Cymbals crash as the beat of Two Hyped Brothers and a Dog's "Doo Doo Brown" resounds in the courtyard of the News Lounge, just north of Miami's Design District. The hometown crooner on the bar's stage sings, "It's your birthday, bitch," into her mike, and the crowd goes wild.
It's just another Tuesday night, and local duo the State Of is wrapping up its energetic live set with its trademark doctored version of "Happy Birthday to You." In fact, there is a birthday boy in the house who dances with flushed cheeks as fans cheer and smiles stretch from the street all the way to the pool table. And this is just the kind of congenial vibe the band's members, Steph Taylor and Nabedi Osorio, hope for at the beginning of every show.
Both Miami natives and self-taught musicians, Taylor, age 26, and Osorio, age 28, first met a decade ago. Taylor was a high schooler playing tunes on keyboard and acoustic guitar; Osorio was a drummer who found her calling in marching band. A mutual friend introduced them, and an inaugural jam session in Taylor's North Miami Beach living room soon followed.
"The connection was there right away. It was like musical love at first sight," Taylor says. But that relationship was short-lived. They soon lost touch when Taylor left in 2001 to attend the University of Florida and then Berklee College of Music. While Taylor got her education on, Osorio worked on her street smarts. She quickly became one of Miami's most popular female drummers, playing five or six gigs a week with bands such as AKA, Karma, She Said, and A-Natural.
But as Taylor was finishing up a solo tour in 2007, she had an inescapabe feeling that something was missing, and moved back to Miami. As musicians often do, Taylor and Osorio were out one night supporting the local scene, when they reconnected and ended up back at Osorio's rehearsal warehouse — "which is now our rehearsal warehouse," Taylor says, smiling.
In search of a fresh perspective, Taylor sent Osorio some of her old recordings. With her intuitive ear for music, Osorio set up her drum kit and began to play along. "It feels like fate that we were both off growing as individuals so we could come together and create an explosive, dynamic sound," Taylor says.
"It was almost like creating a monster, but in a good way," Osorio adds.
They played their first gig together that year, at the annual Femme Fest at Tobacco Road. And soon after, Taylor asked Osorio to play on her fourth solo EP. When she arrived, all the players noticed how Taylor's percussive piano style meshed easily with Osorio's melodic drumming. That was the day solo acoustic artist Steph Taylor was no more.
As the State Of, the pair hit the road for the first time together in 2008, and Taylor learned the joy of sharing her touring adventures with a companion. Even now, their eyes glitter as they share anecdotes of being chased by cows, brushing teeth with sulfur water, and trying fruitlessly to avoid the stench of dead frogs on the road beneath their royal blue 1999 Ford E-150 van.
However, Taylor was nervous at first that her previous hard-won fan base wouldn't wholeheartedly embrace her transition into a new genre. She was soon proven wrong. "People just freaked the frick out! It was so nice to be welcomed with open arms," Taylor says. Lounges in Virginia, Indiana, and Massachusetts were nearly sold out, she recalls.
The massive appeal of the State Of comes simply from variety. Taylor and Osorio have labeled their sound "dark indie-pop," citing influences such as Portishead, Radiohead, Massive Attack, and Björk. Anyone expecting all the bad clichés of female singer-songwriters will be stunned. "People are always surprised when they hear the sound that comes out of us. Some have no initial interest — say, 'This is really gonna suck' — and then, by the end of the show, they gush," Taylor says.
Despite that word dark, a State Of show is anything but depressing. Osorio's extroverted personality opens the floor for comic relief, and although Taylor claims to be the more reserved member, the band's stage patter includes plenty of jokes and joint storytelling.
And as dedicated as they are to fun times, besides original songs, they also play three to five covers a set. Current favorites include the Police's "Message in a Bottle," Ace of Base's "The Sign," and Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and "Material Girl."
The crowd also goes wild for "Roads" by Portishead. "If you play it at the point in the night when people are drunk, you always get one or two people that dance so sexy to it, and it's so awesome for us to know we're evoking that," Taylor says. "We see people get down and dirty and we're just like, Yeaaaah! We always dedicate that song to the lovers." Regular State Of followers should look out for new covers from the Cure, the Beatles, Annie Lennox, and the Bangles at upcoming shows.
And though the duo has toured some seven months out of the past year, there's nothing like a hearty homecoming. As such, the State Of will play regularly in Miami-Dade throughout the summer at venues such as the Vagabond, Moonchine, Sweat Records, the Florida Room, and the News Lounge. In fact, Taylor and Osorio say getting to play so many laid-back places is beginning to spoil them.
They also favor earlier shows so they can drink and mingle with friends and fans afterward. But while they're performing, don't be afraid to get up and move around. "There's nothing more gratifying than playing a show where people are up and dancing all night," Taylor says.
And as for the band's name, well, Taylor and Osorio will leave it up to you. It's said to be influenced by Björk's "Jóga," with "state of emergency" in the lyrics, but it's open to interpretation. "The State Of what?" Taylor asks. "Whatever you want it to be!"