Self-described "South Carolina redneck" guitarist-vocalist Sean "Birdman" Gould stands a smidgen under six-foot-five in green Chuck Taylor hightops with red and yellow laces and the words Right and Left scrawled across their respective toes. A profusion of freckles dots his face and limbs. The word "scruffy" springs immediately to mind when making mental notes of the disheveled redhead's appearance, like he might have just stepped out of a pick-up basketball game or off of a skateboard.
Bassist Rico Bowen owns a lanky hoopster's frame, as well; he's six-foot-three. In sharp contrast to his small-town Caucasian bandmate, Bowen is black and hails from Washington, D.C. At five-feet, six-inches, blond, baby-faced drummer Ari Schantz A a nice Jewish boy from Miami Beach A looks like Sprout sandwiched between a pair of racially mixed Green Giants. The youngest member of the Schantz mafia that has taken over the local music scene (big brother Joel fronts irrepressible surf punks Milk Can; cousin Keith manages singer-songwriter Arlan Feiles), Ari confesses to never having harbored a secret ambition to one day play in the NBA. They call themselves Brothers of Different Mothers.
"We're trying to achieve unity through music," asserts Gould in a distinctive twang that sounds like a hybrid of a rural Southern accent and a surfer dude dialect with a hint of Caribbean seasoning. "If a Jew, a gentile, and an African can get together and make music, then anyone can. We're trying to build bridges."
The Brothers' diversity is both their greatest strength and their biggest obstacle. "People see us and we're all so different looking, there's nothing for them to get a handle on," explains Schantz, the only member of the band who holds a day job. "Maybe we should wear uniforms or something.
"But I think we can adapt well to different environments," he reasons. "We have diverse influences. We play a variety of styles from blues, R&B, and rock, to reggae and even a little country. Anything goes."
"I think the Clash proved that one band can incorporate a lot of different styles into a big rock sound," adds the Birdman. "The Clash never got overly precious about every note that they played as long as it was heartfelt. They just went in, recorded an album every six months, kept the music flowing, and in five years they were done and left a legacy we can all admire and benefit from."
The Brothers play off of each other in conversation much as they do on-stage. Gould is the most gregarious, clearly enjoying the spotlight. Bowen is quietly stolid. Schantz supports the others and throws in his two cents when the situation calls for it. The three have been together for nine months, but didn't really begin to gel until October, when they recorded a rough demo tape with help from Milk Can drummer Derek Murphy. "Derek offered us some studio time," recalls Gould. "We knocked off fourteen songs in three hours."
"We weren't really sure we wanted to release the tape," admits the soft-spoken Bowen. "We didn't spend much time on it."
"It felt good," interjects Schantz. "The energy was there. So we put it out."
The cassette, titled Build a Bridge, is no masterpiece, but it provides a fair indication of what the Brothers of Different Mothers are capable of. At its best the tape calls to mind the straight-ahead Chuck Berry-informed riffing of a young Keith Richards and the early Rolling Stones, with a dash of reggae and a little blues for good measure. Loose is the operative word. Vocals, which are not the band's strength to begin with, come across muddied and raw. But the tunes are there A as advertised, styles run the gamut from mellow balladeering to balls-out rock with the occasional balmy tropical breeze or blistering funky heat wave keeping the musical climate interesting.
One of the few styles they do not delve into on the tape is metal. Which is why it comes as quite a surprise to learn that their most successful live gig to date was a recent performance at a Broward County venue generally perceived to be a hair-band mecca A Rosebuds.
"It was scary," Bowen remembers. "We walked in, they had these posters on the wall A Van Halen, Ted Nugent. I mean, you can tell by the way we look we're nothing like that. But the audience was cool. They really liked us."
"We knocked their socks off!" boasts Schantz.
"They have a policy where you get paid based on how many tickets you sell to your friends beforehand," elaborates freckled fretman Gould. "We didn't even try, because it's hard enough to get somebody to walk half a block on South Beach, much less pay six dollars and drive to Fort Lauderdale. The club manager was not happy. But we played a harder set for the Broward crowd, kicked hard. The bartenders have a siren they set off if you're hot. We got three sirens in a row. That felt good. So we finished the gig and we're outside packing up the equipment, ready to head home thinking, 'Well, it sounded good to us, but we'll never get back into this club.' Sure enough, the manager who was so pissed off that we hadn't sold any tickets came out and gave us a lot of kind words and said he was willing to take a chance on us on a Friday night. That's something nobody on South Beach will do. We have busted our butts, played for free, done all the right things, and we couldn't buy a gig on the Beach on a Friday night. We're accepted more outside of Dade County than we are within it."
Gould thinks that part of the band's difficulty in gaining respect on their home turf is the fault of fickle music aficionados who "want the scene without the work. It's not just gonna blow in on a wind from the Caribbean," he chides. "You gotta go out and support bands when you don't really wanna go out and pay your five bucks when you don't have five bucks to spend. South Florida is kinda like the exact opposite of Seattle where they have such bad weather and everyone stays inside and gets depressed and writes great music."
Gould also points a finger at clubs that say they want to support local music but aren't willing to develop talent. "Club owners down here want a band to be able to instantly walk in and bring a thousand-dollar bar ring and 200 people through the door," he grumbles. "They act like they're doing you a favor to let you play. But it's not all their fault. A lot of these bands have a following on the Beach and that's the only place they'll play. They won't go to Atlanta or New York to see if it'll float."
Of course Brothers of Different Mothers haven't taken their act on the road yet, either. They've been a family for less than a year, and have been pursuing live gigs since just after Thanksgiving. They have not amassed much of a following. "All these bands like I Don't Know, the Holy Terrors, Milk Can, and Manchild are excellent bands. But they all have different crowds," theorizes Schantz. "No one really brings everybody together. That's what we're trying to do: tie up all the disparate threads."
"We're as far from what's hip as can be," reckons Gould. "Just look at us!" He makes a sweeping hand gesture to indicate his and Bowen's sartorial indifference. Unlike the Goods, who have recently sported ties and vests at shows; Raw B Jae, whose elevator platform shoes and his band's funky Seventies-revival outfits are legendary; or I Don't Know's Ferny Coipel and his eye-popping array of manly skirts; the Brothers put little thought into their performing wardrobe. One gets the impression they never will.
But the current shortage of fans does not faze Gould. "We have the support of a lot of local musicians," he maintains. "Nil [Lara] has been on-stage with us. Joel [Schantz]. D. Brown. Johnny Dread. We melted down one night with Rat Bastard. When you leave the stage after jamming with Rat, there's not another thing to do."
"It's all about the songs," adds Bowen. "The songs come first. I don't care about getting rich or selling a million records. My goal is just to be able to make a living off this band. There's no big message. I don't want to preach."
Schantz and Gould nod their heads in agreement with Bowen. "There's an ancient Chinese proverb," the biggest Brother concludes. "A bird sings not because he has an answer but because he has a song."
Brothers of Different Mothers perform at 10:00 p.m. Sunday at Chili Pepper, 621 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 531-9661. Admission is free.