest album.

Like so many great local bands, I Don't Know played its debut gig at Churchill's Hideaway along with Daisy Chain and the Goods, the latter of whom they'll share the stage with tonight (Wednesday) at Squeeze in the first of a series of shows this week. On Friday, I Don't Know performs at Stephen Talkhouse. On Saturday, they have an in-store at the Spec's in Sawgrass Mills, the next day another at Yesterday & Today on Bird Road. On December 3, again at the Talkhouse, they'll stage the first, and perhaps only, performance of the "Gullible's Travels" circus-opera. They won't say much more than "it'll have a lot of surprises, a lot of stuff" and something about belly dancers. That half of the CD is pretty much indescribable beyond the fact that it's a Magical Mystery Tour of the Nineties, except with lots more accordion.

The live staging of it should be splendiferous if for no other reason than that I Don't Know live shows are always over the top. And now that they've captured the attention, and imagination, of South Florida rockers, I Don't Know is eager to spread the word. They've applied to the mega South By Southwest convention, which takes place each spring in Austin, Texas. "We wanna go out there and kick their ass," Coipel comments.

Recently they tested the tour waters by visiting Tampa and Daytona Beach, where they enjoyed one of their best responses yet. The club was a tiny one, packed. "While we were playing," says Izo Besares, "the audience was no more than one foot in front of us. Right in our faces. It was great. These people were freaking; slamming and swimming, so into it." Outside a horde of church ladies was demonstrating against the club and that damn rock and roll. "They were carrying signs saying 'Jesus saves' and all that," says Mark Ruiz. "And what do they hear from inside?" Yes, "Tipper Gore," a song that improvises on the "This Old Man" refrain from kindergarten days and includes, among its least feelthy lyrics, such lines as "This old man/He played two/His dick was limp/But he still could screw" and "This old man/He played three/Fucked me, sucked me/On his knees."

It's a funny song, but hardly representative of the eclectic diversity that marks the sound of I Don't Know. That sound, which oozes originality at every twist and turn, is, when all's said and done, solid rock and roll written and played by four smart and talented musicians. Those few who've yet to catch on to the Next Big Thing might consider polka-punk-folk-dance-et cetera a laughable description, some sort of joke. The rest of us know better -- hey, top acts such as Natural Causes and Rooster Head regularly invite I Don't Know to share bills with them. Know's own devoted following has boomed.

With all the activity surrounding Gullible's Travels it can't be too long before the two-year-old band reaches even more people. The Shack attack, if you will.

But right now the boys need to hit the streets. It's late evening and there are flyers to be distributed. Creedence is in the same spot he was in when I arrived. He hasn't moved at all. But I Don't Know has.

For info about I Don't Know live shows and to hear a sampling from the new CD, call the Shack hotline at 826-4299.


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