You almost could have added the debut album by Miami-cum-Gainesville's Fay Wray to the ever-growing list of legendary longplayers that have never seen the light of day. It's hardly the worst list to be on, as the company includes the scrapped or squelched efforts by some formidable names: the Velvet Underground (the legendary "fourth" album); Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (both Smile and Wilson's rejected second solo effort from the early Nineties); Bob Dylan (the ditched first version of Blood on the Tracks and the original Infidels, which Dylan resequenced to no good effect); and Elvis Costello (too many to count, and if the one that eventually got out is any indication -- the tepid covers hodgepodge The Kojak Variety -- none even worth counting).
Squabbling within the band derailed the release of Fay Wray, recorded at Miami's Tapeworm in early 1996 and slated for release later that year. It was reslated for early 1997, after the group hooked up with Gainesville's No Idea label. Now, a year after the band broke up, their debut is finally out, and a retooled Fay Wray is getting a chance to tour behind an album that seemed destined to be nothing but a memory and a pre-release cassette. Fay Wray cofounders Jeff London and Rob Coe, understandably, could not be happier. "I'm sure everybody says that they're in the best place at any given point in time, but this is just phenomenal," Coe gushes, giving much of the credit for the band's revitalization to the addition of Quit drummer Andre Serefini and bassist Dan Bonebrake (also a member of Miami's Vacant Andys and a nephew of former X drummer D.J. Bonebrake), who replaced George Graquitena and Bryan Yeager.
"The musicianship on their part is incredible. So is their attitude. It just has such a nonjudgmental feel," adds Coe, ex-Cell 63 guitarist, making a subtle reference to the tension and clashing personalities that led to Fay Wray's dissolution after little more than a year together. "It takes a toll on the creative process when someone is so quick to cut somebody down or to try to control everything. It's not about control. It's about enjoying yourself and letting other people enjoy it."
Coe's bitterness is still evident as he talks about Fay Wray's parting, but he never became debilitated by cynicism. "I always had a strong emotional tie to what we were doing, to the music. I would not let someone dictate the terms of what I was doing." Plus, he says, his long-time writing partner Jeff London -- a graduate student at the University of Florida and former vocalist for King Friday -- helped him maintain focus after the breakup. "We were writing the whole time," he explains, "and whether or not the stuff would come out wasn't the issue. We were just getting together and writing, trying to keep things rolling, just trying to write good songs. Jeff was instrumental in showing me that whatever happens -- whether or not the CD is released, whether or not this person or that is leaving the band -- if he and I can sit in a room and write a song and be happy with it, that's what we take from it."
And that's all they may have done if a believer at No Idea hadn't told London and Coe that if the group ever re-formed he was still interested in issuing the disc. "He stopped the presses the first time just because he didn't know if he'd have someone around to promote the product," Coe explains. "Even before the breakup we were already behind the eight ball, since Jeff is in Gainesville and we're in Miami. But we found out that he was just waiting for us to regroup and tour behind it. Once that was understood, we found [Serefini and Bonebrake] and decided to promote the album."
And Fay Wray is certainly a record worth promoting. Though it's hard not to wonder what would have happened if these twelve snotty, guitar-driven pop-punk nuggets had been released when record-buyers still cared about loud, acidic rock and roll, the album at least remains a searing testament to the first lineup's visceral power. Coe's guitar is all over the place -- thick and meaty at times, fuzzy and ratty at others -- and the since-departed rhythm section romps and stomps in pure-punk abandon while never losing momentum. Mostly, though, the album belongs to London, who turns Fay Wray into an unsettling joy ride through his plethora of dilemmas, woes, and haunted obsessions. Brooding, bitter, but never angry for the sake of anger, London has the rare ability to laugh at the shit he's going through, whether he's surveying a terminated relationship ("Mad at the Microwave," "Sounds Like the Pixies to Me") or summarizing the insidious nature of pop culture ("Baywatch," "Lucky Manicotti"). He sends up a stoner buddy in "Potpie" and watches another take a downward spiral in "I Think I Hate L.A.," turning both songs into fierce and fiercely funny rockers despite the melancholy that links them. And with "Father to Son," he does the impossible, turning a biting song of incest into a roaring, raging anthem.
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It's a great album, a brilliant alt-rock snapshot on par with the debut CDs of locals Quit and Kreamy 'Lectric Santa and Frosty's scathing seven-inch from a few years back. Still, London and Coe are more excited about the new songs the band is set to record this month at Tapeworm with Jeremy Dubois again overseeing things. "It's nice to have the first one come out, but we're really thrilled about the new songs," London says. "I think the writing went so well because we were having such a hard time personally. Normally when you're going through a lot of personal bullshit, that's when you do the best writing." Adds Coe: "This new one will definitely be more personal and direct."
And, with luck, will hit the shelves in a timely fashion. Not that it'll be any easier to promote: Because the band's lead singer and primary songwriter lives hundreds of miles away, not to mention Coe's full-time gig as a teacher at Palmetto High School, Fay Wray isn't able to exactly tear up the Florida club circuit on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Coe maintains, the distance isn't a bad thing. "If we all lived in the same city we'd probably feel obliged to do something, whereas in different cities we can feel comfortable and not pressured and still be able to see the benefits of both. In Gainesville the creative people are so positive. It's a very nurturing environment."
And Miami? "Some people look at [playing in bands] as an opportunity, something that will take them to an even better opportunity somewhere in the long run. But the thing is, you can't promise anyone that. People here are driven by whatever images they see, and their identity gets tied up in things that just aren't tangible. But you don't have to do the none-for-note Gloria Estefan tribute, you know? Some of the best music I've ever heard was all about the person wanting to do it -- walk off the street, pick up an instrument. All you need is your motivation. In Miami, though, you get hammered hard. But you survive that. We've got a lot to be thankful for, and really we haven't had to do deal with a lot of the bullshit. We've had some setbacks, but in terms of being able to do what we want and to keep what we think is important, that's always been intact. Without a doubt."
Fay Wray performs Saturday, August 15, with the Hate Bombs and the Crumbs at Churchill's Hideaway, 5501 NE 2nd Ave; 305-757-1807. Showtime is 10:00 p.m. Cover charge is $5.