It wasn't long ago that music, to me, was beginning to feel like dirt under my fingernails - unattractive and mundane at best. Nothing spoke to me. Rock seemed as polluted as the Miami River and about as palatable as puke. In short, I became a walking, muttering cliche: the Jaded
Rock Critic. Gevalt!
Thankfully the path to salvation was cleared by an invitation to the South Florida Rock Awards, where a band called Forget the Name played a brief but moving set. I would go on to see them five more times soon after that, and each show would tingle a new sense. They were alternately passionate, angry, lost, hopeful. The lacey, delicate solitude of "Sarah I'm Alone" would run in contrast, and yet as a complement to, the rhythmic muscle of "Rosary." Whether played acoustically or electrically, these and a dozen other songs would take turns caressing or tweaking a familiar nerve.
The source of these outpourings was four musicians who played as a body, each of whom is recognizable for his individual qualities yet doesn't outshine the whole. Guitarist Rafael Tarrago was as confident playing with subtlety as he was with strength. Jose Tillan's bass lines were flecked with jazzy twists and turns. Neither typical nor flashy, Derek Murphy's drumming showed a stylish substance. Both belting and crooning from his gut was singer Rene Alvarez, who at times seemed to slip into a sort of emotion-soaked trance.
Clearly, I had been kicked in the butt by love. More importantly - and I don't care how melodramatic and gushy this sounds - Forget the Name renewed my faith in the purity of music. Theirs, anyway.
Though they've been around the South Florida music scene long enough to be bored by their own history, this is for all the recently converted zealots like myself. FTN was actually started in 1984 by Tillan and a few high school friends, but things became more serious with the addition of Alvarez and University of Miami music student Murphy. The revolving door of guitarists stopped with Mike Leshinskey, but only briefly. "We sounded very...nice," recalls Alvarez. "But `nice' just isn't a word you want to be associated with."
Minus a guitarist, Forget the Name began an eight-month search for a replacement. During that time, says Alvarez, "We cried." But they also wrote a lot and played a few acoustic sets with Tillan's old pal, Tarrago, who at the time was a member of the Planets. After 30 potential guitarists who couldn't tune their instruments were auditioned and given the trap-door treatment, Tarrago was persuaded to leave the Planets.
Previous attempts to pigeonhole the Name's sound have been laughably inaccurate, a fact the guys seem more than a little proud of. Distilling a variety of influences, the band came up with something pure and unique, yet completely accessible. "You basically have two types of bands," theorizes Tillan. "One is like Living Colour, who listen to a lot of different things - you can tell that because they try to play everything they listen to. Then you have bands like Nirvana, who only listen to one thing and that's all they play."
"When you start getting like that, you're only accessible to a certain group of people," says Tarrago. "We feel our music is worldly. It's for everybody - not just you, but for people in Australia and the little pygmies in Africa. Maybe that's why we're so hard to describe."
Their willingness to draw on heavy emotions for inspiration has led to one of the biggest misconceptions about the band: that they're humorless depressives. "Or that we're progressive," adds Tarrago.
"Oh, so that's what we can say when people ask what kind of music we play," laughs Tillan. "`Depressive Rock.'" Murphy adds, "We're not exactly a party band. You have to work at it a little."
Though their lyrics do tend to lean toward the melancholy, "That's only the face value," insists Tarrago. "The lyrics can be uplifting and almost inspirational." Alvarez tends to agree. "I think they make you look at yourself," he says. "And that can be quite depressing sometimes, or scary. But I wouldn't say they're hopeless." No, notes Tillan with a smirk, "The last sentence usually ends with a happy face instead of a period."
Their hit parade of raw emotions might explain why FTN's core constituents are largely female, though the band members have their own theories about that: "It's because we've got long hair!" "It's because we're so hung!" "It's because of him!" they shriek, pointing at Alvarez. "We do get a lot of girls," says Tarrago, "but not the usual Rocker Chickie Babes. The difference is our crowd has brains."
Brains, loyalty, and an insatiable desire to see Forget the Name play, which they do quite often. Having won awards for Best Local Rock Band by the readers of this here rag, and Best Male Vocalist, among others, they've made their mark in this area. Showing an admirable mix of business savvy and caution, the band has recorded two albums - Water and Walls and The Subtleties of Anger - on their own Unforgettable Records label. The next, Stones for Stephen, will be their first national release, on CD no less. "Then we'll tour up and down the coast, approach the labels, and look for good management," says Tillan. "And again, for the record, we do not have management!"
"You'd be surprised," says Tarrago with a frown. "There are people around town who say they're our managers. It blows us away."
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"We want management, don't get us wrong," Alvarez says. "But we want to get our album going, and at that point we are definitely going to need management. But we want a good manager, not just someone who can take us to Fort Lauderdale. We want to go on a national level."
With a following such as theirs, it would seem the national thing is bound to happen soon. Don't deprive yourself of the experience of seeing Forget the Name live while they're still on the local scene - even if you've seen them before. "People who haven't seen us in a long time are going to be...shocked! Titillated! Disgusted!" says Tarrago. "Something's going to happen. They're going to have a reaction. Whether it's good or bad, if someone takes the time to pass judgment, you've made your point. We want to affect people. We don't want you to just show up and say, `Oh, I saw a great band last night, I bought a T-shirt....'"
"We want you to come out and feel that something good has happened to you," says Alvarez.
"We all feel that," says Tarrago. "It's a good feeling. It's feeling alive, and we like to pass that on.