Sitting in the apartment that Modernage lead singer Mario Giancarlo shares with guitarist Xavier Alexander, you wouldn't get the impression you were among thriving rock musicians. Instead of instruments and equipment, which the band keeps at a separate practice space, the apartment holds a comfortable sofa, a flat-screen TV set, a huge stack of DVDs, and a bookshelf with a collection that includes Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country?, all of which suggest the place is inhabited by average Miamians with a possible liberal leaning. That is until you see the framed piece of paper on a wall next to the kitchen: a letter from the apartment complex staff warning the tenants that the pool is closed at night, especially to drunk, naked people.
"We have a little bit of a reputation," Giancarlo says with a sly smirk.
And although that reputation might have a lot to do with the band's penchant for alcohol, it has even more to do with its music, which has come to the forefront of Miami's music scene despite the inexperience of most of Modernage's members at their respective instruments, like keyboardist Garcia Freundt, who learned to play the keyboard only after realizing Modernage didn't need another guitarist.
Modernage performs with the Walkmen at 8:00 p.m. Friday, August 25, at Studio A, 60 NE 11th St, Miami. Admission is $15. Call 305-358-7625 for more information.
"He wanted to play guitar, and we told him we were looking for a keyboardist," says drummer Sean Perscky. "So he showed up one day with a keyboard."
Though bassist Roberto Moriel had actually played bass before, it had been years since he'd touched it when he was asked to play in the band.
"My first impression [of Giancarlo] was he's crazy," Moriel says. "I hadn't played bass in ten years!"
But Alexander believes that rather than acting as an obstacle, this inexperience helps Modernage's catchy, melody-driven guitar rock to flourish.
"We try to have memorable parts, memorable melodies, try to keep it catchy and not overplay it, because we can't," Alexander says.
"The interesting thing about Modernage," Freundt begins, pausing to consider his phrasing and then delivering it bluntly, "is that we're not really good musicians."
You couldn't tell by hearing it, though. With catchy guitar lines and drum beats mixed with Giancarlo's tendency to croon rather than sing, Modernage evokes the same enjoyment that bands like the Strokes and Interpol do, without sounding too much like either.
The band began in 2003, when Alexander and Giancarlo met through on online classified ad for musicians.
"We played once, and we just wanted to be in a band," Alexander explains. "We kept at it, and little by little, everyone started joining."
Once the band had its set members, they immediately began perfecting their live performance. The bandmates believe they have a good idea of what people expect from their shows, but as Perscky explains, that idea took time to develop.
"The first time we played at Poplife, we had a six-minute-long ballad in the middle of the set," he says. "The first half of the show was going really well, and we played that and people started trickling out, and we had to fight to get them back."
"With the attention span of Miami," Freundt adds, "you have to give them fast and good."
In addition to practicing their live act, the band members recorded and released in 2005 a six-track EP titled Receiver, not an easy task considering that, unlike most local acts, Modernage doesn't have a home studio and must pay to record with professionals. Plus every member had a full-time job (and still does, except Giancarlo) while they were recording. But the jobs came in handy when it came time to shoot a video, because most of the band members work in the field of video production. And the jobs take tremendous pressure off of the guys, because the gig doesn't have to be anyone's moneymaker.
"We never really thought of the band as being the bread-winner," Giancarlo says. "We're gearing towards it; I mean that's the goal. I want to live off of this music."
Alexander adds, "We're not waiting for some angel from Sony."
But they're quick to point out that lately the band has been paying its own expenses as it becomes more popular, opening for bigger groups like the Stills, Elefant, and the Walkmen.
"The band has been paying for itself for the last three to four months," Giancarlo says. "So that's a step up from a year ago."
The most obvious sign of this step up came this past April, when Modernage opened for Bloc Party at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale for about 2000 people, a sight that came as a bit of a shock to this relatively young band.
"I was freaking out," says Freundt.
But the bandmates weren't as daunted by the crowd or high-profile gig as they thought they'd be. They were encouraged.
"The only thought I had was I saw all those people really screaming and dancing," Freundt says, "and I was like, Oh shit. I could do this for a living."
"Even though it feels a little surreal, it feels right," Giancarlo adds. "It feels right."
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Perhaps a major component of the band's quick success is its performance-finding strategy. Modernage targets performances at clubs that act more like dancehalls than concert halls, playing to larger crowds at places like Purdy Lounge and Soho rather than smaller, more musically driven crowds like those at Churchill's. This strategy is certainly a riskier one for a local band, because the audiences might not even pay attention to the performance.
"We've always played a club night," Giancarlo explains. "Certain people are going to be there regardless, and our job is to get them to remember who we are as opposed to playing bars where we're headlining."
Working on two new singles to be released this September, along with a video and a new tour schedule, Modernage is busier than ever. But with the Bloc Party performance still glowing in the backs of their minds, the bandmates don't really see it as work.
"When you're able to live off your music," Giancarlo says, "it means it's self-fulfilling."