Causes and Effects

The room is brightly lighted and freshly painted all white, like in a hospital. Or a morgue. There's a cooler in the corner filled with ice and a bottle of water. Above, a lackadaisical ceiling fan spins slowly around and around and around like the world itself. There's a table and a few hardback chairs. Singer-songwriter Arlan Feiles sits in one of the chairs, former Natural Causes manager Keith Schantz in another.

Their smiles are crooked but their talk is straight. They're discussing their band, their ex-band, the one declared just a year ago to be the best unsigned rock group in the nation. The one that just a few weeks ago stood at the precipice of stardom as they negotiated a major deal with Epic Records. The one that broke up.

Downstairs a crowd is filing in for a Radiators concert. Feiles is scheduled to open the show and he's writing out his setlist, sipping from the bottle of water that was in the cooler, and denying -- with laughter -- the two biggest rumors about the demise of Natural Causes. No way, he says, did the band shatter because the major labels courting it decided that what they really wanted was the publishing rights to Feiles's numerous and amazing original songs, that they would give him a contract but not the other members. And no way, he says, laughing even harder, did the band break up because, after playing more than 300 shows in their two and a half years together, they simply got sick of each other's company.

And it sure as hell wasn't "musical differences." It never really is. So why did South Florida's premier rock act call it quits? And what happens next?

What happens immediately is that Feiles walks down the winding stairwell behind the Stephen Talkhouse and takes the stage to play a 35-minute solo set for the early arrivals who've paid $25 to see the Radiators. Feiles, alone up there with a Roland keyboard, unravels the melancholy "Morning Song" -- "I am no hero/And I have no cause/I have no reason/To build these walls" -- hitting resonant piano notes that hang in the air with the cigarette smoke. But this audience is all tie-dyed rudeness, jibber-babble, more concerned about how much rum is in their drinks than the fact that a brilliant musician is spilling his soul for their entertainment.

When he pounds out "Mr. Johnson" -- a newer song with a counter-punching piano intro, a harshly delivered chorus, and lyrics such as, "We'll be hanging Mr. Johnson in the morning/Wash your face and hands/...You can spend these precious moments spinning your confessions/But the people of this land found you to blame" -- Feiles receives a smattering of applause. One woman locates Keith Schantz, who's standing at the back of the bar, and asks if this guy on stage has a tape she can buy.

During another song two Radiators fans engrossed in conversation momentarily interrupt their discussion and notice Feiles's music. "What's he singing?" one asks. "Something about God's country," says the other. They both laugh derisively and turn back to their cocktails. Welcome to oblivion, solo man.

"Of course I'm gonna try to capitalize on the Causes name," Feiles was saying earlier, upstairs. "What else can I do? I want to keep that fan base. I mean, I'd feel real nice if I could bring in 400 people like the Causes did. Not that those people used to come to see me. They came to see the band. But it'd just be nice." He adds that he's not bound to a solo career, that he's thinking about putting together a trio and is open to other options. Late last week, Schantz, who's still managing Feiles, was putting in a long night at South Beach Studios. Feiles was there recording new demos.

Even though the police have come by to warn the occupants of the house in North Miami to turn that shit down A three times A Jim Wall continues beating out magical rhythms. He's been drumming virtually nonstop for hours and hours, since the early evening.

Two drum kits have been set up side-by-side. Guitars and amps and microphones fight for room with the three dozen guests who've dropped by to wish Wall a fond farewell. He promised his folks that if anything ever went wrong with Natural Causes, he'd go back to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and finish the one semester he needs to graduate. On this rain-soaked night, he's already packed. Feiles and Schantz arrive from the Talkhouse gig to find Keith's cousin, Joel, jamming wildly on guitar with former Causemate Sean Edelson and other local stars such as D. Brown and Doc Wiley and Raw B Jae and David Chaskes and....

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Greg Baker