Out to Impress

Sheyenne Rivers oozes pure rock goddess appeal. It's her singular presence -- blond, beautiful, and undeniably erotic -- that commands the crowd's attention during a recent gig at Tuscany Trattoria in Coconut Grove with her band, I Digress. As the other musicians dutifully run through the repertoire onstage, she glides around the restaurant, getting up close and personal with the patrons by providing a few one-on-one serenades, and even climbing on the bar!

I Digress's smooth, seductive sound wins it frequent comparisons with such middle-of-the-road mainstays as Pat Benatar and Fleetwood Mac. Yet it's Rivers's sheer charisma that provides the band with a star power all its own. She nurtured her alluring image through previous stints with other local acts, including an all-girl group called American Pie and a country group named, appropriately enough, Still Country. In addition she boasts a growing résumé that includes plays, films, commercials, infomercials, and most recently, a starring role in the B-grade horror movie Realms of Blood, for which she also wrote and performed the title track.

"A sex symbol? I have heard that before," admits Rivers, whom admiring fans call a "scream queen" for her movie roles. "I can see where people might see that about me, but I am honestly just going where the music is taking me. It all depends on the song and the content.

"I act out what the song means to me, and however that comes across, whether it be angry, happy, sad, or even just goofy," she continues. "I don't really base a sex symbol as being solely about looks. Look at Rod Stewart. He's not the greatest-looking guy, but he has all the women squirming in their seats. It's definitely an energy and charisma thing."

Rivers isn't an original member of I Digress, but John D'Angelo, the band's founder and guitarist, freely credits her as the one who's helping to take the band to the next level. The 24-year-old musician says he and co-writer Carol Roberts started the group during their lunch period at Forest High School in Ocala in 1996. Roberts would eventually leave the band in 2002, though she still writes songs for it and serves as vice president for I Digress Productions, a budding multimedia endeavor that encompasses music, film, graphic design, Web design, and artist development.

After Roberts left, Rivers, who is in her mid-twenties, came on board, auditioning for the band only days after being introduced to D'Angelo by a mutual friend. "When I heard they were looking for a singer and when I heard the I Digress music, I said I have to sing with this band," Rivers recalls. "I heard a modern-day Heart all over this stuff and that is, hands down, one of my favorite bands."

"Things started to roll musically from day one; however, the business didn't really start to become a business until I met Sheyenne," D'Angelo says. "She really helped me to put everything into perspective and walked by my side through the stages of making things become an official reality. We make a great team." Rivers joined D'Angelo, guitarist Jeff Cunningham, bassist Mark Caldwell, and a revolving cast of drummers, the latest of which is Matthew Barrios, whom D'Angelo describes as a fourteen-year-old wunderkind.

In recent months, I Digress has taken steps to expand its audience, beginning with an opening slot for Michelle Branch at last month's SunFest. Like many local bands, it puts an emphasis on covers during its performances, including such varied fare as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a revved-up version of Bananarama's Eighties hit "Cruel Summer," and a faithful take on "Alone" that it recorded for a Heart tribute album, scheduled for release later this year on Shark Bite Records.

Still when the group plays on its home turf, it mixes things up. A weekly gig at McGowan's in Hollywood always offers an opportunity to perform original material. "It depends where we are," D'Angelo explains. "In the Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, and Cooper City areas I Digress has a huge following, so most of the time when we play in those areas we must make sure we do two or three per set, if not a whole set."

D'Angelo describes the band's sound as modern adult contemporary. "This doesn't mean we're the next Hilary Duff," he maintains. "We have been told that we have a resemblance to a modern-day Heart, but to compare our sound with more recent artists, we would say that we are a mix between a heavier Matchbox Twenty and an edgier Goo Goo Dolls ... with a female singer, of course."

The band is currently courting producers and record labels with a self-recorded album, appropriately titled From the Ground Up. Its seven songs run the gamut from sultry love songs to emphatic rockers, a series of polished, melodic, confident performances that also contain a hint of vulnerability and drama. Rivers says the recording has elicited interest from Sony, Universal Music Group, Atlantic, and Interscope.

In addition to their musical pursuits, D'Angelo and Rivers are readying three film projects in conjunction with Pompano Beach-based Fear Films, which named Rivers its vice president of operations in 2002. For starters, there's the aforementioned Realms of Blood, which was screened at Tampa's Tambay Film Festival last April. Then there's Figments, which marks D'Angelo's debut as a screenwriter, and Woods Are Alive, which is in preproduction.

Despite this flurry of activity, the two principals insist that the quickly diversifying I Digress Productions will remain a hands-on operation. "[We originally sought] out the help of management companies in the attempt to organize our rapidly growing company," explains Rivers. "There was disappointment after disappointment and we decided that if things were going to happen for us, then John and I would have to take the reins. We took the saying, 'If you want something done right, do it yourself,' into overdrive."

I Digress performs at 9:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at McGowan's, 298 Arizona St, Hollywood Beach. Call 954-920-6353. It also performs at 10:00 p.m. Saturday, June 5, at Bu's Beach Bar, 200 N Broadwalk, Hollywood Beach. Call 954-929-3315.