Eclectic Ladyland

Being identical twins, Evi and Gin Weintraub of INHOUSE reach levels of vocal interplay that are out of the reach of singing duos with flimsier genetic ties. Technically, Evi's a soprano and Gin's an alto, but that makes little difference once they get going. Like the flight of two lovestruck birds in a Disney cartoon, the sisters' voices form a mesmerizing spiral around each other, climbing and swooping together at a dizzying pace. Suddenly one will jet off into the stratosphere while the other takes a kamikaze dive. Just as quickly, in the space of a few bars, both are reunited.

The elaborate back-and-forth also comes into play during normal conversation, which sometimes leads to highly entertaining discussions. For example, listen to this retelling of an embarrassing backstage faux pas after the band opened for Peter Frampton last year in Fort Myers:

Evi: "He was really, really very nice to us, and Gin said something that really disturbed him. He hates to be reminded of that thing he did with [the film] Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Gin brought it up in the dressing room to him, and he was just like, 'Uuuuuuuhhhh...' You could see him getting disturbed."

Gin: "I just told him that I liked it."
Evi: "Well, actually, we had become followers of the movie because Phil [Kalasz, INHOUSE's bass player] owned it."

Gin: "We watched it all the time."
Evi: "I know, we..."
Gin: "I liked it. I liked the way he moved his head when he sang."

Evi: "So we always liked Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and then we watch, like, Jesus Christ Superstar. We know all the words to Jesus Christ Superstar. The whole group of us, we sit there and sing along...."

Gin: "I'm sure if I meet Jesus I'm going to say the same thing: 'I really liked you in Jesus Christ Superstar.'"

Evi: "Well, Gin said something like, 'We were going to do a tribute to you and sing'... what was the song? Um..."

Gin: "Oh!..."
Evi: "'The Long and Winding Road'?"
Gin: "No no no no no..."
Evi: "What was the one that you said?"
Gin: "'Strawberry Fields'?"

Evi: "'Strawberry Fields.' Something like that? I don't know, some song. She said, 'We were going to play this song in tribute to you,' just kind of joking, and he said, 'Well, I would have had you thrown out,' or something like that..."

As Evi and Gin relive the encounter, Kalasz and INHOUSE drummer Steve Williams are seated off to the side, laying down a barely audible rumble of running commentary and sarcastic asides. Guitarist Andy Stein finally concludes the anecdote with a to-the-point comment that, all in all, Frampton was a gentleman, a true professional.

The way in which the band relates the Frampton episode is a useful parallel for describing how an INHOUSE performance unfolds. During the first few songs you can't help but focus on the two sisters: Evi is at the microphone, working herself into a measured frenzy; Gin is positioned next to her, strumming an acoustic guitar. The two trade lead vocals and harmonies so deftly that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Then the tempo picks up, and your attention will shift to the guitar work. Perched on a stool, Stein plays an acoustic Martin through an acoustic amp, but runs it through a series of digital delay pedals made for electric guitars. The setup allows Stein to emit blistering leads and shrieks of feedback as needed, yet retain the feel and texture of the acoustic instrument. The effect is a perfect counterweight to the sisters' lush vocalizing.

After all of this has registered, you become aware that Kalasz and Williams have been expertly propelling the set from its gentler opening numbers through the strident Celtic cadence of "The Hiding Box," and finally to the manically syncopated, King Crimson-ish overdrive of "Pulse."

As you might infer from the descriptions above, INHOUSE -- which started as a sister act and has been together as a five-piece for a little more than two years -- is a difficult band to categorize. That's scared away more than a few major labels that have come courting to date. "One of the feedbacks we got was that we were eclectic," notes Stein. "Which is funny, because it's something we kind of strive for, and yet this [A&R rep] said, 'You guys are really good, but a little too eclectic for what I'm looking for.'" (Gin: "It's like, 'We're eclectic? Great! We're doing it right then.'" Evi: "We don't fall in line with every band out there right now." Gin: "I hate listening to a CD where every song sounds the same.")

The eclectic nature of INHOUSE is unavoidable, given the band members' backgrounds and influences. Stein started out as a jazz drummer, and cites a half-dozen influences, ranging from Jerry Garcia to Taj Mahal. Williams played bass before switching to drums, and says he draws inspiration from former Police beat-keeper Stewart Copeland and Neil Peart of Rush. Kalasz played guitar with a heavy-metal band in Washington State before moving to South Florida in 1992. (Yes, he has some interesting stories about the pre-hyped Seattle scene.) Gin, who splits songwriting duties with Stein, says Roger Waters, John Lennon, and James Taylor are all important influences.

The common threads, strangely enough, are early King Crimson and Waters-era Pink Floyd. "Those are bands that really strayed from the norm, as far as rhythm structure and things like that," explains Evi. "The vocal structure wasn't the standard verse-verse-chorus, verse-verse-chorus. Because we have those influences as a whole, that probably helped us to develop our sound." The band regularly works a Pink Floyd cover into its set, usually a two-song medley such as "Vera"/"Comfortably Numb" or "Welcome to the Machine"/"Mother." "We don't play them like the original songs," notes Evi. "We don't play them note for note, we kind of develop our own style of playing with those songs. It's kind of like a tribute to Pink Floyd in a way."

The record labels may not have caught up yet with the band's eclectic leanings, but that hasn't stopped INHOUSE from reaching a comfortable level of local success. With a considerable following in their Palm Beach County base, INHOUSE usually plays five or six nights a week. Under the representation of Fantasma Productions, the band has shared billings with such diverse acts as Frampton, Widespread Panic, Better Than Ezra, Moist, Fleetwood Mac, and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. (They politely declined an offer to open for Willie Nelson; eclecticism apparently has its limits.)

Most telling, sales for Five Wooden Chairs, a five-song CD released in early 1994, have hit the 2200 mark. That's virtually platinum in local-music terms. The band is now down to fewer than twenty copies of Five Wooden Chairs, but no additional pressings are planned. Evi explains INHOUSE has moved beyond the soft, understated sound of that CD. "We only recorded it three months into the band," she points out. "We were all kind of nervous about stepping on each others' toes at the time, so our creative energy was kind of laid-back."

Judging by INHOUSE's muscular performances, those concerns are long gone. Last month the band members went into the studio to begin work on a full-length CD that more closely reflects their current sound, which has steadily evolved from the earliest days when INHOUSE was simply Gin and Evi playing the obligatory Indigo Girls covers in coffeehouses. "That bothered us a lot," says Evi. "We learned a few Indigo Girls songs just to appease [the crowds]. But after we did that we found it was the worst thing we could do, because people were thinking, 'Oh, they play Indigo Girls songs, they must sound like the Indigo Girls, or maybe they're trying to be the Indigo Girls.' So we totally cut them out of our repertoire."

Gin chimes in, "It was when we started playing full original music toward the end of our duo career, we were starting to do two sets of originals, one set of covers, and as we would add more and more original songs, if anybody would come up to us and make a request like the Indigo Girls..." (Evi: "We'd say,'Who?'") "It would be sad," continues Gin, "because we were like, 'Well, nobody needs two sets of Indigo Girls out there.'"

That was in early 1993. By the end of that year, Kalasz, Williams, and Stein had joined the band -- in that order, one at a time. The piecemeal way in which INHOUSE came together may help explain the group's intricate sound. "What we've developed isn't the sound we were thinking we would develop," concludes Evi. "That all came when the band formed, and then we just fell in love with the music we were creating."

INHOUSE performs at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, August 10, at New World Cafe, 9661 W Sample Rd, Coral Springs; 340-7108. Admission is $2.

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Jim Murphy