Ground Level

Ever since Tommy Iommi invented doom rock, drugged-out bands all over the world have done their best to outsludge one another. Outfits like Godflesh, Eyehategod, and Sleep ruled the Nineties doom scene with drop-tuned guitars, shrieked vocals, and plodding tempos, leaving burnouts, metalheads, and ex-punkers drooling happily in their wake. Miami would seem an unlikely place to find the ultimate in such a fermented music genre, but the subtropics gave birth to one of the heaviest bands ever to strap on an ax: Floor.

Floor began in January 1992 when fellow Godflesh devotees Anthony Vialon and Steve Brooks began jamming in a Hialeah warehouse. Vialon had picked up the guitar a few months earlier to impress Lisa Bugayong, a striking bartender he'd become obsessed with. She worked at the former Fort Lauderdale alt-rock palace Squeeze. "I figured if I started some sort of brutal band, I could impress her," Vialon recalls. To achieve this aim, he and Brooks jammed for months with a string of percussionists until they located one willing to play slow enough: Human Oddities drummer Betty Monteavaro. "She was the first person to get what we were doing," Brooks affirms.

With lineup intact, Floor was involved in two happy accidents. First, Brooks discovered the Guitar Bomb. "Steve broke an E string in practice one night and didn't retune it," Vialon recalls. "The string just kind of flopped there, and it sounded like a bomb going off." Blown away by their new weapon, Brooks and Vialon both decided to play with detuned top strings -- and add two more E strings as well. The resulting onslaught blasted the battle-tested walls of Churchill's Hideaway during Floor's debut performance in August of that year.

Monteavaro left Floor right before the band was due to record, so Vialon recruited childhood friend Clint Sutton to sit in. Recorded on an eight-track cassette, the resulting single, "Loanin'/Figbender," remains one of the heftiest slabs of noise ever put to tape. Even the cassette's lack of bandwidth couldn't tame the twin Guitar Bombs blasting over Sutton's pounding and Brooks's howling. The blast was even heard in the heartland, where Wisconsin labels Bovine and Rhetoric vied for the band's releases. Floor wound up releasing eight singles between the two labels.

However, a full-length release proved more elusive. Although the Wisconsin imprints offered to share responsibility for the project, "A couple weeks later, they said it wasn't heavy enough!" Vialon recalls, still miffed. "Because Steve didn't scream on two songs." Rather than give in to cheesehead demands, Floor decided to sit on the record indefinitely and work on its stage show with new drummer Jeff Sousa. "Jeff had a smoke machine, which ruled," Brooks chuckles. "We loved the idea of having a barrier of smoke between us and the audience -- so we'd practice at Jeff's house with the smoke coming out of the air-conditioning vents." In 1995, Brooks and Sousa moved to Atlanta, with Vialon regularly making the 24-hour commute. Brooks, now bored with the material on the unreleased record, decided to record another new album on yet another eight-track rig. Neither has been released.

In 1996 Floor released a split single with Miami emo kingpins Ed Matus' Struggle. Both bands crammed into a van for a twenty-date tour up the East Coast. "People were scared of Floor," remembers EMS guitarist Juan Montoya. "But they would stand there and take it because they wouldn't know how to react."

After the tour, Brooks and Sousa returned to Atlanta, and Floor played sporadically for a year before Sousa left to start a family, effectively breaking up the group. Brooks moved back to Miami, took a year off from music to study optometry, then quit to begin consecutive year-long stints in Ed Matus' Struggle and the Remedy Session. Vialon rejoined Miami's other doom-rock heroes, Cavity, for the sixth time. Then he relocated to Winter Haven, luring Brooks into making the 400-mile commute to practice. "I'd already done all the other things I wanted to do," Brooks explains. "Floor was such an easy band to play in. We wrote songs effortlessly. None of the other bands I was in felt like they were serious. And none of the stoner rock bands took the music any further -- nobody else has got The Bomb!"

By the spring of 2001, Brooks was making the Winter Haven trek every weekend to shape the new material. Gone were his screams and howls. In their place stood gorgeous melodies and harmonies that contrasted spectacularly with Floor's room-clearing crunch.

In June 2001 the band finally finished its debut full-length at Atomic Audio in Tampa with producer Mark Nicolich. "Mark seemed dubious when we told him we played with untuned strings," Vialon recalls. "But when he heard what we were doing with the vocals, he'd volunteer his own time, above what we paid him, because he was so into it." The resulting self-titled sonic boom is tempered with riffs so catchy and pretty, they could pass for emo tunes -- if they weren't sandwiched in between blasts of Guitar Bombs.

Making a guest vocal appearance is Lisa Bugayong, the muse who started it all. "It's come full circle -- Lisa's on our record," Vialon says with a grin. "I achieved my goal. She's impressed."

With Floor's debut album slated for release at the end of this month and a followup already in the works, Brooks's hopes are high. "I want to do two things -- play music and travel. If this record does okay, we should be able to do both. I need to tour before I grow up and have responsibilities." His ever-expanding musical horizons have generated new ways to scare the public. "I want to do a Miami Bass record," Brooks imparts with an evil smile. "No one has ever used an 808 with a Guitar Bomb."

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Tom Bowker

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