Miami's back alleys are full of the corpses of derelict bands, music-makers who once showed some promise but, for whatever reason, decided to give up the ghost. Whether it was because they came along at the wrong time or they didn't have the right connections or their talent was less than they believed it to be is really beside the point. They were here; now they're not. And that can mean only one thing: They couldn't cut it.
In the Magic City, though, not cutting it seems more the norm than the novel. Name a local band that's gone on to the big time. Give up? No sweat. So do most of the bands. It's almost as if our town's unique confluence of apathy and ignorance knocks the go right out of everybody.
So what to do? Well, if you're at all like the local act Music Is a Weapon, you take the apathetic ones and you slap their impassive faces till they have no choice but to show some emotion. Hell, even tears are better than indolence.
Music Is a Weapon
Music Is a Weapon: Friday, July 24. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. Admission is free until midnight, $5 after. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-379-0508; thevagabondmiami.com
And then you grab all the ignorant SOBs, sit them up straight, and school them in the ways of the wild world at large. You tell them there are things beyond their couches — great things, good things, loud things — and it's high time they got off their asses and started experiencing those things.
Finally, you show them and everybody else what you've got. And you keep showing them till either they're converted or they're so inured it won't matter what they do. Because by that time, those newly hardened souls will have learned a very valuable lesson: Living is for those who are alive enough to survive.
If that sounds like a rather radical way to shake some action out of this town, well, that's because Music Is a Weapon is a rather radical band. And it's a bet they won't stop till they've reached the proverbial top — or they're too dead to know the difference. Formed from the debris of a hodgepodge of local heavies, including Exotic Erotic, Liquid Sun, Al's Not Well, and 10 Sheen, Music Is a Weapon — MW for short — is Kala Droid (vocals), Brik Brixton (bass), Edgy Madness (drums), Hara Cha (guitar), and A. Mandi (backing vocals/percussion).
The five are closer than any family since the Waltons said, "Goodnight, John Boy." Droid, Brixton, and Madness have been in eight bands together over the course of 15 years. Two of those groups — Exotic Erotic and Al's Not Well — were signed to major labels, traveled much of the world, and saw some small degree of success. Madness and Cha, meanwhile, are cousins, and according to the quick-quipping Brixton, they've "been playing together since pots and pans."
And if that's not close enough, Droid, Brixton, and Mandi all work at the Vagabond, where they would assuredly be the house band if the downtown Miami hot spot had such a thing. As it is, MW is slated to take the stage at the club anyway this weekend. And they'll play in support of their new five-song EP, Unplug Your Mind.
Led by the speedy, keen lead single, "1968 (The Two Bit Hustler)," Unplug finds a meatier, beatier band to behold than before. The act's original guitarist, Felipe Lithgow, has gone on to Murphy's Law, and with him has gone the propensity to emphasize the band's previous reggae-fied elements. "It's a complete departure from last year's self-titled debut," Droid says of the EP.
But the real reason the EP is such a wonder, says Brixton, is the band is "not afraid to write songs that can end up on the radio." Case in point: "Benz and Bicycles," an impeccably catchy, laid-back arrangement that features a fetching interplay between Droid and Mandi. Imagine the feel of 311 covering the Cure's "Love Song" or, perhaps, Sugar Ray's sing-song "Someday," and you'll get the idea. Something hummable, strummable, and infectiously fun.
"You know, we shot the video for '1968' because we wanted to come out a little harder and faster," Madness says. "But Europe's already jumping on 'Benz.' So I guess we're gonna have to shoot that one too." Kick back to the madly hooked track and there's no secret why it would wow people, European or otherwise.
But the rest of the EP, though decidedly more up-tempo, comes across with an equal allure. Take "The Big Machine," which wouldn't be out of place on a Harvey Danger record, or maybe as an outtake from "You're One"-era Imperial Teen. The same goes for "Wrong Time," only this time, add the rush of the Normal's "Warm Leatherette," and take a moment to dive into Sublime.
In other words, Music Is a Weapon has come up with the kind of concoction that could lead legions to follow the band. Unfortunately, they're still stuck with their own geography. But the band has a plan for that too. "It's two-pronged," Brixton says. "One, we're gonna move to New York. Two, we'll eventually relocate to Europe."
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In fact, the past month has seen the bandmates perform seven shows across the Netherlands, one of their favorite countries to play. "Every time we go overseas, the audience has been really receptive," Brixton says. "They get what we're doing. They like the electronic. They like the heavy."
"I think we're always gonna be a Miami band," he continues. "We're proud of being from Miami, and we're always gonna tell people we're from Miami. But we wanna go live in Amsterdam, in London, spend some time abroad."
"We've done the circuit here," Droid chimes in, "with Al's Not Well, with 10 Sheen, you name it. It's time to spread our wings."
It seems Miami has been saying goodbye to good bands since the invention of the stage. But hey, it could be worse. They could stick around and do what countless others have done before them — play the same handful of clubs for the same handful of people until eventually calling it quits. And then where would we be? Writing Music Is a Weapon's obituary; that's where. Us? We'd rather see them succeed.