Naked to the World

After nine months of warehouse hibernation, they're back in the local spotlight, finishing their first release as a signed South Florida band. It's day ten at Gled Studios, and while the ink is still drying on their contract, the three original members, one newcomer, and former Saigon Kick drummer Phil Varone are listening to final mixes. Familiar turf, except this isn't Saigon Kick and Varone isn't sitting behind the drums. He's temporarily traded his sticks for a swivel chair at the console to produce Naked Rhythm's CD Fatbox.

"When I wasn't on tour with Saigon, I would go see Naked Rhythm's shows," says Varone. Saigon, one example of a band that supported the local music scene, had Naked Rhythm open for them at Button South. "I heard about their pending deal, and talked to their management to let them know I was interested in the project," Varone continues. "I knew I would be working with a band who are all very good individually. They had the ideas. It was just a matter of putting them in the right places."

Varone's departure from Saigon in November 1993 left him free to explore this alternate avenue. Fatbox marks his first solo outing as a producer, and it was his experience with Saigon that opened him to the prospect of producing. "I was fortunate to be in a band where harmonies and production were very important," he explains. "On the first record, I worked with a great engineer and producer and was able to learn from them. On our following records, I did a lot A even though [guitarist] Jason Bieler got the credit," says Varone. (Varone's recently formed band Planet Boom is cooking on his other front burner, but for the moment, he is pouring his experience into the reels of Naked's rhythms.)

Although Naked Rhythm has been around since 1990, it wasn't until this past November that they secured a deal, signing with the German label Massacre Records. Of course, it wasn't South Florida's extensive radio play or incredible club circuit that led the label to recruit these rough-edged rockers. It was radio in Germany, European fans, and a push from Naked's management that created an overseas buzz. Any guesses where the band is headed on its first tour?

Massacre began showing interest as the band's second demo, Brave Nude Behavior, became a highly requested bootleg on European radio. "Massacre was sending us packages and information to let us know there is a market for us over there," says singer Joe Roland. Currently, Massacre is distributed only in Europe and Asia, but the label is in the process of closing a U.S. distribution deal with Relativity Records. This was a key selling point for the band.

But about the same time label negotiations were being solidified, there was a change in the band's lineup. Roland, bassist Don Paul, and drummer Jeff Baron decided to replace guitarist Erik Kothern. According to Roland, the year-long dealings with the label killed it for Kothern, and although they were upfront with Massacre about his departure, they were frantic to find a new guitarist.

Phil Varone heard about the opening and contacted Joe DiGiovanni (formerly of Bone China). "About the first week in December, Phil called and asked me what I was doing," DiGiovanni says. "I basically said that I was in my room with my amp keeping my chops up. I didn't want to start over and put a new band of my own together, and I knew it would be a nice change to slip into something already established."

DiGiovanni's previous group had gone through a slew of members and band names since their beginnings eight years ago. They broke up in November 1992. "I guess we took what we had for granted," says DiGiovanni. "We were seriously looked at by Atlantic Records, but we lost our perspective, and, well, our interest." After Varone's call, DiGiovanni realized that for the first time he would be auditioning rather than conducting the audition.

"On the way down to their warehouse, I was thinking that I don't know many cover tunes. I was wondering what I would play," recalls DiGiovanni. "We ended up doing a lot of playing, and even more talking about our goals and how we view music."

The Naked music remains heavy, and Roland nails their signature sound to the ten-song Fatbox. Cuts such as "Fuck This Place" and "My Fault" peak on the scale of shredability, and every song reflects a newly formed alliance. "I think the 'Naked Rhythm' is still there, but it's toned down," says Roland. "We aren't playing for ourselves as individuals but as a band."

On the songs "Bicycle" and "Eyeballs," background vocals are sung by Dore Soul frontman Carey Peak. Harmonies are crucial, far more frequent than on either of Naked's previous demos, scratching at the surface of mainstream rock. There is an emphasis on the endings of the songs, but whether they're climaxed by interesting effects and outros or melodic harmonies, they don't undercut the rawness of the band. This outfit's version of "toned down" is music jam packed with crunchy rhythms and breakneck leads that run familiar laps up and down the fretboard.

Naked Rhythm has awakened. With the new lineup, the new producer, the new record, the bare truth is that South Florida has launched another big-time act. Well, not really. That's the one troubling note about this spring release. It took another nation, one all the way across the ocean, and its radio stations and fans to give Naked Rhythm the opportunity to prove what South Florida should've known all along.

Naked Rhythm performs at 11:00 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) at the Reunion Room, 2660 E Commercial Blvd, Ft Lauderdale, 776-4081. Admission costs $5.

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Christina Henriques