Heatseekers drummer Chuck Loose pounds away at Churchill's on this Saturday night. Lurching into the beat, he threatens to bounce over his kit every time he hits the crash cymbal. Loose's crazed energy washes over his bandmates and into the mishmash of punk kids and jaded scenesters crowding the stage. Singer/guitarist Owen McLean accuses the would-be faithful: You took my punk and my rock and roll/Stole my blues and stole my soul. Loose looks up from his drums, veins popping, as he cranes to the mike to join the prosecution: It's the new old sound/But I don't understand/It's the new old sound/What you're trying to say/It's the new old sound/You made cool look boring, baby!
After the set Loose is a sweaty mess as he juggles accolades from fans with loading his drum kit. At age 31 he's toured the country with two outfits, promoted countless shows, published fanzines, corresponded for Maximum Rock & Roll, founded a performance space, and played with half a dozen local bands. But Loose is no run-of-the-mill local legend who plays rock star by night and fills coffee cups by day. His graphic design company, Snap-E-Chuck, counts Seagram's USA and TracFone among its clients and nets a six-figure profit.
Despite his commercial success and the resulting 60-hour workweeks, Loose sees no reason to cut down on his time with the Heatseekers or his two side projects. "I need to beat on something after sitting in front of a computer all day," he explains.
A look around Loose's office reveals conflicting signals. His desk is littered with Post-It notes, work orders, Diet Pepsi cans, and a mass of CDs that contain both the graphics he creates and punk-rock classics. The walls are covered with concert posters he designed for the likes of the Damned and Iggy Pop. Three Australian wine bottles sit on his desk -- a new Seagram's line for which Loose is designing a label wrap. The phone never stops ringing, but he only answers when completely necessary.
Loose belongs to a new breed: career punks. Unable and unwilling to give up the music of his youth, and equally averse to falling into the "I was there, man" mentality that plagues most aging hipsters, he has managed to remain musically relevant while attaining professional success.
His template -- graduating from post-teenage beer bashes to inspirational bootstrapping -- has been neatly mirrored by Sam Fogarino, who began drumming in the Holy Terrors, SoFla's perennially popular punk outfit. Now Fogarino has ended up -- with impeccably tailored suit, tie, and haircut -- on the cover of international alt-rock glossies as the newest member of Interpol, last year's hype-fueled success story. "When I was living in Victoria Park," Fogarino laughs, "I told my girlfriend that I wouldn't be doing this when I'm 30. Now I'm 34." Also following Loose's lead, in a way, is Rob Coe, former Miami seventh-grade English teacher by day and drunken punk by night, who has recently led famed Los Angeles troublemakers the Enablers to minor-league stardom.
Loose has come a long way since dropping out of New Mexico's Highland University in 1988 to sleep on the Fort Lauderdale beach. "I didn't want to go to school anymore, so my mom gave me enough money to move anywhere I wanted," he reminisces. "I thought, 'Yeah! Fort Lauderdale! That's party central USA!" Unfortunately he missed the legendary Fort Lauderdale spring-break madness by a year: "I got to the beach and couldn't find the wet T-shirt contests. There was nothing going on." With a few weeks spent finding an apartment and getting a job at a Sizzler, Loose began to explore Fort Lauderdale on his skateboard. He discovered the punk-rock scene while sliding down guardrails and hopping curbs. "Half the people I know now, I met within a month of moving here," he says.
He hitched a ride with his new pals to Miami Beach's Cameo Theatre and had his mind blown. "I couldn't believe how many people were there, and how violent it was. In New Mexico all the punks smoked pot and wore dreadlocks and pretty much got along with everyone. The biggest show had maybe 300 people. The Cameo had 1200 people at every show! I'd never seen an ambulance waiting outside before."
In late 1989 the Cameo turned into a disco and South Florida's punk phoenix turned to ashes. With nary a punk show to attend, Loose started the Get Loose fanzine and raked the cold coals, desperately searching for leftover embers. In 1991 he answered a band ad posted in a record store and met Boca Raton miscreant Iggy Scam.
"Boca?" Loose recalls wondering. "They have punks in Boca?"
A week after meeting Scam, Loose was in a Publix checkout line thumbing through the Weekly World News. "I was reading the local news clips and there was a story about a guy who sicced his dog on his stepson -- and there was Iggy's name! I asked what was up, and he said, 'My dad's a real dick!'"
Together Loose and Scam founded Chickenhead, a noise-punk explosion constituting equal parts old-school hardcore screed (Black Flag, the Germs, Flipper) and onstage debacle. "I was really nervous about my singing, so I'd try to make as much of a spectacle as possible," Loose says. To medicate Loose's phobia as lead singer, Scam whipped up unusual preshow cocktails. "The first time we played," laughs Loose, "Iggy handed me a jug. I took a swig and it was disgusting! I gagged, 'What is this?'" Scam revealed that for caffeine he'd added iced tea; for the booze, vodka; then to balance it out he dropped some Robitussin in it. "So I'd split a box of Dramamine and a bottle of Everclear," Loose continues, "or a bottle of gin and a box of Sudafed. That was my total drug experience -- and it was all legal!"
Empowered by over-the-counter courage, Loose set about earning a reputation as an onstage wild man. "I was blowing fire onstage and wanted to take it further," Loose says. "I'd practice setting myself on fire at friends' pools, and jump in when I started to burn." Following a few poolside self-immolations, Loose decided to try it at Churchill's. "We were playing our second song and I whipped out the lighter fluid, set myself on fire, and it looked great -- then I realized: Oh shit! There's no water! So I rolled on the floor and ripped off my shirt, which scorched both my eyebrows off and burned off all my chest hair. I saw the blisters coming up, so I asked the bartender for some water, and he threw a pitcher of water on me. I went to Hollywood Memorial wearing black eyeliner, motorcycle boots, and second-degree burns. I told the nurse that I was at a barbecue that got fucked up."
Chickenhead abided by the harder-is-better philosophy when the band took its fire-breathing freak show on the road in the summer of 1992. Despite its minuscule following in South Florida, the band spent its summer vacation headlining over future rock stars and punk legends. "The first tour was ten shows," Loose recalls. "All the sets lasted three songs. During the first song I'd smash a jar of orange marmalade, and by the third song marmalade would get on the guitar Iggy was borrowing, and then whoever loaned it to Iggy would take it back."
For its second tour Chickenhead recorded a seven-inch single and headed west for a gold rush of shows with Rancid and Bratmobile. Like all gold rushes, the main problem was getting there. Loose recounts: "We had to panhandle across the Midwest. We'd beg until we got ten bucks, gas up the van, and drive to the next town, where we'd shoplift for food." Once in the Promised Land of the Pacific, Loose fulfilled a long-time goal by playing Berkeley's famed Gilman Street Co-op -- a converted auto garage/gutterpunk Shangri-la. He swiped a big tub of glitter and had a roadie toss it over him onstage. "Then I broke a bottle on my head," Loose continues. "It took the rest of the tour to get the blood and glitter out of my hair."
About the same time Loose was busy abusing his body, Holy Terrors drummer Sam Fogarino was deciding to set fire to his rung on the corporate ladder. "We went to New York City to play the New Music Seminar and I was stoked!" Fogarino sounds off in his smoky baritone. "It didn't matter that we only played to ten people, and that half were from Florida -- the very act was enough to go home and get myself fired from my Fortune 500 job." Fogarino's bosses at Federal Mogul (a manufacturer of Ford and GM engine parts) were horrified when their promotions department whiz stopped showing up. "They promised to send me to business school on their dime and begged me not to 'throw my life away,' but I didn't want to hear any of it," Fogarino says. "After a couple weeks they finally fired me."
Freed from the corporate monolith, young Fogarino spent his time gigging and recording with the Terrors, the very popular link between South Florida's punk and alt-rock scenes. "There was always an ebb and flow in the Terrors between hardcore and collegiate pop," Fogarino muses. "Rob [Elba, Holy Terrors singer/guitarist] was Mr. Melody and I was into the Gorilla Biscuits."
While Elba wrote the songs and thus won the melody battle, Fogarino's brutal percussive attack won the Holy Terrors a pierced and tattooed crowd. "After a couple years in the band I realized that the harder you hit the drums, the better they sound," shrugs the lanky 34-year-old Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale sound-engineering grad.
Throughout the early Nineties, Holy Terror's number-one fan -- noise-rock icon Rat Bastard -- provided dirt-cheap recording time at Miami's Sync Studios as well as his Esync Ocular imprint on its seven-inch vinyl singles. "Rat hooked us up," says Fogarino. "Just having a label name on the sleeve helped us get reviews and rotation on college radio across the country." Joining forces with the Terrors around that time was John Tovar, manager for Fort Lauderdale shock-rockers Marilyn Manson, who were signed to major label Interscope. Fogarino laments: "Because of Manson, Tovar thought he could get us signed to Interscope too. We did meet with Interscope's A&R guy, but it was all bullshit. We had better luck putting out our own singles."
Fogarino's luck ran out when it came time to record Lolitaville, the Holy Terrors' debut album, which took most of 1993 to complete owing to Sync moving shop more often than a Gypsy caravan. The long layoffs between sessions didn't faze Fogarino and his bandmates -- at first. "It took a year to realize what a detriment wasting a year was," he recalls. "Nirvana hit big. If you were real, you could do something."
With Lolitaville finally completed in 1994, the Holy Terrors entered into a disastrous partnership with Broward dance-trance-bass label Neurodisc. "I was supposed to be included in the process because of my punk-rock knowledge," Fogarino recaps. "But that never happened. They did the exact opposite of what I thought was best. They'd buy expensive print ads but wouldn't hire the publicist we met with, or even a booking agent. Tom [O'Keefe -- Neurodisc owner] told Rob to tour. Rob told Tom: 'Promote the fuckin' record and I'll tour.' The record ended up selling 500 copies."
The Terrors then took a belated two-week jaunt across the Midwest, followed by Fogarino jumping ship. "I followed my penis to Pittsburgh," he laughs. "The relationship was a disaster, and I got a lot of flack for quitting my band over a girl -- but Rob told me later that he was holding me back." Within a few months Fogarino was back on his sister's couch in Fort Lauderdale and had joined emo rockers Gus. "They weren't afraid to get in a van to play someone's house 1000 miles away," says Fogarino. "It served a purpose, but musically it was ten steps backward."
While Fogarino's back ached from too many couch-crashes, Cell 63 singer/guitarist Rob Coe juggled beer-soaked weeknight gigs with teaching English at Miami Palmetto Middle School. His morning-after curriculum was unique, to say the least. "I'd have 'Mr. Coe's video days,'" he rasps in a beat-poet brogue. "I'd screen Get a Life episodes and try to work them in thematically."
Despite looking like Mr. Clean with a goatee, Coe was voted "role model of the year" by Palmetto Middle's largely upper-class student body. Among Coe's students were future Less Than Jake bassist Roger Manganelli and Remedy Session bassist Lori Marsh. While Coe discouraged his students from seeking out their favorite teacher at local bars, his music made an impact. "One of the kids told me his mom's car was stolen, and when they got it back, they found our first CD in the car stereo," Coe deadpans. "The thief left it behind."
Thirty-five-year-old Coe is no stranger to band drama either. Cell 63's 1994 spring tour wrapup at Jesse's in Miami Beach was anything but a warm homecoming. Coe breaks it down: "We were supposed to open for the Nixons, this major-label band from Dallas. When we got there we found out it was a private show for Sony with a bused-in audience -- and no outside promotion had been done. The club offered us more money to play after the Nixons. As soon as they finished, the label rounded everyone back on the bus and we played to nobody. When we finished playing, George [Graquitena, Cell 63 drummer] said he didn't think we were getting paid. Dave [Odishoo, Cell 63 guitarist] started yelling, and I left them to get the money. By the time I got back with the cash, they were at each other's throats screaming, 'I'm never working with you again!'"
The Nixons paid the price, however. The chrome-domed Coe became a one-man rude boy invasion. "I got in the Nixons' Winnebago and belligerently blabbed about the Replacements. I had to let them know that major-label backing doesn't excuse you for being a crappy band with cool hair."
After "The Man" ruined Cell 63, Coe and Graquitena hooked up with King Friday's Jeff London and Tony Rocha. The quartet began Fay Wray, one of the most celebrated groups in South Florida history. Merging Coe's Replacements-by-way-of-Stones riffage, London's personal relationship with drunken mania, and a pounding rhythm section that got antsy if constrained to less than 180 bpms, Fay Wray became the favorite band of anyone who saw it and didn't have to share the stage.
Unfortunately London's commute from Gainesville (where he was working toward a master's in social work) to South Florida made regular shows impossible and magnified the conflict between his vida loca and that of the teetotaling Graquitena. One night after a Tampa show, London pushed Graquitena's buttons one too many times. "It's not like it was any worse than when Jeff told a pimp in West Palm Beach that his 'ho was a nice girl and needed a bus ticket home," Coe recalls. Graquitena nevertheless resigned, forcing Fay Wray into hiatus.
At the end of 1992 Chuck Loose also found himself in a musical lull when he returned home from the Chickenhead gold rush. "Chickenhead ran its course," he says. "I asked Iggy how I was going to top what we did on tour. He said, 'We could drop something really heavy on you!'"
To keep busy Loose joined forces with Broward punkers the Spawn Sacs, constructed a raised platform in an old auto garage, and in 1993 opened Garageland, Oakland Park's answer to the Gilman Street Co-op. "It was the perfect location," he elaborates, "a warehouse district with a baseball field on one side and undeveloped real estate on the other. We hardly ever got noise complaints."
Running the space was another story. "The Spawn Sacs lived there, and they were drunks," Loose charges. "I'd work ten hours and then go to Garageland to fix whatever they fucked up during the day." When Loose wasn't butting heads with his partners, he baby-sat countless shows. "The cops only cared when kids would spray-paint punk graffiti around the corner. Once a cop walked inside when it was really packed. There was a little girl drinking beer in a Big Gulp cup right in front of him. He asked how old she was, and she said, 'Fifteen.' I had my head in my hands. He just laughed and told me to shut it down for the night."
To justify his Garageland headaches, Loose picked up the drumsticks for the first time since high school. Then he formed the Crumbs with Chickenhead roadie Emil "4 1/2" Busse and ex-Cavity guitarists Raf "Classic" Luna and Johnny "B" Bonnano. Loose had a blast relearning how to play the traps, but the messy Crumbs made the Spawn Sacs look straight-edge. "They drank a lot -- and we played a lot of sloppy shows and got away with it by playing it off as 'drunk punks,'" Loose says. At the end of 1994 Loose chose the Crumby drunks over the drunks at Garageland and took his name off the lease, effectively killing the place.
Utilizing the contacts Loose made while on tour with Chickenhead, the Crumbs became the first South Florida punk band to release a record on an out-of-state label. After California indie Recess put out 1994's I Fell in Love with an Alien Girl EP, Fort Lauderdale's Far Out Records lured the Crumbs into a posse including SoFla stalwarts Against All Authority, the Belltones, and Hudson. Together the four bands took the region by storm, holding regular showcases in the Mudhouse, the dirt-filled patio of Far Out's Fort Lauderdale building.
This movement was in stark contrast to the Marilyn Manson-led scene that had previously run amuck in Broward. "You should play music because it's fun," Loose insists, "not because it's a money-making shtick. Marilyn Manson was the opposite of what we were about. If you make money and get signed, God bless you. But it should be about the music, not some bullshit trend."
The Crumbs toured the country in 1996, winding up at the Recess Fest in Mount Shasta, California. Impressed by the band's drunken road show, Loose's old pal Molly Bratmobile signed the band to über-punk label Lookout! Suddenly the Crumbs had the brightest future of any band in South Florida. Loose was ecstatic. "I told the guys: 'This is it! We don't have to work shitty jobs anymore. We can spend our lives doing what we want to do!' But they didn't get it."
Despite the instant cred that came with the Lookout! signing, Loose's bandmates in the Crumbs continued to put drinking before practice. "They would bring minikegs to practice and we wouldn't get shit done," Loose grimaces. "I wasn't trying to be John Bonham, but while playing wasted in front of 30 people is fun, in front of 3000 it sucks." After the Crumbs recorded their self-titled debut, they played a sold-out gig at the Masquerade in Atlanta with labelmates the Queers. But once again the crippled-up Crumbs were a toxic train wreck. It was the final straw for Loose. Embarrassed and heartbroken, he quit the band.
Sam Fogarino was also feeling the blues in 1996, but he came up with a different solution. He moved to Chicago, where he briefly found employment at the gothic label Projekt, then soon went into a personal tailspin. "I was in a downward spiral," he remembers, "drinking and getting stoned every day. I had to go to the ER twice." Contributing to Fogarino's funk was his inability to start a band in Chicago. "No one needed a good drummer," he says, "and the people who did sucked."
Following six months of Windy City misery he returned to South Florida to save money. "I was sleeping on my sister's couch, or with whatever girl would have me, when I got a call from a friend in Chicago about somebody who had something to do with Black Sabbath," he remembers. "I called the guy and was sent $50 and an Amoco card with the name scratched out to get me to New York. I had a bad vibe from the whole thing, so I dropped my kit off in Philly and drove to this mansion in Westchester. It was bullshit. Some rich guy who never left his house. His connection to Black Sabbath was that he had hired a guy who once played on a Black Sabbath session."
Fogarino then drove to Brooklyn and helped an old friend start up a secondhand shop. He painted the floors for free lunch and beer. When Beacon's Closet opened, Fogarino was formally hired and moved into the efficiency behind the store. A week later he joined a local garage band, the Tonups. "It was perfect at the time," he says. "I could drink with one hand and play with the other. In my year with the band we recorded an album and an EP, but there was no touring. I became very uninspired. It seemed like their first single was great -- very raw and very dirty -- but when I joined the band they decided to start sucking."
To wash out the taste of bad garage rock, Fogarino created a music section at Beacon's Closet. "I was the only buyer for a record store," he recalls. "It was Sam's tastes for sale!" In 1999 he married Pee Shy guitarist Cindy Wheeler in Central Park. "We called our parents and said, 'Guess what? We're getting married and we don't want any money.'" Fogarino designed the ultimate post-punk wedding: "Cindy had a red dress and I wore a black suit with a red shirt. I looked like Nick Cave. If you looked around the ceremony, you saw our folks -- and then Jack from Cop Shoot Cop."
With Fay Wray on hold and middle-schoolers busy shooting their teachers, Rob Coe took a sabbatical in the fall of 1998 and enrolled in Barry University's computer-education master's program. To cut expenses he became the caretaker of his sister's swank Pinecrest fixer-upper. Taking advantage of the acoustics in the oversize bathrooms, he wrote a new crop of songs.
Coe's Fay Wray bandmate, Jeff London, recruited Dan Bonebrake and Andre Serafini from Quit as a rhythm section, and the new chemistry worked better than a meth lab. The new Fay Wray entered Miami's Tapeworm Studios in late 1998 to bang out its second CD, I Love Everyone. Recorded during a weekend of drunken excess that would have made Mötley Crüe blush, I Love Everyone is a masterwork of sexual high jinks, Blue Velvet love letters, and damaged souls. Alas, geography went from challenge to deal-breaker for Fay Wray when London relocated to Colorado.
Bandless again, Coe completed his sabbatical and returned to teaching English. "I looked through my journal," he says, "and I realized that I was stuck in a rut." Coe, who had never owned a computer ("I have commitment issues," he cracks), grew obsessed with becoming a geek. "I didn't feel I had gotten the bang for my buck from Barry, so I got the Microsoft Systems Engineer books and I'd diagram systems on poster boards. That's all I did from when I got home until I went to sleep. There were poster boards strewn everywhere in that big empty house. During lunch I'd even work on the chalkboard."
Coe's labor earned him a job offer as a business analyst at Universal Music. At the end of the 1999-2000 school year he took early retirement, loaded his guitar and three hefty bags of clothes into his Honda Civic, and drove to Los Angeles. A month of interviews later, Coe made the transition from $35,000-a-year Miami-Dade County schoolteacher to $75,000-a-year L.A. major-label computer whiz.
With a happy marriage and a steady job at the turn of the millennium, Fogarino made the next obvious step: He became a rock star. His singer/guitarist friend Daniel Kessler from Interpol (then a smoldering NYC club act) suggested they hook up musically. "Finally I took him really seriously," Fogarino says. "We practiced once and they kept asking me to return. After the tenth practice I figured I was in the band."
Days after he joined, Interpol's demo was released by Scottish label Chemical Underground, which then brought the band to England for a handful of dates. "Tour manager, van, back line," Fogarino marvels, "all on the strength of a nonexclusive single!" Next the band recorded a Peel Session at the well-known and often career-making BBC Radio One. "[That] was a career highlight but I was so freaked out I didn't play that well. After we finished I asked, 'Where did Led Zeppelin and the Pixies play?' and they said, 'Right where you're standing.' I almost threw up after they told me that."
Interpol returned to New York just as the buzz of its British success hit continental Europe. "We were invited to play La Route Du Rock in Brittany, France, in front of 10,000 people," Fogarino recounts. "They treated us like royalty. We took the stage and it's total acceptance: lots of pogoing and screaming, and we're like, 'How do they know?'"
By now Interpol's buzz was deafening. Major-label A&R scouts and indie-label heads vied for space at Interpol's New York gigs. Friends spotted Matador Records label bosses Chris Lombardi and Gerard Colony lurking at the shows, and soon Interpol received an invitation to Matador's Manhattan offices. "It was surreal," Fogarino recalls. "They aren't business people, they're music nerds and party animals. They told us: 'Well, we like you guys, but we're not sure if we can sign you.'"
Big-league French imprint Labels had no such reservations. Champing at the bit to snag Interpol's European rights, they flew the band to Paris to perform with the White Stripes, Mercury Rev, and Pulp. Labels impressed Fogarino, who says, "They were really cool and they knew their music. They didn't try to take us to fancy restaurants and talk about 'moving units.'"
Still weighing Labels' offer and unwilling to wait for Matador's blessing, Interpol recorded on spec with Fogarino's friend Peter Katis at Brooklyn's Tarquin Studios. "We knew someone was going to put it out, and Peter had enough faith in us to front the studio bill," Fogarino explains. Halfway through the recording process, Interpol signed with both Matador and Labels. Its profile became astoundingly high for a U.S. band that had never toured the States.
Interpol released a self-titled, three-track EP in June 2002 to critical acclaim. Favorable comparisons to indie-rock sacred cows such as Joy Division and Television spread like wildfire across the globe. By the time the group's full-length debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, hit record stores in August, the American tour had sold out. Fogarino was stunned. "We expected maybe 50 to 100 people a night, something real modest. But every night we had 500 people and a line outside. It was amazing."
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As Fogarino's career took off, Chuck Loose decided to wind down his musical life. "It was liberating," Loose declares. "I didn't have to baby-sit anyone. I could enjoy playing music again." Freed from the pressure of making it, he spent the late Nineties drumming in local acts the Drug Czars, Gargirls, and Siesta Trailer Park before hooking up with the Heatseekers in 2001.
Loose's priorities were now concentrated on his burgeoning graphic-design career. "I was working at one printing place after another, and at each place I'd pick up a couple freelance clients who wanted more than what the print shop could do for them," he says. "When I got sick of one place, I'd show up to the next design company with my portfolio and I'd get the job." After doing time constructing Arizona Iced Tea and Starbucks Frappuccino ads, Loose struck out on his own and started Snap-E-Chuck out of his Oakland Park home in 1998.
Rob Coe grew restless after his first year grinding out ten-hour shifts at Universal Music. In 2001 he bought an acoustic guitar and ventured into L.A.'s open-mike scene. Testing new material at dive bars whetted his appetite for destruction, so he concocted the Enablers, a sonic barrage reminiscent of Cell 63. They began a month-long residency at L.A. hotspot the Garage. The band members wore T-shirts embossed with Robert Downey, Jr.'s booking photo on the front, and on the back a pyramid that included the phrase "To Thy Own Ruin Be True." Word of their triumphant run in Los Angeles spread to England, where indie label Newest Industry signed the band. "I feel blessed," Coe says with a smile. "This will be my seventh record."
Fogarino and Interpol recently hosted MTV's late-night alt-rock showcase 120 Minutes, marking just how far the drummer has come from his sister's couch. "This wasn't the way I planned it," he understates. "Ideally I would have stayed in Fort Lauderdale, formed my band, and taken it on the road. But it didn't turn out that way." With that in mind, he refuses to plan his career or speculate how long it will last. But Fogarino was encouraged when he met the members of seminal U.K. proto-punk legends Wire, who are all in their fifties. "I thought playing forever would be gross, but their new record is amazing and they looked dignified. Those guys look their age. If it retains some quality and dignity, I'll play until my arms fall off."