Robert Price is not a happy man. At least not now. It's the day before his band Kreamy 'Lectric Santa is set to embark on a monthlong club tour that will take them through the South, across Texas, and up and down the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. And this isn't a band with a high-dollar booking agency doing the legwork for them; violinist/vocalist Priya Ray has been lining up dates for the last three months, calling the clubs, working out a financial agreement that will make the trip worthwhile (if not exactly profitable), and mapping out the group's destination in some kind of logical fashion. The Santas have been rehearsing constantly as well as taking care of the things that have to be done before you leave town, which if you're in a band means getting time off from your day job, making sure your van will make the journey in one piece, and combing the thrift stores in search of cheap replacements for your malfunctioning equipment. Add to that a last-minute gig at Cheers, and 250 copies of your new just-arrived-from-the-pressing-plant single, which will need to be stuffed by hand into 250 individual silkscreened covers (which you also did by hand the afternoon of that last-minute gig). And don't forget the T-shirts. Oh, and if you're Price, you've also just had a root canal, which has your sleep-deprived self feeling "pretty damaged."
It's a hectic time, to be sure, but on this afternoon everything appears at last to be falling into place. And then, by nightfall, a bomb drops. In an unfortunate accident on which no one in the band wishes to elaborate, the left-hand pinkie of Kreamy 'Lectric Santa drummer Tim Vaughn gets broken. Badly. So badly that it will take a month for it to be drumworthy again. The tour will have to be rescheduled, time off from those day jobs will have to be rescheduled, and months of work, time, and energy have gone, in a sense, down the toilet. Welcome to the glamorous world of an independent, underground rock and roll band. You look like you could use a beer.
Price may see it otherwise, but this is actually a very good time for Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, crumbling tour notwithstanding. Its latest single, a diverse three-songer titled 4, is the group's most adventurous and gloriously weird waxing yet. The A-side, "Transient Immobility," is a bizarre soundscape composed of random sounds, haunting piano, and manipulated tape noise that rumbles along like a lost bit of incidental atmospheria from a creepy film noir nail-biter. "Fear of God" is an assaulting pile driver that features his-and-her lyrics and intertwined and overlapping vocals from Price and Ray (not to mention some very nice wah-wah guitar splatter near the end). "Stupid Fresh" is a nervous, far-reaching piece of rant-and-wail built around a very desperate lyric.
A product of both the band's progression over the years and Price's ingenuity as a master of four-track tape technology, the single is the combination of tracks recorded at Space Cadette studio in South Miami and the band's rented house in Coconut Grove. "Those are pieces that were recorded mostly at the house, then we'd go into Space Cadette and mess around with it some more," Price explains. "We did the guitar, drums, and bass at the house and then laid down vocals and violin overdubs and tape shit. It came out a lot better than anything we've done so far. It's really clear. You can make stuff out even though it's still noisy. It's neat to be able to do most of the recording at home and not have to go to the studio and deal with engineers."
Initially the single was slated to be part of a longer, twelve-inch EP, which Price was hoping would be picked up by the New York City-based Menlo Park label (home of Frosty's first single and an upcoming split single with Frosty and the late Harry Pussy). Alas, the deal didn't materialize. "Basically we didn't really care," Price reflects on the failed EP. "We just figured, fuck it, we'll do a single instead. We'd just gotten our tax refunds back and decided to do it ourselves and get it out really quickly, not sit in the studio forever. Each time we've recorded something before it's been over months and months and months and months. We'd go into the studio, then two months would pass before we went in again, just saving the money to keep doing it. This time we did it pretty fast."
The new single is a successful elaboration on the sonic themes of Da Bronx Sity Chiken Machine Vol. II, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa's epic CD debut issued in 1995 on the local Star Crunch label. An overwhelming, sometimes difficult hodgepodge of instrumental chaos, found-sound gibberish, and seriously bent song structures, the hourlong Bronx Sity is one of those albums that make sense -- after a fashion -- only when heard in their entirety. Three brilliant arty-punk scorchers appear early on (the hit-in-waiting "Punk Rock Sity Waysted," "Messin Wit My Hed," "Sugar"), preparing you for the delightfully complex, hilariously grandiose Triad of Destiny, built around the vaguely anthemic "Whose Got Da Nu America?" and "Ikonocrap." A string of mostly instrumentals (with the notable exception of Jan Nine's forthright and moving reading of "Red Bull") bring the set to a close, each flowing into the other in a thick fuzzball of plaintive violin, mangy guitars, and the dexterous rhythm section of bassist Andrew Powell and drummer Tim Vaughn. By the time the set is over, you've been taken on a tour not just through the remnants and relics of postpunk's past, but through the halls of art-rock psychedelia constructed by Roky Erickson, Can, Brian Eno, Popul Vuh, and other lysergic luminaries.
"I'm still not that happy with certain things on it," Price says of Bronx Sity. "I wanted to spread it out more, put more odd little pieces in it that fall into the songs. Not so much the tape manipulation, but more ambient and textural pieces that would flow into one another. But anything I ever do, I'm pissed off about it afterward. I always find things that could've been done better -- or worse. You just have to deal with it."
Price prefers the A-side (or, as it's slugged on the label, the "Sui Side") of the band's 1996 EP Music for Meditation, Relaxation, and the Imminent Overthrow of All World Governments, where the dense white-noise drama of "Claudette Colbert" gives way to the aching and lovely "Holdin' Yerself," maybe the band's best moment (and a zillion times better than the tossed-off version on Bronx Sity). "That one side is definitely closest to what my vision is," Price says with mock pride.
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Despite Price's self-deprecation, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa occupies an odd little place in the indie-rock landscape; its music is strangely familiar but not much like anything you've heard before. If there's a band with whom KLS shares common ground, it's probably San Francisco's Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Although they don't sound much alike, both groups are aggressively experimental and able to turn divergent influences into something that rocks with berserk abandon yet is constructed with almost obsessive attention to little details and hallucinatory flourishes.
Unlike Thinking Fellers, however, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa remains a strictly local phenomenon. Since they formed in 1993 (after the disbanding of Price and Vaughn's Prom Sluts), the band has a found a small audience in South Florida for its screwy records and chaotic live shows, and has made two treks through the South and Midwest. Typical for most avant-rock groups in the area (save Harry Pussy), hipster tastemakers of the underground-rock press haven't seemed to notice. You have to wonder, then, if a move to a more conducive aesthetic climate wouldn't be in order.
"We've talked about moving to Atlanta, but it's all up in the air," says Price, who moved to South Florida in 1983 from his native Brooklyn. "It's hard enough for us to leave the house most of the time. We think about it, though. The best thing about Miami is that because it's so separate from everywhere else you have these different subsets of bands that play together. And there's not as much stupid politics. It's there, of course, like on South Beach and in some of the more disco-y, rock-club-attitude places -- the big-money clubs. And there are no bands coming through here, the radio is shitty, and there've been a lot of shitty promoters. All of that helps to create the vacuum that is Miami. But because of that, there are good things happening. [Labels like] Star Crunch and Space Cadette and Far Out definitely got things going for a lot of people and motivated them. And if you have enough lame things, obviously there's going to be a retaliation. During the McCarthy era there were quite a few radicals, even though they were taking the chance of completely destroying themselves.