Other Body has been relentlessly pacing around the Miami alternative scene for over a year now, turning venues around town into pressure cookers of condensed punk vitriol. Formed in the wake of local acts like Teepee and Lil Daggers, the band includes Jacob Israel on bass, Melvin Zantua on drums, and Andrew McLees on lead vocals, guitar, and electronics.
New Times sat down with McLees to discuss heaviness, his sense of place, the trials of loss, and the tenacious spirit of Miami’s underground.
New Times: I recently caught an Other Body set live at Gramps and was knocked flat — not just by the volume level, which was literally blustery, but by the songs themselves. How would you describe the band's sound?
Andrew McLees: Thanks. We’ve earned a reputation for punishing volumes at our shows. Volume is too often treated like an afterthought even though it’s a very important ingredient for live performance. After a certain threshold, volume is the electroacoustic phenomenon responsible for that feeling, both physical and psychological, that everyone talks about when they recount a transformative experience at a concert. It’s undeniably what makes the live experience so immersive and powerful. The master volume knob on my Twin Reverb is currently the unofficial fourth member of Other Body. At the very least, it’s a source of endless inspiration.
We've been calling Other Body psychedelic noise rock for the sake of describing our sound to newcomers, but yes, we are heavily indebted to the ideals that defined post-punk — namely, a willingness to experiment, headiness, and a rejection of hegemonic culture, including punk. Post-punk bands like Chrome, Sonic Youth, Devo, Swans, and Throbbing Gristle have been huge influences on us, as well as bands like Spacemen 3, Jesus Lizard, and Unwound. Our sound borrows liberally from that period of music history, but we’d be remiss to call us strictly post-punk, or even punk, noise, psychedelic, or rock, for that matter. To be something that existed in the past is boring now. I’m sure all of those bands would agree.
Do you see yourselves as a Miami band, whatever that entails? Where do you think a post-punk act like Other Body fits into the Miami musical landscape? Is there much precedent for what you're doing?
That’s a great question. There’s no denying we’re a “Miami band” because we’re from here, but I’m hesitant to say we’re a product of this city. New fans are always shocked to hear we’re a local band because ours is a sound they don’t recognize as having Miami DNA. But we as people have always repped this city; even when Melvin was playing with bands in New York, they were comprised of Miami kids who identified their projects as “Miami bands.” As for precedent for this project, it’s safe to say that nothing exists within a vacuum. We are not the first, the last, or even the best band to emerge from Miami with post-punk sensibilities, but we’re all crazy enough to attempt to leave our mark on this city’s rich musical heritage. While we’re still an active unit, we’ll continue to exist comfortably on the fringes where’s it most uncomfortable or at the nexus of several varieties of experimental and popular musics. That’s where we like it.
Change is inevitable in any big city. All of the members in Other Body have been a part of Miami’s evolving musical landscape since we were teens. Some truths hold water here as they do in other parts of the country: Faces come and go as faces tend to do. Music still falls in and out of fashion at the speed of sound, even more so now that the internet exists. Drugs threaten to disrupt our scene in vastly tragic and unproductive ways. What hasn’t changed is Churchill’s Pub — that’s comforting, I think. I’m glad that Rat Bastard still haunts the place just about every night. I’m glad that Gramps exists. There’s also a surprising amount of cross-pollination between Miami’s musical communities. In other cities, it tends to be a relatively insular and exclusive affair. Here, I see noise kids going to punk shows, the punks going to raves, and every so often I’ll see those same musicians at art openings or book readings, which is refreshing.
You've shared the stage with a number of great acts, including Silver Apples and Merchandise. Any notable shows on the horizon? Which gigs or venues or cities have been your favorite?
We’ve been very blessed to share the stage with some inspiring musicians. Opening for Cavity, Miami’s sludge kingpins, was an incredible experience, as was opening for Detroit’s perennial madmen, Wolf Eyes. But opening for Simeon Coxe from Silver Apples at Churchill’s Pub was truly surreal. Something about being there and seeing Simeon, this electronic pioneer and psychedelic legend, on stage in his late '70s was so inspiring, especially when you consider the ageism that’s so pervasive in music today. After the show, he let us in on his secret to touring. All I’m going to say is that bands should give up the van and invest in a hearse. No one messes with the dead, even when the dead is actually just a pile of musical gear.
Photo by Jaime Salazar
Let's talk about the new EP, Total Bust. You mention a very personal event in your press release, the recent death of your father. How has his legacy informed the new music?
My father has played a huge role in my musical development. He bought me my first electric guitar and encouraged me to do what I love. For that I am forever grateful. The elephant in the room responsible for casting the long shadow is mental illness, something we plan to explore in depth through future songwriting. It will always be my deepest, darkest existential fear. I witnessed mental illness ravage my poor father’s livelihood in his twilight years. It’s the absolute worst ordeal for someone’s child to experience first hand. After the brain capitulates to the invisible enemy that is mental illness, you watch it rapidly destroy the mind, body, and finally crush the spirit of the person you love. There’s real tragedy at a cosmic level in seeing the good ones suffer so senselessly.
Emotional catharsis is a good goal. We feel it every single time we're onstage. Why relegate this idea of feeling to mere volume? Some people aren’t impressed by simply feeling air smack them in the chest during a live performance. They’re searching for some deeper meaning in the music. Moving forward, I think we’re going to explore darker, more topical existential themes, maybe attempt an Artaudian deep dive into our unconscious minds and go digging for Truth with a capital T.
What themes do you commonly explore in your lyrics? Do you often see yourself writing with a "message," or more as a creative outlet for yourself?
Loss plays a huge role in the songwriting process, whether I’m referring to physically being lost or the actual loss of a loved one. The internet is also a source of endless inspiration and unease. It’s both the de facto source of open-ended exchange and a void which people scream into every day in a desperate attempt to be heard, loved, or validated, oftentimes by total strangers. There’s a latent darkness to the internet that we’re only beginning to understand, a darkness that is opening doors to new dissociative disorders predicated upon the way we communicate online. Careers are made and consumed by buzz. People create entirely fabricated existences as a way to leverage their popularity with the masses. Racist trolls are proliferating under the promise of anonymity. Satire news sites are barely distinguishable from the real news. The internet can be a toxic fantasy land. It’s unreal.
I think the EP’s cover (designed by Melvin, who runs Mondo Bizarro) advances a lot of ideas we’ve been contemplating lately. It’s a fading car plunging into a giant pink topological grid resembling a valley or ravine surrounded by mountains. The car is a metaphor for human ingenuity or accomplishment gone off the rails, plunging into a giant, all-consuming digital hell. When left unchecked, this is what going mad in the internet age feels like.
Lastly, what do you have coming up in the way of shows?
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Looking ahead, we’ve got some incredible shows on the horizon, including an opening stint for black metal reformers Deafheaven and Inter Arma on November 12 and Look Alive Fest during Miami Art Week on December 2. Both shows are at Churchill’s Pub.
However, we’re most excited about our EP release show, happening November 4 at Gramps. Our top three bands — Snakehole, Ian Iachimoe, and In Oculus — all agreed to play the show with zero hesitation, which was a great feeling. Snakehole is the all-female punk band that needs no introduction in Miami, especially if you’ve been going to shows in the last five years. In Oculus are the newcomers on the scene, but you’d never know it. They bring this unrelenting vital energy to every show and succeed in making rock music feel dangerous again. Fort Lauderdale’s Ian Iachimoe, whose members are from the criminally under-appreciated band Suede Dudes, is an act everyone should know about. The recordings are pretty no-fi and as a result are kinda polarizing, but if you have a taste for two-man drum and scum a la Lightning Bolt or Pink and Brown, do yourself a favor and see these guys live. Bands like this are best experienced with one ear to the speaker for maximum punishment.
Other Body Total Bust EP Release Show. With Snakehole, Ian Iachimoe, and In Oculus. 10 p.m. Friday, November 4, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; gramps.com. Admission is $5.