Mike Boudet doesn't like talking about Enjoy the Cancer, the EP he has self-released under the name Lounge Act. He says it makes him uncomfortable, and on a recent afternoon at Tapeworm, the Miami studio Boudet co-owns, he's clearly ill at ease. The 21-year-old singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist squirms nervously in a swivel chair in his studio's control room. He crosses a leg, then puts it down, then seconds later crosses the other. One hand fidgets with a fader on the 24-track sound board, sliding it up and down and back up again. With the other hand he strokes a thick black eyebrow, then rolls his dark brown eyes, scanning the bare wood walls before focusing on one of his clunky black boots, then shifts his gaze to a corner of the room. "It's really personal," he says of the EP, speaking slowly in a low, slight monotone. "It's all about one thing and it involves another person. It's about a relationship, like a lot of records are, I guess. It just got really fucked up."
Boudet won't go into any details, but elaboration on the sour affair isn't really necessary. Enjoy the Cancer, released on Boudet's Threshold label, is a letter-bomb Valentine from a burned and bitter soul -- an angry, anguished, and explicit shout conjured from the same corner of desolation as Roy Orbison's "Running Scared" and Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," but with the added venom of Bob Dylan's great rants "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Positively 4th Street." Boudet recorded the album himself at Tapeworm, playing nearly every note on the dense, half-hour set. (Swivel Stick's Carl Ferrari plays bass on the EP, and Jamey Crawford A on loan from Fuselage -- provides some haunting viola accompaniment on "Victim.")
Cancer opens with "Stain," introed with the martial strains of a drum machine thumping out a beat not unlike the dramatic kickoff of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." Not 30 seconds into the song, Boudet announces his rage: "Leave me with these thoughts of killing you," he sings over pitter-pat percussion and acoustic guitar, "or filling you with all the hatred I contain." The song soon erupts in a burst of vigorously strummed guitars, droning feedback, and harmony vocals, with Boudet's aching tenor wailing over fuzzed-out power chords.
"Stain" sets the pattern for all of Enjoy the Cancer, which recalls everything from White Album Beatles to the mopey alt-rock efforts of Lou Barlow and Sebadoh. Throughout, acoustic guitars are attacked with fury, then stroked delicately; electric guitars blend into an effects-laden wall of noise, penetrated by Boudet's acidic lyrics, which find him sorting through the rubble of his crumbled romance and trying to cope with the confusion and turmoil of its aftermath. "I find myself slipping into evil that I didn't know I had," he admits in "Tease," a lush, loping, baroque rocker accented by some chicken-scratch guitar and the siren call of shrieking feedback. The disc is remarkable -- daring within an established, alternapop context, yet with twice the intensity of your average pity-punk schmo, thanks to the heart that's bleeding all over Boudet's shirt sleeve. "I've always written kind of dark music," Boudet reflects with considerable understatement. "Usually something terrible happens and I have to go write a song. I've never been able to write a happy song. I've tried, but I've never been able to. I like the sound of darker chords, darker notes."
The Miami native grew up listening to what he calls "crap" -- Eighties hits, mostly, by Michael Jackson, Rick Springfield, and others -- but soon gravitated to the moody pop missives of Michael Penn, Sarah McLachlan, and nine inch nails. (You can hear the influence of NIN guru Trent Reznor on Cancer's untitled hidden track, cut 27 on the disc, a tape-looped jumble over which Boudet screams and mutters for four minutes.) He played in several local bands, most notably Blind Prophet, a duo/drum machine project he formed with Jules Gondar (an engineer on Cancer). When that group dissolved in the early Nineties, Boudet and 52 Diesel guitarist Jeremy duBois began cutting demos for area bands on a four-track in a spare bedroom in his Coral Gables home. The operation soon blossomed into Tapeworm, the studio of choice for numerous local and regional acts, from Swivel Stick and Holy Terrors to the Stun Guns and Ed Matus' Struggle. Prior to developing the studio, however, Boudet took a two-year break from songwriting and devoted his time instead to learning the business side of the music business.
"It was like a training time for me," he reflects. "I wasn't in any bands, I wasn't writing any music. I went to Berkeley, California, for the summer and went to a lot of music seminars there. I learned a lot about the music business and other things I didn't know about, like promotion and getting your music out there. You have to really work at this. It's not just going out and playing a show at Churchill's. It's about promoting, doing everything you can. There's a warped mentality in the music scene here. Everybody thinks they're going to get discovered but nobody's doing a damn thing. They think they're so hot shit that they don't have to do anything. Miami is so isolated from the rest of the country that if a band gets popular here and they get a couple hundred kids coming to their shows, they think they're the shit. They don't realize that if they step outside of Florida, nobody's going to know who the hell they are. Nobody's going to care."
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To avoid a similar fate for his own project, Boudet is planning a marketing blitz for Enjoy the Cancer that will target college radio and alternative-inclined publications. Although he eventually may enlist the services of an independent public relations firm, Boudet so far has done all the work himself, using credit cards to cover the $6000 expense of recording and promoting the disc, as well as printing T-shirts, postcards, and posters, and mailing out stuff to writers and radio stations. He's hoping to transform his Threshold imprint into a full-blown label featuring local artists.
At the moment, however, he's looking for other musicians to help him turn Lounge Act into a proper band. Boudet has performed only three times as Lounge Act: twice solo, and once as a quartet featuring Ed Matus, Carl Ferrari, and Chris Romeup. He'll be playing solo gigs throughout the summer until he finds the right musicians. He's already writing material for the next Lounge Act disc, which he says will fuse dark sentiments and accessible pop hooks without repeating the conceptual format that shapes Enjoy the Cancer. "I'm starting to learn how to write songs now," Boudet explains. "I like the idea of making something dark very catchy, and that's the direction I'm heading in."
Maybe on that next disc Boudet will keep a few skeletons inside his emotional closet, rather than dragging them all out for public display. "I was kind of scared about putting it out," Boudet says of Enjoy the Cancer. "A lot of people, friends of mine, knew what happened and they knew exactly what the album was about." As for the person who unknowingly inspired the vitriolic set, Boudet's not sure if she's heard it yet. "I'm pretty sure she has," he notes. "I don't really know, though. I don't talk to that person any more. If it were me, I'd want to hear it." And what would he think?
"I'm not sure," he guesses, then reconsiders after a long pause. "I think I'd be scared.